ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the September 1, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] technoshaman. It also fills the "cutting edge" square in my 5-18-15 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo fest, and the "angst" square in my 9-4-15 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] stardreamer. It belongs to the Antimatter & Stalwart Stan thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: It's still a mess inside Shiv's head. Highlight for details, some of which are spoilers. Shiv is going stir-crazy from his injuries. He also has to make a difficult decision about cutting ties with old, bad relationships. And then decides to deal with the emotional aftermath by cutting himself. Later Ambrose convinces him to talk with Ragno, and of course, Shiv is mostly wondering whether Ragno wants to kill him. They do find slightly better coping skills in the end, though. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"A Different Flavor of Hurt"


The necessary stillness
quickly drove Shiv crazy.

He thought about moving around,
but even dragging himself to the toilet
hurt so much that he decided
to follow Dr. Bloch's advice
and just stay in bed.

Sure, Shiv could have picked out
stronger painkillers, but then he would
be either sluggish or asleep, and he
hated that a lot more than the ache
of his bruised kidney, which was
annoying but ignorable as long
as he didn't move too much.

I've had worse, he reminded himself.
I got through that. I'll get through this.

Eventually the boredom drove him
to spend some of his refunded points
on watching movies. Most of them were
fluff, but then he found Frozen.

Elsa looked like him, or like
his sister might have looked
if he'd had a sister.

Even though their powers
differed, edges and ice, Shiv still felt
a bone-deep kindred with the snow queen.

The trolls made him shudder,
and he fast-forwarded past them,
but he watched the movie so many times
that he memorized "Let It Go" and found
himself humming it at odd moments.

Shiv never got tired of watching
Elsa declare her independence and
discover her superpower, the way she
created a crystal palace from ice.

He wished that he could have a place as secure
as that cold, razor-edged citadel of isolation.

Shiv also loved watching her
attack people with knives of ice,
the way she thrust out her hands
to drive everyone back and away.

Even when he didn't have the movie
running on his viewscreen or tablet,
snippets of it came back to him
whenever something else
reminded him of it.

Like when he got a message
because he owed tribute
to Boss Batir every month
for being back in Lincoln
after his banishment.

There had been an option
to buy his way back into the gang,
but it had been too expensive and
Shiv had been too pissed at the time
to take advantage of it.

Now he had to pay if he wanted
to keep that option open, and also
not get pounded to putty if the boss
caught him on the wrong turf
after his release.

For the first time since
arriving here, Shiv hesitated.

The memories rose up:
earning his way into the gang,
learning to make a machete,
getting punished for mistakes.

I didn't even know what I
was doing half the time,

Shiv realized in retrospect.

He thought about it, and
frankly he just didn't want to go
back to a boss who beat him
when he fucked up.

Boss White was better --
he mostly handed out shit jobs
until his temper wore off, and
Shiv could live with that.

Let it go, the song whispered in
his head, all cold wind and cutting edge.
He could almost taste the snowflakes.

Shiv let it go, and he could feel
the stinging snap of the tie as he cut it.
There was no going back now.

Fuck it all.

Shiv curled up
a sliver of steel from
beneath his bed, licked over
the edge of it to nick himself where
it wouldn't show, and remembered
the flavor of snow like metal
on the tip of his tongue.

Then he put his movie back on.

It was after lunchtime when
the viewscreen pinged him
with a call from Rosie.

Shiv accepted it on his tablet
so he wouldn't have to roll over
to see the screen on the wall.
"Hey, Rosie, what's up?"

"Hello, Shiv," said Rosie.
"Ragno would like to talk with you,
if you're willing to see him. It's not
an obligation, but I think it might
help both of you to deal with this."

Ragno wants to talk with me?

Automatically Shiv started to sit up,
only to have pain lance through his back.
"Fucking ow," he said.

"Lie still," Rosie said,
waving his hands at Shiv.
"If you agree to a meeting,
I can bring Ragno to you --
he's mobile by now."

Nothing wrong with his legs,
Shiv remembered, a queasy image
of the incident replaying in his mind.

"Is he -- how is he?" Shiv asked.

