Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Honor System"

This poem came out of the November 8, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] librarygeek and [personal profile] janetmiles.  It has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles.  It also fills the "honor system" square in my 11-1-16 card for the Fall Festival Bingo event. This poem belongs to the Antimatter & Stalwart Stan thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: While this poem is mostly fluff, the background is that Lawrence's family is a dysfunctional mess. Please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"The Honor System"

Sharon Wood was browsing
through the Salvage Design store
when someone bumped into her.

"Sorry, it's a little tight in here,"
Sharon said as she turned around.
"Are you okay, though?"

The other woman didn't look okay,
tired and pinched, her mauve suit
out of place in the dingy store. "Fine,"
she muttered, and tried to squeeze by.

Sharon thought she looked familiar
from school events, and then it clicked.
"Oh, you're Lawrence's mother -- Lola,
right?" she said. "I could give you a hand
if you like. You seem a little lost in here."

Desperation flickered across Lola's face,
there and gone in an instant, so much like
the fleeting emotions that Sharon was
learning to read in Lawrence.

"I'm shopping for him, actually,"
Lola admitted. "His study desk
finally gave up the ghost, and --"
She waved a hand at the clutter.
"-- I have to find a replacement."

"The one by the window seat, or
the vanity in his room?" Sharon said,
already turning in place to examine
several of the nearby possibilities.

"By the window seat -- wait, how
do you even know that?" Lola said.

"The boys talk a lot," Sharon said.
She poked at some of the desks.
"Too rickety, probably too big for
that little corner, hmm, what do
you think about this one?"

"It looks kind of ... broken,"
Lola said hesitantly.

Sharon gave the desk
a brisk shove with her hip.
"Nope, it's solid," she said.
"It's just missing the hardware
on the drawers. Five bucks for
that, another for the chair, and
fifteen for the desk. Budget?"

"That will fit," Lola said. "I just ...
it's so shabby, and I'm not good at
fixing things. I was hoping I could
find something decent here, but
everything that's not a mess is
more than I should spend."

"It's nothing that can't be fixed
with a belt sander and some paint,"
Sharon said. "I could come over
and buff up the desk for you."

"Bryant left so much of his stuff,"
Lola said, nibbling on her lip. "Yes,
that would probably work. The shape
is nice, if it didn't look so dingy."

"Great," Sharon said. "Let's duck
over to the salvage side and find
some handles for the drawers."

Salvage Design was divided
into several sections, and
the architectural salvage part
was even tighter and grungier
than the furniture had been.

Sharon had no trouble locating
three simple brass handles that
would complement the desk.
"See how these match the curve
of the kneespace?" she said.
"Do you like them, or should I
keep looking for something else?"

"They're fine," Lola said. She turned
one sideways to the kneespace.
"Oh, they do look the same."

"I do home design and decoration,"
Sharon explained. "We just take these
up front --" She took the detachable tags off
the desk and its matching spindleback chair.
"-- and scan them." Then she led the way to
the checkout counter, where she rang up
half a dozen assorted antiques that she'd
collected for her own design projects.

Lola followed, shyly paying for the desk.
"It was nice of you to help me find
something usable," she said.

"My pleasure," Sharon said, waving
at the muscular young boys and girls
waiting to help. "Now, the cargo crew
will take my purchases to my workshop,
but your desk will fit in the back of
my van if you want a lift for it."

"I'm not sure I could get it into
my car," Lola admitted.

"Van it is," Sharon said, nodding.
"How about we stop for a snack at
the Coffee House on the way home?
That will give us a chance to get
to know each other better."

Lola hesitated, fingering
the top of her pocketbook.

"My treat, since I asked you,"
Sharon clarified. "You should've
just seen the boys working out
who pays, they were adorable."

"I'm glad that Lawrence found
someone who makes him happy,"
Lola said as they walked out.

It was a short drive to the Coffee House,
which had only one hostess in case
people asked questions. The place
actually ran on the honor system, with
everyone getting their own food and
putting the payments into the dropbox.

The walls were painted in cheerful colors
and hung with artwork from local artists.
The tables, chairs, and bookcases were
mismatched but full of character.

