Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Their Wings Too Heavy"

This poem is spillover from the March 3, 2020 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] fuzzyred, [personal profile] librarygeek, [personal profile] readera, and [personal profile] wispfox. It also fills the "sweet potatoes" square in my 3-1-20 card for the Food Fest Bingo. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Shiv and Broken Angel threads of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"Their Wings Too Heavy"

[Tuesday, November 17, 2015]

After breakfast, Shiv went down
to make the daily special menu
on the big standup chalkboard.

He wrote Eat the rainbow!
over a bunch of rainbow chard.
That was getting divided into
leaves for braising and stems
for a warm green bean salad.

They'd gotten a whole truck of
sweet potatoes that could be
boiled in wedges, mashed,
baked with different toppings,
or made into delicious pies,
all of which he pictured.

Shiv had also arranged for
foragers to bring in bushels of
ripe persimmons, now turned into
barbecue glaze and pudding.

He drew a persimmon with
arrows pointing to each dish.

The carnival squash would
be cut in half and then baked
with maple syrup and walnuts.

Shiv was coloring in the green
and orange squash when Heron
dropped by with Dairinne in tow.

"Shouldn't you be in school?"
Shiv said, narrowing his eyes.

People always ragged on him for
cutting class, which didn't stop him.

"This semester, I don't have classes
on Tuesday mornings," Heron said,
"so I thought I'd swing by here."

"Yeah, sure, I'm almost done,"
Shiv said, highlighting his squash.

"C'ayon!" Dairinne crowed,
waving her tiny hands.

"Nope, these are art chalks,"
Shiv said. "You want to color?
We just bought a big bucket of
Chubbie Chunks, come try 'em out."

He showed Heron the cabinet of
craft supplies for the restaurant,
tucked close to the kitchen so
the staff could reach it easily.

It held craft and coloring books,
loose paper and coloring pages,
bins of crayons and markers.

Shiv unrolled a mat on the floor,
taped down a piece of paper, and
gave Dairinne several chunks of
the colorful wax to play with.

"That's going over well,"
Heron said, almost smiling
as his daughter went to work.

Shiv watched her scribble
for a minute and then noticed
that Dairinne was choosing
the same colors he had.

"Is she trying to copy
my menu?" he asked.

"Moo!" Dairinne squealed.

"She likes to mimic people or
things she sees," Heron said.

"Huh," Shiv said. "Well, I'll
get us something to munch on."

He headed into the kitchen
to see what was available
this early in the day.

There wasn't a lot yet,
because Cook was busy
giving a lesson to Cas who
had come over from Lincoln,
while his daughter Hali sat
in a chair and watched.

The pies were still in
the oven, but some of
the boiled sweet potatoes
had been left out to cool.

Then a sound made Shiv
look up, and he saw Heron
making a beeline for Hali.

Without thinking about it,
Shiv dropped his shoulder,
tucked it into Heron's ribs,
and pushed him back out of
the kitchen into the restaurant.

"You can't run up to Hali like that,
she'll freak," Shiv warned him.

"That injury --" Heron said.

"Shut it," Shiv hissed. "You
leave that kid alone, she's had
enough people fuckin' with her,
and so has Cas. I mean it."

"She's being abused?" Heron said,
trying to wriggle out of Shiv's grip.

"They were in foster care, what
the fuck you think happened?"
Shiv said. "Sit your ass down.
Where are the damn brakes
you're always braggin' up?"

Shiv finally managed
to shove Heron in a chair,
knocking his long legs
out from under him.

Heron shook himself,
like he was trying to get
water out of his ears.

"Sorry, sorry," he said.
"You're right, of course.
It's just some things -- they
pull at me. Injuries like that,
it's like hearing a toddler shriek.
It's hard not to jump into action."

"Yeah well, you'da got more action
than you wanted if you got closer and
Cook had to clock you to keep you
off her," Shiv said grimly. "Boss White
promised they'd be safe here, and he
takes that real serious. I'm not joking,
Heron, they've been through enough."

