Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 30, 2013

Some New Ideas

Cranky tonight. I was fine until I went on Facebook, where I saw an article about how the courts have decided that vaccines cause autism. I didn’t read much of the article; it had the gall to claim itself to be unbiased and then launched into several paragraphs lauding Andrew Wakefield as a persecuted hero.
Not much pisses me off more than this particular brand of bullshit. The thing I’ll note is that the poster is a nurse, which makes me realize something kind of terrifying: that when I have children who I take to the doctor, I will have to inquire about the vaccine status of the medical professionals in the office. Someone exposed to sick babies and not immune to measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox? Not handling a child of mine!
Other than that, I won’t rant further, as I have done so before and I don’t need to drive my small collection of readers away by repeating myself. 🙂
Had another fatigue day yesterday, not quite as bad as Thursday. Got a doctor’s appointment, about which I have decided to be generous: the NP was concerned with yesterday, not the whole history of illness and fatigue that I drag around. It just means I need to put my head together with my GP about it, and if he thinks I’m crazy then I can go find someone who can help me feel better. I don’t care about a diagnosis except as far as it dictates the treatment; but I want to be well enough to work and take care of my home and eventually have a family.
I was going to go back to my story tonight, but I had such an interesting dream last night I want to put down the story idea it generated so I don’t forget it.
The story takes place in a dystopian future, advanced in technology but ravaged by war, so that the technology different groups have available can be very different. In this landscape, an educated young woman is sold into slavery. She does not know why, as no one other than herself should have property rights over her person, but it is a thing known to happen. (Slavery is not quite legal in the fragmented country, but it is practiced by those powerful enough that they do not worry about recognizing the law.
After several days in captivity, the woman is sold to a sort of pirate and trader who has a large ship that travels up and down a major river. The ship does not usually sail on the water, though it can, but instead hovers above it. She has been bought for the purpose of keeping the trade accounts, following the murder of the previous accountant, who was skimming. The story will chronicle the woman’s travels as she unravels the mystery of her bondage, wins her freedom, and becomes a major player in the land’s renewal.

After days of near-darkness, the red evening light was harsh on my eyes as I was led out onto the pier. I pushed my filthy hair out of my eyes and watched the approach of a small barge carrying several men. One stood tall in the prow, an imposing figure with cut muscles in his chest and arms, easily apparent because of the sleeveless vest he wore. His mustaches were waxed precisely, and he wore a single earring in his right ear. This would be Captain Zhou, then, the famed pirate lord who, I had been informed, would be purchasing me.
I fingered the leather collar around my neck until a sharp jerk on the attached rope caused me to stagger. So far slavery had meant a night of terror and three days of squalid darkness, and I was most certainly not accustomed to it, nor did I intend to be. There had been, I was sure, some mistake that had led to my kidnapping instead of some intended target, and someone could surely be persuaded to seek a judgment against the slave-trader to secure my release, or else pay the price required to purchase my freedom. Until I could seek aid, however, I was forced to tolerate whatever ills were forced on me.
Zhou stepped onto the pier, followed by a slender man in a fine coat, and a barrel chested man carrying a gun and a sword. Others sat in the barge to wait. The slave trader gestured stiffly with his right hand, as though he had intended to offer Zhou a handshake and thought better of it. Instead he bowed awkwardly, and babbled.
“This is the one I promised you, my lord, skilled in keeping records and accounts.” Had I been targeted, then? And was that me, specifically, or just someone with my skills?
Zhou looked me up and down, then jerked his head. The slender man came forward, taking something out of his satchel. He took my left wrist, stretched my arm out, and jabbed the needle of a bio-scanner into my vein. I could not see the results as they came up on the screen, but he pronounced me “clean”, and handed over a wallet to the slave trader. The rope tied to my collar was given to the slender man in exchange, and I was led into the barge and pressed to my knees. We rowed off with Zhou again standing in the prow and the other pirates sitting ahead of the four rowers, and me on my knees between them. Thus I began my life as a slave, at twilight on the twenty-seventh day of July, 2134.

