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Poem: "The One That Keeps Demanding" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "The One That Keeps Demanding"
This poem is spillover from the May 15. 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] erulisse. It also fills the "scars" square in my 5-1-18 General card for the Pro Wrestling Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains intense topics that may bother some readers. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. Shiv has had a shitty life until recently, and among the things routinely used to bully him were social stories. Dr. G doesn't know this, because Shiv rarely tells him anything on purpose, so introducing social stories in therapy leads to a major blowup. This is exacerbated by Mr. Vanburen hovering over both of them at Warden Daley's direction. The poem includes closer-than-ideal supervision, low self-esteem, explosive temper, hostile and vulgar language, physical outburst, repeated arguments over the necessity of venting vs. self-control, chilling effect on therapy, past abuse, erasure, false affect, assault on identity, damage from abuse impairing Shiv's ability to benefit from therapy now, misunderstandings, variable emotional age, exhaustion, troubleshooting, confusion, past physical abuse and neglect, scars, apology issues, divergent feelings, malice and revenge, anti-social stories, homesickness, lip-nibbling and diversion, flashbacks, refusal to talk about feelings, ugly holiday memories, implied theft of inmate property by guards, fear of mistakes, identity issues, and other mayhem. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"The One That Keeps Demanding"


"I tried to book the art room for us,
Shiv, but that's already full today,"
said Dr. G. "We'll be working in
a private meeting room, but it's
okay, because I brought plenty
of interesting things to do."

"Whatever," Shiv said with
a shrug. This therapy shit wasn't
his idea, so he didn't care about it.

Even if he did like the art room.

Mr. Vanburen led the way to
the cluster of meeting rooms.

At least these had tables and
chairs that would move so Shiv could
sit comfortably, instead of getting stuck on
a lousy stool in the secure visiting booths
where he had to talk on a phone
through a thick window.

Shiv ran a hand over the chairs
before he pulled one out to sit down.

Almost everything in the room -- except
for parts of the clock and the rubber tubs
for garbage and recycling -- was metal
that he could control if he needed to.
It made him feel, not safe, but
at least less unsafe here.

Mr. Vanburen closed the door
behind them, then leaned
against the wall beside it.

"Is that really necessary?"
Dr. G said, frowning. He
activated the privacy field.

"The natives have been
restless," said Mr. Vanburen.

"The warden has a burr up
his butt about something,"
Shiv said. "It sucks."

"We'll just have to make
the best of it until I can talk
to him again," Dr. G said,
sounding like he was about
to drag Warden Daley into
the principal's office. "Okay,
Mr. Vanburen, remember that
everything that happens in
therapy stays in therapy."

"Understood," the guard said.

"Let's see what we have,"
Dr. G said as he opened
his art case. "I was counting
on the craft room supplies,
so the creme pastels aren't
the best option here, but I have
some colored pencils and paper."

"I'll take what I can get," Shiv said.
He'd always liked colored pencils,
even if they weren't as nice as
the new creme pastels were.

"You may choose from blank paper
or storyboards," Dr. G said, offering
Shiv a range of different pages.

"I remember these," Shiv said softly.
He tugged one of the frame pages
toward himself. "They were in
the batch after reading practice."

"Exactly," said Dr. G. "I thought
you might enjoy drawing stories,
as well as single images."

"I like reading the funnies,"
Shiv admitted. "I'm not
that good, though."

"Shiv, nobody is
'that good' at first,"
Dr. G said. "It takes
practice to learn art."

"I guess," Shiv said.

He started drawing
a cartoon about the food
in prison, with guys who
worked in the greenhouse
saying it was good and
everyone else disagreeing.

He drew the gardeners
working in the garden and
the cooks making salad. Then
the gardeners asked other inmates
what they thought of the food.

He drew a lawnmower
spitting out salad clippings.

He drew Tremon saying, "That's
not food. That's what food eats!"

He drew a gardener saying, "Well,
it's better than cream of who-knows-what!"

That was true, but just barely.

Dr. G chuckled. "That's pretty good,"
he said. "I'm happy to see that
you have a sense of humor."

"Just gets me in trouble,"
Shiv said with a shrug.

"I've got some materials
about that," Dr. G said. "Why
don't we explore them and see if
we can think of ways for you to be
funny without getting in trouble."

"Like what?" Shiv wondered.

Several pages slid across the table.
"These are called social stories --"

Shiv lost it.

"I knew it!" he snapped.
"You're just like everyone else,
you don't give a fuck about me,
you just want me to 'calm down'
and 'be good' -- well screw that!"

"Wait, what?" Dr. G said.

"No, fuck you," Shiv said,
pushing away from the table
so hard that the chair rocked.
"This is all so much bullshit.
None of it's real, it's never real!"

He swept a hand across the table,
knocking the story pages to the floor.
He caught one in midair and ripped it.

"Hey," said Mr. Vanburen. "Cut it out."

Shiv stared at him, furious and panting,
his hands clenching at his sides. He
wanted to cut someone. He wanted
to tear up all the stupid stories.

"Let him vent, Mr. Vanburen,"
Dr. G said firmly. "This is
Shiv's time, and he can
say whatever he feels."

