Chapter 3 - Dream
A good dream. That night I have a good dream, and it’s so, so sweet that for a moment I actually believe that I accomplished my mission to die and have gone to that place called Heaven.
I’m in a field; a beautiful, floral-smelling field, lush with thick green grass and quenched with drops of dew scattered across the landscape like diamonds. I hear laughter, the sound of it like a bubbling little brook of delight, and I look up, searching frantically for the sound because it’s been so long since I heard a sound so full of joy. It awakens something buried deep within me, a sanctuary I’d forgotten existed.
And then I find the source. Two children, chubby little angels with grins as wide as their innocence and cheeks as pink as the colour of the sky when it’s fallen in love, come running towards me, stumbling a little in their haste. I open my arms and they collapse into my embrace, clamping onto me; the girl swinging in my arms and the little boy wrapped around my leg, pressing giddy kisses onto my shin. I kiss the girls beautiful round face too, kiss them both as much as possibly can, and they giggle heartily in turn. It’s contagious- I find myself laughing with them, and the sensation is like a river of hope gurgling up through me, trickling into all the haunted crevices and chasing away their heaviness like gold chases away poverty. I hold them tightly to me and smile, soaking in the happiness that seems to diffuse out of them and into the air.
My eyelids flutter open, and I lie there just for a moment, in an incomparable bliss, before realizing where I am. Just a dream. Oh! Just a dream. I reach up to feel dampness on my face, and I choke back a sob. Just a dream, yes, but such a beautiful, happy, one that I wish I’d never woken up. It’s been so long.
I exhale slowly and feel a twinge of pain shooting up my forearm. I bite my lip as I remember last night- for some reason, in the fresh, luminous, glow of morning, it’s hard to believe that the horror I can’t erase from my mind actually happened. I find that I’m glad though, that I didn’t finish the job, if only for that dream.
And such a strange dream too. To dream of children, a boy and a girl that I’ve never even seen before, yet so familiar. They seem to have automatically filled out a place in my heart, a place I didn’t even know existed, but one that fits them so perfectly it seems as though I was made to love them. It’s such a warm adoration and protectiveness that I almost wish they existed, that they were really here in my life.
But I could never wish those children something so ill.
I sit up and minutely unwrap my arm. The towel is stained with a deep, ugly shade of red-brown, but the cut looks better, and the bleeding seems to have stopped. I hope it doesn’t get infected.
I stare up at the blank cream wall across from me. I can’t shake the lingering joy. It sits inside me, and it’s like that feeling when you accidentally swallow a cough sweet, and the sharp, tingling relief starts to burn there instead, just above your heart.
Something is burning inside me, but for the first time in a very long, it feels almost good. Ridiculously sweet, but good.
Something bubbles to the tips of my tongue, and I hesitate, as afraid as ever of the unknown.
Suddenly, there is a knock at my door, and frustration courses through me as if it has never before. I grind my teeth as I close my eyes and try to tame the volcano inside me.
“Katniss?” Greasy Sae starts to open the door, but I remember my arm and momentarily panic.
“I’ll be down soon.” I tell her. “Don’t come in.” There’s a moment of hesitation before I hear her footsteps tread back down the hallway.
I glance down at my arm and decide right then and there that Peeta must never know.
Crawling out of bed, I pull on some clothes and fuss with my long-sleeved top until I am sure it completely conceals my cut. Then I head downstairs.
Peeta isn’t there. Greasy Sae is at the stove, cooking something in a pan. I try to ignore the sour sinking feeling in my stomach.
She turns around when she hears me come in and smiles. “Where’s Peeta?” I ask.
The door opens behind me just at that moment. I turn around to a flash of golden hair, pink cheeks, and the smell of almond and yeast. He is carrying a loaf of bread under his arm and a bag in his other hand as he stomps in, pausing to place his goods on the table.
There is a pregnant pause as he looks up and meets my eyes. My mouth goes dry.
“I’m sorry” I mutter eventually as I divert my gaze and inconspicuously adjust my sleeve. “About yesterday.”
“It’s ok.” He says softly, and when I look up his features are kind, but weary.
He’s trying so hard I realize. He’s trying so hard to reach across the huge, foggy wall that has grown up between us, and he’s just exhausted. I wonder vaguely if he’s giving up.
“Here you go. “says Greasy Sae as she steers towards the table with a plate piled with hot pancakes, and the moment is broken as Peeta instantly turns to help her. He’s better, I realize. Whatever the world on his side of the glass wall is like, it is a much better place to be than my own.
I can hear some birds making a fuss outside the window as we all eat in silence. As I swirl my fork around the edge of the plate, my gaze catches on the boy opposite me. He’s wearing a dusty sky blue jumper today. I briefly wonder if he is aware of the favours it does for his eyes.
I look down before he catches me staring.
