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Poem: "The Touch of a Friendly Hand" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "The Touch of a Friendly Hand"
This poem is spillover from the November 7, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] lone_cat. It also fills the "huddle for warmth" square in my 7-1-16 card for the [community profile] trope_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some touchy topics.  Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers.  It includes time-sensitive pressure to do things that Turq isn't ready for yet, stress, social awkwardness, sharing a bed (platonically) for the first time, unaddressed issues caused by adding another person to a previously stable couple, temporarily treating a furry person as a nonperson, snappish behavior, sudden nudity, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, partial reconciliation, and other challenges.  It's more fluff than angst, though.  If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"The Touch of a Friendly Hand"


The snow was already falling
when Ansel got home.

The bitter wind cut across
the back of his neck like a knife,
and ice crunched under his boots
as he walked to the gazebo.

When he thumped on the post,
Turq wriggled out from under
the bench, snowflakes collecting
on the mottled blue of his fur.

"The temperature is supposed
to drop way below freezing tonight,
and we're in for a lot of snow, thanks
to a pair of fronts wrestling with
each other," Ansel said.

Turq cocked his head and
whuffed as if to say, So what?

"I know you're going to hate this, but
I really want you to spend the night
indoors with us," Ansel said.

Turq shifted to human form and
promptly started shivering. "I don't
think I can sleep indoors yet."

"I understand," Ansel said.
"Please just try. I'm worried that
you might get frostbite if you stay out.
We turned the town upside-down
all evening, trying to get everyone
off the streets and into shelter."

"I guess I can try," Turq said glumly,
and followed Ansel up the steps.

Inside the cabin, a fire blazed in
the little woodstove, and the kitchen
smelled of chicken and dumplings.

Janie was just reaching into the oven
to pull out a pan of apple crisp that
released a cloud of fragrant steam
scented with ginger and cinnamon.

"I'm so glad you could join us, Turq,"
she said. "Pop the table up, would you?"

They didn't actually have a dining table.
The kitchen was divided from the living room
by a buffet bar, under which was a folding leaf
that came up to form the eating surface.

Turq went over to prop it up, then
pulled the wooden chairs into place.
Ansel started setting the table.

The food was delicious, rich with
tender chicken and fluffy dumplings, but
not even that could keep Turq's mind
off the situation for very long.

"I know this is hard for you, Turq,"
said Ansel. "You can step out
for air any time you need to."

"Think about tomorrow,"
Janie suggested as she
dished out the apple crisp.
"If you're interested in odd jobs,
the Snowbirds will be going out."

"Snowbirds?" Turq said,
digging into his dessert.

"It's a team of odd jobbers
who shovel driveways and do
other winter chores," Janie said.
"We've got subscribers, people who
pay for occasional work, and then
a handful of charity cases."

"I can handle a snow shovel,"
Turq said. "I'm happy to help."

"Great, we can use every hand
we can get tomorrow," Janie said.

After supper, they washed the dishes,
but Turq was already looking at the door.

"Let's all watch something timely,"
Ansel said, and set up the viewscreen
to show The Empire Strikes Back.

Janie laughed and snuggled up to him,
and after a moment, Turq joined them.

From the way Turq's attention was
glued to the screen, Ansel guessed
that he hadn't seen the movie in years.

When it ended, Turq said, "Thanks.
That one is an old favorite of mine."

"I'm glad to hear that," Ansel said.
"Would you rather sleep on the couch
in here, have the loft to yourself, go
downstairs to the office that locks,
or try something else tonight?"

"I dunno," Turq said. "I think
I'm gonna freak no matter
where I try to sleep inside."

"Would company help?"
Janie asked, reaching over
to lay a hand on Turq's shoulder.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Winter is the time for comfort,
for good food and for warmth,
for the touch of a friendly hand
and for a talk beside the fire,"
she said. "It is the time for home."

"You could join us in the bedroom
if that would help," Ansel said.

"Yeah, maybe," Turq said.
"You have a spare bed there?"

"Nah, but ours is a king,"
Ansel said. "It's big enough
to hold three people -- especially
if you sleep in caney form."

"That might cut down on
the nightmares," Turq said.
"I guess it's worth a try."

So they all took turns
in the bathroom and
then piled into the bed.

It worked fine at first, and
Ansel was falling asleep with
Turq stretched out blue and
furry between him and Janie.

Then Janie nudged Turq
and said, "Move down to
the foot of the bed, you're
blocking my boyfriend."

The next instant, Turq was
sitting up between them.
"You don't push me to
the foot like that, I am
not your fucking dog!"

"Whoa, hey, I did not
negotiate for another man
in my bed!" Janie shot back
as she bailed out of it.

"Fine. I wanted to sleep
outside anyway," Turq said,
scrambling away from them.

Ansel tried to drag himself
back to full consciousness,
but it was like trying to think
through cooling molasses.

"Guys, can we talk about this
in the morning?" he said. "I don't
have enough brain left to give
this conversation the amount
of attention that it deserves."

Janie sighed. "All right,"
she said. "I can live with that."

"You don't want me here,"
Turq said. He huddled in
the corner, already shivering.

