ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is from the January 6, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer and [personal profile] aldersprig. It has been selected in an audience poll as the free epic for the February 3, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl reaching its $200 goal. This poem belongs to the Polychrome Heroics series, following Aidan some weeks after his adoption of Saraphina.

WARNING: This poem contains emotionally fraught background. The warnings are spoilers; highlight to read. The poem includes references to child death, emotional upset as a result of same, ongoing social work surrounding foster care with intent to adopt, some awkward community dynamics, and other challenging stuff. Current environment is supportive, and indeed, the whole thing is comfort after crisis; but the crisis references are pretty unpleasant. If you're sensitive to these issues or in a ruffled state of mind, please consider carefully whether you want to read this.


"Shaken"


Deborah Blum had been working
at The Sunrise Spot for years,
long enough to know all the locals
plus the regular visitors as well.

Today it was raining, so
there weren't a lot of customers.

Deborah recognized Heidi Langenberg,
the social worker assigned to watch
Aidan and his new daughter Saraphina,
who was as cute as six glass buttons
and twice as bright.

Heidi usually had a brisk walk
that set her long blonde hair fluttering,
and she never hesitated to insert herself
into the biggest cluster of customers
in hopes of hearing more stories
about Aidan and Saraphina.

Today she folded herself over the counter
like a wet towel and just lay there.

Hastily Deborah finished pulling
the plain black cup of coffee
for Abelina Baker and set it
in front of her, then turned to Heidi.
"Are you okay?" the barista asked.

"No, I'm really not," Heidi said.
When she lifted her head,
Deborah could see that
her blue eyes were red-rimmed
from crying and her makeup
was starting to smear.

Well, all right, Deborah had taken
the Business Owner's EFA class
offered by the chamber of commerce
in case of emergencies.

"Would you like to talk about it?"
Deborah asked. "We're not busy now."
It was after the breakfast rush,
and before the lunch one.

"I shouldn't ..." Heidi began.
She sounded so shaken that
Deborah began to worry in earnest.

"Do you have someone else
you could turn to?" Deborah said.

The rain pattered on the roof,
now and then punctuated by thunder.

"No, well yes, but not the same,"
Heidi said. "I just had the worst ...
I needed to come here and ..."
She put her face in her hands.

The young woman had been about
as pesky as a mosquito at a slumber party,
which had not exactly endeared her
to the local folks, but then again,
she was just trying to make sure that
Saraphina had a good home.

Abelina picked up her coffee
and scooted down the bar.
"Mind some company?" she asked.
"Can't fix everything, but at least
you don't have to weather it alone."

"Okay," Heidi said in a ragged voice.
"This morning I got an emergency call
about a toddler and ... she didn't make it.
Wasn't quite eighteen months old yet.
Shaken Baby Syn--" Heidi had to stop
to clear her throat. "Syndrome. Her father."

"Oh honey, how awful," said Abelina.
She reached over to pat Heidi's shoulder.

Deborah gritted her teeth.
If Heidi started in on Aidan's
parenting credentials or lack thereof
one more time, it would take every bit
of Deborah's EFA training to keep
from snapping at her.

"I had to come here and work on a case
that's actually going well, so could you please ...
tell me another funny story about Aidan
burning breakfast or turning the town upside down
to find the perfect hair barrettes for Saraphina?"
asked Heidi. "I need to hear something not horrible."

Deborah felt guilty for having jumped to conclusions
about Heidi's reasons for coming today.

She turned back to the rows of gleaming equipment
and began puttering even though Heidi
hadn't ordered anything yet.

Behind her, Deborah could hear Abelina
beginning the story about the time
that Aidan had burned Jello.
"He thought it would dissolve better
if he kept the hot water on the stove..."

A few minutes later, Deborah returned
and set her offering in front of Heidi.
"Here, this may help," the barista said.

"What even is this?" Heidi asked,
peering curiously at the cup
of sunrise-colored stuff.

"It's chamomile tea with steamed milk,
creamed honey, and a dash of strawberry syrup
with whipped cream on top," Deborah said.
"I call it a Daysaver, you know,
for fixing terribly bad days."

