Warning: This poem contains intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features a mismatch in flavor preferences, catastrophizing, sticky toddler, suspicion, severe superpower clash with ghastly tactile descriptions, panic, confusion, self-loathing, Shiv doesn't feel like himself, oblique arrangement of a crime spree, trolling for bigots, racism, pickpocketing, destruction of property, guilt, and other angst. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"A Gravel and Cream Sandwich"
[Sunday, March 29, 2015]
Finn parties were exciting,
sometimes a little too exciting,
but Shiv was starting to like them.
It was always easy to find
someone to geek out over
your latest discovery.
"Hey Heron, try this,"
Shiv said, offering him
two loaf pans full of fudge.
Heron took one piece,
ate it, and then frowned.
"Did you know you can make
chocolate avocado fudge that
tastes exactly like chocolate soap?"
Shiv said, grinning. "I was bitching
about not being able to eat the soap,
you know, and Gray helped me find
a recipe that would taste the same."
"I noticed," Heron said, trying to scrape
the taste off his tongue with his teeth.
"You don't like it," Shiv said, slumping.
"Shit. Nobody's gonna like it but me! This
was supposed to be my contribution."
"While I am not the fan of soap flavor
that you are, avocado and walnuts don't
taste soapy to everyone," Heron said.
"I can recognize a great batch of fudge
even if it's not to my personal taste.
Bethan? Come try Shiv's fudge."
"Oooh, that looks delicious,"
the speedster said. "How many
calories per piece, do you know?"
"Gray did the math," Shiv replied,
offering her both of the loaf pans.
"He said 138 calories per piece
with walnuts or 105 calories plain."
Bethan ate a walnut piece, then
gave a happy sigh. "Oh yeah,
that stuff is amazing. I will
happily barter you for a batch."
"A whole batch of the walnut
has 3305 calories, which is
one or two jumps for most
of the teleporters I know,"
Shiv said. "I dunno what
that is in speedster terms."
"It depends on how fast I go,
but definitely a useful amount,"
Bethan said. "I love avocados
and nuts, but I get tired of having
the same flavors all the time. This is
chocolate, and it comes in pieces
so it's easy to eat and run."
Shiv remembered how Molly
would cut sandwiches into quarters
in case she got a call while eating,
so the unbitten parts would stay fresh.
"Yeah, you could probably pour
the batter into an ice cube tray
and freeze it," Shiv said. "It'd
stay chunked longer that way."
"You are a genius," Bethan said.
"Hey Molly, Dave, have you guys
had any candy yet? Shiv brought
dark chocolate avocado fudge!"
"CANDY!" Saraphina crowed.
"Well, she's learned that word
in every language," Drew said wryly,
"although she can't spell it yet."
"Does she like avocados, though?"
Shiv said, holding the loaf pans
out of reach. He wasn't about
to make that mistake again.
Drew laughed. "She eats
them out of hand, like apples."
"Fair 'nuff," Shiv said, and
let Saraphina have some.
The next thing he knew,
he was trying to peel
a sticky, friendly toddler
away from his front.
"Here, let me take
the fudge," Bethan said.
"So you can eat all of it
and nobody will believe I
brought anything?" Shiv said.
"So you can have both hands
free to untangle yourself,"
Bethan said. "Everybody
knows you made the fudge."
"Fine, take it," Shiv said,
letting her have the pans.
Saraphina had clamped herself
onto him like an octopus, so he
really did need both hands to try
prying her loose while she giggled.
"She's not upsetting you, is she?"
Drew said as he helped Shiv get free.
Saraphina wrapped just as tightly
around Drew. "I know that she's
clingy, but she's got reasons."
"Here, let me take Saraphina for
a moment --" said an unfamiliar voice.
Suddenly Shiv was drowning in energy.
It was all warm and sticky, and it
was positively smothering him.
"Ugh!" Shiv yelled, backpedaling
to get away from the feeling,
only to bump into Dr. G,
nearly knocking him down.