"Shaken and sore, but he's
healing well," said Rosie.
"Does that tell you what
you needed to know?"

Well, no, but Shiv was
not about to ask Rosie,
"Is he likely to try killing me?"

If it came to that, Shiv could
certainly defend himself.

"I don't know if I could afford
a visitor," he hedged.

Staff visits didn't count,
but a social visit was not
cheap in the solitary wing, and
along with losing access to ways
to spend points, Shiv had also
lost ways of earning them.

"No cost, and in fact, it pays,"
Rosie said. "This counts as
relationship maintenance and
accepting responsibility."

"Oh," Shiv said. "In that case,
I guess I'll see Ragno."

"Thank you," said Rosie.
"I'll bring him by shortly."

While waiting for that,
Shiv fussed and fidgeted,
which made his back hurt,
then grimaced from that,
which made his face hurt.

He whittled up a metal file
to clean under his fingernails,
but made it too sharp and
cut into the quick.

Swearing, he stuck his finger
in his mouth. He never had
been good at waiting.

A soft knock at the door
was followed immediately
by Rosie saying, "Do not
get up to answer this, I'm
having the guard open it."

The lock chattered open.
Too late to back out now.

Rosie helped Ragno into the room
and quickly sat him in the single chair,
leaning against the wall himself.

Trying to twist around
to look at them directly just
aggravated Shiv's injuries again,
but he gritted his teeth against it
so he could make eye contact.

Ragno looked moderately awful,
every motion slow with the kind of
deep exhaustion that came along
with any serious injury. He had
black circles under his eyes, and
dark bruises above the white gauze
that covered the stump of his forearm
under the sturdy canvas sling.

Looking at the wound he'd left behind
was a different flavor of hurt. Shiv
found that he couldn't do so for
very long, but neither could
he keep his eyes off it.

"Hey," he said to Ragno.
"Good to see you up."

"Yeah," said Ragno. "You look
like a wedding favor, you know,
the kind they drag behind a car?"

Shiv laughed, which hurt his face
and his battered ribs, but it was
worth the pain. "Guess so."

What a pair we make, he thought.

"I'm not supposed to overdo it,
but some things need to be said
in person," Ragno declared.

Goosebumps raced along Shiv's arms
as he wondered if Ragno meant
to start a feud right now.

"Like what?" Shiv made himself ask,
though the words dragged at his throat.

"Thank you for saving my life," Ragno said.

Heat replaced the cold, followed
by confusion. It didn't make any sense.
I'm no hero. Everyone knows that.

"You took a terrible risk," Ragno went on.
"That's not the kind of debt that can
ever be repaid. I just wanted you
to know that I'm grateful."

What ri-- oh.
Because the chayne
might have spread from
Ragno to Shiv.

He shied away from the memory.

"So you're not mad about --
about how I did it?" Shiv asked.

Ragno flinched, a haunted look
crossing his face as he pulled
the stump closer to his body.
"I'd rather not talk about
that part, if you don't mind."

"You don't have to discuss
those details if you're not ready,"
Rosie assured him.

Hell, Shiv didn't want to either.
I will never be ready for that.

Catch was, that left them without
anything on the table, and he wasn't
much of a party animal either.

Then Shiv remembered the worksheets
that he'd done on small talk, which had
seemed like a complete waste of time
but now might come in handy.

"I am sorry you're not feeling well,"
he said. "What have you been doing
to keep from getting bored? I've
been watching movies."

"I've watched some movies,"
Ragno said, leaning forward a little.
"Mostly I'm playing games, though."
He took out his tablet computer,
then shuffled over to synch it
with Shiv's tablet.

As he did so, Ragno's hand
slipped down to hide a packet
of smokes between Shiv's arm
and the fuzzy blanket.

"Just don't light those
where the guards could see,"
Rosie warned him.

A chill crept over Shiv.
How did he know?

"Light what?" Ragno said.

"I'm tolerant, boys, not blind,"
Rosie said dryly.

"Sorry, sir," Ragno muttered.

Shiv kept his mouth shut.
Ragno nudged the bed.
"I'll be careful," Shiv said.

