Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Like Hugging an Alley Cat"

This poem is spillover from the March 17, 2020 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a discussion with [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "Cuddling" square in my 2-1-20 card for the Valentines Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

WARNING: This poem includes graphic descriptions of the inside of Shiv's head in severe meltdown, among other distressing things. This is heavy-duty hurt/comfort. WARN ALL THE THINGS! Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers and possibly also triggers. It includes holiday stress, boundary issues, desire exceeding capacity, attempted repair of past relationship tangles, math aversion, headache, apprehension due to past abuse, emotional eating, sugar-induced mood swings, touch aversion, freely consenting to unwanted contact for someone else's comfort, hatred of Christmas music, noise aversion, minor mental injury, all peopled out, extreme touch aversion, out of spoons error, rude handling of a high-touch child, talking to a pillow like a doll, following a request still results in disaster, severe and graphic mental injury, breathing issues, calling for backup, Boss White noticing the problem too, out-of-depth distress, combining different skills in an emergency because nobody has all of them, telepathic contact during turmoil, Shiv's energy has claws, messy mental-medical details, body loathing, ghastly memories, domestic violence, reference to past boundary abuse, memory of a Christmas tree on fire, bad tape, confusion, self-recrimination, worry, working through in-family accidental injuries, and other mayhem. People with past abuse or other mental issues should approach with caution. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding whether this is something you want to read. It's part of an ongoing thread, so skipping it would leave a gap, but it's mainly more detail on issues already known.

"Like Hugging an Alley Cat"

[Wednesday, December 2, 2015]

Fall had turned to winter,
and the tightening crush
of holiday activities made
Shiv's shoulderblades
try to meet each other
in the middle of his back.

Dr. G had talked it over
with him and explained how
to set safe boundaries --
no more than one activity
in a given day, and no more
than five in each week.

That helped, a little.

There were things that
Shiv actually wanted to do
this year, though, and that
made it a lot harder.

He wanted to go out
and look at lights with Luci,
then make cocoa together.

He wanted to sit by the fire
at Tolli and Simon's place,
stringing cranberries and
popcorn on long threads.

Mrs. Dr. G had offered
to help him with shopping,
which was good, because
he still had a ton of stuff
to buy or make or whatever.

The Wrights had invited him
to their activities, too, and Shiv
wanted to try at least one there,
to make up for being such a shit
to them back when he was little.

Shiv hadn't even made plans
for Gray and his gang, and
he ought to do something.

Today, Edison was visiting
Blues Moon to research
new holiday cookie recipes.

Who even did that?

But he'd gotten Cook
involved, which made
Shiv curious, but they
kept talking about math
and it made his head hurt.

Plus he kept expecting
someone to smack him for
getting the numbers wrong,
and even though he knew
they wouldn't actually hit him,
he couldn't seem to convince
his damn nerves of that.

So Shiv ate too many cookies
trying to keep his hands busy,
and all that sugar sure wasn't
helping him calm down any.

"I would like a hug, Shiv,
would you also like a hug?"
Edison chirped at him.

Dr. G was the same way,
and the problem was,
most of the time when
it came to social shit,
Shiv wouldn't like.

Still, he was learning
that you couldn't just
ignore Edison, because
the kid could find trouble
even in an empty field.

"Hot potato," Shiv said,
and gritted his teeth while
Edison hugged him, counting
to three before letting go.

"Thanks, Shiv," said Edison.
"That really helped."

"Yippee," Shiv drawled.
"Where the f--freaking heck
is the gingerbread spice?"

"Here," Edison said. "Cook
used it for the rye gingerbread."

"Thanks. I want to try it in
the dried apple cookies,"
Shiv said as he took it.

"That's a good idea,"
Edison said. "Mum says
that just changing the spice
can make cookies taste like
a whole different recipe."

"Your mum is right," Cook said.
"Take sugar cookie dough and roll it
in colored sugar: you got sugar cookies.
Roll it in cinnamon or apple pie spice
and you got snickerdoodles. Roll it
in cardamom and pistachios, you got
some Middle Eastern thing that I
never remember the name of."

"Thank you," Edison said,
typing something into
his vidwatch. "I like
Middle Eastern food."