The stranger hissed in pain
and backed away just as fast.
"Whoa, careful there!" said Dr. G.
"What's the matter, Shiv?"
Shiv said, frantically rubbing
his hands over his arms.
"What's on -- oh," Dr. G said,
noticing the stranger's upset too.
"I think I know. Shiv, come
with me, into my office."
Dr. G towed him through
the house, shooing people
out of the way. Then he
shut the office door and
flipped the privacy switch.
Shiv leaned against a wall,
panting for breath, bouncing
a little to reassure himself that
there was something at his back.
"What the fuck?" he snapped.
"I think you and Aidan just had
a superpower clash," said Dr. G.
"It's rare, but it happens sometimes --
usually between opposed abilities,
like Fire Powers and Water Powers."
"Then what is his and why is it
driving me nuts?" Shiv said.
Dr. G shook his head.
"Privacy maintains, so I
can't tell you Aidan's ability,"
he said. "Without going into
personal details, however, I
can say that it isn't opposed
to yours, so there must be
another reason for the clash."
"What would be opposed
to mine?" Shiv wondered.
"Something like your sister's gift,
actually," said Dr. G. "She controls
soft things, you control hard things."
"But we match," Shiv said. "It's
how we got together. Our powers
just sort of ... liked each other,
from the moment we met."
"Yes, that happens too,"
Dr. G said. "Opposed powers
can mean that two people fit
very well or very badly. Some of
them have an innate resistance
to the opposite energy, but others
have a vulnerability instead."
"That's me and Luci, though,
not me and Aidan," said Shiv.
"So what's going on? That sucked."
"I think it sucked for Aidan, too,
but he has more experience with
superpowers," said Dr. G. "I'll help
you first, then go check on him."
"Fffff ... I guess that's fair,"
Shiv said grudgingly, although
he didn't want to give up his refuge.
"You can stay in here, or go home,
or whatever you need," Dr. G said.
"I'll think about it," Shiv said.
"It's just ... this makes no sense!"
"Mmm," said Dr. G. "In college, I had
a classmate that I just couldn't stand.
You ever have that happen where you
meet someone and just -- clash? We
were like a gravel and cream sandwich."
The image startled Shiv into a laugh.
"Yeah, but not like this before."
"Remember that superpowers
make everything more intense,"
Dr. G said. "What did you feel?"
"It's like I was drowning in honey
or something," Shiv said, shuddering.
"That was someone else's energy
coming into contact with yours, but
it was incompatible," Dr. G explained.
"I think it felt bad to both of you, though I
can't speculate on exactly what Aidan felt."
"Why does the energy go wrong if it's
not the powers themselves?" Shiv said.
"Some people just don't get along because
of personality differences," Dr. G said. "It's
called 'bad chemistry,' due to anything from
pheromones to lived experience. It doesn't
necessarily mean either one is a bad person."
"But I am a bad person," Shiv whispered.
"Not in my professional opinion," Dr. G said.
"You are a fine young man who has survived
a lot of bad experiences. It was very wrong of
Dr. Alvah to call you a psychopath. You're not."
"Nice of you to say so," Shiv said, not
wanting to argue about it any more.
"See, you have social skills," Dr. G said.
"This is just a mishap we can work through."
"How do I make it stop?" Shiv wailed,
scratching at himself. "I can still feel it!"
"Let me make sure the coast is clear,
then you can go to the bathroom and
wash," Dr. G said. "That might help."
He went to the door, closing it behind him.
Shiv paced around the familiar room.
He didn't feel as bad as he had before,
more like he'd picked up a sticky bottle
and now had sticky fingers too.
Dr. G came back. "Aidan is in
the back yard with Saraphina and
Drew," he said. "I'll make sure you
have a clear path to the bathroom.
Use the purple jar on the counter --
that's lavender salt scrub, and
the ingredients are cleansing."
