I find the kitchen to be surprisingly free from my brother’s constant chatter as I make my way down from my room. It’s Saturday, the only day where I like to sleep in or read in bed until late, and usually, by this time, Aidan would be sitting at table, talking non-stop about a seemingly endless list of topics which he thinks Mom would be interested in. She would be humouring him in response with an odd word here and there whenever he stops to breathe, but would mostly sit next to him in silence, content to hear him ramble on, asking questions which he has a habit of answering by himself.
My little brother’s propensity to talk away one’s sanity drives me crazy. But this morning, I’m unnerved by the silence, and when find both my parents sitting at table with linked hands and haggard faces I start to actually feel scared.
“What’s happening? Why is Dad still at home? Where is Aidan?” I fire in quick succession.
Mom blinks away tears while Dad looks at me with very tired eyes. “Aidan is at school, it’s Memory Day remember?” he replies, his voice laced with fatigue and worry.
I had definitely forgotten that. Memory Day is the most important annual event that happens in Panem. All twelve year olds are called to school on the day that, up to thirty years ago, used to be reserved for the Reaping. A commemorative ceremony usually takes place, with the names of the lost from each District honoured, and footage from different Games shown so as to ensure that the new generation of Panemians do not forget or ignore the mistakes of their ancestors. I remember my own Memory Day very very clearly. It was the first time that I had seen actual footage of the Games, I had seen my parents being reaped, I had seen them dressed as Tributes, I had seen them -”
“Oh shit,” I breathe.
“Language Alba,” my parents murmur simultaneously.
“Sorry,” I reply as I open the refrigerator and pour myself some freshly squeezed orange juice. The fact that there is any left is actually worrying in itself because the rate at which Mom and Dad chug at orange juice is ridiculous. Something about them not having discovered oranges until they were my age bur resulting in their never being enough to spare for me. Except, apparently when my parents are making themselves ill with worry over how my brother will react to Memory Day.
Aidan knows about the Games, of course. Just as I knew about them since I was old enough to understand what the kids were talking about at school. Mom and Dad had set each of us down when we were about seven to explain to us about their life as kids, the Reapings and the fact that they both were part of something called “The Hunger Games”. They also told us about the rebellion, and the war; but no amount of warning or knowledge can really prepare you for the moment where you actually see your mother kill another boy with an arrow, or your father mercifully ending the life of a young girl, after she was left to die in agony by another Tribute. The fear, the tears, the helplessness that I had always felt whenever I heard their story...and the idea that it could have easily been myself, had I been born just a few decades earlier, were further amplified when I had to witness, on a big screen, the two persons that I loved the most having to kill in order to stay alive. That kind of fear, not only of the unknown, but also suddenly of your own flesh and blood, consumes you.
“You did warn him didn’t you?” I ask softly as I sit down next to them.
“Of course we did,” says Dad, “we’ve been trying to prepare him for weeks, and we also tried to tell him what to expect before he left this morning, but you know how Aidan is. He kept tripping on his shoelaces and talking about the soccer match he would be playing this afternoon. He didn’t even hear a word we said.”
That was just typically Aidan. In the past years a game that was very popular before the Dark Days, something they called “soccer”, had seemingly made a comeback. Aidan went absolutely nuts when he was first given a ball for his eight birthday and all he does after school is play this game or talk about it. It seems to be pretty simple to me - ten people chasing a ball. No touching with hands. Kick ball in the direction of a net guarded by someone far too small to defend it. Score. But for Aidan, it’s sacred game and has so many rules that he has even taken up the habit of drawing diagrams to show us how to play it. My parents and I don’t have the heart to tell him that we don’t care. Well, technically, I do have the heart to tell him so, but I’m just not allowed. Today, however, I highly doubt that my brother will be playing any soccer games after the ceremony.
“And even if he did hear us,” Mom adds, “you know well enough that it doesn’t change a thing.”