Dairinne crawled over then and
wrapped herself around Heron
like a dog trying to hump his leg.

That seemed to help, because
Heron picked her up and cuddled her.

Only when Dairinne started to squirm
did Heron put her back down so
she could go back to coloring.

"These are fun, yeah?" Shiv said
as he sat down beside her and
picked up a few Chubbie Chunks.
"You wanna see a cool trick?"

With swift strokes on a blank page,
he sketched the head of a lion,
its mane mostly purple and red
with shadows of green and blue.

"That's really good," Heron said.

"Crayons aren't so different from
some pastels, they just don't
blend as good," Shiv said.

"I'm sorry that my control
slipped a bit," Heron said.
"Thank you for pulling me out
before I caused any trouble."

"Part of my job," Shiv said.

"I'm not used to seeing you in
bodyguard mode," Heron said.
"You're pretty good at that."

Shiv shrugged. "Yeah well,
you're so much taller than me,
that makes it easier to get at
your center of gravity."

"That's true," Heron said.
"Would you consider sparring
together some time, maybe?"

"Oh, like the time Aida invited me
to a 'friendly match' and I got my ass
handed to me?" Shiv said dryly.

"No, something more focused,"
Heron said. "I don't roughhouse
for fun, but it has practical uses.
Also, if I zone like that again, there
are some other things you can do
to snap me out of it sooner."

"Useful to know," Shiv said.
"Let me think about that, and
talk it over with Tolli and Simon
before I give you an answer."

"Good idea," Heron agreed.
He hesitated, but didn't
say anything more.

"Spit it out, Heron, it
won't taste any better for
chewing on it," Shiv said.

"Am I allowed to offer
my help?" Heron said softly.

"Can you even work with
an injury that old?" Shiv said.
"I know it's not fresh 'cause
I can feel it too, and that wing
is seriously fucked up."

"I only caught a glimpse
before you pulled me away,
but I can probably help,"
Heron said. "I've studied
old bone injuries before."

"Oh really?" Shiv said,
suspicious. "Since when?"

Heron's gaze slid aside.
"A little over a year ago.
It was useful for some of
the work I was doing."

Patching up mobsters,
is what Shiv had heard,
but he would bet that wasn't
why Heron had learned it.

Heron had probably taken
one look at Shiv's left arm
with the bump of an old break,
and looked into how to fix it.

At least Heron hadn't tried
to pounce on Shiv the way
he'd gone after Hali, because
a year ago Shiv probably would
have stabbed him for that.

Heron seemed to have
calmed down now, though.

"You can meet Cas and Hali,"
Shiv decided. "Don't lead with
that kind of request, though.
I don't know the details, don't
wanna know, but they're both
touchy about medics sometimes."

"Understood," Heron said. "What
are the safety rules for Cas and Hali?"

"Don't crowd them, don't try to touch
Hali's wings or even look like you might,
and don't treat Cas like he's another kid
instead of Hali's father," Shiv recited.

Boss White had been real firm
about impressing those on the staff,
because these were members of
Faster Blaster's new gang and it'd
make everyone look bad if anything
happened to them at Blues Moon.

Shiv wasn't sure if any of the other Finns
had mentioned Cas and Hali to Heron,
now that Boss Finn had touched down in
Lincoln. The Finns loved to chatter, but
with privacy on the line they shut right up,
so you couldn't always tell whether or no.

"Got it," Heron said, and then repeated
the safety rules almost word for word.
"I promise to be more careful now."

Shiv was used to people arguing
with him more than this, and
the easy submission threw
him off his stride. Weird.

Well, that was Finns for you:
just when you thought you
had them figgered, they did
some other crazy shit.

"Come on then," Shiv said.
"I'll introduce you to them."

He scooped up Dairinne
and said, "We're moving
into the kitchen for a bit."

