Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "No Interest in Sharing the Secret"

This poem is spillover from the March 17, 2020 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] erulisse and [personal profile] chanter1944. It also fills the "Basmati Blues" 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 Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"No Interest in Sharing the Secret"

[Saturday, April 25, 2015]

A week after the raid, Ansel
and Turq went back to Ava.

There they met up with Kedric
to talk about the aftermath.

"How is the town doing?"
Ansel asked as they walked.

"Not good," Kedric said,
shaking his head. "People
are freaked about having
a mad science lab nearby.
The communal trauma team
helps, but it's still rough."

"I'm sorry to hear that,"
Ansel said. "What is
bothering you the most?"

"The hit to our reputation,"
Kedric said with a grimace.
"Whenever anyone looks up
Ava, Missouri all they see
is the nest of supervillains."

"Is there anything we can
do to help you recover?"
Ansel asked him.

"Keep reaching out,
I guess," said Kedric.
"Right now, any kind of
effort is harder for us."

"I can do that," Ansel said.
"Have you thought about
promoting some attractions
in your town? We discussed
that as an option earlier."

"Like I said, it's hard
to do anything right now,"
Kedric replied, trailing a hand
along a nearby railing. "So far,
all that we have managed is
making a list of favorites."

"That's a good start, though,"
said Turq. "When you feel down,
you have to take it a little at a time."

Turq tended toward anxiety, but
his friend Nebuly was depressed,
often to the point of lethargy.

"Yeah, I'm trying," said Kedric.
"I thought we could drop by
one of my favorite restaurants
for lunch. Maybe if you folks
mention it to other people,
they'll get some new traffic."

Turq perked up. "I'm hungry,"
he said. "What's it called?"

"Basmati Blues," said Kedric.
"They make a fusion of Indian and
soul food, plus the music too. I
know it sounds crazy, but it's run
by a woman from Mumbai and
a man who grew up here."

"I love soul food," Ansel said.
"I would like to try that place."

"They even have a stage
off to one side," Kedric said.
"They play blues, bluegrass, and
some kind of classical Indian stuff
that has the same twangy sound."

"That's cool," Turq said. "New music
could give people a better impression
of what goes on in your hometown."

"I hope so," Kedric said. "Some of
the local kids are talking about
starting up a fusion band,
same idea as the food."

"Tell you what, I'll drop
a word with my brother-in-law,"
Ansel offered. "Jermaine is
a journalist. He might like
to come out here and do
a feature about Ava."

"He likes soul food and
stirring trouble with a stick,"
Turq said. "He'll go for it."

Ansel gave a wry laugh.
"You are not wrong," he said.

"Turn here," Kedric said as
they came to a pocket park
lined with a loose jumble of
squarish stones. "This is
Tumbling Blocks Park.
We want to head toward
the taller buildings."

As they turned away
from the houses and
live-work buildings, they
passed a few picnic tables
and then a patch of grass.

"This is pretty," Turq said.
"You have some good parks."

"Thanks," Kedric said. "We
try to keep the town nice."

A tabby cat spotted them,
then disappeared into a bush.

"Have you seen the purple cat?"
Turq said. "I've heard people
talking about it, but nobody
has gotten a close look."

"I've seen it," Kedric said.
"Not close, but clear enough
to be sure it's purple now,
and not a trick of the light."

"Do you think we might
see it today?" Turq said.

"I don't know," Kedric said.
"If you want to try, though,
look up. I've seen it on roofs."

"Yeah, cats like to get up high,"
Turq said. "They're good climbers."

"I just wish they were more forthcoming,"
Kedric said. "After you told me that
this might be a member of your cohort,
I really want to find out if that's true."

"Me too," said Turq. "I worry.
If it's someone I know, I'd like
to be able to find them."

"My grandmother raises
barn cats for intelligence and
hunting skill," Ansel said. "I can
tell you a thing about them. Cats
know the meaning of life, but they
have no interest in sharing the secret."

Kedric laughed. "Yeah, that fits."

"My people are like that, too,"
Turq said quietly. "We have
reason to be secretive."

