ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls. It was inspired by discussions with [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "evening" square in my 12-17-14 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Damask & Farce thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

WARNING: This poem contains some intense interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts. The warnings include spoilers; highlight to read. Lingering worry about Mindflare sets up the tension. There is a lot of angst about secrecy and disclosure as it gets harder for Damask to maintain cover about their multiplicity. The headmates also have a hard time resolving conflicts gracefully, because Maisie's original skills got split up unevenly when Mindflare cut her apart into several new people. So there is hostile language, emotional mistreatment, and internal physical scuffling. On the outside there are conflicts over territory, guests, and personal dynamics involving Mallory and Heron -- with other housemates like Walden getting involved. It is just a big ugly mess of college-typical challenges complicated by super issues, where young people are trying valiantly to handle these big issues with not quite enough resources. More hurt than comfort, this time. If these are sensitive topics for you, consider your headspace before deciding whether or when to read this poem.

"Murder Salad"


Mallory walks with me,
not touching but never straying,
her stride casual yet her gaze alert.

Along the Rangle, the sidewalks
are lined with streetlamps like little moons,
their yellow light chasing the blue shadows
along the muddy spring grass.

There are crocus blooming in the beds,
luminous white and gold, the purple
lost in the deepening twilight.

Mallory watches everyone we pass,
especially the men, all the way home.

She's been walking me home
after my classes, every chance she gets,
ever since Mindflare came after me again.

I've told her that I don't think he'll come back,
but I can tell that she doesn't really believe me.

It's strange to see her so protective,
after all the trouble she's made,
but I'll take this over that any day.


When we get home,
I can feel the anger and frustration
spilling out of the kitchen and hear
the whack-whack-whack of the knife.

Mallory's eyes go wide
and she hurries forward.
"What's going on?" she asks.

"Murder salad," I explain
as I stretch an arm across her chest
to keep her from going in there.

"... what?" she says dubiously.

"Josephine is in Poli-Sci, okay?
It's not exactly a low-stress major,"
I say. "So when something upsets her,
she comes home and makes murder salad.
It has torn spinach and lettuce, crumbled cheese,
shredded carrots and beets and apples --
it's pretty good, but you really don't want
to bother her while she's making it."

"What about you?" Mallory asks.

"Oh, I'm going upstairs to study," I say.
"I'll come back down for supper."

"Is the living room okay?" she says.

"Yes, just stay out of the kitchen," I say.
"Josephine makes murder salad
so she doesn't take out her temper
on anyone else. As long as
nobody bothers her, it's fine."


The homework is actually mine,
a short essay in Self-Defense for Women
about using a combination of strategies
in response to an attack.

With the textbook and a couple of library books,
I lay out a careful argument for talking,
then fighting, and finally running away.

It's a good plan, but I wish that I
had gotten some of Maisie's people skills.
Maybe I should study de-escalation;
that's a good hero-skill to have.

By the time I finish the essay,
the late afternoon has turned into evening,
sky fading toward indigo.

I head downstairs for supper to find
Mallory and Walden in the living room --

with some big blond guy I don't know.

"What the hell are you doing here?"
I snap at him, because the last thing we need
is someone hassling the housemates.

"This is Heron," says Mallory, waving at him.
I -- I invited him. I didn't know that ..."


... I wasn't allowed to have guests,
Mallory finishes silently.

The thought is clear and cruel in her head
as I push my way past Ham, who is
territorial in ways that sometimes cause trouble.

"You can have guests, including boys," I say.
"We simply weren't expecting anyone today.
That can complicate supper plans."
It's a lousy excuse on a murder salad day,
but it's the best I can think of after Ham's outburst.

"I can leave," Heron offers.
"I don't want to cause problems."

"Don't go," Walden says to him, but
I'm the one she's glaring at. "Maisie's just ...
kind of touchy, sometimes."

Mallory isn't looking at anyone,
quiet and miserable.

Heron fairly glows,
warm and bright with power,
reaching out to the anxious Mallory
as if to soothe her.

That makes Clement move forward
and start pushing at me.
He feels like a healer, Clement says.
Let me through. I want to talk with him.

The last thing we need is more switching
in front of someone who might notice.