I cringe as I remember how much I had screamed at them after attending Memory Day four years ago. How I had thrown things and raved and called them murderers, liars and how loudly I had yelled that I hated them before locking myself up in my room for a whole day. When I had finally succumbed to hunger, I had found the kitchen table full of my favourite food, and my parents’ arms around me to hold me tight when I finally allowed myself to cry.
“He will get over it,” I tell them, “just as I did. He will just need some time, probably far less than me, knowing how he is.”
Just as if on cue, the front door opens quietly and from the door of the kitchen we see Aidan crossing the living room, head bent down. As soon as he sees us, he stops suddenly, stares at us as if in a daze, and rushes up the stairs, tripping on his shoelaces with a frustrated cry. The sound of his door slamming causes my parents to wince.
“Those damn shoe laces are going to end up getting him killed,” I sigh, as I stand up from the table. “I’ll go talk to him. Daddy, cook something nice, it always helps,” I add with a small smile as I look down at his worried face.
Before making my way to my brother’s bedroom, I stop in the study-slash-painting room and look for the book of memories that Mom and Dad had put together so many years ago. This seems to be the day when Aidan needs to have a good look at it.
“It’s me, Aidan, open up,” I call as I knock on his door.
“No! Go away!”
“Because I want to be alone!”
“I don’t care. Open up!”
“No, leave me alone!”
“Tough luck buddy, I want to speak to you!”
“I said go away!”
“Open up, Silkworm,” I growl. This is ridiculous. Twelve year old younger brothers should not be such a constant source of annoyance.
There is a moment of silence before the door is yanked open and I see my brother’s face glaring at me. “Don’t call me Silkworm,” he hisses indignantly.
I’ve been calling him Silkworm since Elisa Hawthorne, during her family’s annual visit to Twelve last summer, had pounced on him and remarked that his hair was made of silk.
Uncle Gale had not been impressed.
“Johanna, get our daughter off the Mellark silkworm,” he had muttered under his breath. Since that day I made sure the nickname stuck. Aidan hates it, although not as much as Daddy. But then again, Dad is not particularly keen about anything that Uncle Gale says or does anyway.
I walk past Aidan and curl myself up on the window sill, repaying his glares in double doses. After a few seconds of silence he shrugs and goes about ignoring me as he picks up from the floor a remarkable amount of strewn t-shirts.
“Are you cleaning up?” I ask him in amazement. My brother doesn’t clean up. My brother is in fact so careless and untidy that he breathes clutter just by entering a room. Paintings fall at an angle, and furniture seems to move the minute he walks past it. It’s actually a recurrent joke at home, and the only source of disagreement between our parents. Mom has given up on cleaning Aidan’s room ages ago – agreeing that he will pile up his dirty laundry and sheets outside his door once a week. Dad, on the other hand, insists on barging in at unannounced moments and standing on guard until my brother brings the inside of his four walls to a state of basic hygiene.
The arguments are as recurrent as they are consistent.
But this is my room!!
And you are my son! Do you think I’m going to let you fester in your own filth?
But Mom lets me!
Then when you would’ve gone missing for a few days, Mom will have to look for you under your own pile of sh- DIRT by herself!
Fine! I’ll call for her not you!
Clean up. NOW.
Then Mom would interfere, they will shout at each other in the kitchen, and then they will lock their door that night, and I will have to prepare breakfast the following morning for myself and Aidan. Dad will whistle all day, and Mom will munch on cheese buns and smile. Predictable and gross. I wouldn’t have it any other way though.
Nevertheless, seeing Aidan clean up without such drama is worrying.
“Yes,” he replies to my question with a scowl as he dives under his bed to collect what might possibly be a multitude of long-lost socks. “I’m scared not to,” he continues, his voice muffled by the bed covers, “because apparently Mom and Dad kill people.”
I gnaw at my bottom lip for a second. I know exactly what turmoil he is going through at the moment. He must be so scared, so confused. “Silkworm, Mom and Dad don’t kill people,” I reply gently, “those were horrible times, you know how things went under Snow. They’ve been telling us about it now for years at school. You will even have to write essays about them soon enough, and teachers expects As from me and you,” I add with a smile.