"That's understandable,"
Ansel said. "You came
through a lot. Now you
have more support, though."

He had gotten Turq's attention,
way back when, by talking softly
and leaving food within reach.

Maybe that would work again,
if the purple cat was following them,
and if it was actually a person
instead of a crayon cat.

"Here we are," Kedric said,
leading them toward a building
with wide glass windows flanked
by columns painted in a mix
of Indian and African symbols.
"Welcome to Basmati Blues."

Inside, the floors were done in
black-and-white penny tiles, and
the walls painted a bright turquoise.

A display of canvas bags read,
Keep calm and curry on.

"Oh, I want one," Turq said.

"Me too," Ansel agreed. "We can
get some on our way out later."

Ahead of them, the restaurant
opened up into a dining room with
one long table, several square ones,
then booths and bars along the walls.

Ductwork and dangling lights hinted at
how some blues joints had been
converted from warehouses in
places nobody else wanted.

It was a beautiful place.

It also smelled so good
that Ansel's stomach woke up
and demanded immediate attention.

Kedric grabbed menus from a stand.
"Here, see what looks good," he said.

"No, you know the place, you order for
all of us," Ansel said, waving them off.

"Really?" Kedric said. "I mean, I'm
happy to do it, but that's a lot of trust
for someone you just met last week."

Turq nodded. "It's okay with me,"
he said. "I can eat almost anything.
I like soul food. I haven't had a lot
of Indian food, but I liked what I tried
before -- it overlaps with Chinese.
I enjoy stuff dumped over rice."

"Well, you get a choice of
basmati rice or naan bread
with an entree," Kedric said
as they sat down in a booth.
"We can get some of each."

A slender woman came to
their booth. "Kedric, it's good
to see you again," she said.
"How are you doing?"

"It's been a rough week,"
Chulli," said Kedric. "We
could use some comfort food.
What's on special today?"

"We have mixed biryani
or barbecue pork ribs for
meat entrees, palak paneer
or red beans and rice for
vegetarian entrees,"
Chulli recited for them.

"Barbecue pork ribs and
palak paneer," Kedric said.
"Half rice, half naan, please.
What about side dishes?"

"Very nice mixed beets or
salad with pickled vegetables,"
Chulli said. "If your friends are
new to our food, the beets
would be more familiar."

"Yeah, it's their first time
here," Kedric said. "We'll
take the beets, thanks.
Red drink all around."

"I'll bring your drinks and
naan with dipping sauces
for starters," Chulli said.

The naan came with
a coconut-mint chutney,
hummus, hot pepper sauce,
and Southern comeback sauce.

Ansel was fascinated with
the chutney, which was like
nothing he'd ever tasted before,
but Turq latched onto the hummus,
probably for the extra protein.

A little while later, the main order
arrived, all served family style.

They dug into the big pot of ribs,
sticky and spicy-sweet and delicious.
There were plenty to go around.

The green dish was more mysterious.

"What did they do to this tofu?"
Ansel said, frowning at it.

"That's not tofu, it's paneer,"
Kedric said. "It's a kind of cheese."

"This is cheese?" Ansel said.
He cut into another piece,
poking at the inside.

"Yeah, this is fresh, like
farmer's cheese," Kedric said.
"They toast it to make it crispy.
Don't you like it? I thought
that it would appeal to you."

"I like it better than tofu,"
Ansel said. "It's just ... new."

"The rice is perfect," Turq said.
"It's so fluffy and fragrant!"

"That's basmati for you,"
Kedric said. "It's less starchy
than other kinds of rice, so
it has that dry, fluffy texture."

"Wow," Ansel said. "These
are the best beets I have ever
put in my mouth. Uh ... don't tell
my grandmother I said that."

Turq laughed, then sampled
the beets, which were a mix
of solid red, bullseye, and
pinkish-orange varieties.

"Asafoetida," he said.
"It's in some Asian food too.
It keeps really sweet things
from becoming insipid, but
Western cooks don't use it."

