?

Log in

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Jan. 15th, 2012

Title: To Hold Your Hand
Paring: Peeta/Katniss
Rating: PG
Word Count: 4963
Summary: Family faces are magic mirrors. Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present, and future. -Gail Lumet Buckley


It’s my first real memory, reaching for the doorknob, easing myself down the stairs one at a time. I don’t know how I knew he’d be there, if I heard him or if I was waiting and knew he hadn’t come up to bed yet Somehow I knew. He’s sitting at the table, sketching, and I slip myself under his arm and try to pull myself up onto his lap.

“You’re supposed to be in bed, Button,” he says, but his arms pull me up and against him. “I didn’t even hear you get up. You’re just like your mother.”

My parents play this game with me throughout my childhood. The slightly exasperated tone as they attribute some action or phrase to the other, but always a smile and a fond look. I’m much older when I realize that they like seeing each other in me, and later, in my brother. Even now, though I can only be three, I know that it means something good.

I reach for the pencil, which he’d set aside when reaching for me, but he intercepts my hand, kisses my fingers. “That’s Daddy’s.”

“I draw!” I announce.

“For ten minutes,” he allows, “then back to bed, and you have to be quiet, because Mama’s asleep.”

I can’t recall why my mother was already in bed that night. She and my father always sat together until they moved upstairs, but for this night, he’s all mine. He shifts me to the side so we can retrieve my box of crayons and some clean paper, then we settle back down in the chair.

“What are we going to draw tonight, little chick?” he asks me in a soft voice.

“Meadow,” I reply, trying to emulate his quietness. I love watching the flowers appear from my crayons.

“So which color will we need?” he asks.

“Geen!” I say proudly.

“You’re exactly right,” he says, placing the green crayon in my hand.

I still remember the feel of that crayon, huge in my hand, my fingers tightly clasping around it as I work on drawing the grass of the meadow on the paper.

“Fowers now,” I tell him eventually.

He takes the green crayon from me. “Which flowers?”

“Red ones,” I reply, and the red crayon appears. I concentrate and press the crayon against the paper, but I just can’t get my hand and the large crayon to cooperate. “Help please.”

“Of course, Lily Bud,” he says, and I can hear the laughter in his voice. His large hand wraps around mine, holding it and positioning the crayon in his fingers. They’re warm and dry, just a little rough, and it always feels like magic when he’s holding my hand this way. Together we make the petals of the flowers appear in the meadow on my paper.

“Lellow now,” I tell him after a while and we switch, adding goldenrods and dandelions to our meadow. “Danlions for Mama,” I say.

“For Mama,” he agrees, “but we can’t show her until breakfast.”

“Pupple,” I say, and we switch colors once more to add tiny violets. I still can never figure out how my father made such large crayons produce such delicate looking flowers.

When the meadow is full, he helps me sign my name to it, then sets the crayons aside. “Bed now.”

He carries me upstairs, and I tuck myself against his chest. I can smell the scents I will always associate with him, fresh baked bread and cinnamon. I even catch a bit of my mother’s smell on him, soft leather and something floral. He tucks me into my bed again, and sings the lullaby my mother usually sings. His voice isn’t as nice as hers, but the tune makes me feel relaxed and sleepy. He presses soft kisses to each cheek and my forehead, then he leaves, quietly closing my bedroom door behind him. I listen until I hear the sound of him going into my parents’ room, then I give in, allow my heavy eyelids to fall, and sleep.

~*~

One night when I am four, something wakes me up in the middle of the night. The house is quiet and dark, and I’m about to close my eyes when I hear it again. A sharp cry. This time, I can hear the voice of my father, and I think That’s mama, making that sound.

She groans loudly. I hear my father say my name, and she replies with something about “no time.”

I’m terrified, frozen between the sheets of my bed. I want to get up, to go to them, but I’m lying there immobile. All I can think is that my mother is dying.

I know what dead is because my Uncle Mitch has done it, just a few weeks ago. My parents took me to see him. He looked yellow and old and tired, and my father told me when we were home that I wouldn’t see my Uncle Mitch anymore. A few days later, he stayed up late digging a big hole. He filled it in again, and my parents went and stood by it for a long time.

I had lots of questions about this, but when I tried to ask Mama, she didn’t look at me, didn’t say anything, just went to her room for the rest of the day. This was confusing, since my mother was always willing to answer my questions about flowers, or animals, or anything else I could come up with. It made me afraid to ask my father, but he seemed to know.

He picked me up, sat me on the counter, and handed me a cookie that had a frosted lily on it. “What’s on your mind, Lils?”

