Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Comfort Always"

This poem came out of the May 7, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] bairnsidhe, [personal profile] ng_moonmoth, [personal profile] iamnotgod, and [personal profile] ari_the_dodecahedron. It also fills the "Four of Stones - Protection" square in my 4-30-19 card for the Tarot Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] ng_moonmoth, [personal profile] technoshaman, [personal profile] fuzzyred, [personal profile] mashfanficchick, [personal profile] redsixwing[personal profile] bairnsidhe, and [personal profile] kyleri. It belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series, after "The Reality of Cruelty."

Warning: This poem continues the aftermath of a raid on a mad science compound, with references to assorted past trauma, but this is mostly the comfort part now.


"Comfort Always"

[Friday, April 17, 2015]

The area around the gate was
turning into a real camp with
plenty of amenities.

Ansel and Turq kept
an eye on the process
to make sure that nothing
would upset the survivors.

Teams of people set up
tents in assorted sizes so
the centaurs could choose
between privacy and community.

Someone had even rustled up
a truckload of straw bales so
the centaur tents had a floor
of luxurious, fluffy straw.

They hit a snag when people
beckoned Lilita toward a tent.

"Whoa, no, no way," Kedric said,
blocking the way with his arm.

"Why not?" Turq said. "It looks nice."

"Straw makes great stall bedding under
normal conditions, but not for fresh injuries."
Kedric pointed to the big wounds on Lilita's sides,
now tacked up with thread and glue. "She shouldn't
stay in there -- even without much risk of infection,
straw poking her would hurt. The people with
minor injuries probably shouldn't either."

"Okay, what else do we need to set up
something better for them?" Ansel said.

"I'll call Frank's Farm and Home Store,"
said Filly. "He carries stall mats
and other supplies for horses.
It's not too far from here."

"Great," Ansel said. "We can
set up a new tent in the meantime."

Filly took out her smartphone.
"Hey, Frank? It's Filly. I need
a big favor. We have a bunch
of special victims and we need
equestrian supplies. I've got
a reimbursement number ...
okay, great. Back the truck up
to the loading dock and I'll be
there in just a few minutes."

"Good to go?" Ansel said
as Filly put her phone away.

"Yeah, no problem," she said.
"Frank says he can spare a truckload
of supplies, as long as the store gets
reimbursed for everything later."

She trotted toward the parking lot.

"There are still plenty of tents left,
and open space too," Kedric said
as he looked around. "Let's claim
one of the big tents and pitch it
near the first aid center."

"Good idea," Ansel said,
then turned to the centaurs.
"If anyone wants something to do,
pitching a tent isn't hard and we
can talk you through it. Sometimes
it helps to do things for yourselves."

Arun immediately raised a hand.
"I'll help pitch the tent," he said.
"If nothing else, I can hold it up!"

That actually did help raise it faster,
because with a centaur lifting it from
the inside, they didn't have to shove
around with the poles trying to get it up.

Lilita just watched, bound tail swishing.
She didn't feel up to doing much yet.

Kedric left the tent work to Ansel, Turq,
and their assistants so that he could
gather up other injured centaurs.

They formed a small cluster
around Lilita, watching the work.

Sorley limped up, leaning on
his paramedic friends. "Someone
told me that stall mats would be
cushier than straw," he said.

"Good ones are, yes,"
Ansel replied, tucking
a tent rope into his elbow.

He was working one-handed
to avoid putting more stress
on his injured knuckles, but
at least the scan had proved
nothing was actually broken.

"Hey guys, this is Charli,"
Kedric said, coming up with
a centaur girl. "She will
be staying in this tent."

Charli looked about fifteen,
another tobiano pinto but with
bright chestnut spots and
a blonde mane and tail.

Long, bloody welts marred
her flanks -- probably whip marks.

"Hi, Charli," said Turq as they
put the last pole in place.
"Are you doing okay?"

She shrugged, a shiver
of skin on one lower shoulder.
"Kedric put on some numbing stuff,
but he still wants to clean the cuts."

"I don't really have everything that I
need for this," Kedric grumbled. "We
didn't pack veterinary supplies."

"I'm sure Filly will bring back some
from the farm store," Ansel said.

Filly brought back that and more.

Frank Harris personally drove
a delivery pickup truck packed
with horse and barn supplies.

"Remember, these people have
been through a lot," Filly said quietly
as they got out of the truck. "Just try
to act casual. Don't stare at the centaurs."

Frank was a wiry young man with glasses
on a round face. He smiled at the centaurs
and began helping Filly to unload the truck.

"All right, first aid supplies first," he said.
"We brought one big barn kit on a rolling cart
and two smaller horse kits in carry bags."

"Paramedic, I'll take the big kit,"
Kedric said, raising his hand.
"Charli, come with me to one
of the private tents and I'll
finish cleaning up your flanks."

Even with a laser shaver, it was
hard to get horsehair out of cuts
when you didn't have tools for it.
Humans were just less fuzzy.

Frank handed out the other kits
to the paramedics with Sorley.

"We put the stall mats against
the walls," Filly said. "Ansel,
Turq, help me pull these out."