"Works for me," Ansel said,
dishing more beets onto
his plate and tinting the rice
a soft shade of pink. "I should
tip my grandmother to ... how
do you even spell that?"

"Nevermind, I'll email her
the name of the spice,"
Turq said as he took out
his smartphone for it.

"I'm glad you like it,"
Kedric said. "I never knew
what made the beets so good,
so thanks for that tip too."

"Dessert?" Chulli said,
dropping by their table.

"Yes, please," said Kedric.
"What's up for today?"

"Rice pudding, plain or
with strawberries on top, or
Tiger Butter fudge," Chulli said.

"We just had rice as a side,"
Turq said. "I'd like fudge."

Everyone else did too.

"Now the fudge, I know
what makes it the best,"
Kedric said. "The dark is
clinical-grade dark chocolate
and the light is cashew."

"Like that tabby cat we
saw earlier," Ansel said.
"Brown stripes over cream."

"Yeah, pretty much, and it's
swirled all the way down like
it should be, not just on top,"
Kedric said. "I love it."

Turq sighed. "Sounds good."

"You're thinking about the purple cat
again, aren't you?" Ansel asked.

"Yeah, I can't get it out of my head,"
Turq said. "It's just frustrating."

"The purple cat is striped, too,"
Kedric said. "On the body, it's
broken into spots, but you can
see the tabby-M on the face."

That made Turq smile a bit. "For
a while I stayed with a Pagan family
that called it Bast's eyeliner."

"Ah, it sounds like you've
seen our pretty purple cat,"
Chulli said as she put down
a platter of Tiger Butter fudge.

"Kedric has, but I haven't,"
Turq said. "I'm hoping
to see it while I'm here."

Chulli narrowed her eyes
at him. "What do you want
with that kitty?" she said.
"You better not bother it!"

"No, nothing like that,"
Turq said. Slowly he
ruffled a hand through
his vivid hair. "I think it ...
might be someone I know."

"Ohh," Chulli said softly.
"Eat your dessert. I will
come back in a minute."

They divided the fudge,
which was meltingly soft
and creamy, with swirls
of potent dark chocolate
and mellower cashew.

"Best. Fudge. Ever."
Turq licked his fingers.

"We can get some to go,
along with the bag that
you wanted," Kedric said.

When Chulli came back, they
placed the remaining orders
and went to the counter to pay.
Turq and Ansel each bought
a Curry On bag and two pounds
of the Tiger Butter Fudge.

Then Chulli brought out
a carton and said, "Follow me."

She led them out the back door.

Behind the restaurant there lay
a tiny parking lot with just enough room
for a couple of cars and a dumpster.

In a patch of grass against one wall,
a few optimistic flowers bloomed.

Chulli showed them where
several plastic containers had
been made into cat shelters
and feeding stations.

"You feed community cats?"
Ansel said as an orange one
darted out of the way.

"Oh yes, they keep away
the pests," Chulli said.
"This way, no meat scraps
in the compost or landfill --
though only Padma will
touch the vindaloo!"

"Imagine that," Ansel said,
wondering if it meant
the purple cat was
actually a person.

Chulli emptied
the carton into a dish
and gave a trilling call.

Soon they heard a soft thump,
then faint noises overhead.

"Look up," Turq whispered.

Ansel caught a glimpse of tail
as the cat roofwalked toward them,
but silhouetted against the sky,
its color did not show clearly.

Another thump onto a lower roof,
and then the cat -- which was
indeed purple -- scrabbled down
a drainpipe attached to the wall.

It dived into the food scraps,
cleaning the dish in moments.

Then it noticed them and
bolted behind the dumpster.

"Tyria? Tyria, wait --
it's me, Turq!" he called.
Turning to the others,
he said, "Don't follow me!"

Then the caney went
looking for the cat.

"Let's sit down,"
Ansel suggested.

"You stay, I have
a restaurant to run,"
Chulli said, and
went back inside.

Ansel and Kedric
sat on the steps.

"Do you think he'll
have any luck?"
Kedric wondered.

"I hope so," Ansel said.
"Whoever it is deserves
help, and is entitled to
all the services set up for
the mad science survivors."