"The prison rules --"

"Mean that you can
intervene in an emergency,
not interfere with therapy,"
Dr. G said. "I am not here
to police Shiv's behavior, so
don't you try to do my job, either."

"He's being hostile," the guard said.

"I'm sure Shiv has ample reasons
for his behavior," said Dr. G. "As long
as he doesn't hurt himself or anyone else,
I'm asking you to ignore it and let me
handle this according to my profession."

"He can do a lot of damage when
he gets wound up. You haven't seen it,"
Mr. Vanburen said, shaking his head.

This was not a lie. Shiv could.
It gave him a fierce, aching pride.

Dr. G sighed. "Mr. Vanburen, what
generally happens when you put
a sealed pot on a hot stove?"

"It blows up?" the guard said.

"That's right," said Dr. G.
"When the internal pressure
exceeds the strength of the pot,
it bursts. People can get hurt.
That's why pots have vents."

"The little clicker in the lid?"
Shiv said. "I like those. I can't
cook, but they're fun to watch."

"Then I'm glad you found
something you enjoy," said Dr. G.
"Those vents let out the steam so
the pot doesn't pop under pressure.
People are a lot like that. They need
safe ways to vent so they don't explode."

"I don't know ... the warden is, um ..."
Mr. Vanburen said, looking down.

"Encouraging you to lean on people,
I gather," Dr. G said. "Mr. Vanburen,
when Shiv loses his temper, would you
rather clean up paper, or blood?"

The guard flinched. "Paper."

"Well right now, it is paper on
the floor, so let's try to keep it
that way, shall we?" said Dr. G.

"All right," Mr. Vanburen said,
spreading his hands. "I will try
to stay out of it as long as I can."

"That's all I ask," Dr. G said. "Shiv, what
were you saying about the social stories?"

"Nothin' important," Shiv said, looking away.

"It's okay to shred paper when you get
upset," Dr. G said lightly. "Some of
my kids find that very satisfying,
although Aida wound up doing
something else entirely with it."

"What?" Shiv said. "Like collage?"

"No, a kind of art made with
folded and cut paper," Dr. G said.
"She finds it relaxing to make, and
the end results are beautiful to look at.

"Paper snowflakes are pretty,"
Shiv said. "Sometimes I make those."

"We have plenty of paper here."
Dr. G took out a few more pages
and fanned them over the table.

Just looking at them made
Shiv's stomach churn. There
was no mistaking that pattern
of pictures and words.

"I believe you said something
about these being bullshit and
not realistic?" Dr. G said, waving
a hang over the ugly papers.

"They're stupid!" Shiv barked.
He snatched the pages and
wadded them up, then threw
them at the side wall. "They're
all lies. That's not what I do,
that's not how I feel!"

He paced back and forth,
kicking the balls of paper.

"Then tell me how you feel,"
Dr. G said. "If the stories
are lies, what is your truth?"

"Oh, you think you can
handle the truth?" Shiv spat.
"I'll tell you the fuckin' truth!
I'm a troublemaker and a jerk
and a goddamn supervillain!
I work in a gang and I cut people.
The fuck I need manners for?"

When he looked at the table,
there was another story on it.

Shiv grabbed that one, too,
and ripped it to bits. Then
he threw the bits in the air.

They fell like snow, matching
the cold sick feeling in his stomach.

Shiv stomped back and forth,
trying to drive out the helpless rage
that he always felt when he looked at
those innocent white pages meant
to turn him into someone else.

Well, he wouldn't.

The world was fucking stuck
with him, same as he was with it.

Somehow there were more pages
on the table, no matter how many
he wadded up or tore apart.

Shiv threw them as hard as
he could, but he couldn't really
get them far enough away.

As he turned, he saw Dr. G push
another page gently toward him,
with a faint smile on his face.

"I know I'm a fuckup, you don't
gotta make fun of me!" Shiv screamed.

The smile vanished. "I'm sorry, Shiv,
I wasn't making fun," Dr. G said. "I was
smiling because you found a safe way
to express your anger at the stories."

That was so bizarre that it stopped
Shiv in his tracks. "Huh?" he said.

"You're tearing and throwing paper
instead of hurting anyone," said Dr. G.
"That's a great method to use."

Bewildered, Shiv looked around
at the storm of paper pieces.

"But ... I made a mess," he whispered.

"Yes, you did, and that's okay,"
Dr. G said. "You're doing great."

"He's really not supposed to do
that, though," said Mr. Vanburen.

Dr. G glared at him. "Do not worry
about the mess. I will clean it up."

"But it's not your mess," Shiv said.

"It's our mess, and it's a wonderful mess,"
Dr. G said, sounding as though
Shiv had just painted heaven.
"This is an accomplishment."

Suddenly exhausted, Shiv
flopped back in his chair and
leaned on the cool metal table.

"It's okay," Dr. G said. "Take
some time to relax and let go of
those big feelings. Breathe. Feel
the air moving through you."

The words helped, a little,
and the solid table helped more.

After a few minutes, Shiv sat up,
not looking at anyone because it was
humiliating to lose control like that.