Shiv followed him, avoiding
everyone along the way, and
ducked into the bathroom.
The purple jar was as big
as his two fists together.
On the back it read,
Lavender Salt Scrub
For cleansing: wash
from elbows to fingertips.
For tranquility: wash from
fingertips to elbows.
For best results:
Do both in order.
Shiv wet his hands
and washed both ways.
The stuff felt greasy and
gritty at first, but it left
his skin silky-soft and
smelling of lavender.
When he went back
to the office, Dr. G said,
"How do you feel now?"
Shiv wiggled his hands.
"Better, but still not all right."
"Can you pin down what's
wrong?" Dr. G asked.
"It's like ... I don't feel
quite like me," Shiv said.
His shoulderblades scrunched
together behind his back.
"I hate feeling this way."
"Everyone does," Dr. G said.
"Okay, the best solution I can
think of is to go do something that
makes you feel the most yourself."
"Uh, doc, you don't want me doing
that at your party," Shiv muttered,
"or probably in your neighborhood."
"All right, I can fix that," Dr. G said.
"Wait here and I'll be right back."
Shiv felt a little less edgy, so
instead of bumping against
the wall, he took out a piece
of play-putty and then shifted
the metal into various shapes.
"I'm back," Dr. G said, bringing
another man with him. "Zipper, Shiv
needs a lift to a bad neighborhood."
"Not any specific one," Shiv said.
"Just ... you know, some place
that deserves a few kicks."
A slow, wicked smile spread
over the teleporter's face.
"Oh, I know just the place,"
Zipper purred. "I hadn't meant
to go back there, but for this,
I will make an exception."
Shiv patted himself, then
groaned. "Fuck," he said.
"I don't have any gloves,
didn't think I'd need 'em."
Dr. G cleared his throat.
"While I can't participate in
any illicit activities, if you think
about it, I believe that you'll find
what you need. Make sure to use
the bathroom before you leave."
Shiv had just been to the can,
so what was up with that?
He could recognize a hint
when he heard one, though.
Shiv went back to the bathroom
and rummaged around. Under
the sink he found two boxes of
disposable gloves, one marked
Sterile and the other Nonsterile.
Grinning, he grabbed several
from the nonsterile box and
stuffed them in his pockets.
Shiv left the bathroom, and
Zipper offered him an elbow.
Shiv took it, and then they
were somewhere else.
Looking around, Shiv
frowned. It looked like
a pretty nice street in
a shopping district.
"What the ...?" he said.
"Last month, I had a job here,
and the locals let me know
that they did not appreciate
my skin color, dress mode, or
presumed religion," Zipper said.
"So if you need to stir trouble ...
I'll be busy elsewhere."
"We're going trolling for
bigots?" Shiv said, grinning.
"Let me get about ten feet
ahead of you," Zipper said.
"Watch and see how people
treat me. What you decide
to do after that is up to you."
Shiv hadn't been expecting
Zipper to play steer to his tool,
but he'd sure take the offer.
They didn't have a duke man
to take the stolen goods, but
they didn't really need one.
Shiv could pick pockets
using his superpowers if
the loot was hard enough,
and for softer stuff he had
light fingers. The marks
would never even know
that he'd robbed them.
Until they reached for
their stuff, of course.
Shiv put on gloves, then
glided easily behind Zipper,
getting a feel for the crowd
so that he could blend in.
He was scruffier than
everyone else, but he
knew how to act like
a rascal rather than
an actual hoodlum.
It was still jarring
the first time someone
and muttered, "Towelhead."
The prick was even looking
over his shoulder at Zipper
when Shiv relieved him of
his wallet, his keys, and
his very expensive phone.
Shiv pocketed the cash,
dropped the wallet into
a dumpster and the keys
in a flowerbed, then used
his superpower to brick
the phone and tossed it
down a sewer grate.
Half a block later,
it happened again.
Shiv reached out and
nicked the lady's bracelet
and phone, but avoided
her cross-body purse.