"We should maybe make
posters about that and
put them up around town,"
Kedric said. "This may not
be the only survivor who's
running loose in the area."

"There are brochures made
for the centaurs, we can
use those," Ansel said.

It took a while, but eventually
the caney trotted back to them.

Following him was the purple cat.

It had a bright violet coat dotted with
black, the spine and face marked
with black lines, but the paws and
belly were a pure crisp white.

Pale green eyes gave them
a long, appraising gaze.

The caney looked back over
his shoulder, then stood up
and turned into Turq.

The cat looked at them and
nervously licked a shoulder.

Ansel shuffled around on
the step until he faced sideways,
and Kedric soon followed suit.

Then the cat turned into a girl.

She was small, with alabaster skin
and pale blue eyes. Shaggy black hair
fell past her shoulders, but underneath
were hanks of purple streaked with blue,
the brighter colors framing her face.

She wore a top striped in black and gray --
the exact same style Turq liked, in fact --
a denim skirt, and hot pink leggings.

She seemed almost like any other teen,
except for the haunted look in her eyes.
She couldn't have been more than
fifteen or sixteen years old, if that.

The thought of her in that compound
made Ansel want to punch something,
which wasn't a feeling he often had.

"Hey guys, this is my friend Tyria,"
said Turq. "Tyria, here's Ansel,
also known as Officer Pink.
Kedric is the paramedic."

Ansel was glad that he had
worn street clothes instead
of his uniform for the trip.

Most of Turq's cohort and
the centaurs shied away
from anyone in uniform, and
he couldn't even blame them.

"Hello," Tyria said without
coming any closer to them.
She had a purring accent
that Ansel didn't recognize.
"What do you want with me?"

"I just wanted to see if Ava
really had a purple cat, and if so,
whether it was natural or dyed,"
said Kedric. "Some dyes aren't
safe for cats or other animals."

Tyria gave a long, slow blink.
"I wouldn't know about safety."

"Oh, how's that?" Kedric said.

"I grew up in Kosovo," said Tyria.
"When I was ten, that was 2009 I think,
my family decided it was too dangerous
to stay there, so they paid people to get us
out. But the boat men sold us, split us up --
and that's how I wound up in the lab."

"That's a sad story," Kedric said.
"I hope we can help, you if want."

Tyria ignored him, looking at Ansel.
"Are you here to arrest me?" she said.
"I don't want to go back to Kosovo."

"I'm not here to arrest you, and you
don't have to go back," Ansel said.
"You were a refugee, and the fact that
people hurt you in America means we
owe you citizenship, because we didn't
keep you safe the way we should have."

"I didn't know that," Tyria said. "I thought ...
I don't have papers, so I can't do anything."

"You can get identification and other papers
if you want them," Ansel said. "I can help,
or if you're uncomfortable with that, Turq
could introduce you to some other folks
who have been helping his cohort."

"You'd like Nebuly's family, they're
real laid back," Turq said. "Plus there's
the farm -- Ansel's grandparents are
hosting the centaurs we rescued."

"And the others?" Tyria said softly.

"Our cohort, we haven't found everyone,
we might never," Turq said. "That's why
I came looking here. Others -- the centaurs
weren't the only ones rescued, just the ones
we've been working with. I know there were
more before that, scattered who knows where.
I can only introduce you to the ones I know."

"Better than nothing, but ... I don't want
to leave here," Tyria said, rubbing her hands
up and down her arms. "This place, I know it,
I know the people, it's not so bad. Anywhere
else, I don't know, and that's scary."

"Of course it is," Kedric said.
"New things can be scary, and
if you don't know who or where is
safe, then that's even worse."

"You're not alone," Ansel said.
"The centaurs are scared too, but
at least they have each other."

"I am alone," Tyria said. "I haven't
seen my parents in years. I've lived
on my own ever since I escaped,
and that was ... about a year ago?"

"So that makes you about sixteen,"
Ansel calculated. "That's young to be
alone, but if you have been living on
your own for a year, then you could be
emancipated because you showed that
you can take care of yourself. You're still
entitled to support if you want it, though."

