Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Best Understanding of Their Differences"

This poem came out of the August 4, 2020 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from ng_moonmoth and rix_scaedu.  This poem belongs to the Calliope thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

It also fills Row 1 in my 8-1-20 card for the Five Moments of Intimacy Bingo fest.

phasing through solid objects

gender issues

take a class together

confession and forgiveness

two-way teasing, both enjoy it

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them.  The rate is $0.50/line, so $5 will reveal 10 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses.
So far sponsors include: ng_moonmoth, janetmiles, general fund

461 lines, Buy It Now = $231
Amount donated = $100
Verses posted = 93 of 152

Amount remaining to fund fully = $51
Amount needed to fund next verse = $1.50
Amount needed to fund the verse after that = $1.50

"The Best Understanding of Their Differences"

[Thursday, October 29, 2015]

The kittens were soggy, and clingy,
and every color of candy in the bag.

Calliope had a pink one on her head,
two blue ones cradled to her chest, and
a purple tabby riding on her shoulder.

"Remind me how I got into this again?"
she said, picking up a jade-green one.

"Well, we needed someone else who
could phase through sewer tunnels,
and you don't hate us anymore,"
Vagary said. "No way could I
have rescued two dozen kittens
before my superpower gave out."

The problem, of course, was that
flooding in the cat room had --
somehow -- allowed the kittens
to float high enough to reach
vents that accessed parts of
the older infrastructure though
some circuitous route that
nobody had managed to trace.

So Calliope and Vagary had
to search for them by wafting
through layers of dirt and brick.

At the thickest places, they
held hands and swam through
solid stone as if it was water,
their energy trying to melt into
each other as they worked.

Finally they made it back to the lab.

"... twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four,
and that's the last of them," Calliope said
as she offloaded her final catch.

"Thank you," said Vidal Darden.
It was his lab, what was left of it
under the knee-deep water.

His assistant Aquiles Casales
slogged around, placing each
of the mewing kittens into
carriers and stacking them.

"I thought your unit had
better sense than this,"
Calliope said, watching.

"They're not members,
just occasional allies,"
Vagary said. "This isn't
one of our labs, but we'd
rather not see anyone drown."

"Are you going to turn us in
to the cops?" Vidal asked. "This
is Louisiana, they'll eat us alive."

"No, I'm going to report you
to Animal Welfare," said Calliope.
"What possessed you to put
a lab in a flood zone?"

"She's got us there,"
Aquiles muttered.

"It was all that I could
afford," Vidal confessed.

"God save us all from
broke supervillains,"
Calliope said, rolling
her eyes. "Time to go."

Then of course, the door
didn't want to open
because of the water.

"Fuck it," Calliope said.
She grabbed Vagary
and phased through.

She was tired, cranky,
and smelled like wet fur.

Walking back to the car,
she tried to forget the feel
of damp kitten paws against
her skin and Vagary's molecules
sliding through her unformed self.

[Monday, November 2, 2015]

It was Calvin who opened the door
for Vagary this time, not Calliope.

Vagary was a little startled.

He knew that Cal worked at
the craft store en homme, but
usually switched as soon as
possible on the way home.

"Feeling butchy today?"
Vagary wondered.

Calvin laughed. "No,
but I need the muscles,"
he said. "Something pried up
the wire mesh in my flowerbeds,
and squirrels got into my tulip bulbs.
So I need to replace a lot of them."

He pointed out the back door
to a pile of bags. Some held
compost and wood mulch.

"The Van Den Broeck tulips are
early bloomers in pastels and have
all different shapes. The Rembrandts
bloom mid-season in pastel stripes.
The Monets are late bloomers in
orange, yellow, and white," he said.

"Want some help?" Vagary offered.
"It looks like a pretty big job."

"Three beds, so yeah,"
Calvin said. "Thanks."

They went to the back yard,
where Calvin showed Vagary
which flowerbeds needed work.

The carnage was pretty clear,
though -- the squirrels had left
tulip fragments in their wake.

The new flowers were all
in Calliope's pale colors rather
than Calvin's deeper ones,
to go with the pigeon color
of the house and its decor.

Calvin didn't seem to mind.

Vagary enjoyed spending
time with him, which they
didn't get to do very often.

There was an ease to Calvin
and Vagary that wasn't there
with Calliope, at least not yet.

After all, it had been Calliope
and not Calvin that Vagary
had originally tangled with
and kidnapped and pissed off.

Vagary wouldn't look a gift horse
in the mouth. He was just glad
to be here, working with Calvin
in the autumn afternoon,
planting a bunch of flowers

that Calliope would see in spring.

[Saturday, November 7, 2015]

"There's a teamwork class this afternoon,"
Calliope said. "Would you like to go with me?"

