ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the August 15, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "naked / vulnerable" square in my 7-31-17 card for the Cottoncandy 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 contains some touchy topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features multiple references to past child abuse and neglect, social anxiety, financial anxiety, extreme body modesty, jealousy, shame, sex/gender diversity, creepy mannequins, visible scars from past abuse, unwelcome attention from Dr. G who quickly extrapolates the origin of Shiv's scars, unwelcome touching of Shiv by Edison who is too young to have learned better, lingering awkwardness from Halley's prior violation of Shiv's boundaries, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward. However, this is the beginning of the whole beach thread, so you need it to make sense of the later poems and the story "Family Stories" by [personal profile] dialecticdreamer.


"An Atmosphere of Shame"


When Dr. G invited Shiv on
a trip to the beach with the Finns,
Shiv's first inclination was to say no.

He'd been to the beach before,
not often, but simply because it was
one of those things that looked good when
a foster family turned in their paperwork.

His memories of those trips weren't fond.

He liked the Finns, though, as much
as he liked anybody. Even as weird
as they were, he thought that a trip
with them might not totally suck.

So Shiv didn't say anything about
his crappy past or crappy beach memories,
and he agreed to go along on the trip.

He didn't have a swimsuit, so he would
have to make do with shorts and a t-shirt.
He hated the sloppy feel of wet t-shirts, but he
hated running around half-naked even more.

It was fine right up until the Finns started
doing some kind of beach prep checklist
that seemed to involve everyone trying on
their swimwear to make sure that it still fit
and nothing was about to fall apart.

"I'm wearing mine," Shiv grumbled,
waving a hand at his cargo jean shorts
and blue t-shirt with the bold red logo
for the Omaha Farmer's Market.

He wasn't looking forward
to going home in long pants,
but at least he had the khakis
and a fresh t-shirt to change into,
stuffed into a canvas bag that read,
Omaha: We don't coast, we grow.

Then Halley came out wearing
a pair of rainbow swim trunks and
an odd, flesh-colored tank top.

When Shiv saw that, he just lost it.

"Why does HALLEY get the good suit?"
he whined, unable to hold back his reaction.

"Shiv, I know that you're not used to
some of this stuff, but please try to be
gentle with Halley's feelings," said Dr. G.

"It's okay, Da," said Halley. "I think
what Shiv meant was, why can't he
have a good suit too?" Thon turned
to Shiv. "You can, you know."

"I'm sorry, Shiv, do we need
to stop by a store on the way
to the beach so you can get
a new swimsuit?" Dr. G said.

Shiv shook his head.
"I can't afford it," he said.

"My treat, since I'm the one
who forgot to ask if you had
appropriate clothes for this trip,"
Dr. G said with a smile.

"Shoes," said Edison. "He'll
get sand in those sandals,
and then get blisters."

"And if he slips in the tidepools,
the rocks will shred his toes,"
Molly said. "He needs to get
a pair of proper beach shoes."

"I really can't afford that," Shiv said,
although he had been tempted by
pool shoes until he saw the prices.

"My treat --" Dr. G began.

"I call safety on the shoes,"
Molly said. "We have
rescue funds for that."

Shiv wanted to protest that
he didn't need anyone's rescue,
but on the other hand, he would
love a new pair of shoes. So far,
he only had these sandals.

"Do we even have time for
this?" Shiv said. "I don't
want to mess up the trip."

"It's early yet," Dr. G said.
"What do you say about
a quick shopping trip?"

"I guess it's okay," Shiv said.

It felt weird having people
make a fuss over him, instead of
telling him to quit being a pansy
the way everyone else had.

For the sake of getting new stuff,
Shiv tried to push down his uneasiness
and just milk it for what it was worth.

They went to a store called Variations
that Shiv had never even heard of.

One window held a family of mannequins
dressed up for a beach vacation -- all of them
headless except the baby, which was creepy.

The other window held a male couple, fortunately
with heads, dressed in jeans and sweaters.

"I like shopping at Variations," said Halley.
"See, the store windows usually show
the passage of time, like how we're going
from summer to fall now. In the middle of
the season they do a spread across both,
and then toward the end they bring out
new arrivals for the next season."

"Yeah, that's neat," Shiv said as he
admired a leather bag on the fall side.

Indoors, he glanced at a few things
that caught his eye, but then he froze.
The prices were way outside his budget.

"Remember, we're buying," Dr. G murmured.
"Don't look at the price tags if they bother you."