“What is dead?” I asked, clutching the cookie in my hands. I waited for him to turn away from me, but he didn’t. He looked at me for a long time, and I could tell he was thinking hard.

“Sometimes, Lily, when people are sick, or old, or really hurt, they... die. They go to sleep, and they don’t wake up again,” he explained.

“Not ever?” I asked, eyes wide.

“No,” he replied quietly. “So when people die, we miss them for a little while. Your Mama, she misses a lot of people. That’s why she’s sad. You didn’t do anything wrong. She wants you to know that, okay, Lily bud?”

When she came back downstairs for dinner that night, she hugged me tightly. After, all three of us sat close together on the couch by the fire until I was too sleepy. But in my own bed, I had trouble sleeping, worried that I might never wake up like my Uncle Mitch.

My parents sometimes disagreed about things, but they very rarely argued, which is what made their argument the next morning almost as terrifying as trying to sleep the night before.

“She’s too young to deal with this,” my mother snapped at my father.

“No one gets to choose when they first experience death,” my father replied, calmly but insistently.

“You didn’t have to explain it to her!” she shouts. “When I agreed to this, I thought that things had changed! I thought you said the nightmares were over! You said things were different! You lied to me, Peeta!”

The stricken look on my father’s face made me burst into tears over my plate of toast. Mama came over to stroke my hair, and whisper apologies for raising her voice, and tell me that she loves me. But breakfast was horrible. My father couldn’t lift his head from his plate and barely ate at all. My mother ate quickly, grabbed her herb bag, and left.

He cleaned me up and helped me dress with the same amount of gentleness, asked me about what I wanted to do that day like always, and gave me kisses and smiles like he always did, but there was something wrong with his eyes. I scurried downstairs and grabbed my crayons. He didn’t put on his apron when he came back into the kitchen, however.

“Let’s go for a walk today, baby girl,” he said, looking out the window.

Spring was in the air, but he made me put my jacket on. We walked across the meadow hand-in-hand. When we reached the edge of the woods, he picked me up and carried me the rest of the way. We stopped at a large rock on top of a hill. He sat and pulled me onto his lap. For a long time, he said nothing and I listened to his heart beat steadily through his shirt.

“Why couldn’t you sleep last night, baby?” he finally asked.

“I might die,” I replied and felt his arms tighten around me.

“You won’t,” he assured me gently. “You have a lot of time before that happens. And even if you did, Lils, there’s no reason to be afraid. You would wake up in a really beautiful place, like this. Your Uncle Mitch would be there to take care of you, and so would a lot of other people. You would meet your Aunt Prim, your Uncle Nan and Uncle Bannik, and your two granddads.”

When we returned home, my mother was waiting for us. She took me from my father’s arms and held me tightly, then kissed all over my face until it tickled and I laughed. She set me down and pulled herself to my father, resting her head over his chest where mine had been when we sat in the woods. They talk for a while, but it’s so quiet that I can’t hear what they’re saying. My father pulled a large book off of a high shelf after dinner and showed me the pictures of the people he’d named in the woods, helped me learn their names. Soon there’s a portrait he painted of them hanging in my room, and I don’t have anymore trouble sleeping after that day.

That’s the picture I’m looking at now, shaking with fear, because it has only just occurred to me that my parents are capable of dying, that they’re much older than me, maybe as old as Uncle Mitch. I cannot imagine life my mother vanishing from our house the way that Uncle Mitch vanished from his. But I keep hearing my father’s words “really hurt,” and that’s the only way I can think of to describe the sounds my mother is making down the hall.

It feels like an eternity that I lie there, though I learn years later that it was only about an hour. When everything goes silent again, the tears start rolling down my cheeks, fast and heavy. She’s asleep, not waking up again. After some time has passed, my father’s footsteps move down the hall, downstairs, and I know he’s going to dig the hole, like he did for Uncle Mitch. they eventually return, pass my door again, then hesitate. He’s smiling when his head pokes in, but an expression of shock replaces it when he sees me.

He’s by my side a moment later, pulling me up onto his lap, wiping away my tears with his fingers. “Lily, baby, what’s wrong?”

I’m hiccuping violently as I try to explain. “Mama’s- dead-”

“Oh sweetheart, that was just a dream,” he tells me, holding me even closer against him. “Your Mama is fine. Let’s go see her, okay?”

He makes me take a drink of water and settle my hiccups before he carries me into their room. My mother is, in fact, alive, awake, smiling.

“I thought you weren’t going to wake her,” she says, looking amused.

“She was already awake,” my father replies. “I think she may have heard something.”