"That's very good," Dr. G said,
smiling at Shiv. "Are you ready
to talk now, or not quite yet?"

"About what?" Shiv said hoarsely.

"Mr. Vanburen, please get Shiv
a bottle of water," said Dr. G.

"I shouldn't leave the room
while he's upset," the guard said.

Dr. G gave him a look.

Mr. Vanburen scrambled
out of the room, locking
the door behind him.

"I'm very sorry about that,"
Dr. G said. "I know that he
has to answer to Warden Daley,
but it's really getting in the way."

"Yeah," Shiv said. "Don't blame
him, though. Vanburen's one of
the guards who ... sucks less."

"All right," said Dr. G.

Mr. Vanburen came back
with the bottled water, handed
it to Shiv, then stepped away.

The plastic crinkled in Shiv's hand,
cool and damp. The water tasted
fresh and soothing, and he drained
almost half of it in one long pull.

"Feeling a little less awful?"
Dr. G said when Shiv finished.

"I guess," Shiv said.

"I'm very interested in
your opinion of the stories,"
Dr. G said. "I thought that
the pictures might appeal to you,
but clearly I was wrong. What about
them seems stupid and dishonest?"

"Everything," Shiv muttered, but
he was too tired to throw another fit.

Paper rustled over metal.

Shiv looked, and saw
several pages, but this time
they all lay face down with
Dr. G's hand over them.

"If you want to help me
figure out what's wrong with
these, then turn them over
one at a time. Don't push
yourself too far," Dr. G said.

"What's wrong with them?"
Shiv said, staring. "They're
all about what's wrong with me!"

"Then that's the first thing wrong with
the social stories," Dr. G said firmly. "They
are not supposed to make you feel bad
about yourself. They are supposed
to help you understand things."

That was so far outside anything
Shiv had heard before that it
just made his head hurt.

"Can you show me?"
Dr. G said gently,
and lifted his hand.

Shiv reached for a page,
hesitated, then turned it over.

"There, you see?" he said.
"It starts right off with a lie!"
He jabbed a finger at the title,
I Do Not Throw Things. "If I
wasn't throwing things, they
wouldn't shove this fucker
in my face all the time!"

Dr. G wrote something on
the page in front of him.

"You don't gotta write
those bad things about me,"
Shiv said through his teeth.
"I'll quit complaining."

"I'm not writing about you,
Shiv, I'm just writing down
your very fine point about the title,"
Dr. G said, turning the page so
that Shiv could see. "It would
benefit from better wording."

It was the same social story
that Shiv had in front of him,
now with a note marking
the title down as wrong.

"You mean I was ... right?"
Shiv said, even more baffled.

Nobody ever listened to him.

"If you throw things, and the title
says that you don't, then it's not true,"
Dr. G said. "What else is wrong?"

Shiv jabbed his finger at one of
the middle lines. "I don't have friends,"
he said, "and throwing things doesn't usually
make people sad, it makes them angry."

He shivered, remembering what happened
when he had thrown things in school.

"What happens when people get
angry, Shiv?" asked Dr. G.

"They belt me, or lock me in
a closet in the office," Shiv said.
"Or they did. They can't do that
anymore. I can stop them now."

The memory made him lift
his chin and glare at the shrink.

"You're rubbing your hand,"
Dr. G said. "Does it hurt?"

Shiv looked down. He was, in fact,
rubbing over the tiny checkmark scars
left from getting hit with a ruler.

"Not anymore," he muttered.

"Then I'm glad you're okay now,"
Dr. G said. "Please go on."

Shiv touched the last few lines.
"The ending's wrong too. I still
throw things. It doesn't matter."

"Why doesn't it matter?" Dr. G said.

Shiv shrugged. "Nobody likes me,
no matter what I do," he replied. "When I
was little, sometimes I tried to make them
happy like it said, but that never worked.
So I quit wasting energy on them."

"That's very sensible," Dr. G said.
"A certain amount of courtesy is ideal,
but you don't have to exert yourself
for people who don't care about you."

"Doc, that's everyone," Shiv pointed out.

"I've heard you speak fondly of your boss,
and not unfondly of Dr. Bloch and Ambrose,"
said Dr. G. "Maybe you know better people
now than when you were growing up."

"Maybe," Shiv said, fidgeting with
the page and trying to resist the urge
to run his finger along its sharp edge.

"Want to try another one, or
are you done?" Dr. G asked.

Shiv turned over the next page,
which read, I Don't Interrupt.

"Same kind of lying title," he said.
"Then down below, it says I'll wait,
but you know what? If I did that,
I'd never get a word in edgewise.
Nobody wants to hear the street rat."

"I'm listening," Dr. G said. "I will
always listen to you, Shiv. Yes,
sometimes you might have to wait
a little if I'm busy with something
urgent, but I will get to you just as
soon as I can. I promise."

Shiv shifted in his seat.

He didn't want to believe that,
but then again, he couldn't think
of any examples where Dr. G
had totally blown him off.

That was ... new, and it
made Shiv feel uneasy.

