"All the Beautiful Lights"
[Sunday, December 21, 2014]
Lake Manawa looked like a nonstick griddle,
the ice flat and gray under a cloudy sky,
but Shiv knew it would glitter in the sun.
Shiv and Luci walked toward the dock
where the Manawa Marvel waited.
The gift shop beckoned, and they
spent a minute with their noses
pressed against the frosty glass
before Shiv's stomach growled.
"Aiya!" Luci said with a laugh.
"Let's get on the cruise ship.
Our tickets give us free meals,
all day. We can come back and
shop here after the cruise ends.
The gift shop stays open late for
the holiday lights display."
"Fantastic," Shiv said
as he picked up his pace.
The colors might be muted
due to the clouds, but everywhere
the world was crinkled and feathered
with ice. It crunched underfoot and
tinkled overhead in the trees.
The weather wasn't actually cold --
it was still in the mid-forties -- and
a gentle breeze stirred the bare twigs.
"This is such a beautiful day for a cruise!"
Luci said, skipping ahead on light feet.
Shiv was pretty sure that if he tried
skipping on icy ground, he would
kill himself to death. He'd already
faceplanted more than once while
trying to learn how to ice skate.
The Manawa Marvel was
the biggest ship that Shiv
had ever seen in person.
He knew they came bigger,
but he couldn't imagine how.
That thing was two stories tall!
Outside decks wrapped around
the glass-walled middle of the ship,
and its flags snapped in the breeze.
"We have tickets for the all-day cruise,"
Luci announced when they reached
the little booth. "We're so excited!"
"Welcome to Plato's Lake,"
the attendant said, handing her
the stubs. "Would you like to wear
relationship ribbons, or not?"
A little display showed ribbons
for solo, parent-child, brother-sister,
queerplatonic, and other options.
The brother-sister set had ribbons
of pink and blue with cute charms
dangling below the knotted bows.
"Shiv-ya? What do you think?"
Luci said, turning to look at him.
The damn things looked ridiculous,
but they would get the point across.
"The whole idea of this cruise is
to let people know what we are,"
Shiv said. "Get the ribbons."
He'd rather look ridiculous
than look like a boyfriend.
"Ta-da!" Luci said as she
carefully pinned one on him.
As they crossed the swaying bridge
onto the cruise ship, Shiv's stomach
gave a little squeeze of nerves.
"Don't worry, Shiv-ya, the boat
is very safe," Luci murmured.
"I checked. They even have
a lifeguard on the staff!"
That was reassuring.
Lifeguards might be bossy,
but they were damn good at
making sure nobody drowned.
Shiv had tested that plenty.
Still, he looked around as soon
they made it to the deck, identifying
a lifeboat, a large rack of lifejackets,
a rope with a floating ring attached, and
a first aid kit the size of a tacklebox.
Beside them stood a man whose coat
read LIFEGUARD across the back.
Shiv relaxed and let Luci lead him
toward the door. "Upstairs is food,
downstairs is music and dancing,
outdoors has extra seating for
sightseeing," Luci said. "Let's
eat, because I'm starving too!"
Inside, the upper deck was
fragrant with steam rising from
the buffet table. Tables and chairs
lined one wall, and individual seats
filled out the rest of the edges.
"See, breakfast and lunch are
for serving yourself," Luci said.
"For supper, they'll clear away
the buffet and side seats, then
fill the whole deck with tables."
"Uh huh," Shiv said, all his attention
fixed on the buffet. It had the usuals --
plain scrambled eggs, maple bacon,
a pan that smelled like cinnamon rolls,
cups of dry cereal or instant oatmeal,
yogurt, granola, bagels, and whole fruit.
It also had some special stuff like
blueberry buckwheat pancakes with
a big bowl of blueberries and bananas
in case you wanted even more fruit
on them, a grapefruit salad with mint,
and something listed as breakfast salad.
There were plates and bowls in various sizes,
including divided plates with healthy portions
marked on them. Shiv grabbed a plain one
because he already had a diet that he liked.
"Whole grain, fruit, extra fruit," Shiv muttered
as he shoveled pancakes and blueberries
onto his plate. "Extra-extra fruit." He added
a bowl of grapefruit salad. "Bacon!" Lots of
delicious bacon sticky with maple syrup.