Then he plopped her at
the snack table with Hali.

"Hey, Cas," said Shiv.
"This is my cousin Heron
and his daughter Dairinne."

Shiv noted that Cook had
switched the lesson to tearing
chard leaves off the stem, which
required neither a stove nor a knife.

That was probably a smart move.

"Hello, Cas, I'm pleased to meet you,"
Heron said smoothly from six feet away.

"Hi," Cas said, looking wary. "I didn't know
anyone else would be here this morning?"

"I'm not usually, but I don't have classes
today, so I wanted drop by and see Shiv,"
Heron said. "I didn't know they had guests.
We can go elsewhere if we're in the way."

"Sit down so you're out of the walkways,"
Cook said, putting a bowl on the table.
"All's we got is sweet potato wedges,
unless Cas wants to turn his batch of
chard leaves into an actual salad."

"I could do that," Cas agreed.

Shiv held up his hand and a peeler
smacked into it. "Carrots and
whatever else you want," he said.

Cook brought him a couple of
carrots. "I need apples peeled,
if you want the color," he said.

"Aw, yeah," Shiv said happily.
He loved apple peel in salads.

"What's he mean by color?"
Cas whispered to Shiv.

Cook put down a bowl of
bright green Granny Smiths
and another of Rome Beauties.

"See how bright the apples are?"
Shiv said. "They got a lot of nutrients
right in the peel, only not everyone
likes apple peel in pies. So don't
waste the peels, put 'em in salad."

"If there's another peeler, I can help,"
Heron offered. "I like salad too."

Shiv fetched another peeler,
making sure not to hit anyone
with it on the way, then passed
the kitchen tool to Heron.

First Shiv used a pocketknife
to cut an apple into wedges
for the kids to eat, then went
to work ribboning the carrots.

Hali was happy with the apple,
but Dairinne was gumming
a sweet potato wedge with
a look of clear disdain.

"Peh," she said.

"Oh, that won't do,"
Heron said. "Could we
get some spices, please?"

"What, you want ginger or
brown sugar and cinnamon?"
Shiv said. "Sure, we can do that."

"I was hoping for chili powder
or cayenne," Heron said.

"For a baby?" Cas said,
frowning. "They don't like
flavors that strong yet."

Shiv laughed. "Yeah, yeah,
Dairinne takes after mommy,"
he said. "I'll grab a spice flight."

It only took a minute for him
to fill the four bowls and
put them on the paddle.

He also grabbed spoons,
snack plates, napkins, and
a jar of honey for Hali. Then
he brought it all to the table.

"Okay, this is cinnamon sugar,
black seasoning, pure cayenne,
and hot chili powder," Shiv said,
pointing to each bowl in turn.

"Thank you, that's perfect,"
Heron said, and dressed a set
of sweet potato wedges for Dairinne.

She ate the sweet one but didn't seem
impressed. The black seasoning got
more interest, and cayenne had
her wriggling in her seat.

Shiv covered his ears.

Dairinne bit into the last wedge
and squealed her approval.

By this time, Hali had finished
a couple wedges with honey on them,
and then snatched the cayenne one
that Heron reloaded for Dairinne.

Then Hali started crying.

Shiv lunged for the fridge and
handed Cas a carton of yogurt.

"Sorry, sorry, I should've put this
on the table first," Shiv babbled.
"I'm used to feeding Dairinne!"

Cas ignored him, too busy
trying to spoon enough yogurt
into Hali to put out the fire.

Heron, thank fuck, kept
his mouth shut and
his hands to himself.

After a few minutes,
Hali stopped crying, and
Cas mopped up the yogurt
that had gone astray somehow.

"Well, that was an adventure,"
Heron said in a bright tone.

"Nasty uncomfortable things,"
Shiv grumbled back, "make
you late for dinner."

Heron gave him
an odd look that
Shiv firmly ignored.

