'You said you'll paint my picture."
"You said, daddy. You'll paint me."
Our daughter settles herself over the dining table, with burning glare in her sparking blue eyes, demanding. Peeta drops down his paintbrush and charcoal tray from the half finished sketch and looks at her. I see a small mischievous smile is playing at the corner of his lips. The golden sunlight reflects upon his sunny hair.
'But I'll not draw you!" He nods, putting on a serious face. I escape a glance over my shoulder before turning to the new recipe I want to prepare with squirrel I hunted yesterday, trying hard to swallow the laughter.
'Why not, daddy?" Her blue eyes are wearing the hard look that I wore in the opening ceremony of Quarter Quell. The fire in the kitchen is dancing upon her dark pupil. Sure if Cinna could see her now, he would make something for the daughter of girl-on-fire.
But Peeta raises one of his blond eyebrows. Without any warning he scoops up the angry little girl in his arms and kissed her cheek on full mouth. With a wet smacking sound I hear her angry cry "It's not fair daddy. I made your portrait yesterday." Her tiny hands are busy to wipe away the wet kiss of her father on from her cheek.
"But you can't get my face right." Peeta nods setting her on the counter.
"I did!" She cries. "And you're cheating now! We had a deal!"
'Hmm.. Let's see what I can do for my little Mockingjay." Peeta puts on serious face while setting another canvas on the easel, preparing the colors.
"You'll paint me in pastel!" the girl squeaks.
"Yes Mockingjay!" Her father bows, now grinning. "How can I paint you in charcoal? Aren't you my Mockingjay!" he taps her tiny forehead. She giggles.
Mockingjay! That name is supposed to be meant for me- the girl-on-fire. But Peeta never addresses me with that name. I know why. That name which caused me so much, leading to the verge of madness. For this name he was tortured, hijacked in Capitol. Both of us want to forget those days. Those dark days when District 12 turned into a graveyard.
We used to live with my nightmares, his flashbacks.
Fifteen years! Another long fifteen years we lived with them.
We thought that we would live with them for the rest of the life.
But no! Things changed.
When I first held her in my arms I felt that change. That day was the first day when Peeta lived without a flashback. That night was the night when I slept without a nightmare.
And none of us had in last five years.
One Mockingjay changed the Panem.
Our little Mockingjay changed our lives.
I wash the meat and begin cutting them into pieces. This is one kind of recipe I want to try. I'm not a kind of cook. Usually Peeta does all the cocking things. (Sure today is a disaster!) This time I push him away from the kitchen and try to change the role for a while.
My eye catches a distant honeycomb at the end of the boundary of the victor's village. My hunter brain begins taking a mental note. Hmm.. Tomorrow I'll try to get some honey….
A sudden child scream breaks the line. My ear pops. My head turns to the direction of the scream. Our girl is sitting over the table cradling her left arm with other. Tear well up from her big blue eyes. And there is one tiny red swelling over her arm.
"It strings, daddy."
"No!" before I can run to help it's Peeta who quickly kneels beside our daughter, takes her hand in his and then….
His eyes catch the lump. The bee. The string.
The trigger. But it's too late.
And his hands begin twitching. Before I can reach him, his fingers enclose around her wrist in a tight grip, enough to leave a bruise over her delicate skin.
"Daddy!" Our girl cries- whether in pain or horror, I'm not so sure. She has never seen her daddy in this way. The paint brush slips from his hand, splashing the paint all over the floor. So it comes again – to my worst nightmare.
"Leave me, daddy!" she is struggling hard to free herself from his iron grip. "Peeta!" I rush over him and cup his face in mine. His blue eyes are reflecting the horror, the pain that Capitol gave him fifteen years ago. His blue eyes are now black pools.
"Peeta, leave her!" I take his hand, helping my daughter who is now at the verge of panic. It has started. And there is no going back now.
"Mommy, what happened to daddy?" She tries to ask. Her face is pale. Her tears make their way down to her cheek.
"It's alright, darling." I mouth her. Then I turn my concentration upon my husband. How much I want him to pass out right now. His hands are still twitching. His eyes are so cloudy that I can say he is still in that Capitol created hell.
I am not sure if it works. But I wrap my arms around him and press my lips against his mouth until I'm out of my breath. He shudders. At last his grip around our girl wrist loosens. I pull away, gasping for breath.
"Mommy!" she runs near me, hiding her tiny self behind my bony frame. Her eyes still reflects the terror. Her face is still pale as ghost. The bruise around her tiny wrist made me feel that nothing will be same from today.
"Mommy, what happened?" her voice trembles as she sees her father collapsing on the floor. I rush near to hold him. At last it returns. I know they would never go away completely. I turn my eyes to look at her sad blue orbs.
They reflect the fear like me when a certain angry boy tried to strangle me.
I never dreamt that our child would have to face the fear like me.
I open my mouth to answer but I just don't know what to say. She is still too young to know all of these.
Just in time there the door opens behind us. The bitter smell of the liquor fills the room.
"Katniss, do you have…." He stops at his pace when he sees my fallen husband and the trembling daughter behind.
"Wha… Katniss?" he pauses as my pleading eyes meet him.