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 25, 2013

The Spice Must Flow

I’m sorry I haven’t posted for a few days, O handful of readers. I spent the last several days increasingly tired, and woke today with insurmountable fatigue and achy muscle pain all over my body. It was a flu-like feeling but without flu’s other symptoms. The act of dressing required more spoons* than I had available to me, and I very reluctantly called out of work sick. I always wrestle with guilt and fear in these circumstances, but sometimes there’s not much to do but stay in bed.
Fortunately I have good pals, many of whom have had pain and fatigue problems of their own. Today’s “flare-up” isn’t related to any medical condition I know about (I’m well aware that doesn’t preclude having a condition that hasn’t been diagnosed yet), but the practices and attitudes that get my friends through days of lupus, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain helped me today.
I took a hot bath with Epsom salts. I did lovingkindness meditation. I rested in bed and forgave myself for it. Then I tried something I read about a little while ago, and figured that it couldn’t hurt.
Turmeric is a spice that is said to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The research on it seems to be fairly credible, with there being some scientific confirmation of the information on natural-health websites. I tried a recipe of turmeric, cinnamon, and honey in heated almond milk. It was tasty, a little bitter, a little sweet. As I drank it, a feeling of calm and clarity came over me, and I began to feel more comfortable. After 12 ounces of the stuff, I was in much less pain, felt hungry, and had enough energy that I was able to cook a simple meal. Either the turmeric milk is the best anti-inflammatory I’ve ever encountered, or it was the best placebo effect I’ve ever encountered. Not that I care too much either way, right now! I’m too pleased about feeling better.
I intend to continue to experiment with turmeric, to see if my body continues to like it as much as it did tonight. If it is really this good, I may make it a daily part of my diet. Please remember, while reading this, that your mileage may vary; any medicine, herb, or food that works very well for one may be neutral to another and harmful to a third. And while I’m working hard at becoming the expert on my body and what it needs, I am not an expert on bodies in general. (I’m good with brains, but more in a lab sense than medicine sense.)

*Spoons = a metaphor for the resources one has to get through everyday life while dealing with chronic illness and/or pain. Google “spoon theory” or visit for more information.

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 18, 2013

So Close!

I am 20 calories of carbohydrates over my goals for today. Eating is a basic animal function, and I am a member of a culture that does very badly at it at this point in history. I managed to miss the gym the past two days, too, but at least that’s because I’ve been working late. It feels more legitimate than skipping because I don’t feel like it.
Today’s body/weight revelation: like many women of my culture, I dislike my body’s appearance. Like some other proportion of women, I think I should embrace my body for what it is. Part of the body image and health stress I have is over that cognitive dissonance; I keep telling myself I shouldn’t have a particular emotion. That’s never helpful. Next step, then, is to try to generate compassion for myself, for feeling this dissonance, for wanting to embrace my body, for disliking and sometimes hating my body. All the feelings can exist as they are and be as complicated as they need to be, and they can just be my feelings; I don’t need to identify with them.
(In related news, I need to get back to the meditation habit, because that training is standing me in good stead these days.)
A surprising number of people read my last two posts – it was very flattering! Thanks for looking in. I am quite happy to write for myself, but it’s nice to think that other people get something from it as well. A little more story tonight, I think, to round my day out.