Heidi leaned forward to sniff,
then took a tentative sip.
"Wow. That is really good.
That is ... like ... distilled morning."

"Thank you," Deborah said.
"It's on the house, you look like
you need a cup of comfort today."

"It's very nice of you," Heidi said.
"I know I've been kind of a pain
and I probably shouldn't have
come here looking for ..."

"... stories about Aidan's misadventures
in the kitchen?" Deborah said.
"It's not like we're going to run out!"

"He really boiled Jello until it carbonized,"
Heidi mused, shaking her head.
She took a deeper drink of Daysaver.

"It wasn't long after that I tried
bringing him in here," Deborah said.
"Thought I'd teach him how to
make a decent cup of coffee.
I figured, the gear's mostly automatic,
all you have to do is pull a few levers ..."

"Oh dear," Heidi said
with a wavery smile.
"Dare I ask what happened?"

Deborah pointed up.
"See that stain shaped like an orca?"

Heidi laughed, just a little,
but enough to reassure Deborah
that she was only upset,
not completely broken.

Even the rain was finally
beginning to let up.

Just as Deborah finished describing
the incident -- she never had figured out
exactly what Aidan had done wrong --
the bell over the door dingled.

Aidan walked in carrying Saraphina.
Evidently someone had alerted him
to Heidi's presence. "Morning, Deborah,"
he said. "We'd like a cup of mint tea
and a muffin, whatever's fresh."

Deborah set the tea to steep
and went for a blackberry muffin.

"Bonjou Hi!" said Saraphina,
holding out her hands to Heidi.

"I hope this isn't too forward,
but you're upset enough for
Saraphina to sense it, and
she wants to cheer you up,"
Aidan said. "Don't worry,
I've got a good grip on her gift."

"It's okay," Heidi said, letting
Saraphina climb out of the baby sling
and into her arms. "I had some
terrible news today, so I came here
hoping to be cheered up."
She tapped the cup of Daysaver.
"So far, so good."

Deborah put Aidan's order on the bar
and listened to him chattering
to Saraphina in French, then
saying probably the same thing
over again in English.

Aidan handed Deborah a ten dollar bill
and flicked his hand to say
Keep the change.

"Muffin," the toddler echoed,
stuffing a piece in her mouth.

"She's learning English,"
Heidi said softly.

"Well, she's learned that word,"
Aidan said. "It's a favorite.
We're working on basics first --
food, colors, clothes, that sort of thing.
Meanwhile I'm trying to brush up
my French; I haven't used it in a while.
The Haitian Creole's a bit of a stretch."

"It's good of you to keep up with
her heritage language," said Heidi.

"It's a pleasure," Aidan said.
"We're having fun learning
about each other, aren't we,
sweet pea?" he said to Saraphina.

"Oui-yeah," she said,
offering him a blackberry.

Aidan popped it in his mouth,
nevermind how sticky it was.

Deborah silently scooted
the napkin dispenser into reach,
and Aidan gave her a grateful smile.

"I'm glad to see you two
settling in so well," Heidi said.
She took out her tablet computer
and began checking off boxes
on a form, Good-Good-Good.

"Better," Saraphina declared.

Heidi nodded. "Yes, I feel better now."
Outdoors, the sun broke through the clouds.

The bell jingled again,
and Deborah turned toward
her next customer, confident
that the crisis was over and
Heidi was in good hands now.

* * *

Notes:

Heidi Langenberg -- She has pinkish-fair skin, blue eyes, and long slightly wavy hair streaked lighter and darker blonde. She enjoys helping people and always keeps an eye out for trouble. As a social worker, Heidi is very pugnacious about getting down to the details of each case. She has been watching over Aidan and his new daughter Saraphina, often visiting the town where they live.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Social Worker, Good (+2) Determination, Good (+2) Solving Puzzles, Good (+2) Stamina
Poor (-2) Letting It Drop

