Death came in the form of a grizzled old man from the Seam.
"There's been an accident at the mines. An explosion," he said twisting his cap in his coal covered hands. "I'm sorry Hazelle but your husband perished in the accident".
Time seemed to freeze and then restart. Blood pounded in my ears and I looked to my mother. She stifled a groan with her hand and with the other clutched the massive bump on her stomach.
"I'm so sorry Hazelle," the man said. "I've got to go. More people need to be informed… there were many deaths." I stood beside my mother not realizing that I had moved from my position on the floor where only seconds before I had been playing a game of checkers with my brothers. The man's grey eyes looked inside our small living area and I saw that they were full of pity and understanding. He knew how hard this would be. A family without a father stands little chance of surviving a hard winter. He was not only delivering news of our father's death to our mother but also our own death sentences.
My mother stood frozen at the door her hand still clamped against her stomach and I realised that she felt as lost as I did. Hollow and cut out. Something was missing and nothing would ever manage to replace it.
Vick and Rory began to cry and I went over to them. They were sat on the flour surrounded by the old buttons we had been using as checkers. I sat on the couch and the boys moved towards me like moth to a flame.
They were old enough to understand what an explosion in the mines and a stranger at the door meant. Though they were young they were no strangers to death. Many people die every winter in the Seam. Hard weather and lack of food don't make things easy when people are already poor and starving. Father's extra-curricular hunting had prevented us from starving and I was left wondering what we would do without him. I wiped snot from Rory's nose with the cuff of my shirt and pulled Vick onto my lap.
I remembered all the Sundays spent alone together in the woods as he taught me how to hunt and tie snares. We'd never do that again. We'd never laugh over Vick and Rory's latest antics. He'd never tell me how there was more to life than the Capital and their self-serving agenda. He had always been extremely patient as I had messed up snare after snare until I had finally gotten the knack of it – tightening the knots so that they'd hold but not too tight that I couldn't untie them and reuse the rope. He hadn't given out to me when I lost more arrows that I'd ever care to admit to Katniss as he thought me how to shoot. He was an amazing father. A lump formed in my throat at the use of the past tense. Was. As I swallowed I wondered why one small word, three letters, was so hard to say.
"Mom?" I called. My voice broke as I pleaded with her to come away from the door and sit with us on the couch. We had to stick together now more so than ever before.
She didn't respond to me but remained standing mute at the door her expression blank and cold. She was numb but I felt anything but. Emotions swelled up inside me threatening to break through the calm exterior I was struggling to keep up. I was drowning in my sorrow a concept that had always seemed melodramatic to me when I heard it but now I understood. Despair could creep up on you and over power you before you knew what was going on but only if you let it. I wouldn't allow my emotions to defeat me. I couldn't. Someone had to stay strong. Without Dad I would have to step up. No one else was going to.
Vick and Rory began to howl louder and Mom finally turned towards us and I saw that she had finally allowed her grief to take hold of her. Her eyes were welling with tears that almost immediately began to overspill and slide down her sallow cheeks. She'd walked towards us and I felt my shoulders sag in relief as she took Vick from me and pressed his head to her chest. He wrapped his arms around her and snuggled in close to her. I wished that I was young enough to do the same. I watched jealously as she stroked Vick's hair and rocked him gently.
Rory looked up at me and wrapped my arms around him pulling him into a tight hug too. He would never get to learn to hunt from Dad. Rory and Vick would never get to know him like I did. And the baby? I looked over at my mother and caught her eye. She placed her free hand on my shoulder and rubbed it hard. The baby would never get to know him at all.
Everyone knew that conditions in the mine were poor. Cave-ins and explosions happened but mostly there were no fatalities. I cursed the Capital for allowing the workers to go into conditions that were unacceptable and dangerous. The Capital didn't just destroy families in the reaping. They destroyed them every day. Every time a child died due to starvation. Every time a boy had to leave school early to work in the mines. Every time a girl sold her body for a few petty coins so that her family would survive another couple of days. Every time and old man died of exposure on the streets.
There had to be more than this life! My father had believed that and I did too now. I vowed to do everything in my power to do something, anything, to change things. I would make him proud of me but that would have to wait for now.
Around me my family sat. We were broken and without my father there was no immediate possibility of repairing us. I knew what I had to do. I couldn't allow my brothers to see me fall apart. I needed to be strong for them. For my unborn sibling. For my mother. For my family.
I hope I was able to capture some of the emotion that the Hawthorne family must have been feeling on the day that their father died. Let me know what you think. Slán. :P