To cover it up, he reached out
and flipped the next page.
It read, I Can Apologize.

"That's ... not me," he said.
"I guess some people can do it,
but I suck at it. They're just words,
they don't really mean anything."

"What makes you think that?"
Dr. G said, leaning forward.

"Because it's all bullshit!"
Shiv exclaimed. "It's not true.
I don't feel bad when I upset people,
I feel good. That's why I do it on purpose,
it lets me get back at them. Even if I do
apologize, everyone knows it's bullshit."

"Language," said Mr. Vanburen.

Shiv scrunched in his seat.
He knew when to shut up.

Dr. G gave an irritated huff.
"Mr. Vanburen, I wish you would
quit getting in the way," he said. "Shiv
is expressing a very clear awareness of
truth and falsehood, with a preference for
honesty that I would like to encourage."

This was not at all what Shiv usually heard.
Most people just focused on the lies
that he told, not on their own.

He wasn't sure if he liked it better.
It certainly wasn't any more comfortable.

"Sorry," Mr. Vanburen said, looking down.
"I guess I didn't think of it like that."

Shiv was surprised that he
had thought of it at all.

"Looking at these, I think that
some of them are questionable
in general, while others might
be true for some people but
not you," Dr. G said to Shiv,
spreading out the pages.

"Yeah, maybe," Shiv said.

"Perhaps it would help if you
wrote your own," Dr. G said.
"Then they'd be true for you."

Shiv snorted. "Nobody wants
to read anything I'd write," he said,
then looked over his shoulder.
"At least, not that wouldn't
just get me in trouble."

"Mr. Vanburen, would
you move so that you can't
see Shiv's story?" Dr. G said
with a broad shooing motion.

"I need line of sight," the guard said.

"You can see Shiv by standing
behind him," Dr. G pointed out.
"You don't need to read his work."

"Fair enough," Mr. Vanburen said,
and he actually moved away.

"If I write what I really feel,
then it's not gonna be ... social,"
Shiv said. "I don't even like people."

"That's fine. You feel what you feel,"
Dr. G said. "If you want to write
anti-social stories, go for it."

That startled Shiv into a laugh.

"Why the hell not," he said,
grabbing a blank page and
then a dark charcoal pencil.

Sometimes people piss me off,
he wrote, then drew a picture.
He tried to keep the style like
the icons in the other stories.

Then he glanced up at Dr. G.

"You're doing fine," Dr. G murmured.
"Just keep following your feelings."

If I let them treat me like a doormat,
they'll just do more of that,
Shiv wrote.
But I don't have to put up with it.

He looked over his shoulder again.

"Don't worry, Mr. Vanburen
will not interrupt," said Dr. G.

The look on his face said that
the guard had damn well better not.

I can say, "Go fuck yourself!"
Shiv wrote with a flip-off smiley.
Sometimes they say the same kind
of thing to me. Now we're talking!


He missed his gangmates
with a fierce and sudden ache
that caught him by surprise.

Other times I get in trouble,
Shiv wrote, drawing a picture
of his teacher with a ruler.
I don't care. We hate
each other anyway
.

He nibbled his lip, thinking
about how to do the next part.
It wasn't as easy to show.

Dr. G cleared his throat and
nudged the water bottle closer.

Shiv took a swig, his tongue
playing with the loose ring
that had been part of the cap.

Then he drew a smiley face
covering a frowney face.
I hate it when people tell me
to say things I don't mean
.

"False affect," Dr. G whispered.

Shiv looked up through his fringe.
"What's that?" he asked.

"Sorry, I didn't intend
to distract you," Dr. G said.
"False affect means hiding what
you really feel. It's a bad habit --
in this case, something you were
told to do that you shouldn't. You're
right to be honest about yourself."

A smirk tugged at Shiv's lips.
When I say what I really mean,
then I feel like me again,
he wrote.

Finally he sat up, pushing
the paper away from himself.

"Done?" said Dr. G.
"May I read your story?"

He'd been talking about parts
of it, but maybe he couldn't see
it all. Shiv turned the page around
and flicked it in his direction.

Dr. G read it and nodded.
"This is very descriptive," he said.
"It sure sounds like you! Are you
happy with the scene that it describes?"

"Yeah," Shiv said. "It sucks when
people piss me off, but it happens.
I know how to handle it when it does."

"And you're satisfied with the outcomes
you listed as possibilities?" Dr. G said.

"Better'n anything else," Shiv said.

"Then you don't need to change
anything," Dr. G said softly.

Shiv frowned. "But the whole point
to these stupid things is to make
me change, and people get
mad when I won't do it."

"That's not a good use of
this tool," said Dr. G. "I know
some people use social stories
that way, but it just ruins the idea.
These should help you reach
your goals, not bully you."

"Yeah," Shiv said. "It's hard
for me to look at anything that
reminds me of this bullshit.
That's why I ... well ..."

He waved at the paper
littering the rest of the room.

"It's perfectly understandable,"
Dr. G said. "People tried to make you
do what they wanted, without caring
about what you needed. Of course
you got upset; anyone would."

That was so far out of
Shiv's experience that he
just stared at the shrink.