Deborah Blum -- She has fair skin, brown eyes, and long straight brown hair usually pulled back in a bun. She is tall and slender, but has wider hips. Deborah is a friend of Aidan's and lives in his town. Due to her work, she knows most of the residents and many of the regular visitors. Like a bartender, she hears a lot of gossip and tries to take care of folks when they are upset; she took a Business Owner's EFA class to help. Deborah is Jewish, and has taught her customers the trick of looking for the "Kosher" mark to find higher-quality foods. Many, though not all, of the items offered at The Sunrise Spot coffeehouse are kosher. Her dependence on caffeine goes beyond the typical, casual addiction; for her it's essentially a maintenance drug without which neither her body nor her mind perform as they should, and that doesn't wear off over time as it does for most people.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Barista, Good (+2) Conversationalist, Good (+2) Energetic, Good (+2) Memory
Poor (-2) Requires Caffeine to Function

Abelina Baker -- She has light brown skin, brown eyes, and very curly dark brown hair. She is short and a little pudgy. Her mixed-race heritage includes African, Welsh, French, German, Chinese, and Shoshone. Her educational background is limited, and while she excels at her craft, she is mostly self-taught. Abelina works as a caterer in the town where Aidan lives. She often makes food for him, and has not quite given up finding something he could actually learn to prepare for himself.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Caterer, Good (+2) Cheerful, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Storyteller
Poor (-2) Limited Education

* * *

Coffeehouse culture began in the 18th century and soon become a source of good ideas, earning the nickname "penny university." Especially in smaller towns or close-knit neighborhoods, a coffeehouse or diner often becomes a social hub.

Terramagne-America has put a lot more effort into teaching folks -- especially anyone who manages a public venue -- how to recognize and help when people are upset. Here you see Emotional First Aid applied for its primary use: preventing a miserable event from doing any lasting damage to a bystander. As with physical first aid, it's a great deal more effective to prevent problems than fix them after they've gone septic.

Shaken Baby Syndrome results from harsh handling of infants/toddlers, and it can be fatal. Know how to prevent it.

Aidan's complete inability to cook is a running gag. Although competent in many areas, food preparation is not one of them.

See a coffee lover's guide for an idea of how fanciful coffee drinks are assembled. Once you have some base beverages (coffee, cocoa, tea, milk, juice, etc.), some syrups and other flavorings, you can create all kinds of amazing things. A Daysaver is sweet and soothing, with just enough chamomile to be relaxing without putting anyone to sleep.

Enjoy a recipe for blackberry muffins.

Barrettes and other fasteners for nappy hair are different than for fine, straight hair. They are usually stronger and include such things as beads, half-round or full-round clips, comb clips, and barrettes with flexible 'tails' that will bend around a lock of hair. Braids and twists are a good way to contain and protect hair, especially children's hair, so that it looks nice.

Family assessment includes a variety of steps and forms. Having already gone through the heavy-duty stuff earlier, Heidi is down to a simpler checklist for family functionality that blends items from those for home child care and parent-child interaction useful for home visits or public meetings.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-02-11 05:42 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
I liked it a lot, but, yeah. Slightly harrowing in places.

"Requires Caffeine to Function" - should probably be one of my warning labels.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2015-02-11 05:56 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Your coffee chart is woefully inadequate. According to the caffeine junky in my life, you MUST begin with green beans, roast them yourself, clean the chaff, and then grind them.... ET CETERA.

(Laughing.) Yes, it is still cheaper than most drugs, including over-the-counter acetaminophen.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2015-02-11 09:18 pm (UTC)
thnidu: winged staff with two serpents coiled around it (caduceus)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Make that "most other drugs", yes? :-)

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2015-02-11 09:30 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Of course. Refined sugar is a poison, too, but admitting that is apparently taboo in today's society.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2016-06-10 02:52 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
Yeah, that stuff doesn't even agree with my tummy anymore, much less the rest of my system.

s'funny. Diet I can tolerate. HCFS soda just tastes *wrong*.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2016-06-10 03:03 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
You know, if you've got an old hot-air popcorn popper you can roast the beans that way in pretty short order...

I don't know if you're familiar with Callahan's God's Blessing Machine... it basically made Irish coffee from raw ingredients (green beans, heavy cream, Jaimesons, and water) but it included a microwave. You can't roast coffee beans that way; they come out all wrong. You *could* do it with the hot air popper... and you'd get *even more* of the smell of the roasted beans than the bitty fan in the nuker would put out. When I win the lottery and get tired of travelling, I'm opening a bookstore/coffeehaus called "Jake's", and seeing if I can make the God's Blessing Machine work. :)

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2016-06-10 09:51 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
The heavy cream puts it right off the list of things I can have, and without it the coffee and the Jamison's /fight/ for dominance as flavors. Bah.