The University
My four years as a squire in the Library were marked by hard but satisfying labor. Daily we were given lessons on mathematics, anatomy, natural history, and all the other building blocks of knowledge. In addition to these classes, of course, we worked, bringing books from the stacks to scholars and returning them to their proper places; dusting the lesser-used volumes; ensuring the proper working of the pneumatic tube system that brought messages all over the library; and guarding, always, against the danger of fire.
I thought nothing at all of the day when dusting a collection of genealogical records brought on a fit of sneezing that would not stop, nor the day when the heat in the Library’s upper reaches sent me into a faint, followed by a headache that lasted for a day. I was young, and even if sickness was frowned upon, certainly no one suspected that I was displaying some sort of systemic weakness.
After four years of squiredom, I received my emancipation, and I immediately applied for entry to the University. There was no question of my success; I had spent four years immersed in scholarly work, and it was easily thought that I would soon produce my own.
The squires of the Library and the Army are expected to be under the direction of older and wiser individuals. Scholars and soldiers are a somewhat different matter. As a scholar, any failing or weakness would render me unfit for the honor being shown to me by my city-state. In being permitted to study, an investment was being made in my education that I was expected to repay, by developing knowledge important to Greycliff. So I was told when I swore the oath that enrolled me in the University, and I agreed eagerly, thinking nothing of it. I was sent to apprentice under an anatomist, whose area of specialty was the brain, and I labored under her direction for several years.
Little did I know, she was already in disgrace. She was ill, often, and though she sent messages by tube and her dissection theatre was capably managed by another scholar, the other scholars had little patience for her weakness and no tolerance for her students, who often needed assistance for lack of better mentoring.
One morning, as I was leaving my home in the southern part of the city of Greycliff, I noticed that everything around me seemed oddly bright, as if the objects of my daily life were glowing from the inside. I dismissed it as a trick of the light, for the sun was shining directly into my flat. I left as usual, to head into the city’s more elevated northern area where the University was located.
Fifteen minutes later, I was doubled over in pain, quite blocking the stone pathway on which I had been walking. Someone shoved me from behind, and someone else made a rude comment. I straightened, pulled myself together, and walked the rest of the way to my tutorial, where I sat with my hands over my eyes and my head on the table while being drilled on the structures of the brain. Another student put his hand on my head and said helpfully, “I hope you don’t have a brain tumor.” Of course, beneath that I heard “But if you do, can I have your brain once you’re dead?” Even though he didn’t say it. I returned home once my exam was over and spent the next day in bed.
I recognized the symptoms, of course; after all, wasn’t the brain my area of study? The pounding pain, just on the right side of my head, the aversion to light, the edge of nausea. Hemicrania. But all I felt inside myself was, “Weak! Unable to take the pressure!”
I lasted six weeks before finding a physician, who prescribed a compound made of ergot that eased enough of the pain that I no longer missed one lecture out of every three. If I needed this drug then I would take it gladly, as long as it let me keep up the appearance of strength. No one needed to know how weak I really was, and as long as I was thought to properly embody Greycliff’s fabled strength and dedication to duty, then what did it matter that I knew myself to be less than perfect?

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 16, 2013

Too Tired!

I didn’t make it to the gym today, which means I’m short my goal by one workout. Lather, rinse, repeat; it just means I’m trying for week 2. This is after consultation last week with a dietitian, work-sponsored, because my job is useful like that.
Even though I’m coming up a little short on my health goals, I’m still making headway on my writing goals. At the moment, that’s mostly, “write more”; eventually I’ll need to operationalize it but for the moment I can let it be easy. I do have my update of “The Prince” to post, but to do that I have to go get it and turn on the light and so forth. So story time tonight is a piece of the story I mentioned last night. I don’t know if this will be the beginning, but nearish the beginning I think, or maybe it’ll just be background and world-building. We’ll see.

Temple River
One: The Library
The existence of Temple River was not a secret. Even as children we knew it was out there. In the puppet shows and street theatre there was a character type, the “mad healer,” who was always coughing and ill, or delusional and speaking in tongues, or covered in mud, or even (in a play I saw during University) spewing fake vomit over the front rows. That’s what Temple River was: a place for madmen and fanatics, no place that any sensible citizen of Greycliff would ever be persuaded to go.
This is the story of how I found myself sent “down the river,” as is the euphemism, the story of how I came to Temple River and what I did there.
I suppose that even as a child I was not quite normal by Greycliff standards. As all know, Greycliff values strength and unity, and its army is renowned throughout the world. Mercenary captains from Greycliff earn wealth and renown, while most royal houses field Greycliff-trained bodyguards. I, on the other hand, was a bookish youth. At fourteen, the age when most Greycliff youths become squires in the army, I could read Gallish, interpret Avalian poetry, and cypher complex algebra, but I couldn’t climb a rope, run a mile, or turn a cartwheel. I dreaded the day of Army indoctrination, and it came as a great relief to me that I was exempted military service and sent, instead, from the foothills above the cliffs into the cliff city itself, to fulfill my four-year period of service to the city-state as a squire in the Great Library.
I had been taken to the Library a handful of times as a child, but that was not enough to quell my wonder. I remember the hope and promise of that day as our barge came around a slow curve in the river and I saw it, full on in the sunlight. Carved from the grey stone of the canyon, it rose from the riverbed to the heights, not the largest facade in Greycliff, but more beautiful than any I had seen. The sunlight reflected off windows of stained glass set in the facade, and I thought how wonderful is must be to be inside and look at the glass pictures of the warriors who had fought to preserve our city, the artisans who had carved it from the stone, and the scholars who had built the Library and the University, the twin citadels of learning that brought students to Greycliff from all over the world.
I was not taken to the library that day. That first day was devoted to the tedious business of settling in: unpacking my trunk of books and possessions, being fitted for livery, meeting the fellow youths who would share my squiredom. I remember them still: the dark-haired girl who made a study of primitive cultures’ superstitions; the sandy-headed youth who played music; the husky boy who made me laugh with his clowning. We thought, in the manner of fourteen-year-olds, that we should be friends forever.
And the next day, there was the Library.