I wrestle with Clement, trying not
to let it show. Fortunately Ham and Mira
drag him off and sit on him.


Ham's hand on my shoulder hurts,
but not as much as the sheer betrayal
of having my own headmates turn against me.

"I'm sorry, Clement, but we really can't risk it,"
Mira says as she helps Ham pin me to the couch.

"Fuck you," I say. "All you ever do is hide.
Not everyone is such a coward."
Mira flinches but doesn't let go.

"Maronna mia! Calm down, Clement,"
says Ham. "It's not like we need anything
from that guy. I get that you want
to hang out with another healer, but
it's not as important as staying safe."

"That's easy for you to say, Ham," I snap.
"You have access to all the training you want.
You've had two self-defense classes already."

"I know you got all the first aid training
that Maisie had, plus the new trauma class,"
Ham argues. "That's plenty."

"That's all ordinary stuff," I point out.
"It does nothing for my talent."

"There's SPOON --" Mira begins.

"Which we have to share, because we
can't get there very often," I say.
"It's not enough. I need a mentor.
I need another healer I can talk with
and learn from, not just in class."

"It's still too risky," Ham says.

"Oh really? What if someone gets hurt,
badly hurt, and I can't help because
I haven't had proper training?" I say.
"So far we've been lucky, it's been stuff
I could figure out on my own, except for ..."

"I'm sorry about the guy who got
hit by the bus," Ham says quietly,
easing up on my shoulder.

"I know. I don't think anything could have
saved him, but I still worry," I say.
"I need the training, and you know it,
so why are you fighting me on this?"

"Clement, you know what they do to people like us --
they think we're all sick or broken or something,"
Mira says. "If anyone finds out that we're
not Maisie anymore, they could lock us up, or worse."

I've read the few books about multiples, awful stuff.

"Fooling a healer isn't like fooling a bunch
of college kids, or even the professors," Ham says.
"Even so, we've had some close calls.
The only thing worse than a healer would be
a telepath or an empath who could really hear us."

They're right. I know they're right.
It isn't safe, may never be safe,
and I don't know how I'm supposed to
do my job if I can't even train for it.

My shoulder feels bruised.
My heart aches.

I muffle a sob into the couch.

"Mannaggia," says Ham.

"Get off of him," Keane says,
a stinging slap in his words
as he comes into the living room.

Ham and Mira let go and back away,
but I don't care anymore.

Keane sits on the couch and
gathers me into his lap.
"Shh, now, I'm here," he says
as he strokes my hair.

It doesn't make me feel much better.


I manage to talk Heron into staying,
an uneasy agreement carried more by
Walden's insistence than my own efforts or
Mallory's mixed feelings and consequent mumbling.

It's not as bad as the muddle inside, though,
everyone arguing in our living room except for
Maze, sleeping after the long day at school.

Supper is delicious, the murder salad
having done its job calming down Josephine.
Alongside it come slabs of tofu fried crisp
and served with a choice of three sauces:
mushroom, chile-soy, or a sweet fruity barbecue.
For dessert there is maple-ginger apple pie.

Mallory seems amused by the murder salad
and manages to eat some of it, although
she gives up halfway through a slice of tofu
even without any sauce and takes
only two bites of the pie.

I wonder if I should be worried,
but health care is not my forte
and Clement is still crying on Keane.

At least Heron has stopped eyeing me warily
in favor of discussing the mushroom sauce with Josephine.

I don't know what to do about Heron, really,
so for now I just watch and do nothing.

Ham is right but so is Clement;
the risks and the benefits are equally valid.

If we're seriously considering Mallory as a housemate,
then she deserves the same chance as anyone else
to have friends over -- God knows she needs some.

If this goes sour, though, we could
have a lot worse to worry about than just
Josephine in a mood to make murder salad.

I hate it when what is fair
and what is safe
are not the same.

* * *


Mallory is 10 weeks pregnant in this poem.

Crocus flowers brighten a spring landscape.

Political science is among the hardest college majors. People find politics so uncomfortable that stress hormones affect voting behavior.

Cooking is a valuable coping skill in times of stress. Josephine just happens to find it more satisfying to whack vegetables with a knife instead of baking cookies.

Self-defense research indicates that employing multiple tactics reduces the chance of rape completion.