"Anyway, I've been playing with
some of the arts and crafts games,
like Transpirograph," said Ragno.

Shiv wasn't particularly impressed
by little scribbly lines, but it was
still better than talking about
their respective injuries, so
he tried to make polite noises.

Ragno noticed his boredom anyway.
"Wait, I know one you'd like more,"
he said. "You do snowflakes
in the craft room, right?"

"Yeah, when they let me," Shiv said.
The guards didn't trust him with scissors
if he'd been acting up, but on a good day
he loved seeing how lacy he could
make the paper before it fell apart.

"Well, there's an app for that," Ragno said,
passing it from his tablet to Shiv's.
"Check out Blizzard Wizard."

Shiv squinted at the control screen,
trying to make sense out of the fuzzy blobs
and what might have been buttons.

A little tapping around got him
a piece of paper hovering over a table,
quickly trimmed into shape by a pair of
flying scissors. The crisp snick! of
the sound effects made him grin.

I like this game already.

"So how do I make it work?"
Shiv said, poking it again.

"You'll figure it out," Ragno said,
returning to his chair.

Shiv huffed at him, but went back
to experimenting with the game.
If there were any instructions, he
couldn't read them, but most of
these things were tappers.

Then Shiv discovered that
pointing to a spot on the paper
would put the scissors there, and
tapping twice would begin the cut.

"Hah! Got it!" he said, and
started making a snowflake.

Ragno looked up, and his tablet
skittered out of his grasp
to clatter on the floor.

He's clumsier one-handed,
Shiv thought with an inner wince.

"May I get that for you?"
Rosie asked Ragno, motioning
at the wayward tablet.

"Yes. Please." Ragno bit off the words
like pieces of parsnip, hard and peppery.

"The alarm didn't go off?" Shiv said.

"They turned off the bump alarm after
I dropped the damn thing five times
in ten minutes," Ragno said.

"Here you go," Rosie said
as he returned the tablet.

Ragno struggled to balance it on
his lap and work it with only one hand.
The device slipped and slid, threatening
to head for the floor again.

"Oh, just wedge it between your knees,"
Shiv said. "Here, do it like this." He
showed Ragno the move which he'd
perfected that time he got his arm
broken in three places.

After a little fumbling, Ragno
managed to lock the tablet in place.
"Yeah, that's better," he said.

"Good job," Rosie murmured,
smiling at the two of them.

Well, that kind of kills the fun,
Shiv thought. Approval only
set you up for getting in trouble
when you flubbed it later.

Shiv turned his attention back
to the snowflake app, pushing away
the worries that plagued him and
concentrating on how to make
a replica of some patterns
he'd seen in the movie.

The quiet skritch-scratch of
Ragno's scribble program and
the steady snip-snip-snip of
the scissors were oddly
soothing in his ears.

Rosie didn't even interrupt.
He's comfortable with silence,
Shiv realized, watching him.

After Shiv saved his tenth snowflake,
the program paused and asked -- in type
large enough to read -- if he'd like tips.

Curious, Shiv tapped the YES button.

The screen divided into windows about
the history of cut-paper art, types of
decorative scissors, the geometry
of making paper snowflakes, and
the physics of real ice crystals.

Below that were more buttons
for quizzes to check learning and
questionnaires on personal thoughts.

Shiv peeked at the geometry page
and found it surprisingly interesting,
with suggested patterns to try.

Then he opened the crystal tab,
and saw a set instructions for
copying complex designs from
natural ice onto paper.

I could get to like this, Shiv thought
as he went back to snipping snowflakes.

Even the nagging ache in his body
and the anxiety scraping at his nerves
seemed a little more bearable when
he had something to cut, despite
it being only fake paper.

It was a different flavor of hurt,
yet again, like when he burned
his tongue and it faded away
after a few seconds.

Nobody was bugging him,
and yet he wasn't by himself,
just sitting together with Ragno
scribbling and Rosie doing
whatever he did in his head.

Snick-snick-snick went
the silvery scissors, cutting
Shiv's problems down to size.