Vagary blinked at her, clearly startled.
"You want to take a class together?"

"Well, I took one earlier this year,
so I'm on a mailing list," Calliope said.
"If we're going to be taking calls as
a couple, we should train for that."

"Yyyyeah," Vagary said slowly.
"Different reflexes on the job
could be ... bad. Let's go."

When they got to the park,
though, Vagary balked.
"What is this?" he said,
staring at the other people.

"This is the Kenneth H. Cooper
Municipal Fitness Park," Calliope said.
"It's shared by the police, fire, paramedic,
and other first responder crews here.
When we're not using it, then it's
open to the general public, and
some days we do outreach."

The park was beautiful, with
forest and savannah surrounding
a clear blue pond. It had dirt trails
as well as wide, paved paths for
jogging or bicycling along with
several workout stations.

"And you brought me here?"
Vagary said, crowding behind her.

"Well, you took me to your place,"
Calliope said. "That worked out."

"Okay," Vagary said. "We can try this,
but don't blame me if it blows up."

They hadn't been there five minutes
before one of the cops complained,
"Hey, what's a supervillain doing here?"

"Level-grinding my way through teamwork,
what's your excuse?" Vagary shot back.

"He's also NOT breaking any laws
today, so let's keep it that way,"
Calliope said in a warning tone.

The cop's partner pulled him away,
and Calliope led Vagary onward.

The participants gathered in one
of the big pavilions to listen as
Orain Coldsmith, the day's leader,
listed the available activities.

The first exercise was amusing --
a challenge for partners to share
stories about unusual experiences,
to give other folks an idea of
how weird things could get.

The favorite story was the one
about trying to put out a butter fire,
right up until Vagary regaled them
with the tale of the missing kittens.

"We couldn't have done it without
teamwork," Vagary said. "We
needed to pool our energy for
phasing through that many walls."

"That's not fair," someone protested.
"That solution wouldn't work for
most people. You're supposed
to share ideas we can actually use."

"That's not part of the brief," Orain said.
"The challenge is about sharing oddities
so we can expect the unexpected."

"You better be able to use it,"
Calliope said. "Superpowers may
be rare, but you're more likely to meet
them in an emergency than any other time."

"Yeah, and it might be a coworker or
a victim, too," Vagary said. "I've been both."

"We got called out to a storm and a tree
fell on us," Calliope added. "Our rescuers
advised us not to try phasing out while hurt,
because they had equipment to extract us.
If they hadn't, phasing would have helped,
but it's risky when you can't concentrate well.
Would you know how to handle that decision?"

Nobody spoke up then, so Orain chimed in,
"Why don't give us a quick summary?"

"When you call for skills, most folks
who want to use their superpowers will
tell you then," Calliope said. "When you
have a victim, watch for clues that they
might have superpowers and then ask."

"But remember that they're not obligated
to disclose if they do," Vagary added.
"Stress makes it harder to control, so
they might not want to use their gifts."

"That's fair," Orain said. "Next pair."

That was a pair of beat partners
who told about a domestic dispute
in a sharehouse of six people.

Then came a set of exercises
designed to help partners
watch each other's back.

It started with Calliope and
Vagary sitting on the ground
back-to-back, and they had
to stand up without letting go.

Next, the pairs walked around
the workout station, elbows linked,
switching direction halfway through
so each got a chance to lead.

"Remember, move your left foot
as your partner moves their right,"
Orain coached them. "That way,
you don't step on each other."

Finally they had to weave through
the area, dodging exercise equipment,
to practice turning as a team.

"I think we have an advantage,"
Vagary said. "The bond helps us
communicate what we're doing."

"I agree," Calliope said. "You
still seem to be getting more
from it than I do, though."

"Yeah, some," Vagary said,
"but you're doing well too."

"Okay folks, good job!"
Orain called. "Take a run
around the pond, then do
come calisthenics here."

Calliope and Vagary had
gone jogging before, because
they both liked visiting parks.
The day was pleasantly cool
as they circled the pond.

They made their way through
the exercise stations, then
went back to the pavilion,
a little tired but satisfied.

"Here's your bowl," Orain said,
handing them a container of
nuts and bolts. "Your job is
to assemble these and sort
them by size -- but you can
only use one hand each.
Also, wear work gloves."

"Oh, fuck you," Vagary groaned.

"A popular sentiment," Orain said
cheerfully. "Now get to work."

They had a hard time even
finding the matched pieces,
until Vagary hit on the idea
of dumping them all out and
sorting before assembling them.

"Good thinking," Calliope said
as she picked up one of the nuts.
Her hands were shaking a little.

"Thanks," Vagary said, taking
the bolt that matched it.