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 15, 2013

Stumbling Blocks

I’m laughing at myself tonight; having spent the time to figure out how to do this from my phone, when faced with the blank screen I suddenly don’t know what to write.
I don’t have this problem, much, at work. The anxiety provoked by the blank page is quickly replaced by certainty. At work, my writing tasks tend to be concrete, finite, and highly specific. Free-writing, by contrast, has become too open-ended. It reminds me of days and nights spent with computer and notebook, trying to produce my dissertation. I succeeded in that, but creative writing seems to have been something of a casualty, something I seem to need a very relaxed state to do. My creative impulses have been better served with crafts lately, and I’m enjoying that. But I miss writing.
It’s not all gone, of course; one can see that from the contents of this blog. (And I do have an update of “The Prince,” by the way, with a much stronger beginning.) But I thought all day about a story about a Healers’ Temple, and what a society might be like that honored sickness in a way ours does not, and I find myself fearful to get started on it. What if it’s not good enough? Of course, the response is, good enough for what? The only places it will go are on to my hard drive or in this blog. If the former, I’m the only one who will ever see it – I could delete it if I wanted to. And if on the blog, well, no one is forced to read it, and if I should go back to writing as my whole profession, I can put the fiction bits in their own little section where they won’t trouble anyone looking for a science writer.
So, I am succeeding in talking myself into it, I think. At least, that is something of the point of this exercise, this writing about writing. And I think writing about sickness and healing is a nice recovery-type thing to do as well, so perhaps it will be good for me in other ways.

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | June 13, 2013

Hey! An Update!

I should really get back into this blogging thing. I’m thinking a lot about recovery lately. Science is pretty well covered by my day job, but I need to get back into writing. This “Avenging Princess” story is neat, and I hope I have an outline someplace because I have no idea what happens next. “The Prince” is very well outlined, and I want to get back to it as well. The whole beginning of it has changed since I last posted here, and I would like to show you the new, stronger start to that story. And I’ve been feeling a creative urge of late – I find myself wanting to make art, of whatever kind. Writing, crafts, even the playlists I make for the Aviary – I’m starting to feel the neglect of my creative self. Where I’ll have time for this I don’t know, but it’s something I am hungering for.

So, brief updates: Still at the job. This is the first time I’ve been in something longer than a year since 2004, so that feels pretty good. I have two supervisees now, the newer of whom started Monday, and I am trying to learn to be a better project manager in order to do my work more effectively.

Still in therapy. Been with a new therapist for a year, and she’s great, and I’m off the sleep meds, having replaced them with light therapy in the morning. I love that I can hack my nervous system with light and get it to behave in a more useful way, with no side effects or Ambien walruses.

Not exercising enough, but I have a hula hoop now, and that’s a really fun sort of exercise. I’m very slowly beginning to find my motivation, but it’s become clear to me that I need to find something that is its own reward, because working out for long-term weight and health successes is just not immediate enough. I don’t think that says too terrible a thing about me. In the early part of graduate school, when I was living only for the future, I was very disciplined and worked out every day because I wanted to be healthy. Hell, even that’s not really true. I worked out every day to support the martial arts I was learning. I’ve tried to go back to Tai Chi a little but the group that meets at work just doesn’t seem to be the thing. So now I’m working all the time for the future again – working to have a stable career and income as part of the path to a family – and my exercise needs to be its own reward, because I’m using up the willpower for other things. (Yes, that’s actually how willpower works, it is a diminishing resource and you can run out and need to replenish it. You can look it up in the psych literature.)