He hesitated over the breakfast salad.
On the one hand: salad. He wasn't a fan
of rabbit food. On the other hand: colors.
It looked like mostly peppers and tomatoes
with some parsley thrown in. Plus you
could get a fresh fried egg on top of it.
"I'd like the breakfast salad with
a fried egg over hard," Shiv said.
The short-order cook looked at
his armload of food and said gently,
"Are you sure? You can always
come back for seconds, sir."
Shiv cringed. He knew
better than to be a pig, even
if it was already paid for.
Luci just laughed. "This is
us planning for seconds!"
she said. "I am a dancer,
he is my roadie, we are
always, always hungry."
"So sorry, I didn't realize
you're on an active diet,"
the cook said. "Over hard,
coming right up. Would you
like a tray to carry it all?"
"Yes," Shiv said, and
transferred everything from
his arms to the offered tray.
"After you finish that,
can I get just a runny egg
over this?" Luci said, holding
a bowl of ... something.
A closer look told Shiv
that she had found rice
somewhere and faked up
a nice bowl of congee.
While they were waiting,
Shiv grabbed some kind of
cranberry punch and Luci
took a cup of black tea.
"Launching in five minutes,"
the announcer said. "Please
find a secure seat for launch."
Shiv and Luci grabbed their food
and hurried to sit at a table.
The buckwheat pancakes
were fantastic, nutty and rich,
buried under a mountain of
blueberries and bananas.
The grapefruit salad was
sweet-tart with its dressing
made from honey and mint.
The breakfast salad was
surprisingly fantastic, a mix
of spicy and sweet flavors
with a hidden surprise of
rich, soapy avocado.
Shiv only realized he
was moaning in pleasure
when Luci giggled at him.
"Don't worry, Shiv-ya," she said.
"I'm glad you're enjoying the food.
The cook wasn't being stingy, either --
just trying to make sure that people
don't get overeager and waste food."
"Oh," Shiv said. He hadn't thought of
that. He hated wasting food, and it was
a real risk at buffets. "That's okay, then."
Outside the window, the gray lake
rolled slowly past. It was pretty,
in a quiet way, and it soothed
something restless in Shiv.
A flock of ducks flew past,
quacking, and landed in the wake
of dark water dotted with ice that
the Manawa Marvel left behind.
"There will be a free lesson
in plein air art on the foredeck
in five minutes," the announcer said.
"Please bring your supplies if you have
any. Complimentary ones are limited."
Shiv crammed the last of his pancake
into his mouth and bolted from the table,
leaving Luci to clean up the mess.
He knew if you wanted freebies,
then you better get there fast.
Sure enough, there was only
one each of the kits for watercolors,
oils, and creme pastels although
there were several of charcoals.
Shiv grabbed the creme pastels
and a tiny 4x5" canvas board.
Two watercolor painters were
starting to squabble over the set.
Ironically the two oil painters --
whose set was the smallest! --
had taken one look at each other
and agreed to share that one.
The art teacher separated
the watercolor painters and
firmly told them to take turns.
Meanwhile the people who had
known about the free art lesson
were unpacking whole backpacks
of supplies -- folding easels and
full-size palette boards and holy shit
one lady had a box of like 80 pastels.
Shiv tried not to drool over that kit.
He was damn well going to make
a backpack art kit when he got home,
though. You could buy a backpack
at any thrift store for five bucks, and
then it was just the art supplies.
FREE ART LESN OMFG
DID U KOW? Shiv texted
to Lieutenant Brown.
Nope. Just bought
best tix, came the reply.
TOTLY FORGVN, Shiv sent.
He watched carefully as other artists
set up their work stations, then
copied as best he could.
"Hi, everyone," said the teacher,
an older lady with a warm voice.
"I'm Bara, and today I'm presenting
a lesson in plein air art -- that means
working outdoors. We have watercolors,
oils, creme pastels, and charcoals so I'll
be presenting general and specific tips."
The students murmured a welcome.
"Now, the most important thing about
painting on the water is to relax and
look for the big picture," said Bara.
"If you try to do tiny details here, you'll
just frustrate yourselves. So watch
the water and the shore as we move,
and render your impression, not the facts."