Shiv had to admit that it was
interesting to make test batches
of all different cookies and compare
them to decide which to make more of,
even if nobody but him had liked
the fruitcake cookies he made.

Someone turned the sound system
to Christmas music, which was legit
now that it was December, but
Shiv still hated the damn stuff.

Also, "I Want a Robot for Christmas"
was downright nerve-wracking in
conjunction with Edison Finn.

Every time Shiv heard the line,
"Silver with candy-cane eyes," it
reminded him of the parody version,
"Silver with red Laser Eyes."

Then Edison started singing along
with it in a high childish voice,
which made Shiv flinch.

The noise snagged at him
like a bent nail hammered
not quite flat enough, tearing
a small hole in the wall of
his mind so that memories
began to dribble out of it
with a taste of burning pitch.

He breathed through
his nose like Dr. G had
taught him, and tried
to concentrate on baking.

Hopefully the leak would
seal up on its own soon,
because if he had to bother
Boss White about this, it
was really going to suck.

Shiv finished putting the sheet
of dried apple cookies in the oven,
and then Cook tugged him away.

"All right, that's enough for now,"
he said. "You two need a break,
and you should eat something
without sugar for lunch."

"Yeah, good point," Shiv said.
"I'm going upstairs, though, I've
had all the people I can take."

Edison jigged in place. He'd
maybe had too much sugar too.
"Can I come too? I don't want
to eat down here all by myself."

"You won't be -- oh, fine,
whatever," Shiv said, and
so Edison followed him
upstairs to his apartment.

"I like it up here," Edison said
as Shiv let him in. "It's quiet."

"Yeah, that's what I like about it
too," Shiv said. "You want
a sandwich and maybe
some chamomile tea?
I've got lunchmeat."

Edison didn't answer,
though. He was busy
bouncing on the futon
and looking at Shiv's art.

"Hey!" Shiv said, clapping
his said. "What's up? I
asked you about lunch."

"I'm having a hard time
sitting still," Edison said.

Well that was fucking obvious.
Shiv just grunted at him.

"A hug would help me out,
if you want," Edison said.

"Not this time," Shiv said
through his teeth. "If anyone
touches me right now I'll explode."

"I didn't know you could do that,"
Edison said, his eyes wide.

"Not like a superpower,
like losing my temper,"
Shiv said. "So just ... don't."

"Okay," Edison said in
a small voice, starting
to rock back and forth..

That was not a good sign.

Shiv was seriously running out
of spoons to deal with this shit.

Desperate for a solution, he
grabbed his Microfyne pillow
and threw it at Edison.

"Here, if you have to hug
something, hug that!"
Shiv snapped.

Edison caught
the pillow and began
petting its blue fuzz.

"I want a hug," he said.
"Do you want a hug too?
Oh yay, we both want hugs!
Cuddling calms me down."

He wrapped himself around
the pillow and squished it
hard enough to make
an hourglass shape.

Then he started
talking to it like
it was a doll.

"I had a hard day.
It was fun, but I had
to be good, and that was
a lot of work," Edison said.

Shiv didn't know what
to make of that. He had
thought Edison would just
curl up with the thing.

Nobody talked to Shiv
like Edison was talking
to the pillow, but it was
right there, so he couldn't
avoid overhearing it.

He'd heard the other Finns
talking like that, though.

Kids were like play putty,
they picked up everything.

It was why you couldn't
swear around them, or
they'd run around saying,
"Fuck it!" for a week.

Edison pretended to listen
to the fuzzy blue pillow.

"Oh, you had a hard day,
too? Let's sing a song
to relax," Edison said.

His voice was high and
sweet, lilting through
some Irish song that
Shiv had heard Tolli
sing late at night.

It was beautiful,
but it dug hooks into
Shiv and that hurt.

He didn't know why.

He only knew that it
pulled at something
deep inside him with
a fierce, tearing pain.

Shiv stumbled away from
the song, backing up until
he bumped into the wall.

Wall. That was the problem.

The rubbery black wall in
the back of his mind was
starting to tear open wider,
a longer rip running down
from the earlier snag.

Black sludge oozed out,
thick with memories like
reflections on an oilslick.