Sharon grabbed a blackberry-thyme muffin
and Lola chose chocolate cinnamon coffee cake,
each with a cup of relatively plain coffee.
Then Sharon dropped a twenty into
the slot that led to the lockbox.

"Why are you doing this?" Lola asked
as they sat down at a small table.

She sounded so much like
Lawrence that Sharon's heart
ached for the whole rickety family.

"Let me tell you something about Stan,"
said Sharon. "He is as solid as a rock.
Once he latches onto someone, he tends
to stay there. So unless Lawrence dumps
him again -- which I really hope doesn't
happen, because that made everyone
miserable -- then they are set."

"What's that supposed to mean?"
Lola said. "I'm not the one
who has a crush on Stan."

"I think you'll find that what
Lawrence feels is more serious
than a crush," Sharon said. "What
this means for us is that you and I are
likely to be dealing with each other
for a long time, and I would like for
us to become friends so that it's
a pleasure instead of a chore."

"Oh," Lola said, nibbling on
her coffee cake. "I suppose
it's been so long since I've had
a chance to socialize -- outside
of professional events, I mean --
I'm a bit out of practice at it."

"I don't mind," Sharon said.
She dug into her own lunch,
and the blackberry muffin was
delicious, tart with lemon and
savory with bits of thyme.

Lola wasn't exactly chatty,
but Sharon managed to coax
her into just enough smalltalk
to pass the time while they ate.

At least it helped figure out
what kind of color scheme
they might be dealing with
for repainting the desk --
evidently the upstairs had
a combination of hardwood
and antique white paint.

As they went to put the plates
on the return table, Sharon noticed
Lola's fingertips trailing along
the edges of the bookcases.

"I'm picking out a cozy mystery,"
Sharon declared. "Do you want
anything? They have all kinds of
used books for sale, fiction or fact."

"Comedy of manners," Lola said,
her face turning from tired to wistful.

"That shelf over there." Sharon pointed,
then went back to thumbing through
the mysteries in front of her until
she found a new series about
a globetrotting jewelry maker
that had patterns in the back.

Soon Lola came back with a book.
Sharon tallied the prices and
dropped the money in the slot.

"It's hard to believe that a place
like this can stay in business,"
Lola said, shaking her head.

"You have to invest in people if you
want to get anything out of them,"
Sharon said. "Society is like
the honor system: it only works
if people put something in the box."

Lola's bemused look made Sharon want
to take her home, wrap her in an afghan, and
explain that the world wasn't supposed to suck.

She had enough experience from dealing with
Stuart and Lawrence to know better, though.
Instead she just led the way back to her van.

Sharon had a pretty good idea of where
Lawrence lived, but the boys usually took
the bus so she hadn't been there yet,
and relied on Lola's directions to it.

It was a small, tidy cottage sitting in
the midst of a yard that had been mowed
and had flowers blooming, but the bushes
were beginning to outgrow themselves.

"There's a tool shed behind
the house," Lola offered.

Sharon rummaged through
the tiny, dingy, but surprisingly
well-stocked shed and soon found
a sander along with paint supplies.

It took a while to sand away
the old, flaky varnish and prepare
the wood for a fresh treatment,
handling the chair the same way.

The desktop she covered in walnut stain,
the rest in antique white paint, which
should do a decent job of matching
the rest of the upstairs decor.

Then Sharon noticed that Lola was
crying silently. "Hey, what's wrong?"

"I miss Bryant," said Lola. She tried
to wipe the tears away but only smeared
her makeup. "I know it's stupid, he was
getting so rough, but ... I still miss him."

"Of course you do, he's your husband,
even if you're having a hard time,"
Sharon said. "You can work on it."

"Maybe," Lola said. She was plainly
uncomfortable with the conversation.

"Show me where this will go?" Sharon asked.
"We can clean up anything that needs attention
while we're waiting for the paint to dry."

"All right," Lola said. "It goes where the wall
bends toward Lawrence's bedroom upstairs."

As it turned out, the spot was still occupied by
the sagging desk they needed to replace.

Sharon showed Lola how to break it down
so that the bits would fit into a garbage can,
and then they carried everything down
the staircase to throw away.