That was a really fascinating idea. Shiv
immediately twisted around to look at
different parts of the lake, and saw
the other students doing the same.
The clouds were breaking up a little,
so that the sky became a patchwork
of dull gray and brighter blue. Shiv
recalled coming here one summer,
how the lake caught at the sky, and
the green trees on the shore turned
to purple forest farther back.
It wasn't in front of him now,
but he remembered it, and
thought he could capture it.
Then Luci bounded out of
the closed cabin. "Hiya!"
she said. "Sorry I'm late, I
had to clear the table. Does
anyone want a live model?"
A forest of hands sprouted.
"Thank you for offering, miss,"
said Bara. "We can make
room for you right over here."
People shuffled around to make
a clear spot for Luci to stand in
where everyone could see her,
if they wanted to paint a girl
instead of the lake, or with it.
"I'm Luci, I'm Shiv's sister,"
she said. "He's over there
with the creme pastels."
Shiv ducked his head but
managed a little wave.
Then Luci started up
a whispered conversation
with the teacher, which gave
Shiv a chance to start
sketching the shore.
Luci peeled off her coat
and said, "I'm going to do
a set of one-minute poses from
my aerial dancing -- you'll have
to imagine the silk streamers -- then
some yoga poses. Finally I'll pick
an easier pose and hold it longer."
She had a sweater on underneath, and
the exercise would keep her warm.
One of the other students gave
a wistful look at Shiv's pastels.
She hadn't brought any supplies
and there were no spares left.
"You don't need all colors to do
gesture sketches," Shiv said.
He'd caught a class on that, and
it was pretty cool. "Here, take
the red, I don't need that one."
"Thank you so much!" she said,
taking the pastel and then
grabbing a sketch board
with pages clipped to it.
Shiv glanced at Luci from
time to time, enough that he
recognized the Sun Salutation,
and in between he watched
the shoreline flow past as
he sketched it on his board.
When he finished that, he
passed the pastels to the girl.
Then Shiv picked up the charcoals
that someone else had set aside,
and did some casual sketches of
different parts of the shoreline,
the other artists, and Luci
making a pretzel of herself.
When she finished the set,
she flopped into the chair
beside Shiv and said, "Whew!
That was a fun workout. Did
you get any good sketches?"
"Yeah," Shiv said, showing her
the color pastel of the lake and
a page of assorted charcoals.
"Very nice," Luci said, grinning.
"Thanks," Shiv said. "I think
working outdoors is fun. I might
look for more classes in it later."
"Here, take some brochures,"
the teacher said, passing him
a stack. "I teach all kinds of
art classes. The free ones like
this help me find new students."
Shiv had only half-listened to her
while he worked, but he had loved
that first bit of advice she gave.
Maybe he would look her up.
"Shiv, look!" Luci exclaimed.
"There are eagles on the ice!"
Sure enough, there were
two bald eagles pecking at
something on the frozen lake.
Everyone dove for their supplies.
Shiv instantly regretted having
given up the creme pastels.
Well, that'd learn him
to look out for himself.
"Split 'em with you,"
the girl said, pushing
the box between them.
"Deal," Shiv said, adding
the charcoals so they could
both do a quick under-sketch.
Then all they'd have to do was
use different colors at the same time.
"Okay, class, we have new guest models,"
the teacher crowed. "When drawing birds,
you have to work extra fast because they
could fly away at any moment. Get your
horizon line, position the birds in frame,
and then do details like direction of gaze."
Shiv's pencil danced over the page
as fast as she spoke. Then he dropped it
and colored in the sky, trees, and lake with
broadside strokes. The eagles were tiny dots
of black with brilliantly white heads that
stood out against the blue-gray lake.
Then they flew away, making
most of the artists groan.
"I got 'em. Did you get 'em?"
Shiv said, turning to the girl.
"I did," she said, showing him
a picture. One eagle had its wing
stretched out. "I'm Jaune."
"Nice," he said. "I'm Shiv,
and this is my sister Luci."
"Thank you so much
for modeling!" Jaune said,
turning to Luci. "I never get
enough time drawing people."
"I'm at the University of Nebraska,
Omaha," said Luci. "We could
get together if you like. I've done
modeling for artists before."
"I'm majoring in art there,"
Jaune said, and scribbled
her address for Luci, who
quickly returned the favor.