Aidan’s head comes out from under the bed, and he gives me the look that Mom always gets when Dad and I make jokes that are not appreciated.
I roll my eyes and lower myself down on the carpet next to him, placing the book next to me. “Aidan, they were sent to kill each other in the Games, those were the rules. They fought in a war! What could you possibly expect them to do?”
My brother blinks rapidly, focusing on a spot on the carpet in order to hide the fact that he’s moments away from bursting into tears. I’ve never seen him so completely miserable. He looks so young in the rare occasions when he’s not being an annoying, but always cheerful, ass that I actually consider whether to give him a hug. “It’s just that … I don’t know them anymore,” he confesses, looking up at me as his voice suddenly breaks.
I sigh as I run my hair through the blond, shiny hair which I envy him far too much. “They were scared and were still ready to give up their life to protect each other and the ones they loved,” I explain to him gently, “what is there not to know?”
He doesn’t answer me for a while, but then nods and murmurs “yeah, I know.”
“They’re still Mom and Dad,” I continue, “but now you can understand why they have nightmares, and why sometimes they are not like all the other Moms and Dads.” Just a few months ago, on the night before my sixteenth birthday, I was woken up by Mom holding me close to her and sobbing before Dad came in and tried to gently pry me away from her grip. “I’m sorry,” he whispered as he led her back to their bedroom, “you’re turning sixteen. Nightmares.” That had been enough explanation for me. The older I grew, the more I understood, the more I empathized. The fact that they actually managed to get this far is almost incredible for me, and I love them so, so much for it.
My brother needs to understand. “They’re still brave and strong and they love us more than anything,” I insist, “but they had to go through something very very bad, and our role is to be thankful and supportive, and not to judge them.”
Aidan tugs at the corner of his sleeve with his teeth, a habit which he developed when he was thinking deeply. “They showed us bits of different Reapings,” he explained, tears now flowing freely, “then they showed us their Reaping, and Auntie Prim was screaming, and Uncle Barley was crying. He was crying so hard and Uncle Naan and Grandpa Mellark were holding him because he couldn’t even stand up.”
I nod but remain silent... it’s obvious that he wants to let it out of his chest. But my heart does clench with a familiar pain when he mentions them. Most of the people our parents loved were gone by the time they were just a little older than me. Useless, painful deaths that could have been avoided. Also, I wish I could have met my uncles and my aunt. I wonder what life would have been for us if we had them around.
“And then they showed us the Opening Ceremony, and Mom and Dad were all dressed up and waving and there were so many people and it looked a bit like the opening ceremony of the Soccer tournament without the horses and now I know why Dad won’t watch it with me!” he rambled in one breath before he stopped to breathe though his sobs.
I gently put my arm around him and pull him close to me. He seems surprised, but doesn’t resist. “Well, a long time ago, opening ceremonies were usually for tournaments such as soccer and all other sorts of competitions,” I explain, “it was President Snow that turned them into an event to present the Tributes. So you should be happy that they are now there to make people cheer once again for athletes and for their favourite team.”
“Mom and Dad do not agree,” he sniffs back at me.
“And they never will, but we cannot possibly understand what they went through,” I reply, “can you possibly imagine yourself having to face the possibility of being a Tribute at your age?”
Aidan shakes his head before burying it in my shoulder. I wince at the state my T-shirt will be in. “Once you transfer all your snot to my shirt, will you go down and talk with them?” I ask him gently.
He dries his eyes with his sleeve and resumes his nibbling of it. “Are they mad at me for hiding up here?” he asks.
“Of course not” I reply, trying to reassure him, “they’re just very worried. I did much worse than you after my own Memory Day, don’t you remember?”
He frowns and shakes his head. “But you scream and lock yourself in your room all the time,” he replies rather unfairly. “It’s got something to do with periods right?”
I gape at him. Would he scream if I tried smothering him with his pillow?
