Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Moments When the World Is Made Whole"

This poem is spillover from the December 1, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] technoshaman. It also fill the "dependable" square in my 12-1-15 card for the Defining Character fest, and "The Slow Regard of Silent Things" square in my 9-4-15 card for the Genprompt Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] technoshaman and daisiesrockalot. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"Moments When the World Is Made Whole"

Despite the fact that Travis had called ahead,
Shiv was still not ready for pickup when Travis
opened the door of his cell and said, "Let's go."

Instead, Shiv was flat on his back in bed,
with his bare feet propped up on the wedge
that Dr. Bloch had given him earlier.

"What the hey?" Travis said. "I told
you ten minutes ago to get ready
to go out, and it's not like you have
anything else to do in here."

Shiv rolled his eyes at Travis.
"I'm in private confinement,
I don't have to go out," he said.

"Yes, actually, you do, because Dr. G
found out that you haven't gone outside
in weeks, and he threw a fit about that too,"
Travis said. "Now get up and get dressed."

"I don't want to," Shiv whined,
but at least he sat up. "Just tell
Dr. G thanks but no thanks."

"Oh no," said Travis. "I am not
taking the rap for that. That man is
a total grizzly bear when he's pissed,
and I do not want him pissed at me.
If you're smart, you don't want
him pissed at you either."

Shiv snorted a laugh.
"You're afraid of him."

"Yeah well, you didn't hear him
ripping the warden a new one over
your 'deprivation of natural abilities'
the other day," said Travis.

"I heard about it,"
Shiv said with a smirk.

"Then he went on another tear about
how the lack of sunlight could create
vitamin deficiencies and even impair
your executive function, whatever
the hell that is," Travis said.

"It's the boss part of your brain,"
Shiv said absently, which made
Travis stare at him. "What? Don't
look at me like that, Rosie said it.
The thing that tells you what to do
and that you're late for class."

"Then your boss brain should
be telling your grunt brain
to get your darn shoes on,"
Travis said in a firm tone.

Honestly. It was like trying
to drag Joey out of the house
on mornings when Dad had the flu
and couldn't keep on top of him.

Shiv finally rolled out of bed
and pulled on his shoes.
"All right, I'm up," he said.

"You'll need this too," Travis said,
tossing a tube of sunscreen on the bed.

"It says it's for babies!" Shiv said.
He glared in outrage at the pink label.

"That's what Dr. Bloch gave me
when I told him I was taking you
outside, because you haven't gone
in so long," said Travis. "You don't
like it, then take it up with him."

Shiv grumbled, but slathered lotion
over his arms and face. "Fine then."

"Get the tops of your ears too, or
they'll turn red and fall off," Travis said.

"They will not!" Shiv snapped.

Running out of patience, Travis
wet his thumb with lotion and
quickly swiped over both ears.

"It's what my dad used to say
to my kid brother," Travis said.
"You're white as a fish belly,
you'd burn in five minutes
out there without sunscreen,
and the tops of your ears are
flat to the sky. Dr. Bloch
would skin me if I brought
you back in sunburned."

"This is why I stay indoors,"
Shiv said. "The burning thing
in the sky fucking hates me."

Travis made a mental note
to keep extra close watch on
Shiv's skin color, just in case
the sunscreen wasn't enough.

"Let's go," Travis said when
he saw that Shiv was finally ready.

Shiv held out his hands.

"Oh. No, we're not doing that today,"
said Travis. "First, you haven't been
outside enough to know the grounds and
with your hands cuffed, you couldn't
catch yourself if you trip. Second,
Dr. G is real interested in this outing --
he wants pictures -- and just imagine
how happy he'd be seeing you out
there 'exercising' in chains."

"Huh," Shiv said.
Then his eyes narrowed.

"So I'm hoping you'll behave yourself,
and not make all of us regret this,"
Travis said as he opened the door.

Shiv actually did mind his manners
on the way out to the yard, for
which Travis was duly grateful.

Maybe Tolliver had been right about
what Shiv needed most -- predictability.
Travis prided himself on being dependable,
and if that's what Shiv needed, then
he would do his best to deliver.

"It's empty," Shiv said.

"Yeah, like you mentioned,
you're still in private confinement,
so you don't get company outside of
official business unless you pay for it,"
Travis reminded him. "We're here
between the group sessions."

The yard was a wide space
of green and brown inside
the white concrete wall.

Tough grass covered the ground
between the scattered evergreens,
and a path looped between the trunks.
Several benches of wood, concrete, or
metal appeared around the yard, most of
them made by inmates in the shop room.

Overhead the sky was robin's egg blue,
dotted with fluffy white clouds. The sun
came out from behind one of them.

Shiv instantly flung up an arm to protect
his face. "Fuck, that's bright!"

"Let's get under the trees where it's
shadier," Travis suggested, and
for once Shiv did not resist.