The bracelet was set with
real sapphires -- tempting! --
but Shiv knew better than
to keep something identifiable.
He ditched both in planters
without breaking stride.
The next dickhead
thought he was being
clever, with his valuables
hidden in different places.
Shiv boosted everything
that wasn't zipped tight,
stripped out the cash,
and chucked the rest.
After half an hour, he
felt like himself again.
Lengthening his stride,
Shiv caught up to Zipper.
"Hey man, I'm getting
hungry, how about you?"
"I could eat," Zipper said,
and steered them into
the cleanest alley that
Shiv had ever seen.
"I already ditched
the junk," Shiv said.
"But not the gloves,"
Zipper said. He stooped
to snag a lonely newspaper
and offered it to Shiv.
Stripping off the gloves,
Shiv wrapped them in
the paper and then
snapped a spark.
When all was ash,
Zipper whisked them
both back to the office.
Dr. G was waiting for them.
"Feeling better, Shiv?" he said.
"Yeah, thanks," Shiv said.
"Then my work here is done,"
Zipper said, and left them.
Shiv shuffled in place.
"Um, what should I do with
the loot?" he said. "I don't
need it, and don't really
want to keep it."
"What kind of loot?"
Dr. G said, frowning.
"I only kept the cash,"
Shiv said. "The rest I
dropped along the way."
"In that case, there are
plenty of charities that can
always use help," Dr. G said.
"Local shelters any good?"
Shiv said, scratching his ear.
"Some of them are, yes,"
Dr. G. said with a nod.
"Point me," Shiv said.
So Dr. G brought Zipper
back for another jump
to the nearest drop box.
Shiv unloaded his loot
and then said, "I feel like I
should be tipping you in fudge."
"I wouldn't turn it down,"
Zipper said. "You're good."
Shiv looked around. There
was a grocery store at
the end of the block.
"You mind walking
a bit more?" he said.
"Not if it gets me fudge,"
Zipper said firmly.
So Shiv picked up
a bag of avocados,
another of walnuts, and
a jar of coconut butter,
trusting the Finns to have
everything else including
clinical-grade cacao powder.
When they got back to
the Finn house, Shiv felt
about a million pounds lighter.
"All better?" Dr. G asked.
"Yeah, I'm good," Shiv said.
"Well, as good as I get." He
sighed. "How's the other truck?"
"Aidan is ... disconcerted by
what he perceived," Dr. G said.
"He compared it to having a bucket
of broken glass dumped over him.
However, he knows how to handle
difficult feelings, and he assured me
that he will be fine after he takes
some basic steps in self-care."
"That's a relief," Shiv said.
"I don't like him, but I didn't
mean to break him, you know?"
"I'm happy to hear that," Dr. G said.
"You don't need to worry about
bumping into him again today,
as long as you stay in the house --
he and Saraphina are staying
outside in the back yard."
"You're not going to make me
apologize and shit?" said Shiv.
"No, it was an accident, and
not anyone's fault," Dr. G said.
"If both of you want to work on it
later, we'll figure out ways that
you can attend the same event
without tripping over each other."
"Eh," Shiv said. "I'll think about it."
"Thanks," Dr. G replied. "Though you
and Aidan clashed, Saraphina seems
to like you, and we want to encourage
her to make friends that way."
"Well, at least she likes
my cooking," Shiv said.
"Speaking of which, what's up
with the groceries?" Dr. G said.
"We have plenty of food here."
"I wanted to tip Zipper in fudge,"
Shiv said. "Some people liked it,
so I figured I could do a few batches
in the kitchen. If you don't mind."
"I don't mind, but we may need
to draw straws for who gets to watch,"
Dr. G said. "The fudge is a hit, and
lots of people have asked for the recipe."
"Sure, why not?" Shiv said, then
smirked. "It's gotta be better than
a gravel and cream sandwich!"
* * *
This poem runs long, so its notes appear separately.