"There will be a free class in
photography on the rear deck
in five minutes," the announcer said.
"Meh," Shiv said, looking at Luci.
"Doesn't grab me either," she said.
"We can walk around the ship."
Shiv and Jaune handed back
their supplies and thanked
the teacher for sharing.
"I hope to see you at
some of my classes,"
said Bara. "You did
a fine job working fast,
and not everyone can."
Shiv had damn well learned
to do things fast, because he
knew they might not last.
After that, Shiv and Luci
strolled around the deck
that wrapped the class cabin
on the upper and lower levels.
It was chilly, and after a while,
snowflakes began to drift down.
"Fuck this, I'm freezing," Shiv said.
"Me t-too," Luci said. "Let's go in.
They should have lunch out now."
Inside, it was warm and busy as
the lunch crowd hit the buffet tables.
Most of lunch seemed to consist of
sandwiches, either big ones cut up
like the cobb salad sub Shiv got
or little ones on their own buns like
the blackberry sriracha chicken sliders
like Luci got. Those looked tasty.
There were soups, too. Shiv got
lime chicken chili while Luci squealed
over an offering of egg drop soup.
The other table had salads, but
screw that, because pizza.
By then Shiv's plate was
so full that he only had room
for a lemon cookie as dessert.
They found a table and dug into
lunch. Shiv's sandwich was cold --
clearly a mistake in this weather --
but tasted good enough. The pizza
and the chili did more to warm him up.
A cart came by offering hot drinks.
Luci grabbed the chai maple cider and
Shiv got the double-hot drinking chocolate.
"Be careful, it's hot," the server warned
as he passed their mugs to them.
Shiv took a big gulp anyway, and
promptly burned his tongue.
It was so worth it.
Jaune showed up, but
all the tables had people.
"Over here," Luci called,
waving to the other girl.
"Thanks," Jaune said
as she started eating.
"You sure it's okay?"
Shiv realized that he was
hunched into himself and
had curled an arm around
his plate even though it was
empty except for his cookie.
"It's fine," he said. "I've just ...
had some ups and downs.
Holidays can be hard."
Instead of nagging him
not to be such a Scrooge,
Jaune just nodded and said,
"Yeah. Taking this cruise is
my whole Christmas present. I
can't store stuff in a dorm, y'know?"
"I know," Luci moaned. "I tried
to decorate it like my room
at home, and ... ker-ploff!"
"It looked like an explosion in
a paint factory," Shiv snickered.
"But that's okay, because Shiv
helped me fix it," Luci said.
"What's your major, are you
in art too?" Jaune said, turning
to Shiv. "I haven't seen you there."
Shiv winced again. "I uh, didn't
do the college thing," he admitted.
"I work at Blues Moon, a jazz joint."
"Ooo, music," Jaune said, lighting up.
"What do you play? Do you play, or
do you do something else there?"
What Shiv had done was cut people
for money, but she didn't need to know
that, and besides ... now his job seemed
to be whatever Boss White felt like.
"He's my roadie," Luci said. "Also
he shops for the kitchen, and does
some other stuff. But he plays sax too."
"I am learning to play saxophone,"
Shiv said sharply. "I don't go onstage!"
"Pfff," Luci said, waving a hand.
"Give it time and you will be!"
Well that was a terrifying thought.
"So what kind of art do you do,
Jaune?" Shiv said, desperate
to change the subject.
It worked. Jaune went off
on a long spiel about art history,
drawing, painting, and prints.
They had to give up the table
since other people wanted to eat.
"Join us on the foredeck for
holiday carols in five minutes,"
the announcer called.
They looked at each other,
then all shook their heads.
Instead, they walked around
the outside deck some more.
Jaune pointed out landmarks
on the shore, and Luci spotted
more birds. Shiv was the one
who saw the deer ghosting
through the bare trees.
Luci chattered about
her aerial dancing, which
made Jaune lament that she
couldn't afford a show.
"I get complimentary tickets
to pass around," Luci said.
"I've got your contact info,
so I'll send you one."
Jaune squealed, then
went off on a long description
of tribal art and how she hoped
to develop a personal style that
blended past and present motifs.
"I do that with jazz art," Shiv said.