"Now that you've tried
writing an anti-social story,
shall we see about finding
a better social one?" said Dr. G.

Shiv shook his head. "They suck."

"Social stories, like all stories,
can be good or bad," said Dr. G.
"May I show you one of my favorites?
Then we could explore together what
makes it a good story or a bad one."

Shiv snorted. "Whatever."

But he couldn't help remembering
that Dr. G had found good poems
and good kiddie books, and Shiv
had thought they were all stupid,
too, before he heard the ones
that Dr. G liked to read to his kids.

Dr. G opened his folder to take out
a page. "Sometimes people have
to wait," he read, tracing the line with
his finger. "Waiting rooms give people
a safe place to wait their turn. Waiting can
be boring. Most people hate feeling bored."

"No shit," Shiv said, rolling his eyes
at the shrink. "Everyone knows that."

"You don't have to be bored while you wait,"
Dr. G read, voice rising to a happier note.
"You could think of other things to do.
Waiting rooms usually have fun stuff
lying around. You might find magazines
to read, a fish tank to watch, or games to play."

"Not in the ones I've seen," Shiv muttered.

Dr. G moved his finger to a picture of
a stick man standing beside a book.
"You could also bring quiet things
from home. You might bring a book
to read or a fidget toy to play with."

"Reading is stupid and books suck,"
Shiv said. He would rather stare
at the ceiling and count tiles.

Unless Dr. G was reading, maybe.

Dr. G didn't snap at him, though,
just kept going. "If you are studying
something, such as a poem or a list of
vocabulary words, you could practice that."

Shiv never studied unless someone stood
right over him and forced him to do it.
People had taken enough of his time
without him giving them more.

"What other ideas can you think of?"
Dr. G said brightly, pointing to
a talking head with a question mark.

Then he looked at Shiv.

"I dunno," Shiv said with
a shrug. "Everything I try
just gets me in trouble."

Dr. G gave a sad nod, then
continued, "Now you know
some ways to avoid boredom
while you wait. You could make
a list of which things work and
don't work for you. The next time
you need to wait, you will have
some ideas about how to handle it."

His finger tapped the last picture,
another stick dude giving thumbs up.

Then Dr. G looked at Shiv again.
"It seems like other people have left
the bottom rungs off the ladder again,
so I can tell you what I think is good
about this story, instead of asking you
for them. How does that sound?"

"Fine," Shiv said, jiggling his foot.

"First, it talks about everyone,
not just the listener," Dr. G said.
"Everyone has to wait sometimes,
and that's fair. It's not fair if one person
always has to wait and others don't."

"I know that," Shiv snapped.
"Never stopped anyone from
putting me always last!"

"Then they mistreated you,
and you have every right to feel
angry about that," Dr. G said. "Next,
the social story validates boredom as
a common and unpleasant experience.
When people know that others share
the same emotions, they feel less alone."

"Yeah, misery loves company,"
Shiv said with a smirk.

"The story presents a problem
and a solution," Dr. G said. "You
could find things to do so you don't get
bored. You just need to find the right ones."

"See, that's where it goes wrong,"
Shiv said. "It always goes wrong
somewhere. Nobody ever lets me
do anything, so I'm bored, and then
they blame me for whining or fidgeting."

"That's not very helpful of them, is it?"
Dr. G said. "Let's see if we can come up
with better ideas. While waiting, people
can do any kind of quiet activity."

"Like what?" Shiv said. "Everything
I've tried makes people complain."

"If they complain about everything,
they're not being fair," Dr. G said.
"You don't like reading, but you
do like images. You could look at
pictures or draw in a notebook."

"Really?" Shiv said. He'd never thought
of that. Usually nobody would let him have
pencils for fear of him stabbing people,
since he tended to stab people
when they picked on him.

"Yes, really," said Dr. G.
"Some folks like to bring
lapwork such as knitting,
crochet, or finger-weaving."

"Sounds even more boring
than reading," Shiv said.

He'd had a foster grandmother
who did that stuff, though. Maybe
it wasn't completely awful.

"Other people like to listen
to music on headphones, if
they are waiting somewhere
with a visual signal to show
when it's their turn," Dr. G said.

Shiv licked his lips. "That
might not suck," he said.

"So now we have
a few ideas that fit you,"
Dr. G said. "Let's customize
this story to show those."

He crossed out the lines
and pictures for the activities
that Shiv had rejected, then
added drawing and music.

Picking up his tablet computer,
he tapped on it, then turned it
around to show Shiv.

"If you're satisfied with
this version, I can send it
to the print room so you can
keep a copy," he said.

The icons on the screen now
were much better than
Dr. G's sloppy work.

One showed a drawing of
a stick man and a house.
The other had a smiley face
below a keyboard and a singer.

"It's not as bad as it was," Shiv said.

"I'll call that progress," Dr. G said,
tapping his tablet. Then he frowned.
"I seem to have lost my access."

Mr. Vanburen blushed. "Sorry, uh,
there must be some mistake. I'm sure
it can be straightened out later," he said.
"Here, let me use my access code."