He pressed against the rip,
trying to make it seal up,
but all he managed to do
was slow it down a bit.

Shiv thumped his head
against the living room wall,
trying to ground himself in
the outside world, but it was
no use: the memories
were overwhelming.

He slid slowly down
to sit on the floor,
hugging his knees.

Inside his mind, he
heard a gurgle and then
an ominous silence.

The drain in the basement
had clogged up again.

"Shiv? Are you okay?"
Footsteps pattered
over beside him.

Shiv flinched, unable
to tolerate any touching.

Edison called his name again,
sounding worried, voice
squeaking up and up.

Shiv couldn't answer,
because the basement
was flooding and he felt
like he couldn't breathe.

A phone chirped, dialing.

"Da, can you come?"
Edison's voice cracked.
"I think I broke Shiv."

Heavy footsteps
thumped in the hall,
then a hand rapped
on the apartment door.

"Shiv? Can you come
let me in?" Boss White said.

Shiv wanted to, he really did,
but he couldn't seem to find
his feet, let alone stand up.

"I'm coming, Boss!" said Edison.
The doorknob rattled loudly.

"Edison, would you go sit on
the futon, real quiet-like?"
said Boss White. "That'd
be a big help right now."

"I'll try," Edison said.
It sounded like he
was crying now.

Shiv was too busy
trying not to cry himself
to wonder how Edison
could've gotten hurt.

Boss White crouched
down beside Shiv but
didn't try to touch him yet.

"Aw, hell," said Boss White.
"Kid, have you called your Da?"

"Uh huh," Edison squeaked.
"I think I broke Shiv and
I didn't mean to and this
is all really scary."

"Okay, you sit tight
and I'll handle this,"
Boss White said.

"Just don't step on
the black rug there,"
Edison said. "It's not
a compass rose but it's
where the teleporters land."

A ripping sound made Shiv flinch.

"Da! Something's wrong with
Shiv and it's all my fault,"
Edison wailed nearby.

"I'll take care of Shiv,"
said Dr. G. "Edison, you
go with Zipper to visit Drew.
Ask Aidan to help you put
things in perspective."

Another ripping sound
finally carried away
Zipper and Edison.

"Okay, Shiv, it's just
me and Boss White now,"
said Dr. G. "We'll get this
sorted out somehow."

"Dunno what use I'll be,"
Boss White said. "This is
a major rupture, not just
a little leak, and I'm not
a mindhealer, dammit!"

"Neither am I, but I know
how to fix a lot more things
than I can reach directly without
superpowers," said Dr. G. "I
think that between the two of us,
we have the tools we need."

"If you say so," Boss White said.
"I ain't even dared to touch him,
just saw how bad it was."

"Hold out your hand, like
you're trying to feel whether
a pot is hot or cold," Dr. G said.
"You should be able to feel
acceptance or rejection."

Even drowning, Shiv could
recognize Boss White's energy,
and he flailed toward it.

"Ow! He's got claws!"

"Gently, Shiv," said Dr. G.
"We're here to help. Try not
to poke holes in Boss White."

Shiv tried to let go, but if
he did that, he'd drown, so
that wasn't happening.

"Dwayne, can you
patch me through to him?"
Dr. G asked. "I've got an idea."

"Well, I can patch you through, but
I don't know what else to do or whether
it would be safe," Boss White said.

"That's okay, I think that I can
show you what to do," said Dr. G.
"You have the power for this, you
just need to know where to aim."

"Doc, it's real mess in there
right now," Boss White warned.

"I know, but I'm familiar with
the territory," Dr. G said. "I've had
a lot of training in how to handle
a mind thrown into turmoil. Besides,
you're a telepath and he's not, so if
I do flounder, you can pull me out."

"All right, here we go," said Boss White.

Suddenly Shiv could feel Dr. G inside
his head too, so much warmer and
brighter at point-blank range.

There was an unpleasant pop!
and then a slurping gurgle as
the basement began to drain.

Shiv gasped, sucking in
great lungfuls of air as
fast as he could.

"Easy, Shiv, try not
to hyperventilate,"
said Dr. G. "Take
slow, deep breaths
and you'll feel better."

Shiv struggled follow
the advice, but it was hard.