Eating better. Still trying to hack what way of eating helps me feel the best – the exclusion of gluten is only the obvious one. But some other things I’m starting to notice work for me: Protein. Fruit. Yesterday I had fruit, nuts, and cheese for lunch and felt great most of the afternoon. I was ridiculously hungry by the time I got home from work, though, so it’s not a total solution. More complex carbs, maybe. (Which is always a fun one for the gluten-free person to figure out!) Maybe quinoa? Whole corn? Brown rice? Ditching the breakfast carbs in favor of Greek yogurt has been terrific, and I’ve added to that a green smoothie during the morning. So now that I’ve hacked breakfast, I’m working on how to feed myself in the middle of the day. I’m using a tracker for calories that helps me balance between carbs, fat, and protein, and I’m finding that working on the balance helps me more than focusing on the number of calories themselves.

And now I’m making myself hungry again, so I will toddle off. Hopefully you’ll hear from me before too much time has passed!

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | September 24, 2012

Warning: Contains Politics (as reposted from Facebook)

Warning: Contains Politics. Read at your own risk.

(Note: This post does not fit the categories of science, writing, and recovery that are (meant to be) the focus of this blog. However, inasmuch as science impacts on my political thoughts, I feel it is appropriate to post it here. In addition, this is a relatively lengthy piece of writing and as such I would like to include it on this blog for completeness’ sake.)

First, know that I am a scientist. I do not take that lightly. I was raised to respect reality, and went on to have advanced education in how to determine whether something is real or not. This is important because my political philosophy begins with empiricism: we must know the facts before we can draw any conclusions or set any policies.

The o

ther thing you must know is that I am female. I am a bit surprised that my sex has come into play in my politics, as gender identity has never seemed as important a facet of my personality as it seems for many people. In this season, however, the politics of these identities have become primary factors for me.

Fact: The climate of the Earth is getting warmer.

This is a fact; it has been demonstrated mathematically and through the evidence of diminishing polar ice caps and increased probability of extreme weather events. This fact should inform policy; it is critical that for human existence to continue in as comfortable a fashion as we know it, we must either alter this change or adapt to its effects.

The conservative element of our politics — broadly, the Republican Party, disputes this fact and argues against policy elements that would mitigate it. Some of this recalcitrance stems from a feeling of uncertainty about the human factor contributing to global climate change. As a scientist, I respect your uncertainty. We haven’t been keeping good data long enough, and climate data is difficult enough to extrapolate, that there may well be causes of climate change other than human activity.

I don’t care.

I like this planet; I hope to live here until I am quite old and I think my children and grandchildren might enjoy it too. Because this is my goal, I wish to mitigate the effects of climate change regardless of their cause.

Another factor in the hesitancy to enact climate change-reducing policy is a general feeling that policy is not a good way to solve problems, that an unregulated market is always preferred. My response to this is twofold. First, companies compete to make money, not to reduce their environmental impact. A company, if acting in its own self-interest, should choose a less expensive option over a more expensive option regardless of that option’s contribution to climate change. Sanctions imposed in the form if fines and taxation may drive change in manufacturing and recycling where straightforward sales cannot. Second, people, including people who run businesses, do not act in their own self interest.

People are greedy. They are also fearful, vengeful, compassionate, and altruistic. Research has demonstrated that these emotional qualities come into play when people make economic decisions. This is a fact. My conclusion based on this fact is that to expect an unregulated market to be a universal solution to the problem of human behavior is short-sighted and unrealistic.

The final argument I’ve heard for not intervening in climate change is that God promised Noah to never again destroy the world. Not only is this a misquoting of the Bible, but it is not an argument based on any sort of reasoning that can be informed by facts. If this is what you believe, then you have chosen to ignore the real world and there is no point to having a conversation with you.

I am worried that there might be a lot of Republicans like this, or who pretend to be like this in order to capture the votes of those who are. It frightens me because in giving up reason and logic they are giving up the very things that make us modern — that have brought us beyond the days of Inquisition, absolute monarchy, rampant disease, and slavery.

What frightens me more is the idea that some of these believers wish to go back to those days.

To continue: the second identity I have introduced is the feminine. To be clear, I was born female, and my body has the capacity of bearing a child. The Republican platform has given indication that, by virtue of this sole fact, I should not be permitted to make decisions about bearing children.

Let me be clear. In the past months, serious arguments have been made that requiring insurance companies to provide contraception without a co-pay is tantamount to violating the religious freedom of the employers who contribute money to their employees’ health care costs. Hormonal contraception has been equated to abortion. Abortion, protected legally by a woman’s right to privacy, has been further restricted, in some cases by requirements for unnecessary medical procedures (transvaginal ultrasound), waiting periods, or by requiring doctors to lie — to provide information that they know to be incorrect — to their patients.