This place was much nicer than the thrift shops
or discount stores where Shiv usually shopped,
and he didn't have many good memories of
shopping from his shitty childhood.

He shoved down the panic and said,
"Just point me to the swimsuits."

"I like Bareskins best," Halley said.
"You pick out a top that matches
your skin tone, and then you add
whatever trunks or bikini bottoms
you like. They're over this way."

Bemused, Shiv followed Halley
to the racks of tight tank tops
in shades from beige to brown,
but beyond that he was lost.

"Hi, Halley, do you and your friend
need help?" said a new voice.

Shiv turned to see a shopkeeper with
long dark hair and high cheekbones.
The clothing was loud and feminine --
a black cardigan over a snug plaid top of
black and blue, with a short purple skirt --
but the face was so strong that Shiv
wasn't sure of the person's gender.

Well, he'd just wait until someone
gave him a clue, instead of guessing.
He might be stupid, but there was no need
to be a dick about this stuff. Boss White
had been real clear on that point.

"Hi, Caturra," said Halley. "Shiv liked
my Bareskin swimsuit, so we came
here to find one for him too."

"I'm afraid that all we keep in stock
regularly is the basic set of five colors:
pale, fair, medium, dark, and deep,"
said Caturra. "You look like alabaster
or maybe bisque, Shiv. If you like, I
can color-match your skin and then
special order whatever style you want."

"Pale is fine," Shiv said, grabbing
a few different sizes of top to try on
without looking too closely at styles.

"Okay," said Caturra. "Bottoms
are right over here, so just pick
something that seems promising.
You can shop for exact style and
color after you get an idea of size."

Shiv added some swim trunks
and then headed for the fitting room,
which is when everything went to pot.

"Oh hell no," he said, staring at the row
of little cubicles with flimsy curtains across
the threshold. "I don't take off my clothes
unless I'm behind a door that locks."

"Fitting rooms with locking doors
are around this corner," Caturra said,
helpfully pointing the way. "The ones with
curtains are more popular among shoppers
who expect to need a lot of assistance,
when the door just gets in the way."

"I can dress myself," Shiv snapped,
darting into the fitting room as soon
as she opened the door for him.

Shiv locked the door behind himself
and immediately felt a bit better.

He took a few deep breaths,
trying to remember the feel of
Ambrose pressed against his back,
spine to spine, talking him through
one of those stupid exercises.
That helped a little more.

Shiv fingered the tops,
but as much as he liked them,
they were different and that
made him feel nervous.

So he tried on the trunks first.

Sadly the yellow-green-blue ones were
too small, while the straight plaid ones
in green-and-white were way too big.

The gorgeous black-and-blue plaid
turned out to be sort of a skirt style,
and no way was Shiv wearing that.

The green-and-white splash plaid trunks
fit him, though, so he went out in those.

"Those look nice," Dr. G said,
and then started to frown.

"What?" Shiv said, looking
down at himself. His fly
couldn't be open because
swim trunks didn't have one.

"Could I take a closer look
at that scar on your leg?"
Dr. G murmured.

"What, this?" Shiv said,
glancing at the faint line.
"I've had it forever."

"Not ... quite ... forever,"
Dr. G said. "From the look,
I estimate that you would have
received the injury as a toddler."

"Yeah, I received a lot of
fucking injuries as a kid,
so what?" Shiv snapped.
"This one just goes around
my thighs and up my back,
but it doesn't do anything."

"I was afraid of that," Dr. G said,
shaking his head. "I have a theory
about that scar, but it's unpleasant.
Let's plan to revisit this conversation
during a later therapy session. I
don't want to spoil today's trip."

"Fine, whatever," Shiv said,
eager for anything that would
get him out of this mess now.
He could ditch the return later.

Then he turned back toward
the racks of swimsuits.

"Not finding what you want?"
Caturra asked sympathetically.

"Do you have anything longer?"
Shiv said, tugging at the hem of
the green-and-white swim trunks.

"Board shorts are right over here,"
Caturra said, directing Shiv toward
a wall display that filled a whole corner.

He rummaged through the options
and soon found a pair of board shorts
striped in beautiful watercolor blues.

"I really hope these fit," Shiv said,
holding them against himself. They
came all the way down to his knees,
but he wasn't sure about waist size.

Caturra gave him an appraising gaze,
then offered a different pair. "Here,
I think this size will fit you better.
You have very slender hips."