* * *

Notes:

“Cutting pain was a different flavor of hurt. It made it easier not to think about having my body and my family and my life stolen, made it easier not to care..."
-- Laurie Halse Anderson in Wintergirls

Bruised kidneys benefit from bed rest.

Frozen is an animated movie about two sisters, one with magic and the other without. In Terramagne it's a soup movie. "Let It Go" is a famous song from it, parodied as "Fuck It All."

Shiv isn't the only one who noticed that the trolls are creepy. There are bits of fated love, belligerent sexual tension, and very nearly arranged marriage in those scenes. 0_o

See Elsa's fight sequence.

Extortion is a common way that gangs make money. They may charge a fee for everyone in their territory and/or specific activities such as selling sex or drugs.

(These links are unsettling.) Bad bosses may be violent or otherwise troublesome. Know the warning signs of workplace violence and how to escape your awful boss.

(These links are disturbing too.) Self-harm is a negative coping skill. Although generally considered a feminine problem, boys and men do injure themselves and the number may be rising. There are ways to hurt yourself less and to help a friend who self-harms.

Solitary confinement can be ruinous to human health. Part of the point to the Terramagne prison system is to help inmates adapt to life outside by moving them through areas of progressively lighter control, to see how well (or poorly) they handle greater personal responsibility. The transition lowers the shock of release, which makes it easier to merge back into the community, which lowers recidivism. So even the areas of tighter control, like the private wing, are designed to encourage inmates back toward the looser zones as they earn privileges in return for good behavior. They need the immediate, concrete reward because most of them hadn't gotten it outside.

Gratitude and its expression can make people happier. Here are some ways of expressing gratitude. Accepting gratitude can be a challenge for some people, so there are tips for that too.

Small talk has its uses, but many people hate it. Read some rules and samples for effective small talk. Here are some games and instructions. Since Shiv doesn't have the same social instincts as most people, he's taken to memorizing snippets from the educational materials. It sounds awful and robotic, but much less objectionable than when he just says what he's really thinking.

Dealing with an injured friend can help them recover after medical trauma. Shiv has no fucking clue what he's doing here either.

Transpirograph is an online version of Spirograph, similar to Inspirograph but more complex because it has 3D and animated options.

There are virtual craft programs in the prison. Shiv is bored by the Spirograph one, but likes the paper snowflakes. You can find examples that draw complex polygons or mimic scissors.

The geometry of snowflakes may be explored with cut paper or glue. Learn how to make paper snowflakes. Here are some patterns and instructions on design. Watch a video of paper snowflakes.

Traumatic brain injury can leave vision problems.

Disability etiquette involves giving people a chance to do things for themselves, but offering help when it seems beneficial.

Some people fear praise if they've had bad experiences in the past. Others feel ashamed by approval from the "wrong" direction. Learn how to take compliments gracefully.

A basic problem-solving technique involves reducing a large daunting problem to smaller and more manageable pieces.

YAAY

Date: 2015-11-18 03:16 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
I really, really feel for Shiv.

I mean, I can project the course of his actions after he gets out-- he'll last maybe six months before SOMETHING will send him to prison again. Right now, I'm hoping it'll be the SAME one, so that Ambrose, in particular, can try to chisel out some of the old crap in Shiv's head, to make room for new ideas.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-11-18 03:29 pm (UTC)
capriuni: Text: If you want to be a Hero, be Good to the Storyteller. (Default)
From: [personal profile] capriuni
Heh. Like the Make-a-Flake reference (hm. I was wondering what I could do for a holiday card design, this year....); I also like how you made the connection between that and Frozen, and how both would appeal to Shiv.

Re: You're welcome

Date: 2015-11-18 11:53 pm (UTC)
capriuni: Text: If you want to be a Hero, be Good to the Storyteller. (Default)
From: [personal profile] capriuni
I also liked his thought about how Elsa looked like his sister would, if he had one...

That struck me as a sign he's ju-u-st starting to think about himself as existing in relationship with others.