"That's good," said Dr. G.
"Can you wiggle your fingers?"

Everything in Shiv's mind was murky,
and his body felt oddly disconnected.
It took him a minute to find his fingers,
but Shiv finally managed to move them.

"Well done," said Dr. G. "If you reach
to your right side, you'll find me."

Shiv reached, and found him
immediately. Then he groped
around, hoping for Boss White.

"Dwayne, move your hand closer
so he can reach you," Dr. G said,
and then Shiv made contact.

Everything felt clearer then,
like wiping muck off windows.

"That's better," said Dr. G.
"Shiv, think about bringing
everything into focus now.
We can help, but you need
to do this part yourself."

Shiv did his best to wipe off
the rest of the windows.

The house in his head was
soggy and stank of mold,
but at least he wasn't
actively drowning now.

"He's still hyperconscious,"
Dr. G said, and Shiv had
no idea what that meant.
"We need to get him
back into his body."

Oh, that made sense.

But Shiv didn't like his body.
People just used it to hurt him.

"We need to deal with that rupture,"
Boss White said. "I'm not sure
I can tack up a rip that big."

"I can help," said Dr. G.
"Shiv, remember when we
talked about the linen closet?"

Shiv dipped his chin in reply.

"Okay, good," said Dr. G.
"I think if we take a look at
a few memories, then put them
away neatly, that will help."

The last thing Shiv wanted
to do was deal with the memories
that lay around like oiled fish.

"Just one thing to start with,"
Dr. G coaxed. "You can do it."

"She wouldn't stop," Shiv whispered.
His tongue felt thick and strange in
his mouth, like it wasn't even part of him.

"Who wouldn't stop?" Dr. G asked.

"That girl," Shiv said. "He told her
to stop but she wouldn't. She
never stopped. So he picked up
the Christmas tree and threw it
at her, knocked her off the couch."

"I see that," Dr. G said. "She
should have taken no for an answer.
What he did was really rough, but it
looks to me like people had hurt him
by violating his boundaries, and that's
why he resorted to violence."

"Yeah," Shiv said. "That's
what it takes to make them stop."

"That's what it takes for people who
don't listen," Dr. G said. "Can you
think of people around you now
who listen when you say stop?"

"You. Boss," Shiv said, then
added, "Edison. He stopped when
I told him, but it didn't help any."

"Okay, we'll get to that later,"
Dr. G said. "You asked Edison
to stop and he did. So you don't
need that rougher solution. You
can fold it up and put it away."

Shiv struggled with that,
because he wasn't great at
folding things and often gave up,
just shoving them into drawers.

That wouldn't work now.

So he remembered Mrs. Dr. G
folding clothes while they talked,
and that helped him to imagine
the memory as a Christmas towel
folded neatly and put away.

"Good job," said Dr. G. "Now,
look for another memory."

Shiv didn't have to look.
The Christmas tree was
already on fire; he could see
it from the corner of his eye.

"That's very bright," said Dr. G.
"Do you remember when
Cook showed you how
to use a fire extinguisher?"

Just like that, it was in his hands,
waiting for Shiv to pull the pin.

He gave it a practiced tug,
aimed at the base of the flames,
and let the whoosh put them out.

"Very good," said Dr. G. "You know
exactly how to handle a fire now,
so you don't need to be afraid
of that problem anymore."

That was ... almost true,
Shiv realized. He didn't
feel nearly as scared of it
as he had before he learned.

"Now put away the memory,"
Dr. G said. "It will stay there."

Shiv could feel Boss White
helping him, sort of sticking
things in place so they
wouldn't fall on him.

That was ... nice.

The house was still
a mess, but it wasn't
nearly as bad as it
had been before.

"Now let's take a look
at that rupture," said Dr. G.

Shiv floundered, trying to obey.
The house was a house, and
his body was somewhere else,
but the wall was everywhere
and nowhere. Everything
was all muddled together.

"Okay, Shiv, you need
to separate the layers,"
said Dr. G. "This is
your body. I'm holding
your right hand here.
Focus on that first."

Shiv focused, and
the vague pressure
resolved into fingers
wrapped around his.

"Can you open your eyes?"
Dr. G coached. "Try now."