"Thank you. After you finish, push
the Wipe button. That will delete
your code from the buffer, overwrite,
and delete again so there's no way
for anyone to retrieve it," Dr. G said,
handing him the tablet computer.

Mr. Vanburen tapped it a few times
and handed it back. "Done," he said.
"Someone should come by soon
to bring you the printout."

"See, Shiv? Social stories
are easy to change so that they
meet your needs," said Dr. G.

"I have a tablet, but it's
pretty dumb," Shiv said.
"I don't think it'll do fancy stuff
the way your tablet does."

"That's okay, there are other ways
to do these," said Dr. G. He opened
his carry case again to take out supplies.
"You can make a mounting board with
vrip strips, like this. Then you put
a matching vrip dot on the back of
each icon, so you can stick them on
the board to make different stories."

"Really?" Shiv said. It looked easy,
and with pictures, he could read
the story even if he didn't
know all the words in it.

"Sure," said Dr. G. "I use
tools like this all the time when
I'm teaching vocabulary, or steps
in order, or a foreign language."

"But it's for retards," Shiv said.
"You're a lot smarter than that!"

"Well, 'retard' is a pretty mean word
for someone with a learning disability,"
Dr. G said. "Let's try for something nicer."

Shiv winced. "I didn't know that it was
a disability," he said. "Boss doesn't
like us talking smack about those."

"Then he sounds like a good boss
with good rules," Dr. G said. "Certainly
he has better manners than whomever
you heard saying 'retard' before. Now you
know, so you can say 'special needs'
or 'mental disability' instead."

"Yeah, I'll try," Shiv said.
"So anyone can use this stuff?"

"A tool is a tool, Shiv," said Dr. G.
"These icons work for anyone, and
they're very handy. I use them when
I'm not sure what order to do steps in --
to find out which way will work best."

"Boss White has a daybook,"
Shiv said slowly. "I seen him
with it. He writes down what order
to do things in, like important meetings."

"That's a smart way to organize
the day, especially for someone
with a lot of meetings," said Dr. G.

"Yeah, he's smart," said Shiv.

"Did you know that you can use
icons for that too, either cutouts
on a storyboard or images on
a computer?" Dr. G asked.

Shiv shook his head. "I thought
it was for babies, or ... special needs."

"No, lots of people use them,"
said Dr. G. "My wife uses them
in hospitals because schedules there
are busy, people don't feel well, and
she travels a lot so she can't even
memorize one hospital's rules. But
she can put a schedule on a storyboard
so that everyone can see it at a glance."

"Huh," Shiv said. If he thought about
the icons by themselves, instead of
as part of a social story, then they
didn't make his head want to explode.

And it was a lot easier to understand
pictures, or pictures with words,
than words all by themselves.

"You're earning a lot more points
now than you used to," Dr. G said.
"That gives you many more choices
about where and how to spend your time.
How are you doing with that? Is it easy,
or is it getting harder to remember?"

Shiv liked the craft room and the gym,
but it was a lot more complicated
than it was before he met Dr. G.
He couldn't always keep it straight.

Sometimes Shiv just wanted
to stab people so they'd go away
and leave him alone like before.

Of course, doing that could
get him in serious trouble.

His whole back crawled with
the memory of Boss Batir's belt,
scars scraping against his shirt. He
didn't want that to happen again.

"Sometimes it's harder," he admitted.

"Maybe I can help with that," said Dr. G.
"Would you like to see a storyboard
for organizing your routine?"

Shiv hesitated. "I guess
it couldn't hurt to look."

"That's a wonderful way
to put it," said Dr. G.

He opened his case
again and took out
some stiff cards and
envelopes full of stuff.

"Let's see, here are
sensory folders full
of different relaxing or
invigorating activities,"
Dr. G said. "Then these
are storyboard cards."

The first one Shiv saw read,
I need to talk about my feelings.

"A great big FUCK NO to that,"
he said, shoving it back."

"You don't like that one,"
Dr. G said. "It's okay. I can
save it for someone else to use."

Shiv really wasn't used to anyone
taking no for an answer, but he didn't
want to talk about that either, so he
rummaged through the other cards
looking for a good distraction.

Next he found one that listed
the days of the week in a line.

"I already know this shit,"
he protested. "I'm not a baby!"

"One way to use this tool is for
learning the names of the days,"
Dr. G said. "However, you can
also use it to remember things
that happen on a certain day."

He spilled out an envelope full
of little squares with vrip dots.
Each of the squares showed
a different activity on it.

"For instance, my family has
a game night and a movie night,"
Dr. G said. He put squares
for those things on the line.

Suddenly Shiv thought about
how he alternated going to
the gym and the craft room.

There was a sport square
and an art square. His fingers
twitched toward them, then clenched.

"Would you like to try laying out
your weekly schedule?" Dr. G said.
"Go ahead and explore the icons."

Shiv grabbed some and pressed them
onto the line. Then he got distracted
by the vrip itself, soft as corduroy on
the card and rough as sandpaper
on the back of each square.

"You like the way those feel,"
Dr. G said. "That's good. I thought
you might enjoy having something
that you could touch and move."