Once the dishes are cluttered away and Greasy Sae has bid goodbye, I find myself leaning against the counter again, my hipbones aligned roughly against the oven handle. Peeta hums, ever so quietly, as he swipes away the last of the mess, and so do the birds, their pretty songs mingling with the cool fresh air of morning.
And I feel it again. The burning in my chest now feels like one of the birds, fluttering around frantically inside my rib cage, struggling to be free. I rummage about inside me for the latch it’s searching for, knitting my brows in frustration. And then all of a sudden, I find it.
The sound pours out of me like a waterfall, crashing down onto the cracked, parched landscape of my desert.
This man I know
Has an apple tree he’s hoping will grow
It rushes over the crevices and emptiness like a wild creature, like a balm over a cut. I close my eyes and let it soar.
Day after day
He waits and what does he see
Not one apple on the tree
…I take a deep breath, one hand grasping onto the edge of the counter. There is a flush of lightness inside me, and I hurry to contain it before it goes out. Just like the desert, I must hurry to absorb what I can; one lone moment of relief, before the insufferable thirst returns.
I start when I spy Peeta, frozen in the doorway, a forgotten tea rag in his hand. His eyes are wide, bright and shining with something like…awe? I can’t quite place the emotion in them, but his lips are tugged up in the corner, and for the first time in God knows when, I see Peeta truly smile.
I breathe in a ragged gasp, loudly cutting through the silence. He blinks, and his expression falters as he observes my reaction. Neither of us realized I was holding my breath.
“Sorry,” he says, clearing his throat, though his ruddy cheeks suggest otherwise. “I didn’t mean… I, uh, didn’t intend to…”
“It’s fine.” I say quietly, and he glances up at me from under his lashes. A moment of pleasant uncertainty passes between us, and there is nothing to hold him back from saying it this time, the birds outside chirpily cheering him on. He opens his mouth, hesitating.
“Could you maybe…” Peeta says. “Could you maybe finish the song?”
I surprise us both by leading him through to the lounge. He sits down, cheeks glowing, on the edge of the sofa, and I stand by the window, from where I can see the swirling branches of the trees, where the birds I heard should be.
“Close your eyes.” I instruct him, and his gaze runs over me with a foreign intensity, before he obeys. I immediately feel silly, and bite back the heat rushing to my face, before deciding to close my eyes too.
This man I know
Has an apple tree he’s hoping will grow
Day after day
He waits and what does he see
Not one apple on the tree
It is easy to get lost in the sensation of hearing my own voice, of feeling the notes stream out of my chest like blood. My nervousness melts away like butter.
This man I know
Waits all winter but the tree will not grow
‘Till late in spring
With still no fruit to be found
He goes out to chop it down
Lo and behold
Like a miracle swept in from the sea
Lo and behold
There’s a fog so thick the man can’t see
To cut the tree
Next morning he
He come running to me
Up there for all to see
Way up on a bough
Small and weak but hanging on
Is a baby apple now
The last high note rings through the room, filling it up with the sound of unspoken words. I open my eyes to find Peeta’s wide open, and the blood instantly begins to burn in my face again.
The way he is looking at me is hard to explain. It brings to mind images of lost sailors seeing land through the fog after a storm, and of half-dead men finding an oasis in a desert. It’s the way you look at your last sunset, and your first dawn.
He starts to give me a smile then, a sweet, dazzling smile, and it blossoms on his face like the first buttercup of spring, awakening a landscape of beauty.
I can’t help but be reminded of my dream, and flush a little as I feel a bit of that warmth wash through me.
“That was a one-off, by the way.” I say bluntly. I don’t mean for it to be funny, but he chuckles anyway.
I purse my lips and drop my gaze, watching the way the sunbeams skitter across the wood panels, and my bare feet.
You would not believe what it’s like.
I feel as though I understand my mother better, I decide one day as I rock back and forth in a little ball on my bed. I do not forgive her, no, but I understand.
It’s been three something weeks since we came back to Twelve that I realize this. About 70% of my time has been spent staring into space.
I always figured falling into depression would be just like falling into a big, black hole dug into the ground. Sure, it sucks, but there are worse things in the world. After all, since you can’t get back out, chances are no one is going to really bother you down there. You just get used to the monotony.
But I was wrong. Because that is not what it’s like. At all.
Because you see, once you fall into that hole and get past that horrible, spineless rush of succumbing to the greater forces of gravity, you suddenly realize that there is a hell of a lot of time to think inside that great, big pit.
It’s all you do.
Every moment of every hour of every day of every year you spend, sitting there, thinking. You think about life and loss and purposelessness. You think about torture and guilt and crying and self-worth and everything bad there is possibly to think about- particularly yourself. And when you think too much, you go mad.
I would compare it to a journey. There are bricks, far too many, that you must carry on your shoulders, and there is the vast, grey road, looming out in front of you. There are no bathroom breaks. No other paths. Your only choice is to continue.