Shiv had very slender everything,
and so it was no wonder that
the straight plaid swim trunks
had almost fallen off him.

He took the new pair into
the changing room, where he
discovered that they fit perfectly.

Shiv came out to show Dr. G and
realized that Halley had reappeared.
The Finns kept milling around the store
so much it was hard to keep track of them.

"Wow, that looks great!" Halley said.
"I think you should get that pair.
What do you think, Shiv?"

"Uh ... they fit and I like
the colors," he said, not sure
what Halley wanted from him.

Shiv didn't hate the little brat,
but still didn't trust Halley either,
not after the colossal fuckup
that happened in summer.

"I believe you were looking for
a top also," Dr. G prompted gently.

"Yeah, I got some to try on," Shiv said,
then returned to the fitting room.

The tops were weird. They were
clingy and stretchy like swimsuits
usually were, but the fabric felt
different and the cut wasn't like
anything Shiv had seen before.

The first one he wriggled into
cut into his chest, so he peeled it
off and tried the next one.

That one seemed to fit better,
and after a moment, Shiv could
almost forget he even had it on.

It had a Y-shaped back that left
his arms free, which he really liked.
It was darker than his skin, but he
didn't think it would show too bad.

"This one is pretty cool," Shiv said
as he stepped out of the fitting room.

"What happened to your back?"
Edison squeaked, his eyes wide.

"Huh?" Shiv said, turning around
and trying to see his own back.

Then he caught a glimpse
in a nearby mirror and spotted
the pink V shape on his shoulderblade
peeking out from the back of the swimsuit.

"Oh, that," Shiv said. "I've had it for
a couple years, it's all healed now.
Somebody hit me with a belt,
with the buckle end of it."

"That's awful!" Edison said.
"Didn't you tell the cops?"

Of course Shiv hadn't ratted
on Boss Batir, even though
the bus ride from Lincoln to
Omaha had been miserable.

"I don't want to talk about it,"
Shiv said through his teeth.

Edison burst into tears
and then plastered himself
all over Shiv's lower legs.

Shiv tried to scrape him off,
because the last thing he wanted
right now was anyone touching him.

"Edison, let go," Dr. G said firmly,
prying him off of Shiv. "You and I can
discuss this somewhere else." Dr. G
picked up his son and walked away.

"Why do people keep being so mean
to Shiv?" said Edison. "Don't they
know that just makes him meaner?"

"Some people don't know, while
others know but don't care," said Dr. G.
"Let's find a quiet place to talk, because
Shiv is a very private person, and
this is not a private place."

Edison's reply was lost in sniffles
as their footsteps faded away.

Shiv wrapped his arms around
himself. Maybe he should have
just given up and worn his trunks
without a top like every other guy,
but that thought only made him
squeeze himself even tighter.

Elisabeth Finn came bustling over
to Shiv. "Do you need any help?"
she asked. "I overheard what was
happening. If you want Graham,
I can take care of Edison."

"Not from you," Shiv said,
then turned to Caturra. "Do you
have a top that covers more skin?"

"Yes, of course," she said. "We
have a wide-shouldered tank top with
a solid back. Bareskin also makes one
with cap sleeves, but I'm afraid that we
don't stock that style, because it's not
very popular. I could order one, though."

"Just show me the solid one," Shiv said,
and she helped him find the right kind.

This one was a lighter color, and
when he tried it on, it covered most
of his back down to his waist.

"I like this one," he said as
he showed it to Elisabeth.

"Then by all means, get it,"
she said with a smile.

If she noticed the pale line
of the scar that crossed
his lower back, she didn't
mention it to Shiv.

That was good, because
his body showed his rough life,
and there was no hiding that
while wearing a swimsuit.

Then Halley came over
and said, "Please don't
get mad at Edison. He
doesn't know any better,
Shiv, he's only four."

"I'm not mad," Shiv said with
a shrug. "I'm the one who came out
wearing not enough clothes."

"What you wear doesn't give
anyone an excuse to pick on you,"
Halley said. "It's only that Edison
is so little, he's just starting
to learn good manners."

"I guess," Shiv said, rubbing
his hands up and down his arms.

"Why don't we look for beach shoes?"
Elisabeth suggested. "You need those too."

"Footwear is right across from the wigs,"
Caturra said. "Do you have anything
particular in mind for today?"

"We're going to the ocean, so Shiv
needs beach shoes," Elisabeth said.