Tyria tilted her head. "Chulli feeds me
and gives me a warm place to sleep."

"That's ... nice of her, Tyria, but she
thinks you're a cat," Kedric said.
"You need human things too."

"Being human is too hard,"
Tyria said. "People are mean,
or weird, when I look like a girl.
When I'm a cat, they feed me
and don't ask for anything."

"Turq was like that when we
first met," Ansel said. "He didn't
feel comfortable around people
and didn't want a place of his own.
So I gave him my gazebo instead."

"You have a gazebo?" Tyria said,
finally perking up at something.

"Yeah, it's really nice," Turq said.
"Ansel's cabin is right on a lake.
He made a caney bed under
one of the benches, and covered
the spaces with plastic, and put
lights and heaters in for winter."

"I could ... maybe visit, sometime,"
Tyria said. "But not soon, though."

"That's okay," Turq said. "We can
come to you. Nebuly would come too --
his people are travelers, they belong
to a caravan that goes to fairs."

"You said others ..." Tyria replied,
edging a little bit closer to him.

"We found Saffron too," Turq said.
"But in the raid we saw, well, we
found out that Coral died."

"I know," Tyria said.
"I saw it happen."

Ansel finally turned
to face her. "Do you
want to tell me about it?"
he said. "I could use that
to put her murderers in jail. We
probably have enough evidence
already, but an eyewitness account
would make the case stronger."

Tyria fidgeted. "Do I have to?"
she said. "Police are scary."

"No, you don't have to,"
Ansel said. "It might help
you feel better if you did.
We could find someone
who's not scary for you
to talk with instead."

"Ansel's only scary until
you get to know him,"
Turq said. "He's silly
with kids, he works with
a therapy cat named Boots,
and he sleeps like a rock."

"You have a cat?" Tyria said,
actually moving closer to Ansel.

"I share a therapy cat with
several other officers," he said.
"Boots helps us reach out to
people who are scared or sad.
He's very good with people.
Would you like to meet him?"

"I think ... yes," Tyria said.
"Not now, and I don't want
to travel, but ... sometime."

"Boots can travel," Ansel said.
"I could put him in a crate and
he'll sleep the whole way here,
whenever you want to meet him."

"Is he a smart cat?" Tyria said.

"He doesn't have superpowers,
but he is an animal therapist,"
Ansel said. "He's very wise,
and when we work together,
I rely on Boots a lot."

"I've met him," Turq said.
"Ansel is right, Boots is
very gentle and perceptive."

"Would you like to see
a picture?" Ansel asked.

Tyria drifted a little closer.

Ansel flicked through files
on his phone and chose
the silliest, with Boots
draped over his shoulders
like a big furry scarf.

"What happened to
his ears?" Tyria said.

"They fold down under the fur,"
Ansel explained. "Boots is
part Scottish Fold, born that way."

"I never saw a cat like that before,"
Tyria said, reaching for the phone.
Then she snatched her hand back.

"Here, you can borrow it," Ansel said,
holding out his phone. "Just touch
your finger to the screen and slide it
side to side, and you'll see new images."

Hesitantly Tyria took the phone and
scrolled through pictures of Boots,
then a few of Ansel with Turq.

"Hey, gimme that a minute,"
Turq said. "See the Cat Toys file?
These are programs for Boots."

Tyria squealed and pawed at
the phone, chasing something.

"Mice or goldfish?" Ansel said,
then as water splashed, "Oh,
goldfish. Yeah, Boots loves that.
It was actually made for people,
but there are some other ones
designed just for cats to play."

Tyria played with it for
several minutes before
reluctantly giving it back.

"I never liked video games
before," she said. "They didn't
make much sense. But this one --
chase the fish makes sense!"

"There are lots of other games
for cats and people where you
just have to catch things as fast
as you can," Ansel said. "We
could get you a phone, free,
if you'd like to try some."

"Why free?" Tyria said.