"Uncle Haymitch why daddy is…?" Her frightened eyes meet him too. But Haymitch laughs just in time. He scoops up the tiny girl in his arms and says plastering a big Effie like smile "Why don't we just go and play in the meadow?"
"But.." She interrupts.
"Let's go, kiddo." Haymitch prisons her in his strong arms and leads her out of the room.
And they are gone.
It is just the old days when he hangs on a back of a chair and waits till the flashbacks are over. This time I hold him tight until his jerking stops.
When his muscles stop jerking, I walk him down to the living room. He collapses there again as I bring him pills and water, pulling down the curtains, turning off the lights. Peeta opens his eyes long enough to take me in.
"Katniss!" he whispers, strained.
"Yes!" I rest my head upon his shoulder and rub my hand down his arms. I don't know how much effect it gives but I feel him relaxing a little. We sit together till the darkness falls. The squirrel remains burning in the oven. None of us notice. Peeta holds me. All he wants to wrap his arms around me and squeeze.
Fear, guilt, horror pain- are the things I see in his eyes.
"I hurt her!" At last he speaks. I tilt my eyes to look into his brilliant blue pupils which turn into normal again. "She fears me now. She thinks I'm a monster. Doesn't she?"
"No she doesn't." I say, holding his hand, running down my fingers along the length of his arm. "She loves you."
"No!" Peeta shakes his head impatiently "I know, she is now afraid of me."
I let him rest his head on my lap. I can feel the warm tears soaking my trousers. I gently pat his hair while another hand rest upon my swollen stomach. If she is afraid of us now, then what will happen to the coming one?
Am I doing any wrong bringing them to this earth, letting them live in a fear?
I gaze into Peeta's eyes. I know he is thinking the same. His pained eyes say it all. We sit down together with our heads resting on each other's shoulders. My fingers runs in his blonde locks until both of us fall asleep.
That night I'm again back in the arena, searching for my daughter. "Mommy!" her scream rips the night. I run to help her. "Mommy!" she smiles. Her tiny feet are busy to rush near me. Then… A mutt from the forest behind jumps over her. "Help me!" she cries, arms stretched forward, trying to reach me. But I can't. Something holds me rooted to the ground. The mutt wrings her neck….
"No!" A scream rips my throat as I wake up.
"Mommy!" a voice speaks. A pair of tiny arms wraps around me. "Mommy, don't be afraid." She whispers. "No, it's a dream!" I chant to myself.
"Katniss!" another pair of strong arms encircles me "It's just a dream." Eventually a pair of lips finds my forehead. My eyes open to the dazzling light. I find Peeta sitting over my bed, his arms around me. He offers me some water. I gratefully swallow that. It's like the days five years ago when we used to comfort each other.
Then was the five years a dream without nightmares and flashbacks? My daughter and everything? I look into Peeta's eyes for answer.
"Mommy! " a sweet child voice rang across the room as a tiny body flies towards me with her arms around us. I quickly catch the tiny bird and settle her upon my lap, feeling her comforting warmth against my chilling body.
Haymitch is smiling at our bedroom door. "Sorry kids, for breaking your house in midnight. But she keeps crying. I can't keep her until the morning."
So it's not a dream- my daughter, my home….
"Have you enjoyed your visit with Uncle Haymitch?" I smile at her.
"Ewww.. mommy!" she wrinkles her nose 'Uncle smells."
Haymitch seems not so happy with her comment.
"Watch your word, kid." He plasters a fake anger upon his face. But she just shows her tongue at him, snuggling closer to me leaving a defeated Haymitch behind.
"She is just like two of you." He mutters under his breath.
Peeta and I exchange looks before busting into laughter.
She threw her arms around me, "Mommy, don't scream like that. You look bad when you scream.'
"I won't." I nod.
I see Peeta's guilty eyes examining the bruises around her wrist. His trembling fingers tries to reach to touch her cautiously. But he hesitates. He can't make it.
"It's ok!" I whisper at him. But he nods, unconvinced to break the ice.
But it is her who turns her identical blue eyes to gaze at her father. Peeta cringes as her eyes locked into his. She frees herself from my embrace and without warning she lounges forward towards him who falls back in the bed with her sudden attack.
"Daddy, don't do it again." she rests her head upon his chest "You look creepy. But you can hold me, when you tremble."
Slowly a smile spread upon Peeta's face, his arms encircle around her tiny body as he kisses her forehead.
She nestles closer to him.
"I'll paint you now." Peeta pats her tiny shoulders.
She raises one eyebrow, demanding "Real or not real?"
He smiles, "Real!"
He scoops her in his arms and heads to the studio. We watch them going.
"You know Katniss," Haymitch turns his gaze towards me "This day will come."
I nod. When he is gone, I rise myself from the bed, approach near the old books piled on the bedside table. I peep through the door where my girl and my lovely husband are giggling together. I feel the yellow pages of a certain book- the memory book.
We can't hide our nightmares from our children forever. They will return. May be sometimes we have breaks. But that does mean that they leave us completely.
We have to explain them to our children one day, teach them to be brave and fight the reality. When we fall, they will help us to fight our dark days. Then they will tell their children and their children. Thus the legacy will go on always.
Now it is our time to tell.