"Crisis averted," Cas said.
"Shiv, what do we have
for salad dressing?"

"All kinds of stuff, but for
this salad, I suggest we use
the cranberry relish vinaigrette,"
Shiv said. "Cook makes it
all month from leftover relish."

"I'm game if you are," Cas said,
so Shiv got the jug of dressing
and filled a cruet for the table.

Shiv wasn't a fan of salad, but you
could make almost anything edible if
you put enough cranberry sauce on it.

"Oh, this is good," Heron said, then
gave Dairinne a few bits to mess with.

She was more interested in weaving
the ribbons through her fingers
than putting them in her mouth,
but that was no big deal.

Hali just licked the dressing
off the strips of carrot.

"Let her, or she'll put
her whole face in the plate,"
Cas warned, looking at Shiv.

"Not my circus, not my monkeys,"
Shiv said, shaking his head.

He ate the rest of his salad,
which was good enough that
people who actually liked salad
would probably love the stuff.

Shiv looked over at Cook,
who nodded, so yeah, that
would wind up on the menu.

Hali started to fuss, rocking
back and forth in her chair.

"Time to get down," Cas said,
and let her out of the booster seat.

"Too long sitting in one position?"
Heron said casually. "Hey, Hali,
watch this. Stretch -- big stretch!"

He reached over his head, and
Heron was tall, so up was way up.

Hali copied him with her arms,
but kept her wings tucked.

"Not much room in the kitchen,
folks, move it on out," Cook said.

So they all went back out
to the restaurant where they
had more space to move around.

"Stretch out, Dairinne," said Heron.

Dairinne's idea of "stretching" involved
bouncing around like a wild thing.

Hali finally stopped clamping
her wings to her back and
fluttered around a little.

"How wide can you reach?"
Heron asked Hali, stretching
his arms out to the sides.

Hali tried to copy him,
and her right wing
stretched out above
her right arm just fine,
but the left wing wouldn't
even go as high as her arm.

"Good job," Heron said anyhow.
"I feel better when I stretch.
Do you feel better now?"

Hali nodded, then darted
forward to hug his leg.

"Hello there," Heron said,
not reaching for her. "Do
you like hugs? I like hugs.
You can hug me if you want."

Dairinne piled onto the other leg,
not wanting to be left out,
and Heron chuckled.

Shiv snuck a look at Cas,
who stood with his hands
clenched behind him,
shaking ever so slightly.

"It's okay," Shiv whispered.
"Heron is good people."

"You swear?" Cas said.

Shiv looked at Heron,
who was so white-hat that
he'd bleach yours if you
stood too close. "I swear."

Heron was lurching carefully
around the restaurant as he
pretended to be weighed down
by the pipsqueaks clinging to
his legs like puppet-socks.

Then Hali tried to climb him.

"Oh, you don't have to let
her do that --" Cas said.

"Hali just wants a lift,"
Heron said lightly.
"Is that okay, Cas?"

Cas licked his lips.
"Just in this room."

"Of course," Heron said.
"Up you go, Hali -- lift
your wings so I can get
my arm underneath. That's it,
you can put them down now.
I'm comfortable. Are you?"

"Uh huh," Hali said as
she melted against him.

"How is he doing that?"
Cas said, staring at them.

"He's a Finn," Shiv said.
"They're all that way, it's
like magic or something."

Heron picked up Dairinne
and walked around for
a few minutes as the girls
slowly wound down.

Cas still seemed edgy,
but no longer taut
with hidden worry.

"Oh, I'm getting tired
after eating and walking,"
Heron said. "Are you tired?"

"No!" Hali said, then yawned.
Beside her, Dairinne yawned too.

"Look, here's a nice bench,"
Heron said. "Let's sit down."

He coaxed the girls into
stretching out on the bench,
Dairinne on her back, Hali on
her belly blanketed by her wings.