"There's a fund for people
who got hurt in the labs,"
Turq said. "If you need
a phone, food, clothes,
a place to stay -- you can
get all that as a survivor."

"There are resources for
refugees, for foster children,
and other people in need too,"
Ansel said. "You could pick
whatever things you wanted."

"Ava is working on support for
the victims, too," Kedric added.
"We feel really bad that we didn't
spot the supervillains sooner."

"They hide good," Tyria said,
wilting. "They brought us there
in a closed truck. I didn't even
know where I was until I escaped."

"Have you seen a map?" Ansel said.
"Here, look -- this is the world, America,
Missouri, and Douglas County. This is
Ava, the town we're in now. Here
is the mad science compound."

"They're close," Tyria breathed.
"They so close ... you could
almost reach out and touch ..."

"Rub it in a little harder,"
Kedric said through his teeth.

Tyria startled. "Sorry," she said.

Well, at least some of her social skills
seemed to have survived the trauma.

"As soon as you knew, then you
pitched in with the raid," Ansel said,
reaching over to rub Kedric's back.
"Now you're helping the survivors."

"Not all of us survived," Tyria said.

"Yeah, but I think our cohort did
better than the others," Turq said.
"A bunch of us developed powers
that helped us to escape the lab."

"Coral didn't," Tyria said. "They
came to take her for the experiments,
and she tried to get away, but they
grabbed her. She kicked Nurse Vener
in the face, and broke her nose."

"Good for Coral," said Turq.
"I'm glad she got a good kick in."

"Yes, but after that, the white coats
pinned her down and drugged her,"
Tyria said. "She stopped moving,
and they took her away. I never
saw her again after that. I think
maybe they gave her too much."

Ansel thought about that. Tyria
was clearly upset, and perhaps she
had no interest in sharing the secret,
but she had told him, so it was
worth asking for a little more.

"Tyria, I know this is a hard topic,
but could I share that information
with the people who are studying
Coral's remains?" Ansel asked.
"They're trying to figure out who
she was and how she died."

"Okay," Tyria said. "I don't
want to go a police place,
but you can tell them
what I've told you."

"Thank you," Ansel said.
"This could help us a lot."

Tyria rubbed her hands over
her face, but not the palms like
a human would -- she used
the backs, like a cat.

Tear tracks gleamed
in the spring sunlight.

"You don't have to stay
human if it's too hard,"
Turq said. "Being caney
helps me stay calmer."

"I can't talk as a cat, or
even a catusha," Tyria said.

"You could use a tablet, though,"
Ansel said. "Anything that lets you
point to what you want is useful."

Tyria ducked her head. "Sometimes,
when I'm really hungry, I leave
the dish beside the door."

Of course, that was
when Chulli came out with
another dish and stared
at the purple-haired girl.

"Padma?" she said.

"Um ... hi," the girl said.
"I'm Tyria. Thank you
for all the delicious food."

"I thought you were a cat!"
Chulli exclaimed. "I fed you
scraps and let you sleep in a box!"

"The box is warm and dry,"
Tyria said. "I really like it."

Turq cleared his throat,
turning to face Chulli.

"Not everyone feels like
coming inside, ma'am,"
he said. "I still sleep in
a gazebo most nights."

"Well, at least let me
feed you a proper meal,"
Chulli said. "We can talk
later about finding you
a place to stay. What
do you want to eat?"

Tyria licked her lips,
so much like Turq that
it made Ansel smile.

"The pink chicken?"
Tyria said, wriggling.

"Tandoori chicken,
coming right up,"
Chulli said. "Will
you come inside,
or eat out here?"

"I always kind of
wondered ... what it
looked like inside,"
Tyria whispered.

"Come on in, then,"
Chulli said. "We're not
crowded right now, and
you can have a table
close to the door."

She must have
served veterans or
other diners who
had special needs.

Kedric and Ansel went
inside first to clear the way,
and Turq to show it was safe.

Tyria climbed the steps,
but then hesitated.

"Cat," Chulli said in
a fond tone, "I am not
going to hold this door
open all day long!"

And Tyria darted inside.

* * *


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