Janie dragged a blanket off
the bed and walked over to him.
"I'm sorry that I freaked out, I was
just surprised and -- well, you're naked."
She handed the blanket to him.

Turq wrapped it around himself.
"I left my clothes in the bathroom."

"Yeah, that's fine when you're furry,
but if you're human, then you
need pajamas," Janie said.

"Don't have any," Turq muttered.

"Let's worry about that later,"
Janie said. "It's chilly in here,
the weather outside is awful, and
I don't want you to catch cold. So
put your fur on and come back to bed."

"Okay, I guess," Turq said at last.
He shifted back to caney form
and hopped up onto the bed.

He wouldn't lie between them,
though. Instead he curled
into a tight ball, nestled in
the curve of Ansel's body.

Well, fine then. Ansel
scooted over so his back
pressed against Janie.

Outside, the wind picked up,
howling as it threw the snow
against the sides of the cabin.

Turq was a warm, furry ball
in the cradle of Ansel's arms.

Janie rolled over to spoon him
from behind, and Ansel sighed
as the touch of a friendly hand
made the winter seem warmer.

He snuggled under a blanket of sleep.

* * *

Notes:

"Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home."
Edith Sitwell

This is the home of Officer Pink (Ansel Nicholson) which used to be part of a resort alongside a lake. When the resort closed, the rental cabins were parceled into individual lots and sold, while some of the resort's main facilities -- such as the lodge and the main boating dock -- were set aside as neighborhood resources. See the exterior and floor plans of the lower level, upper level, and loft.

The lower level holds Ansel's office, and is where Turq spends a significant amount of his limited time indoors.

The upper level is the main living flood. It includes the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living room.

Above that is the loft. The wide end of the loft, which faces the lake, has a game room. The small end of the loft, which faces the driveway, has a futon with a matching coffee table that can be hidden by a pair of folding screens.

The gazebo outside is largely Turq's territory now. Ansel's version has built-in storage benches where the seats lift or doors open to access the cabinets underneath. The two end benches have end doors that open at the entrance of the gazebo. The two middle benches have seats that lift up. The center back bench has front doors.

Traumatic stress can cause a spectrum of effects ranging from acute stress reaction (a normal response that fades after a few days) through acute stress disorder (a "stuck" crisis state that lasts up to a month), PTSD (a "stuck" crisis state lasting more than one month), to PDSD (a "stuck" crisis state involving repeated traumatic experiences over time). In this case, Turq has PDSD from a long period of mad science torture. This is fundamentally a failure of processing that happens inside the brain. When the mind cannot file traumatic memories properly, then they don't integrate into experience, which disrupts the ability to recognize context. The events get "stuck" in a processing loop within the mind, which turns those memories into triggers that cause flashbacks. Some new therapies focus on the body as a way to "unstick" those memories and thus heal the mind. Supportive friends can help, although these symptoms are very difficult for everyone to deal with.

Enjoy recipes for Crockpot Chicken and Dumplings and Ginger-Cinnamon Apple Crisp.

Among the most popular winter movies is The Empire Strikes Back, which features the ice planet Hoth.

Dominance and submission occur throughout social species. One reason dogs typically sleep at the foot of the bed has to do with pack hierarchy. While humans think of dominance and submission primarily in regard to kink, in reality, power balance plays a vital role in all relationships. This also comes into play with cultural differences. Most of these things are expressed mainly through nonverbal means. In this case, Turq actually tends to defer to Ansel almost all the time, and Janie most of the time; but he will not tolerate being pushed down. That's only partly a short-fuse response to stress from being indoors when he doesn't want to be. The other aspect is a healthy defense of his boundaries, which is just starting to revive after years of abuse. Notice that Turq objects to a specific activity he finds insulting, instead of challenging for dominance -- he readily withdraws from the bed, and his body language hiding in the corner is submissive. When conflicts arise among people, it often helps to verbalize them by negotiating the power dynamic.

Negotiation is an essential relationship skill. Again, people think of it mostly relating to kink and sex, but it also applies to nonsexual aspects such as sleeping arrangements -- especially in a relationship that involves more than two people. While Turq is not sexually active at this time, his presence in the relationship still influences how Ansel and Janie interact. This poses challenges for everyone, because Turq doesn't really think like human anymore while Ansel and Janie aren't completely used to living with a shapeshifter. It didn't occur to Turq that Janie might be okay sharing a bed with him in caney form but not human form, nor did either Janie or Ansel think about whether Turq might shapeshift in bed and what might happen if he did.  There are some very fraught issues about treating furry persons as dumb animals.  Here are some tips on negotiating in relationships.

Spooning is a type of cuddling in which one person (the big spoon) presses their front against another person's back (the little spoon). The big spoon is a protective or possessive position, while the little spoon is receptive. Spooning style can tell a lot about relationships. When Turq positions himself inside the curve of Ansel's body, Turq is silently asking for Ansel's protection. Ansel scoots over primarily for the practical reason of making more room. When Janie wraps herself around him, there's an element of possession there. But they are all agreeing to share the bed and hash out the quibbles in the morning when everyone can think clearly. Read about how to spoon.

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