“How the hell do you know anything about periods, Silkworm?” I ask as I glare at him menacingly.
He has the grace to squirm away from me. “Dad told me about them some months ago, when I complained that you and Mom were eating all the chocolate, and being grumpy and cuddling on the couch,” he replies as he traces invisible lines on the carpet.
“And what did he tell you exactly?” I huff at the thought of my cycle and Mom’s being part of a conversation between my Dad and my brother, as well as for the fact that Aidan had the cheek to complain that we were eating chocolate.
“All sorts of disgusting stuff,” he answers me with a look of distaste, “and he also mentioned things like respect, gratitude and appreciation for all girls. And he said that I had to be nice to you and Mom on those days to avoid having my head bitten off.”
That is so much like Dad that I can’t help grinning. “Good, make sure you remember that piece of advice,” I tell him, “but promise me that we will never, EVER, speak about my period again!”
He stares at me seriously. “If I ever do mention it again, slap me,” he pleads.
I am about to give him a hug, but then I decide against it because there has been already far too much sibling love going on for one day. Instead, I hand him over the Memory Book. “Read this,” I tell him softly, “and you will be able to see just how much love and strength Mom and Dad can teach us. Once you’re ready, come down and have a chat with them.”
I find my parents waiting for me next to the stairs, looking up anxiously. “He’s ok,” I whisper before leading them to the kitchen, “he’ll come down to talk to you soon.”
Their relief is so visible that I just open my arms wide and hug them both to me. “I love you Mommy and Daddy,” I murmur as I feel them both tightening their grip around me.
“Thank you Sunrise,” says Mom as she tucks my hair behind my ears. It’s grown a little too long, and even though I pull it up sometimes, I never braid it. Mom says that I look a lot like her when she was my age, and it might confuse Dad when he’s having a bad day. It might be too much for him to handle if there is also a non-shiny sixteen year old Katniss having to compete with a shiny one. I don’t mind – it’s one of the small prices in my life that I will always pay gladly.
“You’re welcome,” I reply softly.
Aidan doesn’t come down for lunch and when I check on him I find that he’s asleep, with the Memory Book clutched tightly in his arms. I help my parents prepare dinner, and I’m relieved to see that they’re holding up well.
Just as we’re clearing up, I suddenly see Dad glower at someone outside the window overlooking our front porch. “Your boy’s here again,” he grumbles at me.
I grin as I catch sight of Ben, my childhood friend - and something more - approaching our house. Ben is Aunt Delly’s and Uncle Thom’s son, the unplanned youngest of five and, in his words, the result of his father’s particularly successful fifteenth anniversary dinner. We’ve been friends ever since I can remember, but last summer he disappeared for a couple of months due to a severe bout of whooping cough and came back looking tall, grave and grown up and particularly appreciative of the attention that I suddenly didn’t want to stop giving him. Since then, being friends was not enough. Dad used to love him until he saw us holding hands at a fair and ever since, Ben lost the right to call him Uncle Peeta and to be served by him at the Bakery. Aunt Delly finds it hilarious.
I wave at Ben from the window mouthing that I will be out in a few minutes. As Mom helps me out of my apron, Dad steels himself to give me his usual lecture.
“Hands where I see them, one hour on the porch, and no kissing,” he orders.
“Dad, we agreed to kissing last week!”
“I changed my mind, the boy is looking frisky today,” he replies glaring at Ben through the window. Ben is not looking any different than usual, though I really like the way the T shirt I bought him for his birthday fits around his shoulders.
“Daaaad! Don’t you trust me?”
“Of course I do. It’s him I don’t trust,” he snaps, “look at him, look at how arrogant he is looking today!”
Ben is standing nervously on the steps, hands dug deep in his pockets, and with his shoulders hunched. I give Mom an exasperated look, and she rolls her eyes.
“Love, what kind of lesson are you teaching our daughter if you go back on your word?” she asks him as she slips her arm round his waist. Dad mumbles something but I know that he’s wavering when she kisses him gently on the cheek. “He’s a good lad, and she’s a good girl, let her be,” she adds for good measure.