People have always commended those that have endured great suffering, but to endure it is not an act of bravery. It is an act of surviving. If there was another way, no matter the cost, I would take it.
I would do anything.
“You aren’t doing well.” Peeta says to me one day, when he finds me curled up on the windowsill in my bedroom for the third day in a row. I lift my head up slightly, staring at the brown stain on his left shoe. Normally, he doesn’t start like this. Normally, he starts by coming over and murmuring soft words, before lapsing into a hopeless silence.
“You can’t go on like this.”
I look at him then, properly, and he levels me with a determined, even stare. The confidence in his expression irritates me.
“I can, and I will.” I reply in a dead, steely voice, though I know he’s right.
“No, you can’t.” My neck snaps up, and I glare at him, ready to throw some harsh, unfeeling comment towards him when he abruptly crosses the room in three steps and leans down to scoop me up in his arms.
“What are you doing?!” I screech, tearing at his sweater. “Put me down, you-“ He gives up on being gentlemanly and throws me over his shoulder, so that my backside is raised to the ceiling and the only purchase my punches find is on his belt, slung low around his hips. I proceed to scream and curse and attack him for the rest of the journey, right up until a blast of icy wind whips up against my poorly-defended skin, and I am shocked into silence for a moment.
“Think you can be carried with some dignity without being tempted to tear my eyes out?” comes that condescending voice.
“I think you can go to hell, you selfish, inconsiderate brute.”
He pulls me over so that I fall into the cradle of his arms again, and I suddenly find myself face to face with those startlingly clear, blue eyes.
“You didn’t really mean that.” He whispers softly, and I can feel the warmth of his breath wash over my jaw.
I stay silent for the rest of the journey.
Eventually he lays me gently down on a hard, wooden chair, and I realise we are in his kitchen.
“What are we doing here?” I ask cautiously.
“We,” he says much too cheerfully. “Are baking.”
He goes over to a long, marble counter and starts pulling out ingredients and utensils from various draws.
“I can’t bake.” I say.
“Well, I can teach you.” He smiles warmly at me, and I frown.
He brings over bowls and cartons of eggs, and even I what I think is a banana, a luxury so rare I had hardly seen it before going to the Capitol.
He shows me different mixtures and measurings, demonstrating tricks and what I am sure are perfectly interesting explanations of the artistic meaning behind flavour, but the moments that I find myself most aware of are the ones where he is quiet, and my gaze traces the curves of his arms as he works, running through the golden strands of hair that are getting too long, and observing the intensity in his eyes as he concentrates.
“Here,” he says after a while, handing me a slice of a browned cake-like square. “Taste it.”
I part my lips and take a bite, and feel my eyebrows lift. “Mm,” I say through a mouthful of the cake. “What is this?”
“It’s banana bread.” He replies, a gratified smile lingering on his lips, his cheeks rosy. “I’m guessing you like it.”
I nod absentmindedly, staring at a grain of sugar on his top lip. Banana bread. I suppose I’ve had bananas on their own, or in sweet sauces before, but this has a homey, unique flavour to it. Comfort food, my Father might have said. It’s the kind of thing that makes you feel safe.
I look up at Peeta, seeing his eyes glisten under the light as he smiles at me, and decide then that, no matter how strange this day, the flavour of banana bread will now always be inseparable from him.
We sit there in the faint sunlight, chewing the desert together in a silence. I look over at Peeta, who appears so tranquil, and I have to wonder if there is a battle raging through him like there is in me. Am I the only one in this relationship who is always so uncertain?
But for better or worse, I can’t bring myself to suffer silently. The quietness that has fallen between us seems to have been carved out just for me, just for these words to be said.
And there are some battles that I don’t want to win.
“I don’t know what to do.” I whisper, and I feel his gaze arrest me.
It’s not a lot, maybe, just a handful of clumsy words pieced together, but having seen what I’ve seen, and done what I’ve done, I know that he will hear right through to what I really mean.
We sit there in perfect understanding for a moment, and I watch the sun go down in the few seconds we have to bathe in mutual empathy.
I hear his intake of air as Peeta takes a deep breath, and he rubs his neck before looking at me. “Katniss…” he begins. “Can you do something for me?”
I look up at him and search those eyes, watching a mixture of desperation and hope and something else swirl through their pools.
I tip my head slightly.
“Could you please call Dr. Aurelius?”
I blink. That was not the response I was expecting.
“Why would I call him?” I huff.
“Katniss, it helps,” Peeta says, his gaze locking onto mine. “He did a lot for me. Please, just try.”
I open my mouth to protest, but his eyes are so bottomless and deep that I find myself drowning in the emotion I see there, and before I realise what I’m doing, I nod.
“Ok.” I breathe, and he reaches over to take my hand.