Ansel put his good hand to use
hauling out the thick rubber mats.

"Next we got stall divider panels,"
Frank said, dragging them out.
"Wasn't sure whether y'all might
want more privacy or more freedom,
so I brought some of all the styles."

There were solid wooden panels for
total protection, half-and-half ones
with a wooden base and bars above,
and some with just a little grill section.

"I don't like bars," Charli complained,
coming back to the distribution point.

"Do they come off?" Kedric wondered.

"Yeah, if you got strong thumbs," Frank said.
"See, all these things are modular -- they
just latch together. Push here and here,
and the grill pops right out of the frame."

"Well, that leaves me out," Ansel said,
shaking his head. "I only have
one working hand right now."

"I can do it," Sorley said.
He had no trouble popping
the grills out of the panels.

"Not mine," Lilita said. "I don't
want people reaching to grab me."

"No problem," Filly said. "We brought
extra clips so we can even fasten
the loose grills together in case
anyone wants theirs all bars."

"Mine, please," said Arun.
"I'm staying close to Lilita,
but people need to see me."

"This'll help too," Frank said,
taking out a stack of wooden slabs.

"What are those?" Lilita asked.

"Stall name tags," Frank said.
"You just loop the chain around
your grill to show which place is
whose, or use a nail on a solid wall.
Write your name on tape for today,
but later on, you can take these to
a woodcarver to make permanent."

"We also brought saddle blankets,"
Filly said. "These are versatile --
throw one over your back if you
get cold, or use them to pad things.
We weren't sure what kind of furniture
you might want, but probably something."

"We like things to lean on," Arun said.
"It has to be pretty sturdy, though."

One of the paramedics peeled away
from Sorley. "I'll go find some crates.
We've got empties all over the place,
and they should stack up well."

"So like cube furniture," Turq said.
"They can make whatever they want."

Tentatively Lilita lifted a hand. "I used
to make pictures of home decorating,"
she said. "It's fun. I can help figure out
what kind of furniture to make. Arun's right,
we'll need things to lean on. I don't want
to lie down until my sides heal more."

"Come pick some blankets, then,"
Frank invited, waving at them.

"Oh, look at all the colors," Lilita said.
"I'll take these in shades of brown.
Look at the purple ones, or maybe
the red-and-blue, Pogonip would
love those. What does Harriet like?"

"I don't know," Turq said. "Try
the yellow ones, though -- she's
really dark and it would stand out."

"I want the mauve," Charli said.

"How many are there?" Ansel said.
"We don't want to run out of them."

"I brought bales," Frank said.
"We're not going to run out."

"Everyone choose two for now,"
Ansel suggested. "If you need
more for what you're making,
then you can come back."

"Okay," Lilita said. She
spotted people coming with
empty crates and waved a hand.
"Over here! We're making furniture."

Someone else had already set up
the stall divisions, and the crates were
quickly stacked into low and high benches
to support the centaurs' bellies or elbows.

"You may need to experiment some before
you find out what's comfortable for you,"
Filly said. "Horses don't use furniture,
so we're in new territory here."

"I sleep on the bed sometimes,"
Turq said suddenly. "In caney form.
I like it. Couches are good too.
Some human things work for
other people, you just have
to get a little creative."

"Oh, it's so soft," Arun said,
testing the stall mats with
one sensitive hoof.

"I'm glad you like it,"
Frank said with a grin.
"These are my best ones."

Ansel jotted down the brand.
They might need it later.

"I brought grooming kits
for horses too," Frank said
as they went back outside.
"The wooden boxes hold
the all-natural sets and
the nylon bags have
the synthetic stuff.

"Ooo, brushes!" Turq said,
grabbing the nearest bundle.
"You guys gotta try this. It helps
sooo much with integration."

"Somebody should go find Harriet,"
said Kedric. "I heard that she has
a hard time uniting her halves."

"I'll just send a message,"
Ansel said, and typed it out.

Filly helped distribute the kits.

Arun wanted a natural one.
Charli's was pink and purple,
Lilita's green and blue, while
Sorley wanted the same as
the blue-and-gold Turq had.

"Interesting," Sorley said,
pressing a rubber curry comb
against the palm of his hand.

"Want me to try it on you?"
one of the paramedics offered.
"My massage therapist uses
something a lot like that on
me, and it feels fantastic."

"Yeah, go ahead," Sorley said,
and then groaned in pleasure
as the nubs rubbed over his skin.

Turq had gotten a face brush
to show Charli the long strokes,
demonstrating on his own arm.

"I am wearing way too much gear
for this," Ansel grumbled.

"Brush your hair, silly,"
Turq said. "That's good too."

"Here, this is basically a hairbrush,"
Frank said, passing Ansel one from
another natural kit. "It's boar bristle."

That was stiffer than Ansel usually used,
but as long as he used it gently, it was okay.
Besides, his hair itched from all the sweat
that had dried into it under his helmet.

Soon he was brushing more vigorously,
trying to get all the salt out of his hair.

Lilita was too badly hurt to brush
anything except the hair on her head,
but Arun was brushing that carefully.