“Fine, but no holding hands and you’re back inside before the sun sets,” he concedes.
Before I can negotiate further, Aidan makes his appearance in the kitchen, still clutching the Memory Book and looking contrite and miserable. All thoughts of me and Ben are forgotten as my brother runs towards our parents and hugs them tight.
“I’m sorry, you’re so brave and good, I’m sorry!” he sobs as Dad rubs his back comfortingly and Mom holds him tight.
“Is there anything you would like to ask us?” asks Mom.
“Yes. Everything,” Aidan replies as he holds out the book.
“Then I think you need some hot chocolate to help you through,” Dad replies with a small smile as he leads him to the kitchen counter.
My brother tugs at his sleeve and looks confused. “But Dad, I don’t have a period,” he remarks with a small, puzzled frown.
“It’s OK son. There are some situations in life that will always require hot chocolate, and this is one of them.”
Even though I snuggle in the warmth that Ben brings with him, I still can’t help glancing frequently through the window that leads to the kitchen. The scene doesn’t change much; Mom and Dad have their arms around Aidan as they go through the Memory Book and share their loss with him. My brother is still crying, but he also seems to be rapt in their story and for once in his life, ready to listen and to understand. I remember having the exact same conversation four years ago. It’s not something that I will ever forget in my life.
“You’re awfully distracted today,” Ben remarks as I shift in his arms for the fifth time to look inside.
“Sorry,” I reply with a sad grimace, “it’s Memory Day. Aidan is getting his talk.”
Like me, Ben is the son of survivors. Even though they did not go through the Games, his parents, especially his Mom, suffered great loss in the war, and saw the District burn to the ground. His parents, just like mine, lived through the Reapings and the dictatorship and our generation has to live their healing process, and help them through the burden of their memories. To a certain degree, he understands what is going on in our family today.
“You should be inside with them,” he tells me gently as he laces his fingers with mine, “your Mom and Dad need you today.”
I’m not exactly sure whether it’s his tone or his words, but I suddenly feel a lump forming in my throat and my eyes watering with tears. “Will you be mad?” I ask him softly.
“Of course not,” he replies truthfully, “how can you think so?”
I smile at him and hold his hand in both of mine as I lean forward to kiss him gently. “I’m lucky to have you, Ben Styles,” I whisper truthfully.
“I’m here to stay you know,” he grins shyly, “even when you go off to Four, I’ll come with you, if you’ll have me.”
At his words, my heart starts beating so fast that I can hardly hear myself think. Does he really mean it? This is a conversation that I still need to have with my parents, but my plan is to go off to Four to train as a doctor in the Medical School that my grandmother founded and which my mother sponsored with a portion of her Victor’s winnings. Even though I had confessed this dream to Ben, I never expected him to consider coming with me.
“Do you really mean it?” I whisper incredulously.
Even though Ben answers me with his lips, it is not through words. He kisses me deeply and I feel lightheaded and scared and happy and so so very warm as I hold on to him tightly and pull him even closer to me. He fills my senses and my thoughts and nothing matters until suddenly he is pulled away from me and I see Dad grabbing him from the scruff of the neck.
“Boy, you are going to come to the bakery tomorrow at the break of dawn. You are going to speak to me, you are going to ask me to court my daughter, and most importantly, you are going to grovel. Is that clear?” he asks him menacingly.
Ben nods his head, his eyes open wide. “Yes sir, of course sir, I’m sorry sir,” he replies as he stumbles backwards from the porch steps. He sneaks a look at me and raises his arm to wave before he catches my Dad’s look and thinks better of it before taking off.
I storm inside and launch my tirade.
“Dad, how could you? How?!”
“That boy was all over you!”
“Well yes, because I wanted him to!”
“You’re sixteen, you’re a child and children don’t do the things you two were doing!”