Shiv pried his eyes open.
He was scrunched on the floor
with Dr. G and Boss White
bracketing him. Both of
them looked worried.

"That's good," said Dr. G.
"Next, think of your house."

"It's a mess," Shiv said,
wrinkling his nose.

"That can happen,"
Dr. G said. "We'll help
you clean it up. Come on,
now, focus. You're good
at this, Shiv, you have
a very concrete mind."

Shiv concentrated on
the house that he imagined
inside his mind, and it was
still messy, but at least
not flooded anymore.

"Visualize the house as
cleaner than it was. Wash
the windows and open them
to air out the basement,"
Dr. G said, and Shiv
tried to follow along.

The breeze blowing in
was cold, but it smelled
of clean snow instead of
Christmas, so that was okay.

"Good job," said Dr. G. "Now,
set aside the house, and think
of your knitted brain. You have
a hindbrain and a forebrain, and
the hindbrain houses most of
your memories. So you have
a wall in the back your mind
to protect you from bad ones."

"Yeah, but now it's ripped,
and it hurts," Shiv said.

"We'll fix it together,"
said Dr. G. "Can you
show us the torn part?"

That was all it took
to bring up the wall
and the sludge of
memories it had
spewed everywhere.

Shiv shuddered.

"It's okay, we can
deal with this now,"
Dr. G assured him.
"Dwayne, pick up what
you can reach of these
and pitch them out."

"What?" Shiv said,
squirming around.

"Bad tape, Shiv,"
Dr. G explained. "We
won't go digging, just
toss what's in easy reach.
Unless you want to keep it?"

"No no no!" Shiv yelped.
"Make it go away."

He could hear it
hissing now, "dirty"
and "naughty list" and
"stocking full of coal."

But Boss White and
Dr. G grabbed them,
getting rid of them
somehow, the way
that Boss White could
quiet the ugly old words.

Maybe this time they
would stay gone.

"And if they don't, we'll
help you again, until
they do," Dr. G promised.

Shiv was exhausted and
achy and confused, but
at least most of the muck
was cleaned up for now.

There was still the rip
itself to deal with, though.

"Okay, Dwayne, this is
a big rip, so we'll put in
some extra support for it.
This is a mattress stitch ..."
Dr. said, and explained
something or other about
patterns that Shiv tried
not to listen to much.

When Boss White
tacked up the rip, it still
hurt, but not as much
as it had in the past.

Maybe Boss White was
getting better at this, or
Dr. G's knowledge helped,
or Shiv was just too muddled
to feel everything that happened.

Shiv was glad that it sucked less.

Boss White stroked over the seam
to soothe the tight ache of it.

"When you do that, think of
how it's supposed to heal,"
Dr. G said. "Here, look at
mine, try to smooth it out."

The sensation fluttered,
changed ... it wasn't quite like
what Heron had done for him, or
Dr. Infanta, or even Nanette, but
it was closer and it helped.

Shiv gave a sigh of relief.

"All right, that's enough for now,"
Dr. G declared. "Shiv, wake up
a little and tell us how you feel."

Shiv shifted, opened his eyes --
when had he closed them again? --
and sat up. He stretched.

"Tired. Sore. Stupid,"
he said, then tensed.
"Shit, is Edison okay?"

"He's upset," Dr. G said.
"I don't know if you heard me
earlier, but I sent him to Drew
and Aidan for support. I'll talk
with him later too. He'll be okay,
eventually, but it might take a while."

"This is all my fault," Shiv groaned,
putting his face in his hands. His eyes
felt sticky and gritty with dried tears.

"It's not your fault," Dr. G said.
"It's not Edison's fault either,
even though he thinks it is. It's
the fault of people who hurt you,
a long time ago. That's all."

"It is my fault," Shiv insisted.
"If I'd just given the kid a hug
when he needed it, then none
of this would've happened."

"Then something worse
might have happened,"
Dr. G pointed out.

Shiv sighed. "I'm sorry
I'm a fuckup and probably
fucked up your kid too."

"You're not a fuckup, Shiv,"
Dr. G said firmly. "Why don't
you tell me the rest of this?
I've only gotten fragments."