Then the two of them lugged
the new desk up the staircase
to install it. The space between
the bedrooms had a window seat
piled with pillows and built-in bookcases
lining the wall that led to the study desk.

As soon as the desk was set up, Lola hung
a white-framed mirror over it, and above that,
a picture of two girls in another white frame.

"Those look lovely," Sharon said.

"My mother," Lola said, tracing
the edge of the black-and-white photo.
"The mirror belonged to her too."

"Lawrence's grandmother?"
Sharon guessed. "He speaks
of her very fondly. I gather
that they were close."

"They were," Lola said.
"He still misses her. I hope
that he likes this desk."

"I hope so too," Sharon said.

She was beginning to get a sense
of Lawrence's tastes just from
observing him, but not enough
to feel completely confident
about choosing for him.

Footsteps sounded on
the stairs, and then Lawrence
squeaked, "Mom? And Mrs. Wood?
Uh ... what are you doing up here?"

"Hi, Lawrence," said Sharon.
"I helped your mother find and
refurbish a desk to replace
the one that fell apart."

Lawrence looked back and
forth between them, put on
his guard by something that
Sharon couldn't name.

Then Stan trotted up behind
Lawrence. "Oh, hi, Mom," he said
with a cheery wave. "I didn't know
you were coming over or I would
have ordered more pizza. There's
two on the table if you want some."

Sharon looked at Lola. "Pizza?"

Lola had the same jittery look
as Lawrence did, but she agreed,
"Yes, that sounds good."

Stan had already set the table,
and Sharon took a seat. She sent
a quick message to Stuart letting him
know that she was eating supper here.

By then the boys were back downstairs
to join the two women at the table.

"Thank you for sharing supper, boys,
that's very thoughtful," Sharon said.

"You're welcome," Stan said, and
a moment later, Lawrence added,
"The new desk looks really sharp."

Lola didn't seem any more relaxed,
but she did eat the pizza and pay
some attention to the lively chatter
between Sharon and Stan.

It wasn't as smooth as what
Sharon was used to at home,
but she knew that Lola had
a hard time recently.

Besides, it looked as if
the other woman was taking
mental notes, so Sharon would
just take what she could get.

She had made family out of less before.

* * *


Sharon Wood -- She has fair skin, blue eyes, and short blonde hair. She is the wife of Stuart and the mother of Stan, Stephanie, Sloane, and Susie. She came out of a large, happy family and wanted to make one of her own, which she did. She helped her husband Stuart learn the people skills and coping techniques that he didn't get growing up. Sharon likes designing spaces that feel comforting and homelike. She is one of the scoutmistresses for her daughters' troop.
Qualities: Master (+6) Home Designer, Master (+6) Mother, Expert (+4) Activity Scout Mistress, Expert (+4) Patience, Expert (+4) Social Circle, Expert (+4) Wilderness Skills, Good (+2) Animation Fan, Good (+2) Athletic, Good (+2) Cook, Good (+2) Geometry
Poor (-2) Taking Care of Herself

Lola Cunningham -- She has blue eyes, long straight brown hair, and fair skin. She is the wife of Bryant and the mother of Lawrence. Lola struggles to support the family despite crushing debt and overwhelming workload. It's harder with her husband out of the house, even though he has a drinking problem and a tendency to hit people. She has some substance abuse trouble of her own, along with depression, and she often neglects Lawrence.
Qualities: Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Negotiation, Good (+2) Organization, Good (+2) Real Estate
Poor (-2) Nurturing

Bryant Cunningham -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short black hair going silver. He's getting pudgy around the middle. He is the husband of Lola and the father of Lawrence. Bryant works in hospitality, running the front desk at a hotel. He's a good cook when he's not swallowing more of the wine than goes in the pot, and a good handyman when he's not hitting the wall more often than the nails.
Qualities: Good (+2) Handyman, Good (+2) Homemaker, Good (+2) Logistics, Good (+2) Loyal, Good (+2) Nurturing
Poor (-2) Abusive Drunk

* * *

The Salvage Design Store in T-Omaha has divisions for different types of stuff. This one is for office furniture and here's interior architectural salvage.