"Like the Legos, but flat,"
Shiv said, flicking the corner
of the storyboard with his thumb.

"Yes, or like the cards meant
for your word wall," Dr. G said.
"You can get more detailed than
a weekly schedule if you want.
This card shows a routine. You
can list what you do in a day."

He put down Awake, Breakfast,
See Friends, Lunch, Art, Supper,
Watch Television, and Bedtime
.

"Yeah, that's ... I've had days
like that here," Shiv said.

"So this batch of icons should
work for you," Dr. G said. "Okay,
let's step down to a tighter focus.
You can use these to sort out
steps for a certain task."

He brought out a storyboard
that had space for three, four,
or five steps on the lines. Then
he put down Go for a Walk, Art,
Wash Hands, Go for a Walk, Home
.

Dr. G read the icons in order,
then said, "That's something you
already know how to do, so you can
see how it works. Imagine using this
to help you remember the steps
for doing an unfamiliar job."

"Yeah, I get it," Shiv said,
running his fingers over
the storyboard. "It's like
those picture instructions
that actually make sense."

Mr. Vanburen cleared his throat.

"What?" Shiv snapped.
"I ain't doin' nothin' wrong!"

"Peace," Mr. Vanburen said,
spreading his hands. "You're not
in trouble, Shiv. I only wanted to ask
a question about those tools."

"You may ask, but you might
not get an answer," Dr. G said.

"I just need to know, can I get some
for the other guys?" the guard said.
"Around here, the average literacy is
only third, maybe fourth grade level.
Some inmates act up on purpose, but
others make mistakes because they
couldn't remember the right thing
to do or read the instructions."

"They're making schedule mistakes,
or procedure mistakes, instead of
misbehaving deliberately," Dr. G said.
"You think this kind of material might
help reduce those problems here?"

"I think it's worth a try," said Mr. Vanburen.
"The warden can't even block it, because
they're only paper, plastic film, and vrip.
Those materials are approved even
for inmates in the private wing."

"All right, I'll send you some files
and bring extra supplies the next time
I come," said Dr. G. "This is Shiv's turn,
so he gets first pick of anything he wants.
You're welcome to whatever's left."

"He already threw out something,"
Mr. Vanburen said. "Can I have that?"

"Shiv, are you sure you don't want
the emotional set?" Dr. G asked.

"I don't need it, I don't want to talk
about my feelings," Shiv said hastily.

"Okay, then I'll package these so
Mr. Vanburen can share them with
other people," Dr. G said as he pushed
that card and its squares to the guard.
"I suspect Ambrose will love them."

"Thank you," said Mr. Vanburen.
"That sounds like a good start."

"Ooo! What's that?" Shiv said
as the pile of storyboards shifted.

"This one?" Dr. G said. "It's for
matching the colors. The other ones
ask about your favorite things."

"Like the song," Shiv said, laughing.

"Exactly," said Dr. G. "Look at
the questions and the icons.
Do any of them fit for you?"

Shiv frowned. He hated
most holidays. Christmas
especially gave him the creeps.
There was the Fourth of July, though,
and he liked blowing shit up, so
he put that icon in the box.

Most of the fruit he got
had come out of a can, and
he didn't like it much, but ...

"I like watermelon," he said.
"I've had it at picnics sometimes."

"That's nice to know," Dr. G said.
"Do you want to try your hand
at the color matching too?"

It was silly, and easy,
but Shiv couldn't resist
sorting through the squares
until he found enough to fill
each of the color sections.

"Done," he said, looking up.

"Good job," said Dr. G.
"I know that this looks like
something for kids again, but
imagine planning a picture --
you could use these icons
to choose your colors."

"Like the art cards you
showed me," Shiv said.
"The colors had meanings."

"That's right," said Dr. G.
"How would you hint that
something had good and
bad sides in a picture?"

Shiv mulled over the options.

Then he put the dark blue clouds
with the yellow sun, and the blue jay
alongside the yellow school bus.

"The blue jay is free, but the kids
in a school bus aren't free," said Shiv.
"The dark clouds cover the sun,
but the sun is still there."

"You describe that so well,
I can see it in my mind,"
said Dr. G. "When I was
little, I used to stare out
the bus windows and
watch for the birds."

"Yeah, me too," Shiv said.
He envied their freedom.

A knock at the door startled
him, making him jump.

Mr. Vanburen opened it.
"Hey, Hatrack," he said.
"Got the printout for us?"

"Here it is," said Mr. Hatrack,
handing over the social story
that Dr. G had modified.

Mr. Vanburen took it,
closed the door, and then
brought the printout to Shiv.

Social stories still sucked,
but this one was ... less awful.

"Do you see anything here
that you'd like to keep?"
Dr. G asked, waving
a hand over the loot.

Shiv used the story page
as the bottom of his stack,
then added the sensory folders,
weekly, daily, and routine cards.

He hesitated over the rest.
"Isn't this hogging?" he said.

"No, all of these storyboards and
icons are yours if you want them,"
Dr. G said. "Only the ones you
don't want go to other people.
I can get more for everyone else
and bring that another time."

Shiv took one each of the boards
that he liked, leaving the extras.