They struggled to fit
the two pieces together.

"Lean together, and try
to imagine that both hands
are yours," Orain said.
"You can do this."

When they pressed
their sides together,
the bond wriggled in
response, drawing
their minds closer.

That made it easier
to screw the nuts
onto the bolts.

Fortunately there
were only five to do.

"Well, now we know that
we can work half-handed
if we get hurt on the job,"
Vagary said. "That's useful."

Calliope winced. She didn't
like the idea of him getting hurt,
but had to agree it was useful.

"It's weird that we get along this much,"
Calliope said. "We both come from
such different backgrounds, we each
have a totally different character."

"The happiest couples never have
the same character," Vagary said.
"They have the best understanding
of their differences. That's a good thing."

"It reminds me of something from
couples therapy," said Calliope.
"A great relationship isn’t when
a perfect couple comes together,
but when an imperfect couple
learns to enjoy their differences."

"We're getting there," Vagary said,
and yeah, maybe they were.

[Monday, November 9, 2015]

They were doing dishes
after supper when Vagary
dropped a sponge in the sink,
splashing water on Calliope.

He winced, expecting
her to yell at him for it.

Instead, she smirked
and flicked the suds
from her front to his.

"Hey!" Vagary laughed.
"You're getting me all wet."

"You started it," she teased,
drying her damp hands
on the front of his shirt.

Vagary dipped his hand
in the water and splashed
Calliope again, on purpose.

The next thing he knew,
they were both squealing
and flinging soapsuds at
each other like toddlers
romping in a bubble party.

Fortunately the dishes
were mostly done by then,
except for a couple of plates
safe at the bottom of the sink.

"We are so soaked," Calliope said,
"and we trashed the kitchen too."

"I'll help you clean it up later,"
Vagary said, "when I get
my breath back. 'Kay?"

"Sure," said Calliope.
"I'll find you something
to change into first."

She brought him
a jogging suit that
belonged to Calvin.

"Thanks," Vagary said
as he accepted it. "We
should do this more often."

"Soak my kitchen?" Calliope said
with a wry look. "Maybe not."

"No, play," said Vagary. "It
felt good ... at least to me."

"Me too," Calliope said, then
shook her head. "Nobody
would understand us. We
are so weird together."

Vagary shrugged. "What we
have, nobody has to understand
but you and me," he said.

[Wednesday, November 11, 2015]

The cemetery was small and old,
its earliest headstones worn smooth
amidst the late-autumn weeds, but
the south end held a few newer ones
where the cemetery butted up
against a sheep pasture.

Calliope sniffled as she
swept the whisk broom over
the stone, dislodging dust.

"Relative?" Vagary said gently.

Calliope shook her head.
"Family friend," she said.
"He was a veteran, but he
didn't have anyone else
to remember him."

"Well, now he does."
Vagary knelt beside her
and picked up the shears,
then began trimming the grass
around the edge of the stone.

For a while they worked
in silence, broken only
by Calliope's sniffles.

When they finished
the work, then Vagary
picked up the cut grass and
carried it to the compost pile.

A heap of wilting weeds
suggested that they weren't
the only ones visiting today.

"I've been an idiot," Calliope said
as they walked toward the car.

"What brought that on?"
Vagary said, looking at her.

"Life is short. We don't always
have as much time as we
think we do," Calliope said.

"Yeah," Vagary said, shivering
as the wind turned cool. "We've
had some close calls. Too close."

That cape fight where someone
had torn her mind apart. The time
she tried to break the bond. The tree.

"Sometimes you're still a pain in my ass,
but ... I don't want to lose you," she said.
 "Especially, if anything happens to us,
I don't want to part ways without you
knowing that you're starting to mean
something to me. That matters."

"Yeah, it does," Vagary said softly.
"Thank you for telling me."

"I'm sorry I've been so hostile,"
Calliope said. "You didn't have
any better reason to like me, but
you still gave me a chance. I
wish that I'd actually looked at
you and given you a chance."

"You have now," Vagary pointed out.
"At least, you're trying to connect."

"Yeah," Calliope said. "It's touch
and go, but it's getting better.
I'm still sorry about before."

"I forgive you," Vagary said,
bumping softly against her.

They had looped around
and over this topic, each time
making a higher turn on the spiral.

Gravel crunched underfoot, and
golden leaves drifted down.

"It's been a strange journey,"
Calliope said, "but I don't
think that I regret it anymore."

"Our journey isn't perfect, but
it's ours," Vagary said, "and
I'll stick with you 'til the end."

Calliope didn't care if
their solutions didn't
work for anyone else.

They were gaining
an understanding of
their differences, and
that was what mattered.

* * *


This poem is long, so its notes appear separately.

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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