So Shiv spun out the whole story
of cookie research and how he
got more and more stressed as
the day went on, even though
he liked baking cookies, until
he had finally melted down.

"It sounds to me like you and
Edison did a lot of right things,"
Dr. G said. "It's just the amount
of your past damage exceeded
your current coping skills."

"But he did what I asked and
my head still exploded, and I
don't know why," Shiv protested.

"Because you have things in there
that have been festering for years,
and sometimes they burst out when
you don't want them to," Dr. G said.
"As you work through things in
therapy, that'll happen less."

"I sure hope so," Shiv said.
"That was fucking awful."

"I'm sure it was, but you're
making great progress, Shiv,"
said Dr. G. "You're better now
than when we started."

"Much better,"
Boss White added,
"and I would know."

Well, yeah, he'd seen
the inside of Shiv right from
the start and hired him anyhow,
even when Shiv was bloody
and fussing and in no mood
to mind anyone, even the Boss.

Despite that, Boss White had
seen something in Shiv and
had hired him anyhow.

Shiv still didn't understand
that, but he was more grateful
for it than anything else in his life.

Everything good in it had started then.

Shiv's stomach growled, which
reminded him that he never had
gotten around to eating lunch.

But when he looked at the window,
it was already dark. No wonder he
felt hungry. It was probably suppertime.

"May I borrow your kitchen?" Dr. G said.
"I can make you something light that will
refuel you without stressing your stomach."

"Yeah, check the fridge," Shiv said. "Think
I got some of yesterday's soup left in there.
Have some yourselves if you want it."

Any Soup of the Day left over when
the restaurant closed was free for
the employees to take home, so
a lot of folks used that for lunches.

"Thank you," Dr. G said. He pulled
himself up using the furniture, then
went to the kitchen in search of soup.

"You doin' okay?" Boss White asked.

"Been better, but not as bad as
I was," Shiv said, leaning on him.

Boss White cupped a hand over
the back of his neck and feathered
a wisp of energy across his mind.

Shiv gave a happy sigh. That was
all the cuddling he really wanted.

"Just so's you know, Shiv, you got
tomorrow off," said Boss White.
"Don't argue with me, just take it.
I want you to rest before you try
dealin' with folks or holiday stuff."

"Yeah, boss, I got it," Shiv said.
He didn't feel like arguing.

Dr. G came back into
the living room. "The soup
is ready," he said. "Do we
want to eat here or move
to the dining table?"

Shiv was tired, but
he didn't want to eat on
the floor, and Boss White
really shouldn't be down here.

"Dining table," Shiv said as
he pushed himself to his feet.

Boss White hauled himself up
and led them to the table, which
was good because Shiv was still
wobbly and slow on his feet.

Dr. G set the table and put out
soup for everyone in big bowls
that were kind of like cups and had
a different soup recipe on each one,
which Heron had given to Shiv.

The soup was chicken and rice,
with the meat and the vegetables
diced down near the size of the rice,
so that you could almost drink it.

Shiv hunched over his and
slurped it as fast as he could
without swallowing too much air.

When he stopped feeling so hollow,
he slowed down and sat up more.

Only then did Dr. G say, "I'd like
to wrap up a few loose ends,
if you have the energy."

Shiv thought about it.
"Can I tap out if it gets
too hard?" he asked.

"Always," Dr. G said.

"Then yeah, I'm willing
to try it," Shiv said.

"Did Edison hurt you?"
Dr. G asked gently.

"What? No!" Shiv said.
"I mean, well, he was
part of why the day went
to shit on me, but it wasn't
like he did anything bad."

"I just wanted to make sure
that he didn't break any of
your safety rules," Dr. G said.

"Naw, he asked for a hug once
and I did it, but when I said no
the second time, he didn't push,"
Shiv said. "So I loaned him
my pillow instead, and ... I
still don't know why I freaked."

"Because you got overloaded,"
Dr. G said. "One thing led to
another until you couldn't cope.
You actually lasted a long time."

Shiv scoffed. "Not really."

"Yes, really," Boss White said.
"I could feel you goin' up and down
for hours, Shiv. You couldn't have
done that well last year, even."

"Huh," Shiv said. "I guess
you're right, but it doesn't
feel like I'm doing better.
I keep melting down now."