Getting along with housemates is easier if people agree on basic rules. For multiples, similar concepts apply to internal relationships.

"Sitting on someone" is one method to control switching. Consider police and paramedic thoughts on protective restraint, which are very different. Other headmates really feel that Clement could put them all in danger, but he has valid points too, and what should have been a logical debate quickly devolves into a dogpile.

Betrayal is a violation of expectations within a relationship, which can do serious damage. Understand how to cope with betrayal.

maronna mia! – oh my God! (madonna mia!) [maa-ROAWN-aa-MEE-uh]
-- American-Italian Slang

"Multiple Personality Disorder" is one way to frame plurality. While not very appropriate to a healthy system, it may be useful in describing less healthy ones. Damask are trying to work together but sometimes it just breaks down. United Front Boot Camp describes one path from dysfunction to function.

Emotional and verbal abuse don't leave bruises but still do damage. Nobody is perfect though, and multiple systems have to deal with mistakes just like everyone else. Know how to stop verbal/emotional abuse.

mannaggia – damn/cursing (male ne aggia/male ne abbia) [MAA-NAA-juh]
-- American-Italian Slang

Josephine's "Murder Salad" is based on some basic principles for making a green salad, with added inspiration from shredded rainbow salad. She's just focusing on preparation methods that cater to her need for a little well-channeled violence. To make tofu delicious, prepare it carefully and use exiciting sauces such as Fruity BBQ, Chile-Soy, or Mushroom. Maple-Ginger Apple Pie is a tasty dessert.

Safety and fairness are vital concepts in restorative justice and healthy relationships. As the organizer of the system, Clarity is concerned with how to balance conflicting needs.

Oh, dear.

Date: 2015-01-29 12:17 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
It's not just Josephine who's having a stressful day. Damask's whole system is! I like the different ways the headmates react, but right now they're not very kind to Clement. He's absolutely right about needing his own training and support for his abilities.

Ideas. Ideas. Ideas. (GRIN) As well you know.

Re: Oh, dear.

Date: 2015-01-29 05:09 am (UTC)
zeeth_kyrah: A glowing white and blue anthropomorphic horse stands before a pink and blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah
With many multiples, their body energy changes when the front changes. Someone sensitive to that can quickly pick up on it, though they may not recognize what's happening.

And the cat's a telepath, isn't he?

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-29 06:34 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Love this. Not entirely sure why, but I do.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-29 04:34 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
I know that the primary approach to multiples in our society (once it was even admitted that they could exist!) was "reintegration", the goal being to merge them all back into a single personality. I don't know if that's still the case (and in any event, I would expect Terramagne to be better about this), but even the fear of it would be pretty stressful. It's like asking all the other personalities to willingly commit suicide!

The system needs to have a house meeting about this, because this sort of thing is going to come up again; it got nasty this time because they didn't have a plan to handle it, but that can and should be changed. In the specific case of Heron, perhaps the next time they know he's coming over, Clement can take front before they come out into the public areas? That way they wouldn't be actively switching in front of someone who might notice the energy shift. Not a perfect solution, but at least one that minimizes the risk.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-29 05:30 pm (UTC)
thnidu: Oh, noes! (LJ icon) You are in a maze of twisty little LJ entries (check one): All different \ All alike. lj:redaxe (mazeoftwistylittleljentries)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
I know very little about multiplicity besides what I've picked up in this and other fic threads about it, and at least one person's blog. Your first ¶, [personal profile] stardreamer, reminded me of a different view, though not (AFAIK) from personal experience: Lois Bujold's Mark Pierre Vorkosigan, Miles's years-younger cloned brother, who split in four under torture. The original self was still there but in hiding. During his reëmergence he talked to the fragments, something to the effect of "You've all helped save me/us. I'm going to reintegrate, but you'll all still be part of me, and I'll never forget you." (Books are in storage, and it's been years.)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-29 12:30 pm (UTC)
ext_74: Baron Samadai in cat form (Default)
From: [identity profile] siliconshaman.livejournal.com
Can't help but wonder if Damask has actually run across any examples of a multiple being treated decently... or is simply running on assumptions based on a popular culture. Who knows, they might be pleasantly surprised at some point in the future. [10 to 1 Mallory at least wouldn't freak out.]


ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)

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