"Aaaand nightlight," Shiv said,
having seen Heron's trick before.

Sure enough, both of the girls
conked out within five minutes.

"So, your cousin has superpowers?"
Cas said, watching Heron with them.

"That's for you and Heron to discuss,"
Shiv said. "I don't want to get in
the middle. Just go easy on him."

"He got my kid to sleep without
a fuss, Shiv, the last thing I want
to do is tick him off!" Cas said.

"I'm difficult to annoy," Heron said
as he sidled up next to them.

Shiv hadn't even heard him get up.

"Woah, you startled me," Cas said.
"Will they be okay on a bench?"

"Dairinne doesn't roll over
in her sleep when she's tired,"
Heron said. "What about Hali?"

"She doesn't roll, it's not comfortable
for her to do that," Cas admitted.

"Different bodies have different needs,"
Heron said casually. "I do physiotherapy,
so I'm familiar with a wide range."

"You're so quiet and easygoing,"
Cas said. "That's a surprise."

"You expected something else?"
Heron said, raising a brow.

"I guess that I was just ...
expecting you to be more like
your sister Aida," Cas said.

Heron chuckled softly. "My family
is eclectic. We all have things
in common, but each of us is
our own person," he said. "Aida
and I both love nature, but she
narrates everything she sees while
I prefer to observe in silence."

Cas looked at Shiv for confirmation.

"Yeah, that's true," Shiv said.
"Heron's boring to hike with,
but Aida sounds like one of
those nature shows on TV."

Then he shook his head. "Don't
hike with Simon unless you want,
like, an Olympic-level workout."

"That's ... wow," Cas said. "I don't
really have family, except for Hali."

"There's always room for one more,"
Heron said, because the Finns were
just like that, pulling in everyone that
they liked, and they liked most folks.

"Honestly, I'm just trying to get used
to having a steady job, a place to stay,
and people who will watch Hali while
I'm working," Cas confessed.

"I'm living in a house full of
young women," Heron said
with a nod. "It's an adjustment."

"Better than listening to you bitch
about last year's housemates,
though," Shiv pointed out.

"Quite right," Heron said.

Last year's batch had been
so crappy he excommunicated
them and went over to cook in
Mallory's kitchen instead.

"I'm just trying to do as best
I can for Hali," said Cas.

"You're doing fine,"
Heron assured him.
"She's happy and frisky.
She's even eating things
that aren't candy or cereal."

"I try," Cas said. "I just ...
worry that it's not enough."

"Worried about her wing?"
Heron said, finally opening
the can of worms from earlier.

"Yeah," Cas admitted. "Hali got
jumped on by the other toddlers
at our last placement, and then
the break healed all wrong. I
don't know if it's even fixable."

"It's fixable," Heron said.
"There are people who can
do that sort of thing, and
different ways to do it."

Shiv rubbed a hand over
his left forearm. He'd gotten
that fixed, which had absolutely
sucked for a while, but now it
was better than it ever was.

"Not like I could afford it,
anyway," Cas said.

"There are ways
to work around that,
too," Heron said.

"I've heard that before,"
Cas snapped. "No."

Heron spread his hands.
"I was referring to barter in
a mutually beneficial deal."

Cas looked at Shiv again.

"Yeah, Heron and I swap
favors sometimes," Shiv said.
"I've traded with other folks too.
You can get stuff done without
the bullshit you've seen before.
Also, take a look at his shirt."

"What about his shirt?"
Cas said, not getting it.

Heron's black T-shirt had
a crescent moon striped in
the ace pride colors and it read,
Not a phase underneath, but
Cas hadn't gone through all
of Boss White's training.

"I'm asexual, if it matters,"
Heron said helpfully.

"I think I've heard of that,"
Cas said. He looked at Hali,
then sighed. "I doubt that it will
make a difference to her, though."

"That's okay," Heron said. "There's
no emergency. Hali can take
whatever time she needs."