As we approach the bed, I see that there is someone else in it, a tiny baby nestled in Mama’s arms.

“You have a brother,” my father says into my ear. “Do you want to meet him?”

I nod. My friend Iris has a brother that’s bigger than her. I wonder how mine is so small. Daddy and I sit in bed next to Mama, and she puts the baby in my arms. Daddy’s hands rest under mine, helping me hold him up.

“His name is Florin,” Daddy says. “Isn’t he cute?”

“His face is squishy,” I say, because really he’s not very cute. He’s a funny color, and he doesn’t have any hair, and his face is a funny shape.

Mama and Daddy are laughing. “I imagine it is,” Mama says dryly.

“Your face was squishy once, too,” Daddy says. “But you turned out very cute.”

“Like Mama,” I say and try to figure out if this little person who has suddenly appeared looks like me, or Mama or Daddy. Right now, he hardly looks like a person.

“Flory’s going to be cute like Daddy, I think,” Mama says.

“I think he’s going to have Mama’s eyes,” Daddy whispers, loud enough so my Mama can hear. I know this is significant. I know I have his eyes, and this is important. I think it’s fair that my brother would get Mama’s eyes. “You’re going to help us take care of him, right?”

I look down at his sleeping, warm form, and I’m not sure how I love him already, but I know that I do. “Right,” I say and lean my head down to kiss him right on his bald, purple head.

~*~

The time, just over a year, between Flory’s birth and starting school is made of days that blend together, in the best kind of way. My father comes into my room each morning with my brother in his arms. Even if I’m already awake because Flory has been crying or because we’ve all slept in a little later than usual, I pretend to be asleep while he sets the baby in bed next to me and strokes my hair until my eyes open and fix on his, so identical to mine. As Flory gets bigger, I wake up to happy squeals and wet kisses on my face. My father carries us downstairs together, one of us in each arm.

“You’re going to break your back, doing that,” Mama chides from where she’s cooking our breakfast.

Daddy sets me down so I can run over to give her good morning hugs and kisses, then he straps Flory into his chair at the table. “Am not,” he says. “I can still lift you, can’t I?”

“Can you?” she teases, and he goes over to lift her off the floor.

She laughs and swats at him, and usually says something like “Okay, enough” or “Put me down before you really break your back.” He never does until she leans in for a kiss, which makes me giggle. Because he likes to try to do what I do, Flory laughs, too, from his place at the table. We eat our breakfast together, then Daddy cleans the dishes while Mama uses a wash cloth to clean up Flory and me.

Some days, she goes gathering herbs, and takes me with her. Some days she stays home and plays with us, or we go on walks around town or to the woods. On this particular morning, she is hunting, so Flory and I both stay with Daddy in the bakery.

“I’ll see you later,” he says to her when she’s got her gear and is ready to go. “Happy Birthday.”

She grins, leans up to give him a kiss, and closes the door behind her.

“Birthday?” I ask Daddy when he starts pulling things off the shelves for his baking. This is a word that has recently become meaningful to me. I remember my fifth birthday party, the cake Daddy made, the gifts and the friends at our house. We have also recently celebrated Flory’s first birthday, though that was a much quieter affair with cookies and just our family.

“It’s your Mama’s birthday today,” he says to me, smiling.

“How old is she?” I ask him.

“She’s thirty-eight today,” he says. This makes my eyes go wide. I can count to that number, but it takes a long time. Daddy laughs.

“Is there a party?” I ask, trying to remember other parties that might have been for my mother’s birthday.

“You and Flory are having a party,” he tells me. “You’re going to see Miss Sae this afternoon, and then spend the night.”

This is exciting. I love staying with Miss Sae. She tells great stories, and let’s me hold her yarn while she knits, and lets me stand on a stool nearby when she cooks. “But what about the birthday?”

“How about you help me cook your Mama’s favorite foods, so when she eats them later, she’ll know you made them?” he asks.

This is even better than the prospect of a sleep-over with Miss Sae. Recently, I’ve been allowed to do a few things in the bakery with my father, mostly helping him sweep up the floor and sometimes, pour the ingredients he’s measured into a bowl.

“Go get your apron on,” he tells me, and I scurry to the drawer where my tiny apron is folded and throw it over my head. Daddy braids my hair and pins it up to my head, then ties the apron strings behind my back.

“Now wash your hands,” he instructs. We go to the sink and he shows me how to make sure my hands are really clean. He tells me so many things that I can’t remember half of them later, even when I’m really really thinking about it, but I do whatever he does from my little stool beside him. We mix and knead and play with Flory on the floor while we wait for things to rise. He places his hands over mine and teaches my clumsy fingers to shape the rolls. I lean back against his solid chest while we work, his flour-covered fingers manipulating mine.