Then sorted through the icons
for all his favorites. He left
some of the other squares,
since storyboards were
no use without them.

"Here are some baggies
and envelopes to organize
your supplies," Dr. G said.
"Mr. Vanburen, do we need
to document all of these?"

"Like the Legos?" Shiv said.

The guard scratched his ear.
"Well, it's not required, but it's
probably a good idea," he said.
"If you've got an exact count,
that discourages any of them
from ... wandering away."

Meaning the other guards
were less likely to steal stuff
if Shiv had the paperwork
saying that it was his.

"Count 'em," he said,
pushing his pile at
Mr. Vanburen.

Partway through that,
Dr. G's vidwatch chimed.

"Ten-minute warning," he said.
"Shiv, how are you doing? We
had a rough patch for a while,
but you seem better now."

"I'm ... okay," Shiv said slowly.
Seeing the social stories had sucked,
reminding him of his childhood. He ran
a hand over the bump on his left forearm and
the jagged scar there. "The storyboards
and the picture cards are kinda neat."

He'd probably run his mouth too much,
which happened when he lost his shit.
That was the real reason he tried not to,
instead of wanting to follow the rules.
Nothing to be done about it now, though.

Then he looked around at the mess
he'd made of the room. There were
wads and bits of paper everywhere.

Shiv cringed. That wasn't good.

"Don't worry about the room,"
Dr. G reminded him. "I promised
to clean it up, and I will. I'm sure
Mr. Vanburen knows where I can
borrow a broom and a dustpan."

"Sure, there's a janitor closet
not far from here," said the guard,
and went back to his counting.

"Shiv, you have a right to experiment
with your life," said Dr. G. "You will make
mistakes, and that's all right too, because
everyone does. It's part of being human."

"But people hate it when I fuck up,"
Shiv said. "It makes them mad."

"That is their problem," said Dr. G.
"Your job is to understand yourself,
set reasonable goals, and pursue
those to the best of your ability."

"Even if they're supervillain goals?"
Shiv whispered, looking down.

"If that reduces avoidable damage,
I can live with it," said Dr. G. "But don't
carve that in stone, Shiv. Right now, you're
a supervillain. Maybe in a decade you'll be
an artist or a toolmaker or something else."

"Really?" said Shiv. "I like being a supervillain.
It gives me a way to get back at everyone
who thought that I was easy meat."

"It's your choice," Dr. G said. "Don't
discount change, though. It has happened.
A man named Gauguin decided he wasn't
a banker anymore, he was a painter. We
have a right to change course. Society is
the one that keeps demanding we fit in and
not disturb things. They want you to fit in
right away so that things work now."

Shiv sneered. "I don't wanna fit in."

"Then don't," Dr. G said with a shrug.
"Make your own place in the world.
People do that too -- great ones."

"Nothin' great about me,"
Shiv muttered, looking away.

"I disagree, but that's okay," Dr. G said.
"I have more experience gauging people."

"I finished the count," said Mr. Vanburen.
"We're about out of time, so wrap up
while I write out the paperwork."

"Thank you for sharing so much
today, Shiv," said Dr. G. "I look
forward to seeing you next time."

"See you later," Shiv said. "It was
nice of you to bring so much stuff."

They shook hands, the shrink's grip
warm and confident in Shiv's own.

Mr. Vanburen helped Shiv gather up
all of his materials. "I'll walk you
back to your cell," the guard said.

Something in his tone warned
Shiv that the older man had more
in mind than just that, though.

"Spit it out," Shiv said as they
turned the first corner. "If I'm in
trouble, I'd rather know about it now,
not after it blows up in my face."

"You're not in trouble," the guard said.
Then he sighed. "I'm sorry for leaning
on you so hard today. The warden
is being a hardcase again."

"And water's wet," Shiv sneered.

"Yeah, yeah," said Mr. Vanburen.
"It's just that I overheard some stuff
today, and well, if I'd known you had
such a rough time, I wouldn't have
been so hard on you myself. I feel
kind of crummy about that now."

Shiv shrugged. "Whatever."
Apparently the guy hadn't noticed
that Shiv knew apologies were bullshit.

"Well, here we are," said Mr. Vanburen.
He unlocked Shiv's cell. "Go on and put
your things away, I'll close the door."

That was nice, because Shiv had
his hands full of folders and stuff.

The lock clacked behind him as
he set the stack on his desk. He
would have to set up the schedules
and stuff, but that could wait for later.

He couldn't help remembering what
Dr. G had said about society being
the one that keeps demanding
things of people all the time.

Only Dr. G hadn't demanded
anything, and actually changed
things when Shiv objected.

Shiv rubbed his fingers over
the tiny checkmark scars on
the backs of his hands. He
knew exactly what happened
to people when society didn't
get what it wanted from them.

That's why he became
a supervillain, after all: so he
wouldn't have to put up with
all of society's bullshit.

Later. Later. He would
worry about it all later.

Right now, Shiv rolled up in
his blanket and waited for
his head to stop spinning.

It took a long time.

* * *

Notes:

This poem is long, so the notes appear in another post.

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