"It's pretty out," he said quietly.

"We'll warm up for a few laps before
we start jogging," Travis said.

"You're shitting me," Shiv said,
his voice going flat.

"No, you're supposed to get
some exercise out here,"
Travis said, then patted
his own ample belly. "I
could use more myself,
so I'll be pacing you. We
can be miserable together."

Travis fully expected Shiv
to run him into the ground,
but that was all right -- it
wasn't a race or anything.

"How long do we have?"
Shiv asked, not looking at him.

"One hour," Travis said. "That's
enough time to warm up, jog for
a good while, cool down, and
give you some free range."

Shiv gave a grumpy sigh but
followed Travis along the track.
"This is stupid," he said.

"Tell that to Dr. G if you want,"
said Travis. "It's your funeral."

He could hear Shiv bitching
under his breath, but could not
make out the exact words.

Probably just as well.

The day was warm, although
not baking the way it would
be later in the summer.

They made five easy circuits
around the path before Travis
said, "Pick up the pace," and
then broke into a slow jog.

"Slavedriver," Shiv muttered,
but there was no real sting to it,
so Travis ignored the insult.

They ran for a few minutes,
and even though Travis got
some flack from his body -- he
hadn't been kidding about needing
to get out more -- he enjoyed
feeling the breeze in his face.

Eventually he said, "Kick it up
a notch," and sped up
to a faster jog.

"I am really," Shiv said,
"starting to ... hate you."

"Save your breath for
running," Travis advised.

Sure, Shiv could kill him, but
he was pretty confident that
wouldn't happen. Wacker had
pushed him too, and even so,
the thrash coach was still alive.

Before long, though, the boy
started to fall behind, and Travis
could hear him panting for breath.

Looking over his shoulder,
Travis saw that Shiv's hair
stuck to his face and sweat
dampened his clothes too.

It wasn't that hot outside.

"Cool down," Travis said,
slowing his pace. "We'll walk
a few laps and then sit."

The gravel path crunched
underfoot as they walked,
and insects buzzed by.

Shiv seemed angry, scared,
and frustrated all at once --
a combination which did not
bode well for anyone's safety.

"Have a seat on the bench,"
Travis said finally. "I'll go
get us some water."

The exercise yard had
a water station with a rack of
reusable bottles in assorted colors.
Travis filled two of them and then
headed back to the bench.

Shiv was sitting slouched over,
with his elbows braced on his knees.
The back of his neck looked flushed,
and he was still breathing hard.

Travis snapped a discreet picture
just in case Dr. Bloch needed proof that
the kid wasn't getting enough exercise.

Then Travis sat down beside Shiv
and offered the blue bottle. "Here,"
he said. "Don't chug it or you'll
make yourself sick. Go slow."

"Yeah," Shiv said. He took
the bottle, but he rolled it over
his face before opening the lid.
"Jesus, what a fucking disaster."

To buy himself some time to think
of a good response, Travis opened
the red bottle and drank from it.

"Okay, so you lost some tone,"
Travis said. "That's what happens
when you loaf around on your ass for
weeks on end. You don't like it, you can
fix it, just need to get more exercise. I'm
sure Dr. G and Dr. Bloch would be on board
with that if you need some official support."

Shiv glared at him through blond bangs
that had turned into wet ivory spikes.
"The fuck you care," he said.

Travis tugged at his own shirt,
which was wetter than he liked.
"I'm out of shape too," he said,
taking another drink.

"Can we just ... not talk about it,"
Shiv said quietly. He sipped from
his bottle, free hand picking at
the edge of the wooden bench.

Travis abruptly remembered
something that Ambrose had
said about the need to give Shiv
appropriate opportunities
to use his superpower.

He walked over to the path
leaned down, and picked up
one of the larger rocks that
had gotten kicked aside.

"Here, you can play with this,"
he said to Shiv, holding it out.
"Same rules apply here as in
the craft room -- no hurting
yourself or anyone else."

Shiv took the rock, rubbed
his thumb over it, and just
like that, two big flakes
flicked away, leaving
a sharp edge behind.

Then he held it flat on
his palm -- and the rock
started flipping itself
end over end.

"Wow," Travis said.
"That is a neat trick."

Shiv looked sideways at him,
so suspicious of praise that it
made Travis want to track down
his parents and beat them with a bat.

What a mess to clean up after.
Well, maybe he could make a start.

"I don't give false compliments,"
Travis said. "I really think that
what you're doing is smooth --
it's like juggling with one ball. I
used to have a roommate who'd
do that all the time, just tossing
and catching it in his hand."

"I just juggle sharp things,"
Shiv said, and finished his water.

Without a word, Travis snagged
the empty bottle and went to refill it.
His was almost drained too. Maybe
it was hotter outside than he thought.

When he came back, Shiv was
leaning against the tree at the end
of the bench. He had one cheek
pressed against the rough bark
and his fingers stroked it slowly.