Shiv looked at the wall of leather boots
and high-heeled slippers. Around the corner
he found the flip-flops and other summer stuff.

His favorite was a pair of beach shoes in
black and blue with layered mesh sides
to keep out the sand, reinforced toes
and heels, and thick rugged soles.

Caturra helped him find some that fit,
and Shiv eagerly wiggled his toes as he
walked back and forth to test the shoes.

"I like these," he said happily. "If I get
them plus the top and the board shorts,
will your budget cover all of that?"

"All of that and more," Elisabeth said.

"In that case, Shiv, do you want the first top
you tried on?" Caturra said. "You seemed
to enjoy it, and you might have somewhere else
to wear it with a less ... excitable ... audience."

"Yeah, nobody back home cares
about how my skin looks," Shiv said,
then glanced at Elisabeth. "Could I really?"

"Of course," she said. "Pick out
whatever you like, Shiv, it's our treat."

"With two tops, you're close to the threshold
for our summer blowout bargain, dropping
to half price," Caturra said. "Want to rethink
ordering the cap-sleeved top in alabaster?"

Shiv didn't really need three tops,
which made him feel like a mooch.
Then again, Omaha had public pools.
He didn't know how to swim, but it was
nice just splashing around on a hot day.

He could always hit the thrift stores
to look for more board shorts, too.

"If you can guess my size,
then yeah," Shiv said.

"I don't need to guess, I can
just copy it from your tank top,"
Caturra said. "If that one fits,
so should the cap-sleeved top."

"Go change back into your clothes,"
Elisabeth said. "I'll see if everyone else
is ready, and then we can check out."

Shiv went into the fitting room, locked
the door, and just shook for a minute.

Then he changed clothes and bundled up
the ones that the Finns had offered to buy.

When Shiv came out, Elisabeth took them
to the cash register, which had a rack of
sunglasses on one side and a tiki statue
taller than himself on the other.

Edison was wrapped around Molly,
who rocked him slowly back and forth.

"I'm sorry about what happened, Shiv,"
said Dr. G. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine," Shiv said quickly.

"That's good to hear," Dr. G said.
"I just want you to understand that
none of this was your fault. We live in
an atmosphere of shame. People can
be cruel, and they may try to make us
feel bad about ourselves, but it doesn't
mean that we are bad people."

Maybe he wasn't, but that
never had applied to Shiv.
He'd been born bad. He'd
heard it often enough to know.

"I don't want to talk about it,"
Shiv said, sidling away.

"Okay," Dr. G assured him.
"You don't have to. If you change
your mind, though, I'll always listen."

Just then, Elisabeth rescued Shiv by
handing him a crinkly paper bag full of loot.
"Here you go," she said. "Let's head out
now; we have a beach waiting for us."

Maybe being rescued wasn't so bad after all.

* * *

Notes:

Shiv (Egon Harrison) -- He has fair skin and silver eyes. His blond hair is straight and silky, worn long on top so that it that flops over his face. His head is a long triangle ending in a narrow chin. He has a lot of small scars from fights, but he heals well, having survived several injuries that could easily have proven fatal. Egon is currently 20 years old.
He likes dark flavors -- coffee, cigarettes, dark chocolate. He loves fish, especially tuna and fried catfish, and anchovies on pizza. Pistachio ice cream is another favorite. He's fond of exotic sodas, whether for flavor or medicinal effect; he discovered strawberry-mint as a child and several people have been sharing others recently.
His superpower is a narrow form of telekinesis. It lets him create knives out of almost any nearby material, or take control of small bladed weapons from anyone else. He can't manage anything larger than a machete, though.
Origin: While in Juvenile Hall, he was stabbed by another inmate. Shortly thereafter, Egon developed his superpower. He believes that there was something on the knife -- or in the material itself -- which caused this to happen.
Uniform: Street clothes, but with several bandoliers of throwing knives.
Qualities: Good (+2) Ambidexterity, Good (+2) Crafty, Good (+2) Hoodlum, Good (+2) Recovering from Injuries, Good (+2) Streetwise, Good (+2) Fast
Poor (-2) Can't Keep His Mouth Shut
Powers: Expert (+4) Control Sharp Things, Average (0) Super-Immunity
Motivation: Puncture ALL the egos!

Shiv's awful past has left him with a lot of trauma. Among other things, he has an old, pale scar from a jacknife burn across his thighs and back. The crisp horizontal line indicates a deliberate injury. The higher, blotchy area on the left side is typical of accidental burns -- in this case, from sloshing the water around as the victim struggled.