"That's because you're
working through things that
happened to you a long time ago,
that you couldn't process then,"
said Dr. G. "You are getting better.
That's my professional opinion."

"Thanks," Shiv whispered.
"You're helping me a lot."

"I'm glad," said Dr. G. "Now,
do you need to change any of
the rules for Edison? Would you
prefer an adult spotter? Do you want
to work through this, or back away?
I'd understand if you just can't deal
with Edison's high tactile needs, so
don't push yourself too hard."

"No, I don't want to change
anything," Shiv said. "It wasn't
the kid's fault, he only did what
I asked him to. This isn't like
when Halley went looking
for something to do to me."

Dr. G heaved a sigh of relief.
"Oh, thank goodness," he said.
"Edison blames himself, so it's
going to be hard enough to get
though this without also having
to explain a bunch of new rules
or actively avoid each other."

"Can you tell him that I'm -- well,
not okay yet, but better?" Shiv said.

"I'll tell him," Dr. G promised. "Please
understand that it may take a while for
Edison to calm down enough to realize
that he truly didn't do anything wrong,
and be comfortable seeing you again."

"Yeah, fine," Shiv said. "Whatever
works for him. I really don't want
to mess this up any worse."

"It will be all right," said Dr. G.
"This isn't the first time somebody
has accidentally upset or injured
someone else in the family. It
happens sometimes. You just
mop up the mess and move on."

The word 'family' scraped over
the tender place in Shiv's mind,
but it felt more like bumping
a bruise than fresh stitches.

Shiv wondered if maybe it
wasn't just because of Dr. G and
Boss White working together --
maybe he really was getting better
and that helped him heal faster.

Then Boss White reached out
and stroked his mind again,
gentle and reassuring.

Shiv went limp enough
that his spoon clattered
into the empty bowl.

"Sorry," he said.

"That's fine," Dr. G said.
"I'm glad to see you getting
the kind of cuddles that
actually work for you."

"Mmmyeah," Shiv said,
still enjoying himself.
"Kinda wonder if this is
how normal people feel
when they pile together."

"Something similar, perhaps,"
Dr. G said. "Would you mind if
I shared this observation with
Edison? He knows that humans
need healthy touch, and he worries
that you don't get enough of it."

Shiv thought about it. "Yeah,
go ahead," he said. "Maybe
it'll help him calm down if he
knows I'm not getting shorted."

"That's what I hope," Dr. G said.

"I just ... want to make sure that
I didn't break him," Shiv said.

"Well, loving a trauma survivor
is like hugging an alley cat,"
said Dr. G. "If you squeeze
too tight, you're going to get hurt.
Edison is learning that, not just
from you but other people too."

Shiv thought about the family rules
about not pouncing on Tolli and Simon.
"Yeah, that makes sense," he said.

Then he gave a jaw-cracking yawn.

"Best get you to bed," Boss White said.
"You need rest after all that stress."

"I'll get the dishes," Dr. G said as
he reached for the soup bowls.

"I can put myself to bed,"
Shiv protested, standing up.
But he still wobbled some.

"How about a compromise,"
Dr. G said as he stacked up
the bowls. "Boss White can
walk you to your bedroom door.
You visit the bathroom, then
tell us when you're in bed.
We will let ourselves out."

"I can live with it," Shiv said.

"Good to hear," Boss White said,
and helped him make his way
back to the door of the bedroom.

Shiv went through his routine
in the bathroom, leaning on
the fixtures for support and
touching the snowflakes
for reassuring familiarity.

He dragged off his clothes
and put on a sleep shirt.

Once he stretched out
in bed, he hollered,
"Good night, Doc!"

"Good night, Shiv,"
Dr. G said through
the crack in the door.
"I'll check with you
tomorrow." Then
he closed the door.

Shiv felt glad that they
cared for him, even if it was
like hugging an alley cat.

Sleep well, my boy,
Boss White whispered
in his mind, backing it with
a soft sweep of power that
left Shiv boneless and drowsy,
no longer worried about whether
he could get any rest tonight.

Content, Shiv curled up
and went to sleep.

* * *


This poem is long, so its notes appear separately.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, holiday, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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