The Coffee House in T-Omaha is a popular spot. Tables and chairs cluster near the entrance. This is a long view of the counter and a closeup. Customers can sign the guestbook. Self-serve features include the sign and product shelves.

Lawrence's house is a tiny little two-story, two-bedroom cottage. See the outside, main floor, and upper floor. This is the window seat upstairs. This white-framed mirror hangs above the new desk, and this picture of Lawrence's grandmother and grand-aunt hangs above the mirror.

In the back yard, a garden shed holds yard tools, paint, and other stuff.

Sharon has a secondhand cargo/transport van. It has a wheelchair lift in the back cargo space which she uses to lift heavy furniture. The two cockpit seats are fixed, but the rear six seats are detachable and there is room for two wheelchairs in the back. Abundant hardware in the sides and floor of the van makes it easy to anchor adaptive equipment or other cargo.

Dysfunctional families can have a wide range of problems. In general, the difference is simply that dysfunctional families make life harder whereas functional families make life easier. Lawrence's family struggles with domestic violence, neglect, alcoholism, and other issues. There are ways to survive a dysfunctional family.

Domestic abuse often leads to isolation, one reason why women stay in abusive relationships. Lawrence's mother has been isolated for so long, she's out of practice socializing. Survivors can recover, especially with help from friends and family. One of the most effective methods does not require the victim to talk about their problems with you; simply identify pragmatic ways you can help, and do those. This establishes you as helpful, shores up their sense of self-worth, improves the practical situation, and saves energy which they might use to think about the underlying issues.

Making new relatives is an important life skill, but little has been written about it. I found some tips that generalize well in articles about parents dealing with teen romance, meeting your child's sweetheart, and getting along with in-laws.

Friendship is important. Improved health is one of many reasons why people need friends. This is because friends influence each other's behavior, hopefully for the better. It takes time to build a friendship.

Trust consists of several elements. Its development is influenced by individual and community factors. Trust takes time to develop as people move to higher levels of trust and deeper intimacy. A critical failure mode occurs when someone asks for more trust than they have earned, typically resulting in rejection. This is why Sharon touches very lightly on the real problems, and focuses more on establishing a connection. Understand how to earn trust and how to trust others.

There is a spectrum from influence through persuasion and manipulation to coercion. Influence has a gentle effect on other people's thoughts and actions. Think of concentric circles at work or at home. The closer to center, the more influence you have on someone, and the more they have on you. Trying to use more influence than you have is ineffective at best and offensive at worst, so be gentle with it. Among the most effective ways to influence people is imagining that everyone wears a sign saying "Make me feel important." Here is a lesson on concern and influence.

T-America is much more enthusiastic about reusing things compared to L-America. Know what to look for when buying secondhand or old furniture.

This is the original appearance of Lawrence's new desk. Here it is during the sanding process. A belt sander makes quick work of removing old finishes from a large, flat surface. When finished, the desk has walnut stain and antique white paint, with new handles. This is the matching chair.

The honor system sets out items for sale, prices, and a dropbox for payments so that customers can help themselves. It may be used in bookstores, farmstands, and other locations. It is much more common in T-America than here, because they understand how it builds trust, community, and character. These things require practice in order to develop properly, so people need opportunities to use them. As in this rare local example, the overage of a typical honor system box in T-America tends to match the tipping rate in its area, most often between 10-20%, which means the 15% overage is right on the mark.

Chocolate Cinnamon Coffee Cake and Blackberry, Lemon, and Thyme Muffins are lovely breakfast pastries

Cozy mysteries are low on violence and high on charm.  They tend to have a theme, and in T-America, bits of it often appear in the chapter headers or back of the book -- recipes, craft patterns, etc. Here is a list of cozy mysteries.

A comedy of manners, or novel of manners, is about etiquette, society, and often class dynamics. Browse a list of these.

Eating together has many benefits. It fosters the bonding process. In this case, Sharon and Stan are carrying the weight of socialization. This is a lot easier to do with two people than when Stan's trying to do it by himself. It helps that both Lola and Lawrence are willing to follow along as best they can. That "fake it till you make it" approach to having a normal family life can actually work if you have good models. There are tips for making family meals a success.
Tags: crafts, cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, how to, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, romance, weblit, writing
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