Today, the Republican party has adopted as part of its official platform the position that abortion should never be permitted even in cases of rape and incest. Imagine that your body has been violated in the most intimate way possible: is it so difficult to find compassion for a person who does not want that violation to continue for nine months?

Fact: Approximately five percent of rapes result in pregnancy.

Fact: Most rapes are committed by a person known to the victim.

Fact: Many states permit a rapist to have parental rights over resulting offspring.

The discussion of rape is punctuated by one disturbing fact after another. To make it more repulsive, we have in recent days seen public arguments dismissing the validity of rape by acquaintances, by coercion, in any situation that doesn’t follow the script of a “bad girl” who goes to a “bad place” and is violently attacked. Further, we have seen arguments that defy medical science by stating incorrectly that women’s bodies prevent pregnancy in the case of a violent attack.

The repugnance I feel, that these facts are ignored, and that my personal body may be taken from me first by a rapist, and then by the state, is terrifying. And the additional implication, that I do not have the moral ability to make my own decision about childbearing following rape –. Forget that the more conservative elements of the Republican party think that I cannot even be trusted with the number and spacing of my own children when I am married. There appears to be a sincere belief that I am not moral enough to decide whether I can bear a rapist’s child.

The counter argument, of course, is that abortion, and maybe even contraception, are unambiguously morally wrong. But the only foundation for this argument is religious. And as a religious argument, it has no no place in rational discussion — there is no way to argue against it. Forcing a woman to bear a child she does not want, whether because of rape or any other reason, is different in scale, but not in kind, from forcing her to attend a church she does not believe in. Our country, and the Constitution these Republicans claim to venerate, does not impose religious laws on non-believers. To do so is to become that patronizing nanny-state that is so repulsive.

I may be damned, but I will be damned on my own recognizance. I will not allow my morality to be dictated by anything but fact, reason, and human kindness.

The above are not exhaustive, but they demonstrate why I feel it is so important that I vote Democrat in the upcoming election. I do not feel I need agree with everything implemented by the current administration in order to reach the conclusion that my interests are best served by the left-leaning party. Further, it is my hope that the Democratic party, as a party responsive to facts, may be swayed from some of their policies less conducive to civil liberties, through rigorous argument. Of the Republicans I have no such hope.

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 27, 2012

A quick post about why I am inflicting a first draft upon you

I realize that what I’ve posted is quite unpolished. An excess of dialogue is only the least of its sins, I’m sure, but that’s one I tend to notice early. After reading this excellent piece on Writer Beware, I wanted to note that I am under no illusions about the quality of this work. I took a dare, you will recall, that specified a finished novel rather than a publishable one. I can work on the latter, if I choose, once I finish the former. I now return you to your irregularly scheduled blogging…

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 27, 2012

“The Prince” End of Chapter 1 and Chapter 2

He sat across from me at dinner that night. I guessed meals weren’t the strong suit of any place feeding large numbers of kids. We’d moved up in the world from chicken nuggets to sliced turkey, and there was blueberry cobbler for dessert, but the most that could be said for any of it was that it was optimistic. I picked at my plate, moving gravy around, stacking and unstacking my peas, until I heard a tray slide on the table, and saw Arion putting his hand on the back of a chair.

“Good evening, Rachel,” he said. He pitched his voice soft and low, and I could not only hear him, but I didn’t feel as though I was being shouted at, like I usually did if someone spoke to me during the cacophony of meals. “May I sit here?”

I wasn’t sure if I should blush or not — even back when I was normal, when life was normal, I hadn’t exactly thought of myself as the girl guys wanted to be around — but I felt my face growing warm anyway. I nodded assent, and he sat, waiting until I had redirected my attention to food before picking up his own fork. Myself, I didn’t know what to do, so I began working industrially at cutting pieces of turkey and putting them in my mouth. If my mouth was full, I couldn’t talk, right?

“I miss music,” Arion said softly, and I nearly goggled except for the fact that I didn’t want gravy to drip out of my mouth if I gaped while I was eating. The conversation seemed so normal and so genuine; it wasn’t about things I’d lost interest in years ago or in things like drugs or vandalism that I had never been interested in. “At home, we always had music at dinner — so many different kinds! Every people and culture has their own music, and all are beautiful.”