“Well, what about when you were sixteen?? You and Mom –“ I stop abruptly in mid sentence and turn bright red as two pairs of startled eyes stare at me. Aidan squirms uncomfortably on his chair.
“Sorry,” I mumble.
I stare at my hands in embarrassed silence for a few seconds before Mom moves to hug me. “Eighteen,” she tells me with a small smile.
“Eighteen what?” I ask, bemused.
“We were eighteen, and your Dad returned to me from the Capitol. We were very much in love, and we didn’t behave,” she explains, silencing Dad’s protest with a roll of her eyes. “So in two years’ time, you can compare your behaviour with ours as much as you like.” She hands me the phone and, squeezes my arm. “In the meantime, phone up Ben and tell him that he is welcome here as often as he likes, because your father and I are going to have a long chat about his possessive ways,” she finishes, shooting Dad a warning look.
There are times like these when Mom is truly wonderful. “Thank you, Mommy,” I murmur softly.
Aidan drags Dad to the living room, probably noticing that he is looking rather forlorn and defeated by the women in the family. “Da, let them be,” we hear him telling him soothingly; “you and I had a difficult day today. Let’s just watch soccer until dinner and forget all about them!”
“You’d better not touch Mr Cushion!” I warn him as I follow my brother in the living room and see him throw himself on the couch.
“I was here before!”
“I was everywhere you’ve ever been four years before you. What’s your point?!”
“I’ve had a difficult day!”
“You made it difficult for all of us! And I said hands off my cushion!”
Dad reaches for my hand from his seat on the couch and pulls me next to him gently. “Can we call it a truce and have a Mellark Family Tangle?” he asks me apologetically.
I glance at Mom, who sits on the other side of me and gives me an encouraging smile. “Ok,” I concede, “but only if you stop treating Ben so badly,” I mutter.
“I promise to try harder,” he replies, “but I miss you, Sunrise. You went from Cuddle Time with me to kissing Ben on the porch in what seems like days. I still need to adjust,” he explains glumly.
He looks so sad, and I actually realise that I miss him too, so it’s no effort for me to snuggle up to him. “Maybe I could spend a few hours a week at the bakery after school?” I suggest.
“That sounds like a perfect plan,” he answers with a big smile.
“Well then, let’s tangle!” chimes Aidan as he scrambles on top of us, adding to the pile of Mellark limbs, hugs and smiles.
The Mellark Family Tangles continue to get us through many trying moments in our lives. Two years later, amidst protests, tears, anger, and finally acceptance, I leave for District 4, where I spend most of the following five years getting the medical training that I need to be able to become District 12’s busiest doctor. Ben does come with me, but our youth, ambition and hard-headedness stop us from being able to live together in a new reality that threatens to change us to the core. It is during a trip to the Capitol, in a massive square full of imposing buildings and daunting monuments, that he tells me that he has decided to stay there to pursue his studies in architecture and that he isn’t sure he wants me to be there with him.
We scream at each other in that square, make a spectacle of ourselves, and go our different ways with the memory of angry words overriding those of a lifetime of friendship. He comes back to 12 ten years late, humbled by a Capitol lifestyle that brought him no happiness, and with the sincere desire to continue rebuilding the district just like his father is still doing. I am slowly setting up my clinic next to the bakery that Aidan and Dad are running together at the time and I refuse his apologies and requests to make amends. We strive to hate each other from afar until we realise that we love each other too much to continue to do so. We had matured in the years apart, learned how to be tolerant, patient and how to love each other in a way that holds us together even thirty years later. Ben and I never manage to conceive a child, even though we try hard for many years. There is something slightly wrong in both us, which however makes us perfectly right to become the parents of two small sisters from the Community Home that need a family made up of love, fresh bread and happiness. So we are thus blessed with daughters, and they are in turn blessed with parent. The Community Home is also blessed with regular maintenance from the paternal grandfather, and a constant supply of bread from the maternal one. All in all, a win-win situation for everyone involved.