“You’re going to be such a great helper when you’re just a little older,” he tells me, and I beam over that comment every time I remember it, for the rest of the day. He shows me how to make dandelions out of frosting, and I practice while he makes the cake batter, leaving dozens of tiny, sweet flowers on the parchment paper he put out for me. Flory gets interested in this process and leans up against the counter, trying to see what I’m doing.

“Me,” he says, raising his hands to grab on the edge of the counter.

“You’re too little,” I tell him when I look up from my frosting flower. “When you’re five, like me, then you’ll be big enough.”

He tries my father, going over to grab his pant legs. “Me?”

Daddy smiles, lifts him up into his arms and kisses his chubby face. “You want to be a baker, too?”

Flory’s got his arms clasped around Daddy’s neck, but lets go when Daddy offers him a wooden spoon and bowl to play with. He stirs nothing, babbling contentedly in his baby language that we can’t understand while the spoon clangs around in the bowl.

While the cake cools, we go outside to play. Daddy lets us throw feed to the chickens, and we laugh watching them scramble after the seeds on the ground. We run around in the late spring sun until we’re dirty and sweaty. When we collect eggs, Daddy lets me carry the basket to the house. He even gives Flory his own egg to carry. It looks big in his little hands, and he walks very slowly the whole way back but doesn’t fall and break it. The three of us wash up together, and Daddy lets me pick out the clothes he will wear. He makes us lunch, then we frost the cake together during Flory’s nap.

Mama returns just as we finish cleaning up. Her game bag is full, and she’s got a bucket of raspberries in her hand. “It smells amazing in here,” she tells us.

“I did it!” I tell her, dancing around the kitchen in my excitement over being allowed to help and birthdays and Daddy saying I’m a good baker.

She laughs and swallows me in a hug when Daddy takes her game bag away. I jump up, locking my legs around her waist so she’ll have to lift me.

“Goodness, you’re getting big,” she tells me, but she doesn’t make me let go. We dance around the kitchen together, singing one of Mama’s cheerful dancing songs. Daddy even joins in for a while, and I’m sandwiched between my parents, and we’re all laughing for no apparent reason, until we get too loud and interrupt Flory’s nap.

Daddy goes to rock him, and Mama and I dance our way upstairs, where she lets me brush out her long hair, dark and wavy like mine.

“Will it take me until thirty-eight to get hair this long?” I wonder as I’m brushing it.

She laughs. “No, Lily Lu. It doesn’t take that long.”

She showers while I sit in the bathroom, chatting nonstop about our day. By the time my father takes Flory and I to Miss Sae’s house, I’m so exhausted I can barely keep up. He has to let me climb on his back so he can carry us both. After two kisses each, he promises to see us in the morning, thanks Miss Sae, and is gone. I don’t have time to wonder what my parents will do without us, or even if my Mama will like my baking, because I’m falling asleep at the table. The last thing I remember is Miss Sae tucking me into the little bed in her spare room with a chuckle and planting her own warm kiss on my forehead.

~*~

Things change when I start school. I like meeting more kids from our district, and making friends, but I’m secretly envious of Flory, who gets to spend his days with Mama and Daddy by himself. I miss the old routine. It’s not the same when there’s a deadline. Daddy walks me to school each morning (sometimes Flory comes, too, and most afternoons Mama walks me home. When I give in and confess my sadness and jealousy to my father, who seems to know everything even when I’m trying to hide it, about a month after I begin, we get some new routines. On Sunday afternoons, my father will do anything I want. Sometimes we go for walks, other times we draw, or bake, or play silly games.

Sunday mornings are for my mother. She wakes me early, and we go to the woods to find plants and check snares. She promises that she’ll teach me to hunt in the spring, if I want to. Pleasing my father is easy, but I work hard in the woods to earn my mother’s praise. I become a quick study at remembering the plants and finding them in the woods. My small fingers can tie up the snares she teaches me in no time at all. I learn that my mother feels as at home in the woods as she does in our house.

Questions are tricky with Mama. Mostly she answers them readily, but there are some that put a strange look in her eyes and make her go quiet. My father is always ready to talk about when he was a boy, but Mama doesn’t like these questions. Daddy says she’ll tell me someday, when she’s ready for me to know.

I’m thinking on this particular morning that I’d like to know who took her into the woods and taught her what she’s teaching me. It seems safe enough, and I’m just about to ask it, when she starts singing ahead of me on the trail. The hush of the birds always makes me smile, and think of how Daddy sometimes teases her by calling her a mockingjay when she sings for the birds.