Most of Charli's injuries were on
her lower half, so Turq was able
to run the brush over her top.

"That tickles!" she said, giggling.
"No, don't stop -- it feels nice."

Harriet showed up, and Kedric
volunteered to brush over her body
since he knew skin-brushing as
an actual therapy technique.

She liked it, but wasn't
satisfied with that alone.

"Can anybody do cornrows?"
Harriet asked, looking around.

"I can, my brother-in-law's nieces
have been all over me -- oh, but
not today," Ansel said, lifting
his injured hand. "Dang it."

"Bert's here, does he know?"
Turq said. "I learned a little
from some foster sisters, but
I'm not all that good at it."

"Yeah, Bert knows how, he
helped teach me," Ansel said.
"I'll see if he's free yet."

A quick message confirmed
that Bert could spare some time
to help with emotional first aid.

The look on his face when
he saw Harriet wrenched at
Ansel's heart. It was never
going to be easy for anyone
African-American to look at
slaves and not remember
their own awful history.

Ansel wasn't easy with
his half of American history,
either, but at least today they
were writing a better chapter.

"What style you want?"
Bert asked Harriet.

"I don't know," she said.
"It's been so long ... maybe
some braids going straight back."

"Can do," Bert said, then turned
to Kedric. "You got any conditioner
in that kit? I know it sounds nuts,
but some stuff meant for horses
actually works on African hair too."

"I've got a box of stuff," Frank said.
"Hoof polish too, if anyone wants it."

Charli and Lilita bumped into each other
as they rushed forward, squealing
and snapping just like horses.

"Ladies," Ansel said firmly.
"Mind your manners, please."

They muttered grudging apologies
and stopped fighting over the polish.

"Is it all pink?" Arun said, staring
at the bottle Charli held triumphantly.

"No, there's a bunch of colors, including
natural and black," said Frank. "I got
clear hoof oils and conditioners too."

"You have tender feet," Filly said to Arun.
"Here's a good all-purpose conditioner.
Want me to put some on for you?"

"Yes, please," Arun said. "I like
being free, but it hurts my feet."

"We'll have to see about shoes,"
Ansel said. "That should help too."

Frank shook his head. "I didn't
bring boots or granular shoes.
You want a farrier or a vet
to help decide what to use."

"Yeah, and meanwhile, we can
start with this." Filly crouched down
to start coating Arun's hooves.

"Ansel, you got one good hand left,"
Bert said. "Come here and help me.
Hold the loose hair out of the way.
I don't have any clips for it."

"Sorry, I couldn't bring everything,"
Frank said. "I was thinking about
practical grooming, not decoration."

"It's okay, I can just hold her hair,"
Ansel said. "Is that okay, Harriet?"

She hesitated for a minute.

"You can say no," Ansel said.
"I know what it's like. People
grope my hair too, and I hate it."

"Oh," she said, looking at
his pink fluff. "I bet they do!
Okay, you can touch mine."

As Ansel gathered up the strands,
Bert said, "Sorry, Harriet, I should've
asked you first." Then he shrugged.
"Sometimes, I just forget he's white."

"White as they come, but not a jerk
about it," Ansel said amiably.

"I'm Chinese-American," Turq said.
"Sometimes people complain about
that, too. They don't understand how I
can look this way, but my foster parents
are Chinese immigrants, so yeah. You
want me to help Kedric brush your body
while they're doing up your hair?"

"Yes, please," Harriet said,
then sighed. "It's hard to talk
about this stuff, but I'll get bored
if I don't have something to do.
Cornrows take a long time."

"Be right back," Frank said.
He hurried back to the truck.

The centaurs were sprawled
in and around the new tent, some
of them tweaking the furniture.

Something about the scene
reminded Ansel of a slumber party,
with people brushing hair while Lilita
and Charli painted each other's hooves.

Frank returned with an armload of
books and different-colored art pens.

"Here you go," he said. "I thought
somebody might wind up waiting, so
I brought puzzles and activity books."

They let Harriet go first, and she chose
The Little Book of Big Word Puzzles.
Sorley wanted Maze Madness.

Arun took one of the logic puzzles
and then passed the stack to Charli,
who stopped painting Lilita's hooves
long enough to gush over the coloring books.

Ansel smiled and passed another hank of hair
to Bert so he could start another cornrow.
Harriet had been wary at first, but now
she was relaxed under their hands.

Ansel looked at Arun standing
hipcocked and lazy while Filly
put conditioner on his hooves.

He couldn't fix everything, but
he could protect the survivors
and soothe their nerves.

Frank ambled over to help
a new cluster of centaurs
unpack more goodies from
the back of the delivery truck.

Filly shooed away another officer
who was trying to pester the centaurs
with nosy questions while they were
trying to remember how to relax.

She was just as protective
of them as Ansel was.

"How are we doing here,
Kedric?" said Ansel. "Do
we need anything more?"

Kedric shook his head.
"Cure sometimes, treat often,
comfort always," he said.
"Don't overthink things."

"Okay," Ansel said, stroking
Harriet's hair. "I can do that."

* * *

Notes:

This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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