"Some of it, I like to put African bits,
since that's where jazz and blues
came from. Sometimes it works."
"There will be a free dance lesson
on the lower deck in five minutes,"
the announcer said, and this time
they all headed downstairs.
It wasn't fancy, which was
good, because then Shiv
didn't have panic over it.
The instructors just showed
some basic steps, then explained
how those combined to make
the classic ballroom dances.
Everyone got a chance to practice
and switch partners a few times.
Shiv didn't mind dancing alone, but
he wasn't up for that much touching,
so he waved off Jaune's offer. She
shrugged and danced with Luci.
After that came a lesson on
modern dance moves, though,
and that was all solo stuff.
Shiv didn't totally suck at it.
Luci was kind enough not
to laugh at his attempts.
At the end of the lesson,
the instructors directed
their attention to a playlist
that showed which styles of
music would be playing and
what dances each one suited.
"There's a lot of jazz and blues,"
Shiv said with a grin. "Swing too,
and big band, we get a little of
those at the club for dancing."
"Some of the western stuff
isn't bad," Jaune said. "I think
powwow music is better though."
"Well, duh," Shiv said. "They got
a drum that's like three feet wide."
"Yep," Jaune said with a nod.
"I'm not a big fan of country music,
and I didn't see any Asian, but I
can dance to jazz or blues,"
Luci said. "I do at the club."
Warm from dancing, they
went back outside and walked
around decks in the evening air.
"I don't know about you, but I need
to work off some of those calories
I've been guzzling," Jaune said.
Luci laughed. "That's my night job."
"I don't got a car, so I walk
most everywhere," Shiv said.
"I guess I'm the pudge of
the group, then," said Jaune.
"Artists don't get out so much."
"No," Shiv said sharply. "You
look fine. You're keeping up.
If other people have been
talking smack about you,
tell them to fuck off."
Shiv would do more than
that; he'd slit their shoelaces
if he heard them picking on her.
Jaune had been nice to him, had
shared the art supplies when she
didn't have to, and it pissed him off
to remember the kinds of things
that mean kids said to 'pudgy' girls.
She wasn't even all that big,
she just wasn't skinny or beefed.
Luci bumped against him,
a gentle reminder not to snap
at Jaune for other people's shit.
"Ooo, look!" Jaune said, and
Shiv forgot all about the issue.
The lights had come on.
All around the lake, there were
holiday light displays facing the water
for the boaters to enjoy, and some folks
had even decorated their own boats.
Shiv saw Santa waving at them,
a gingerbread house, and then
an ice fisherman. A candelabra
wished them Kwanzaa Harambee.
"Look, it's a train," Shiv said,
pointing at a nearby boat.
"And that one's a lighthouse."
"Dragon!" Luci exclaimed, and
there it was, green and snakey.
As they watched, it breathed fire.
"Holy fucking shit!" Shiv yelped,
conking himself on the ship's wall
as he jumped away from the flames.
"You okay?" Luci said, patting him.
"I'm fine," Shiv muttered, although
he felt stupid for spooking over a boat.
"Let's go inside," Jaune said. "I'm not
a huge fan of things catching fire."
Luci checked her vidwatch.
"Supper should be up now,"
she said. "What did you order?
They ran out of catfish, so I got
the sea bass instead. It comes
with rice and stir-fried veggies,
so I'm thrilled with the switch."
"Roasted chicken with salad
and a fruit cup," Jaune said.
"Whole grilled trout with orzo
and green beans," Shiv said.
All they had to do was pick a table
and show the server their ticket stubs.
The food was already plated up and
ready to serve, which was terrific,
because Shiv was starving again.
Cold weather burned calories like mad.
He'd been looking forward to this dish
all day long, and it was absolutely
worth the wait. The trout almost
melted in his mouth, and even
the side dishes were good.
Just as Shiv was chasing
the last grains of orzo around
his plate, the dessert cart came.
He hovered over it, then chose
a dark chocolate peppermint cupcake.
Both of the girls got gingerbread.
After supper, Jaune peeled off
to look for dance partners.
"Do you want to dance?"
Luci asked, looking at Shiv.
He shook his head. "It's been
fun, but I'm wearing out. There
are a lot of people here."
"No problem, we can
stay outside," Luci said.