Caturra Romão -- She has fair skin, brown eyes, and long straight hair the color of coffee. Her heritage is Brazilian and American; her surname is the Brazilian version of Romano, and pronounced similarly. She speaks English and Portuguese natively; she has also learned Chinese, Spanish, and Tagalog. She is transgender, with a deep understanding of herself. Her store, Variations, provides clothing and accessories to gender-variant and other people. Caturra is honest and trustworthy, able to coax out rapport even with wary customers. At home, she enjoys cooking food that blends Brazilian and American influences, sometimes others as well.
Qualities: Master (+6) Intrapersonal Intelligence, Expert (+4) Clothier, Expert (+4) Trustworthy, Good (+2) Fusion Cuisine, Good (+2) Sex/Gender Diversity, Good (+2) Tall

* * *

"We live in an atmosphere of shame. We are ashamed of everything that is real about us; ashamed of ourselves, of our relatives, of our incomes, of our accents, of our opinions, of our experience, just as we are ashamed of our naked skins."
-- George Bernard Shaw

In Terramagne-America, Mercedes is in the same place as local-American Merced. They're heading to a beach in Santa Cruz.

Variations is a store that sells clothing, accessories, and other supplies to people of diverse sex/gender identities. See the summer and autumn window displays. They have sections for footwear, wigs, lingerie, makeup, and other things. Here you can see where the red part of the store joins the blue part. Variations has grown to fill more than one section of its strip mall. There are three dotties, one for staff and two for customers.

The swimsuit section has several subdivisions. Here are the bikinis and the changing rooms with curtains. These are the swim trunks and the changing rooms with locking doors. The cashier is nearby.

There is actually a debate about whether parents should even bother to take a foster child on vacation with them. Beach trips are listed as something every family should do, and as activities for foster children. Some people literally go down a list and just treat it as a box to tick. Won't this be fun? 0_o

It helps to have a checklist of things to pack when preparing for a beach trip. As a large and active family, the Finns have learned from experience that it pays to plan ahead.

Shiv has a bunch of t-shirts from the Omaha Farmer's Market. Some just have the logo on the front. Others have a cute vegetable on the front and the logo on the back. Here you can see the front logo shirts in green, orange, blue, yellow, and brown plus bags in green and blue. The t-shirts are lightweight cotton. The bags are made from recycled plastic, not as large or sturdy as some canvas bags, but they're cheap. Shiv is also wearing cargo jean shorts and sandals. He doesn't have many clothes right now. He also bought this large, heavy-duty canvas bag at the Omaha Farmer's Market.

Halley has swim trunks in rainbow tie-dye.

In T-America, the five basic colors for skin-tone products are pale, fair, medium, dark, and deep. Stores that carry Bareskins customarily stock all of these, though they may have more variety in their most popular color(s). A full range of ten tones is available via special order: alabaster, bisque, peach, amber, buff, olive, toffee, terra cotta, mahogany, and ebony.

These are the Bareskins in the five basic colors. Shiv has the tank top in pale and the Y-back in fair.

In T-America, these come in many more styles, including both binder and regular spandex. So there are bikini-style tops and bottoms in the same range of flesh tones, popular both for layering or wearing alone. This one is fair. Here the middle model is wearing a Bareskin bikini with a choker top under green lace bikini shorts. And you can tell this is a T-American style fashion spread, because the left model is wearing a big beach knife strapped to her thigh and nobody cares. This is alabaster with cap sleeves, which Shiv orders later.

The swim trunks that Shiv tries on are in this batch. See the front and back of Shiv's board shorts. It takes some looking to find really modest swimsuits for men, but it's possible to find ones that cover navel and knees.

Here are Shiv's beach shoes. These are heavily reinforced to withstand sand, water, and sharp rocks.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-09-25 05:37 am (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
Oooh, Santa Cruz beaches. That brings back some OLD memories. The first time I was in Santa Cruz, we went up to Bonny Doon beach along CA 1. Time and tide and creek and sand have dug this huge box canyon into the coastline, maybe 100 feet high at the back wall...

Poor Shiv. Poor Edison. Even T-America has trouble owning its shit. :(

But ya gotta love the rainbow swim trunks. :D

UC Santa Cruz' mascot, Sammy the Banana Slug, is a surfer dude. He wears a board short (only one pseudopod); his surfer motto is "Hang One"...

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