"Be prepared to wait forever,"
Cas warned. "She doesn't even
like me touching her wings."

"Attachment trouble?"
Heron said, frowning.
"She didn't act like it."

Shiv snorted. "No, she's
stuck on Cas like glue.
Hali's just body-shy
because reasons."

"No rush," Heron said.
"I think she'll warm up.
After all, even you did."

"Yeah well, you kept
feeding me," Shiv said,
looking away. "I'm not
one to turn down free eats."

"Boss says you can visit
Lincoln any time, and I'm
learning to cook," Cas said.

"Now and then, when I can,"
Shiv said. "I miss him a bit."

"He misses you too," Cas said.
"I think I remind him of you."

Shiv stared at the tall,
soft-as-marshmallow kid
and shook his head. "No way."

"I can see it," Heron said,
"if I squint a little bit."

Cas laughed. "Yeah."

Hali woke up a little,
her wings flailing so that
the left one hung off the bench.

She looked around, saw Cas,
then tucked her wings back
and fell asleep again.

Cas was gnawing on
his knuckle. "Every time
I see her wing go like that,
it makes me feel sick."

"It's not good, but it's not
life-threatening," Heron said.
"You have time to locate a healer
or a doctor that you and Hali can
trust. Use it, because scaring her
after whatever else happened
could cause serious problems."

"Remember what Cook said
this morning?" Shiv prompted.

"Yeah," Cas said. "Even angels must
find their wings too heavy sometimes."

Heron nodded. "That's a good quote,"
he said. "If you want to talk more about
this later, I can give you my vddress."

"Yeah, that's a good idea," Cas said.
He held out a shaky hand. "I think
I'm about at my limit for now."

"So go back in the kitchen and
ask Cook for another lesson,"
Shiv said. "I'll watch the kid.

Cas rocked from one foot
to the other, clearly torn.

"Do you have a smartphone
and a vidwatch?" Heron said.
"Then you could monitor Hali."

"No, I mean yes, I have those,
but I haven't been able to get
a monitor app to work," Cas said.
"They all seem kind of ... complicated."

"Would you like a copy of mine?"
Heron offered. "It's a custom build."

"Shiv, what do you think?" Cas said.

"Take the app," Shiv said instantly.
"Halley may be a handful, but thon
codes like a brick shithouse."

"Okay," Cas said. He touched
his vidwatch to Heron's to make
the copy, and then Heron slowly
walked him through the setup.

Shiv emptied a napkin holder
to prop up the smartphone
aimed at the bench where
the girls were still sleeping.

"Do you have the signal?"
Heron asked, looking at Cas.

"Yeah, it's right here," Cas said
as he checked his vidwatch.
"Thank you for sharing."

"You're welcome," Heron said.

"Come on," Shiv said, nudging
Cas gently toward the kitchen.

"It's really okay?" Cas said as
Shiv steered him through the door.

"Yeah, they'll be fine," Shiv said.

Heron and Cas had spent more time
talking around Hali's wing than they
had talking about it, but that was okay.

Circling like that would give everyone
time to get used to each other and
maybe not freak over the hard parts.

Cas still looked tense, so Shiv
patted him on the shoulder and said,
"Try to relax a bit. This place is about
as safe as it gets. We don't want
your wings to get too heavy either."

Something Shiv said must have
hit a nerve, because Cas gave him
an absolutely loaded look that
Shiv couldn't interpret at all.

Then Cas shook himself and said,
"I'll try. What should I ask Cook for?"

"Ask him about the persimmons,"
Shiv suggested. "The sauce and
the pudding aren't too hard to make,
and you can probably find persimmons
free all over Lincoln like we do here."

"Okay," Cas said, taking a deep breath.
He headed over to talk to Cook.

Shiv smiled. Despite all of
the crazy wing issues,
everything would be fine.

* * *


This poem is long, so its notes will appear elsewhere.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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