He paused, and he was so earnest, so honest, that I found myself swallowing and answering, though the minute before I’d have said I wasn’t interested in conversation.  “There’s music therapy,” I said, “but it’s not much like listening to music with your family.” I looked down again. I thought about concerts I’d been taken to as a child, records I’d been played, and I wished I’d appreciated them more.

“What happened to them? Your family.”

“They died,” I said softly. I turned my hands up and looked at the scars. “Almost a year ago.”

Arion nodded; I caught the movement out of the corner of my eye. “My parents are also dead,” he said. His voice was also quiet, but I caught steel in his tone. “They were murdered.”

Chapter Two

There were a lot of tragic tales around here, and a lot of less-than-tragic ones. Mine wasn’t anything special. But murder was something I hadn’t heard before. It added to the growing fascination I felt for Arion. He seemed sad and gentle, and somehow noble, as though he were carrying honor and responsibility. We began to spend our free time together, and I began to tell him about the things I’d lost.

“I guess it was just about ten months ago,” I said. We were sitting on the swings again — that corner had become our place, and though fights weren’t exactly uncommon, none of the other boys bothered Arion, with his well-muscled figure — and a little ray of sunlight was warming my hair. “I hadn’t wanted to go the party with them. My mom said it was okay. They left me money for pizza and I had such a good time by myself just watching TV and stuff. And then the cops came, and I just felt so awful. Like, maybe if I’d been with them, they wouldn’t have been on the road so late because I’d have wanted to leave earlier. Or maybe I would have seen the truck that hit their car. I don’t know, I just — like I was responsible. I just felt so guilty. So, one night, I just — did it. I took a knife and just — cut them. It was like watching someone else do it. It didn’t even hurt, really. I just felt so relieved to know that I was finally getting the punishment I deserved. Then I passed out, and I woke up in the hospital. Afterwards, they brought me here. I still feel like that, you know. Like I should be punished for my parents’ death.”

There was a long moment when I expected Arion to tell me that I was stupid or that I had done something wrong. Instead, he reached out and took my wrists, covering the scars gently with his hands. “I understand,” he said softly, and the words were like a shock of ice waking me from sleep.

“You — you do?”

“I do,” he replied. “I feel that, had I been there, I might have prevented my own parents’ deaths. Instead, they were killed, and in the rush of grief I was an easy target, and it was not difficult for our enemies to take me and bring me here, out of their way. But, Rachel,” he said, earnestly now, “I cannot give in to guilt. I must return and avenge their deaths, and take my place as their heir. Surely your parents left you some legacy of duty or honor that you must fulfill, and even if not, then I cannot believe they would desire your death, no matter how angry their souls or how deep your guilt.”

“No,” I said, “but I still don’t know what to do.”

Arion shook his head, but he did not let me go. “I don’t know,” he said, “but for now, let our task be healing. Once we have come a little ways out of death’s shadow, then we will see our paths more clearly.”

Chapter Three

Until the fight, I thought we were just friends. Afterward, I knew there was something more to it than that.
Some of the kids in that place — they were bullies to the littler kids. The staff tried to stop it as much as they could, but it was like any school or any place. If you’re bigger and stronger, you have power, and people with the wrong mindset use that power to get the things they want without regard for others. There was this kid – Donny. And there was this other kid, a littler kid, who went by Petey. He’d been a foster kid — I guess technically he still was. He’d been brought here because the foster family was abusing him, taking the state money but not feeding him, things like that. I remembered the night they brought him in, filthy, looking like a starved rabbit. He didn’t look so starved by this time, but he was still rabbity. An easy target for a kid like Donny.

So Donny was picking on Petey, trying to get Petey to lose his temper. If a big kid attacks a little kid, it’s bullying, but if the little kid swings first, it’s self-defense, and Donny and his friends thought it was funny, watching a little kid try to take on a teenager twice his size. Petey was getting red in the face, and I saw him cock his fist back, ready to take a swing.

Then Arion stepped in. He caught Petey’s punch neatly, without hurting the younger boy, and said, “I admire your bravery, but this foolish knave can fight someone who knows how to fight back.” And he turned, just in time to block the swipe that would have caught him on the back of the head.