“I can’t hear you,” she calls back to me, pausing in the song. “I know you know this one.”

So I join in with her, quietly enough that I can still hear her and the echoes of the birds over my voice. We find the patch of herbs we’re looking for, and start picking. She’s still singing when I see the gold-colored bee flying nearby. I stop and study its flight. I haven’t see a bee like this before, but it’s tickling my memory a bit, like I should know what it is. I get its attention when I pull up another plant. It stings my hand when I try to grab another.

“Ow!” I exclaim.

Mama stops singing. “What happened?”

“Just a bee,” I tell her.

“Let me see,” she says, holding out her hand. She never looks, though, because we both catch sight of another one of those golden bees. At six, my head comes up to my mother’s chest. She hasn’t lifted me in a long time, but she scoops me up now like I’m no bigger than Flory and we’re running at full speed through the trees. I feel a sting in the back of my leg, and I hear my mother cry out several times.

“Hold your breath!” she says and I barely have time to register this before we’re plunging into the stream. Her body is over mine, and I’m just started to panic about being able to breathe when we emerge.

I’m not feeling well; I feel hot and sick, and I’m afraid at the look in my mother’s eyes. My Mama, who I’ve seen experience everything but fear in my life, is clearly terrified right now. This sends a huge wave of fear over me as we start running again, all the way through the woods, to the house. Mama practically breaks the door down. From somewhere through the haze, I hear Flory start to cry, see my father appear.

“Tracker jackers, Peeta-” Mama gasps, and I register that she’s crying.

My father pulls me into his arms, and all I can do is moan, because I hurt all over, and I think I must be dying.

“Get the leaves, Katniss,” he says, which terrifies me further. I can’t think of the last time, of any time I’ve heard him use my mother’s name, her full name.

He rushes me upstairs, pulls my wet clothes off, and wraps me in a towel.

“Baby, I have to pull the stingers out,” he tells me

“No, Daddy,” I say, and shriek a bit when I see him, because he doesn’t look like my daddy. He’s got giant green blisters covering him, and there are snakes crawling over his arms.

I cry out when he reaches for my hand, but if I clothes my eyes, it just feels like his hand, the same hand I’ve held hundreds or thousands of times.

“That’s it, baby,” he says, but pulling out the stingers hurts. I can’t stop crying, because I’m dying, and I know I shouldn’t be afraid, but I can’t make myself stop.

My mothers quick, light footsteps make their way to the door, and I hear my father let out a relieved sigh. I’m afraid to look at her, afraid of how she’ll look through my dying eyes. Even when the spots where I am stung feel cool, better, I don’t look at her.

“Some sleep syrup,” I hear her say. Her voice is shaking.

“Good thinking,” Daddy replies. His hands gently cradle my head, reminding me of the way he used to hold Flory in the bath. Hot tears start running own my cheeks.

“I know you don’t feel well, baby,” I hear his voice saying, “but you’re going to be just fine. Just fine. We’re going to let you sleep now.”

I don’t want to, because I’m back to that fear of not waking up from it, but the sleep syrup is already slipping down my throat. There’s no choice but to give in.

When I wake up, I feel horribly disoriented, heavy, and parched. I wonder for a moment if I’m dead, if I’ve woken up in the better place my father had promised me once. When I try to move, there’s a twinge in my hand, and then I see them. My father is sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, and my mother is curled up on his lap, the way I might have done when I was smaller.

I’m so relieved to see them, so happy. Of course I should’ve known when Daddy said I would be fine. It’d been silly to be so afraid, but at the time, it was impossible to fight off. I almost say something to wake them, let them know that I’m fine. I end up just looking at them for a while, instead.

For my whole life, as much of it as I can remember, I’ve always felt like the center of my father’s world. I’ve always known that he loves my mother, too, but seeing them like this makes me think, for the first time, that she is actually the true center. Or maybe all of us, my mother, my brother, and I just get to feel that way whenever we’re close to him. That’s a comforting thought, as I lie in my bed and watch my parents cling to each other just a few feet away, that the strengthening, steadying, beautifying effect of my father’s hands works on all of us.

“Mama? Daddy?” I say, and there they are, cool and rough and smelling of flour as they touch my forehead.

Comments

end_unplanned
Jan. 16th, 2012 04:48 am (UTC)
He loves his tiny people!

Profile

Suspenseful!
end_unplanned
Pen's in my hand...

Latest Month

April 2012
S M T W T F S
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
2930     
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by chasethestars