If I ever won the lottery, I'd travel while our house was leveled to the ground and rebuilt. Since I'm hoping to meet all of my online friends as well as twelve countries I've always wanted to see, I'd probably end up running out of money before I ran out of places to visit.

I'll pass the info about the popcorn popper to the coffee junky (then reap the benefits, because I love the smell of coffee!)

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2016-06-10 10:08 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Grin. I love experimenting with food. Coconut cream wouldn't work (the coffee junkie doesn't like it), but I'm certainly looking for alternatives. Thanks for the reminder; I'm picking up halva when we do today's grocery shop
1

Re: Thank you!

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Re: Thank you!

Date: 2016-06-10 10:41 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
Heavy cream out == lactose intolerant? (making notes for if I cook for you, here or there...)

$100M is a LOT of travelling, even with a house in there... Gripping hand, I'd want to have a birdie of my own, which is gonna be $30M or so plus crew b/c when you win the fucking lottery you shouldn't have to deal with TSA... AND it means that I can fly direct from the airport in your town to the airport in Ysabet's town without having to fool with bloody connections... three hours wheels up to wheels down, and fifteen minutes in each airport... or four hours to Hawai`i, or eight to London (including a fuel stop)...

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2016-06-10 10:49 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Fully allergic to milk, which can really /suck/ when I want to try a new cuisine, or even a new restaurant.

If you win the lottery, can I be your personal assistant?(LOL!) I love the way you think about travel!

Re: Thank you!

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Re: Thank you!

Date: 2015-02-11 09:32 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Yup, but his favorite is a bleary-eyed person saying, "There's too much blood in my caffeine system!"

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2015-02-12 01:37 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
I use that one a lot, too.

LOLOLOL

Date: 2015-02-11 05:53 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
First, thank you for the link to the trope. Aidan's problems with cooking are twofold: he's fine with cold dishes, but it really did take him years to learn to make jello. (Eunan mentioned his mother trying to teach Aidan that particular food when Eunan was twelve.) There's a reason for it, which will be revealed eventually, and probably a puzzle piece at a time.

Second, thank you for the link to the barrettes. Yes, Aidan turned the town upside-down looking for ones which wouldn't damage Saraphina's hair, for much the same reason he included five different kinds of ice cream on the shopping list-- life is just too short not to make the little things COUNT.

And finally-- this is still a wonderful, wonderful story. You've shown WHY Aidan has stayed in town for ten years, even though his actual businesses are a mix between growing organic herbs and computer security. He's got a foot in two worlds, in many ways!

I like Heidi's persistence, especially because it focuses on what is best for Saraphina. Heidi has taken an emotional thump, but she needed a little extra support *right then,* even though she's got access to more formalized EFA through her office. They can help her in the next few weeks, while popping into town will probably garner a whole *bunch* more stories about Aidan's cooking misadventures, since the word will spread that Heidi wants to hear them for the same reason everyone else in town does-- they're funny and a little bewildering instead of humiliating.

There's a follow-up story to this one, picking up as they leave the diner.

Re: LOLOLOL

Date: 2016-06-10 02:54 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
Just because I look pink doesn't mean all my genes match the wrapper. The nap is there.

Okay. l'd been wondering that about you for quite a while now... but hadn't quite got 'round to asking. Thank you. Not that it makes one bit of difference, but one is ever curious, y'knaa?

(no subject)

Date: 2015-02-13 03:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kestrels-nest.livejournal.com
Aidan really is the perfect father for Saraphina. If she perceives that someone is upset, he'll help her learn how to give comfort rather than trying to "protect" her from the other person's pain. All the loves!

Yes...

Date: 2015-02-13 06:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
Exactly. She's been perceptive all along, and naturally compassionate. Her early experiences have made her very clingy and reactive. Aidan is teaching her about appropriate levels of intimacy and how to deal with upset people. Saraphina is very likely to choose a helping profession when she grows up.

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