If there had been one thing that
Travis would never have expected
from Shiv -- aside from going straight,
of course -- then tree-hugger was it.

God, if he got pine tar in
that white-silk hair, it
would never come out.

Travis opened his mouth to warn
Shiv, then thought better of it.

Instead he took a couple more pictures,
one full-view and then a close-up of
Shiv's hands on the tree trunk.

Maybe the kid needed
to get dirty for a change,
or maybe he just needed
to feel something other than
concrete and plain cloth.

There was something to be said
for the slow regard of silent things,
the rocks and the trees and the sky.

Travis had gone camping more
than once just to get the weight
of the world off of his chest.

When Shiv finished drinking
his second bottle of water,
Travis prompted, "Free range.
You're not glued to my hip,
if you want to move around."

Shiv mopped his wet hair
out of his face with one hand,
and wandered off without a word.

Travis let him go, relaxing on
the bench with his own bottle --
which was half empty again --
and just keeping an eye on
Shiv to make sure he didn't
get into too much mischief.

At least he wasn't trying
to hide from the sun anymore.

The boy drifted from tree to tree,
trailing his hands over every trunk,
and then over the collection of benches,
seats, tables, and other yard furniture.

He even sat down in the path,
pouring gravel from one hand to
the other, over and over again.

Travis got a picture of that, too, and of
Shiv playing with a bit of broken glass
that sparked green in the sunlight.

It was the trees that held Shiv's attention
the most, though, drawing him back
to touch them one at a time.

Travis thought that the rough bark
might be what captivated him so much,
the rich texture providing bumps and
furrows to dig his fingers into.

He looked, for the first time
that Travis could recall,
almost peaceful.

It was one of those moments
when the world is made whole.

Travis let Shiv ramble around
the exercise yard at will until
his vidwatch beep-beeped
a five-minute warning.

"Almost time to hit the showers,"
he called. "You want another drink
before we head back inside?"

Travis caught the look of
wall-eyed terror and the flick
of Shiv's hand palming some weapon.

"Whoa, hey, what's the problem here?"
he said. "I thought you liked free showers.
You never balked on Dr. Bloch or Wacker
about it, or I would've heard that."

Something changed, then.
Shiv shook himself off and said,
"Never mind. It was nothing."

Travis wondered what the hell had
just gone so wrong, and then just
as abruptly gone away again.

Then he had an idea.

"Oh. No, Shiv, we take showers
one at a time and in separate facilities,"
Travis said. "Guards aren't even allowed
to use the same shower room as you guys."

"Duh," Shiv said, but he couldn't hide
how his shoulders slumped in relief.

"Your nose is turning pink,"
Travis observed. "Are
your ears okay?"

Shiv reached up to rub over
his nose and ears. The skin
paled and then pinked again.

"I'm fine," he said.

"Okay, I'll take your word
for it," Travis said as he urged
Shiv back toward the door.
"If it starts hurting later, you
tell Dr. Bloch so he can fix it."

Shiv tilted his head. "Maybe."

That was an improvement over
his usual, "Go fuck yourself."

As the door swung closed
behind them, Shiv turned around
to look back at the exercise yard.

Travis just stood there enjoying
the cooler air, and gave him
a minute to himself.

Only when Shiv turned back
to face him did Travis say,
"You'll get more time outside."

Shiv shrugged. "I can't afford it."

"We will work something out,"
Travis said firmly. "After the way
Dr. G reacted, I can't imagine him
letting us keep you cooped up indoors
all the time now. You just might need
to work a little harder on earning points,
and we'll dicker over amounts if necessary."

"Really?" Shiv said, his hand
straying to the clear window.

"I don't make false promises either,"
Travis said. The boy needed dependable,
so he would be dependable. He knew
how much leeway the system had,
and it would cover this just fine.

"Okay," Shiv said. "Let's go shower."

* * *


“We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children's memories, the adventures we've had together in nature will always exist.”
Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Know how to get people going.

Nature Deficit Disorder can disrupt physical and mental health. Here are tips to avoid it.

Executive function is the organizational part of the mind. A punitive environment makes it worse. Nature Deficit Disorder can cause similar problems. Traumatic brain injury can have many negative effects, including damage to executive function. Shiv has a lot of these issues. Aerobic exercise improves executive function. There are ways to help people with poor executive function.

Nebraska trees include concolor fir, Black Hills spruce, and Colorado spruce.

This is the prison exercise yard. Its water station includes an outdoor drinking fountain with bottle filling features and reusable water bottles. Read about choosing water bottles.

Lack of sun is bad for your health. Follow summer safety tips to avoid problems. People with very pale skin and/or who haven't been outside much will need to take extra precautions. Shiv is maybe half a step or a step from the white end of the scale. He always burns if he doesn't get out of the sun soon enough.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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