Re: You're welcome

Date: 2015-11-19 10:26 am (UTC)
capriuni: Text: If you want to be a Hero, be Good to the Storyteller. (Default)
From: [personal profile] capriuni
>> Movies and stories are good for that.<<

That's like saying brick and mortar are good for building walls. ...Or, since we're talking Shiv: scissors are good for cutting paper. ;-)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-11-18 03:40 pm (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Spirograph brings back some interesting memories -- I wrote a program to draw spirograph figures as an art project, back in my junior or senior year at Carleton. On an IBM 1620, using a plotter that a couple of us students had cobbled together and connected in a totally non-approved fashion using the console lights, and the divide instruction as the "driver". Those were the days.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-11-18 11:28 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
This one had me going, "Aw, poor kid!" a lot.

Your link to Elsa's fight scene has been taken down. But I can definitely see that movie appealing to Shiv; it appeals to a lot of people who have been told all their lives that who they were wasn't good enough. And "Fuck it All" made me laugh.

Shiv deciding that he doesn't want to maintain even the option of working for an abusive boss is a very good sign! I think that's the first indication of "I deserve better than this" we've seen from him.

Heh. Ragno clearly comes from somewhere like the Detroit area -- the honking wedding parade with stuff tied to the car is extremely regional. Nashville doesn't have it, and neither does Houston, but I remember it from growing up. Hmmm... it occurs to me to wonder if it's part of a specific ethnic culture or cultures?

Worksheets on small talk would be great for a bunch of people I know! Questions about that kind of thing also pop up regularly on Captain Awkward; NVs tend to have the most trouble with it overall, but you don't have to be NV to be very shy or have social anxiety.

"I'm tolerant, boys, not blind,"
Rosie said dryly.


*snerk*

Approval only
set you up for getting in trouble
when you flubbed it later.


And there again we see how badly damaged Shiv is; his sense of what's good and what's bad in relationships is nearly inverted. That really sucks.

Also, learning about "introvert socializing" (which is kind of what we're seeing here) is probably a good thing for him. The option of having human companionship without feeling an obligation to entertain is going to be helpful to him right now, in ways he won't even realize for a while yet.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-11-19 05:35 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
I'm not shy. I just consider small talk to be a fucking miserable waste of time.

Small talk is what makes it possible to have serious talk, though. Small talk is what allows you to build the trust that gets you to where you can discuss more important stuff, and build genuine relationships with people. It's not just make-work, it's a TOOL. It's part of having good manners, and manners are the oil that lubricates the social contract.

politesse

Date: 2016-09-25 12:10 am (UTC)
callibr8: (diversity)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
>> the things I think of as polite are so far off the norm that most people hate them and will not tolerate them. <<

Would you be willing to briefly describe an example or two? I'd certainly find it educational, and possibly fascinating as well.

Re: politesse

Date: 2016-09-25 04:48 am (UTC)
callibr8: icon courtesy of Wyld_Dandelyon (Default)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
>> Another is honesty. People lie that they admire it, but most of them don't. <<

This instantly launches a lyric cue in my head, to a favorite Billy Joel song titled Honesty, whose chorus goes:

Honesty / is such a lonely word / everyone is so untrue
Honesty / is hardly ever heard / and mostly what I need from you


... which then links associatively to another Billy Joel song, And So It Goes.

>> People don't want the truth. They want to be told what they want to hear. <<

Overwhelmingly true in my experience also. It makes the exceptions disconcerting but *very* refreshing. :-)

not in it for the conversation

Date: 2016-09-25 06:07 am (UTC)
callibr8: icon courtesy of Wyld_Dandelyon (Default)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
*wry chuckle* ... Unless she had an extensive repertoire of sexual expertise, I bet they didn't stay together very long. People that one can't talk to, about "anything and nothing", as my partner puts it, tend to lose their appeal, fast. :-)

Re: making connections

Date: 2016-09-26 09:54 am (UTC)
callibr8: icon courtesy of Wyld_Dandelyon (Default)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
>> Which is true for people who use talking as a primary means of connection. Not everyone does. <<

Excellent point! Also, a good reminder. Thank you.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-02-07 07:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] paantha.livejournal.com
*squeee*

Oh, that was wonderful. Poor Shiv! He really doesn't know what he's gotten himself in for with all this kindness!

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ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
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