Shiv loved the fact that she
didn't push him to do more
than he felt comfortable doing.
The Manawa Marvel had
turned on her own lights, now
clad in festive red and green.
It was dusting snow again,
and the air was colder, but
the wind had dropped down
to almost nothing, so it didn't
feel as cold as it really was.
Shiv and Luci watched
the lights slide by, and
then Shiv said, "Hey,
what's all that light?"
"The park has a display
on land, too," Luci said.
"I was hoping to see it
tonight, but I can always
come back another time."
"If it's outside, it won't feel
so crowded," he said. "I
can maybe do a loop."
"Remember we need
to hit the gift shop first,
for Plato's Lake shirts,"
Luci said. "It's important."
"I'm not forgetting that,"
Shiv agreed. "We'll stop
there first and then see
how much energy we have."
The ship glided into the dock,
and then they had to go down
that damn bridge thing in the dark,
which was no fun at all even with
the deck lights trying to help.
They made it without falling in,
so Shiv would call it good.
The gift shop had a hilarious mix
of tropical stuff, Christmas stuff, and
nautical stuff all thrown together.
Shiv and Luci wound up choosing
sweatshirts instead of t-shirts, since
neither of them had many clothes
suited to the winter weather.
Shiv also got a set of notecards,
three each of four different photos
showing the lake in winter.
Luci found a craft kit
to make ornaments from
silk and satin ribbons.
The store was big and bright,
but not too crowded -- it looked
like most people had shopped
before the cruise, not after it.
"Holiday lights, or home?"
Luci asked Shiv as they left
the gift shop with their loot.
"I think I can do the lights,
if the trail's not too long,"
Shiv said. "Is there a map?"
"Yes," Luci said, pointing to it.
"Oh, look -- there's a short loop
and a long loop to choose from."
"Short," said Shiv. He knew
better than to push his luck.
The place was magical, though,
and made him glad he came.
There was a cart selling hot drinks
and spiced nuts near the sign.
"My favorite thing about
the holiday season is the lights,"
Luci said. "I love walking around
with family, friends, and a cup of
peppermint hot chocolate to look at
all the beautiful lights and decorations."
"I thought you didn't do Christmas?"
Shiv said as he collected their cups
and handed one of them to Luci.
She shrugged. "I don't have to be
Christian to enjoy the light show."
"Good point," Shiv said. He
liked the lights well enough, it was
the symbolism that itched sometimes.
Shiv and Luci walked through
a long tunnel banded with
different colors of tiny lights,
snow crunching underfoot
and breath smoking in the air.
It opened into a fairyland forest
with candelaria on the ground
and each tree in its own color,
framing a wide concrete path.
Holiday words hung from the trees,
wishing people PEACE and JOY.
There was a peace sign, too,
and a blue menorah beyond it.
The end of the path held
a glowing green tree with
red apples all over it.
"I've never seen that
before," Luci said.
"Is it still Christmas?"
"Yeah, sorta," Shiv said.
"It's a secular Christmas tree,
you know, like Newton's apples."
Luci laughed. "I love it!"
Shiv didn't mind it as long
as it was far enough away and
also fastened firmly to the ground.
He'd had a science teacher, once,
who put up one like it in the classroom
and let everyone pick a science toy
out of a big basket with all kinds.
Shiv had gotten a kit that let you
grow crystals in a jar, and that thing
had mesmerized him for hours at a time
until a foster brother had knocked it
off of the table and broken it.
Funny, he'd forgotten about that.
It made him wonder if people still
made crystal-growing kits and,
if so, where to find some.
Dr. G would probably know.
"What are you thinking, Shiv-ya?"
said Luci. "You have an odd look."
"Thinking about buying myself
a Christmas gift," he said.
"Oh, you should!" Luci said
as they headed toward
the park's bus shelter.
"I think I will," Shiv said.
It would be fun to play with.
As he watched her shining face,
Shiv thought that his sister was
the most beautiful holiday light of all.
Luci bumped him gently.
"So, did you enjoy the cruise?"
Shiv looked down at the bags
that held his purchases and
the art from earlier today.
"Oh hell yes," he said.
"Best holiday trip ever."
* * *
This poem is long, so the character, location, and content notes will appear separately.