Aidan’s life takes a much simpler turn, as is expected from someone so carefree as my brother. He never leaves District 12, is never tempted to, and starts working at the family bakery as soon as he finishes compulsory schooling. He doesn’t even have to look far to find his bride, since Elisa Hawthorne pretty much jumps into his arms the minute she gets off the train that led her to District 12. Her parents had decided to retire in the district which had seen him grow up, and she had found a job as a schoolteacher in the junior school. Not surprisingly, Uncle Gale regrets the decision to return the minute he gets wind of his daughter’s relationship with my brother.
Dad is not particularly impressed either, and the furious (and loud) arguments between the two continue for months until they give way to silent treatment, during which Aidan and Elisa laugh their way through life and deem it a good idea to conceive an unplanned child. Aunt Johanna and Mom have to pull out their best persuasive skills to convince their husbands to make peace for the toasting, but it was only the birth of Samuel that really ends the feud, and turns my brother into a man. This is Aidan’s story to tell however. Maybe one day he will.
It is Dad who dies first, in his late eighties, as a result of a stroke that takes him away from us in a matter of hours. He dies in Mom’s arms while she sobs and screams as her heart is wrecked with grief. She doesn’t last long after him. Their co-dependence and refusal to do anything without each other had always been a source of teasing in our family, but little did Aidan and I know the extent of the depth of their connection. Our mother refuses to eat, drink or sleep after Dad dies, refuses to talk except to cry out his name and scream “Not real! Not real!” when we try to explain to her that he cannot answer her. As a doctor, I recognise that there is nothing that I can do. Fighting against my mother’s broken heart is a battle that I know is lost from the start.
Aidan and I never leave her side, at times alternating our time with her, but mostly carrying out our vigil on her together, seeking comfort from each other as we see our mother fade away in grief before our eyes. When it does happen, we ought to have known immediately that it was going to be her last day. She looks peaceful, calm and does not call out Dad’s name, but she fixes her stare on a point next to the open window.
“Your Dad looks so handsome today,” she whispers to us as Aidan and I stare at each other in dismay. This was the first full sentence that she had said to us in a week, but we both feel the same feeling of dread. “He’s wearing the shirt he wore for our toasting, so many years ago. He is so young, so strong, like when we fell in love,” she continues.
“Is he well?” my brother asks, his voice low and faltering.
Mom nods and smiles but her next words show us that she is not speaking only to us in this moment. “I miss you too,” she says to the fixed point next to the window. She is visible glowing, and my heart is literally breaking.
“There are your grandparents, your uncles, there is also dear, sweet Prim,” she breathers, “your father asks if you will be safe...if I had ... to go.”
I hear Aidan lose it next to me, and I reach out to squeeze his hand. We are both in our fifties, grandparents ourselves, but of course Dad would still need to make sure that we are safe, just as he always did ever since we were kids.
My tears flow as I weigh the implications of my reply. “Yes Mama,” I sob quietly as I nod my head, “we will be safe, because you and Dad taught us to be survivors, just like you.”
“I want to wear my blue dress, the one my Peeta loves so much,” she croaks, and without a word, Aidan and I help her wear Dad’s favourite dress, while I carefully braid her snow-white hair.
“You’re so beautiful Mom,” I whispered as I lay her down on her pillow.
“I’m going to your Dad now,” she whispers as she reaches out for both our hands, “and we will be waiting for you.” I turn my head and cry, the grief, the loss and the fear hitting me suddenly with full force.
“Don’t forget us, Mom,” sobs Aidan as he kisses her brow, “and say hi to Dad from us too.”
Mom nods one last time, and lets go with a happy smile. Aidan and I cry in each other’s arms, trying to draw comfort from our shared grief. I know that we will be fine, even though I’m overwhelmed by our loss, and not only because we have our families and loved ones to help us through. We are the son and daughter of the Victors from District 12, surviving through the strength that our parents gave us, and from the lesson of hope that we learnt from them.
The promise that life can go on. The knowledge that things can be good again.
They will be.
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