The fight was so short that it was over by the time the counselors got there. Arion fought like an artist. The first punch was blocked; the block was followed by a fast strike to the side of Donny’s face. The next blow was directed at Arion’s ribs, but he turned and caught Donny’s arm and just — tugged, a little. Donny went staggering into the side of the wall. He turned, and you could see on his face that he was going to duck the next blow to make Arion hit the wall instead. But that blow never came; instead a next roundhouse kick took Donny in the side and he hit the dirt, hard. Arion pressed his foot into the back of Donny’s neck and demanded, “Yield to me.” And that was it. Any reply Donny made was muffled in the dirt, and then the counselors were there, shouting for Arion to get away. Arion backed off, and I saw a syringe pocketed surreptitiously, and he went meekly enough to be interviewed by a therapist about the fight.

When I saw him later, he was completely unmarked by the scuffle, but disgusted.

“In my home, I was taught to defend the small and weak. Here, I stand up for a child being bullied by a youth the size of a knight, and they want me to take drugs! For being aggressive!”

“There was a kid a few months ago,” I said, “who attacked a boy three times her size. She bit him. They had to sedate her to get her off him. He had to go to the hospital, he was injured so bad.”

Arion frowned. “And the girl?”

“Well, she gained a lot of weight from the medicine. She went home, but I heard a counselor say that she has to go to special ed now, because the drugs dumb her down.”

He shook his head, eyes flashing. “Rachel, I cannot stay here much longer. I had intended to use this time to grieve for my parents and regain my strength, but if I wait, they will attempt to drug me into submission, which is surely what my captor intended.”

“But, where will you go? How will you leave?”

“Will you help me?”

I was stunned, that this capable boy could need or want my help, but my mouth said, “Of course,” before I could even consider the question.

“Then I have a plan.”

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | May 28, 2012

‘The Prince’

Chapter One

The first thing I noticed about him was the look in his eyes. It was late spring, but the temperature had climbed to the nineties, and it was chicken nugget day. The playground smelled like French fries and despair. Two of the smaller kids, I noticed, had already thrown up from playing too much in the heat after lunch. The teenagers had claimed the swingset as our own, and I was twisting on one of the swings across from a group talking, I think, about the drugs they had done and the things they had shoplifted. No one was paying much attention to me, and that was how I wanted it.

The new boy stood aloof. He listened to the group for a moment as he passed by, but shook his head as though dismissing them like the poseurs they were and walked on. Myself he gave a more considering look to, and sat on the third swing, next to me. I looked at the foot-scuffed ditch under the swing, expecting him to move along or at least look away. But when I glanced back up, he was still looking at me, and his eyes were filled with compassion and determination. I occasionally saw one or the other in the faces of some of the adults around here, but never on the kids. Usually by the time they ended up here, the kids were either too cynical or too drugged-out to feel compassionate or determined about anything.

“Here” was a sort of orphanage-cum-psych ward with the optimistic name of ChildSafe. Most of the younger kids had some sort of psychological problem and had been passed from foster home to foster home until someone someplace decided they needed 24-hour “care.” Most of the older kids had been on drugs and were minor delinquents, at the shoplifting and vandalism level. Usually they had been sent here by the court as an alternative to prison, and most of them looked forward to getting out after six months and going back to using and petty crime. I fit into neither category, and preferred to be by myself, and had been mostly left alone.

He was still staring. Had he seen the scars? My face reddened. I didn’t care about the scars, not really, only as a mark of failure. If I’d been successful, no one would be looking at the scars. No one would be looking at me, or wondering about me or worrying about me or trying to get me to participate in a world that offered me nothing. I glanced again. Still looking. This time he caught my glance and held it with his, and I realized that his eyes were — blue, I thought, they must be blue, but there was a purple cast to them, exotic, like something out of a story. Caught thusly, something loosened a little inside me, and the constant tight pain in my wrists seemed to ease a little. I stared back. It may have been the first time in four months that I met someone’s eyes.

“I am Arion,” he said, and it was like an offering. He continued to hold the chains of the swings just like I did, but this was like being offered a handshake. Or maybe it was like a lifeline.

“Rachel,” I said in return.

“Rachel,” he said, as though he was tasting it, as though he’d never heard the name before. “You have a beautiful name, Rachel.” He paused before saying it again, giving it extra emphasis. It was the most earnest compliment I’d ever heard.

I blinked, and then I remembered what you are supposed to do when someone pays you a compliment. “Thank you,” I said. I felt my lips twitch a little. I had almost smiled.

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