Disclaimer: Characters and situations are those of Suzanne Collins. I make no money from writing this.
Author's Notes: Because I have PTSD and depression, this was a difficult one to write. I still can't quite decide if it works. But I wanted to put it up anyway.
It's one of those days. The ones where I can't get out of bed. The kids bang and crash in the kitchen, and Peeta groans as he gets out of bed. He looks at me, and in the look he can tell. I don't know what he sees, but I can imagine.
Blank stare. Dark circles. Red eyes. Chapped lips. Slack face.
I know, because on very rare occasions he looks the same way. I am lucky, in a very selfish way, that Peeta's damaged mind usually shows itself in haunting him with the fearful images inserted into his mind by the Capitol's hijacking. When he is triggered, he grips the nearest piece of furniture until I think it will break, and stares piercingly at nothing – at whatever lies his brain is producing – and will mentally fight it until it goes away. In this way, he is stronger than I will ever be.
All of the worst things jumbled in my nightmares. Mutts and the smell of roses and Peeta's hands around my throat while he tells me coldly that I am not even pretty. The dead bodies scattered cold around us, their eyes eaten away by worms. Prim and Rue. Finnick and Boggs. The boy from 10 and Coin. Sometimes the ones I killed are worse than the ones I loved, but it's a tough call to make.
The ceiling has one single crack that runs along it. It is a gentle arc across the corner, just over Peeta's side of the bed. I know the crack intimately. I look at it, and think about how I nearly fell apart, again and again. I think of the cracks left in me. Not just the strange patchwork of my skin, grafted and grown and sewn together into something resembling my body. I think of the fractures in my mind. The torn edges that sometimes catch on the most insignificant things.
Little Madge's shirt came untucked at the back yesterday. She looked like a little duck. I didn't tuck it back in, because I didn't want to fall into the trap of repeating what had happened before. So I watched her little duck tale all day, and tried not to remember Prim's torn-up body.
Sometimes when it rains, I wonder if the crack above the bed strains to keep the water in. My cracks strain with the effort sometimes. And this is what I do. I lie in bed and think, and try not to think. Round and round in circles. While idly, my hands twist knots in the sheet. I long for morphling, but that's not an option any more. None of my pain is physical, except for the wrenching feeling in my stomach. I'm told that's caused by an excess of adrenaline, caused by an excess of anxiety, caused by an excess of nightmares, caused by a nightmarish life. That pain is nothing to the ache and whir of the thoughts and memories that scatter and reform in my mind like a flock of mockingjays.
A small voice tried to break through the deafening rush of my own thoughts.
My eyes slide slowly away from the crack, to the doorway. As my head turns, a tear runs from the corner of my eye, slicking a hot path to my temple. Peeta appears, but it was not his voice.
"Come downstairs, Madge. Mommy's not well today."
Madge takes after her Mommy a little too much. She ignores her father and comes up to me. Not with loud stamping footsteps, but like her Mommy. Almost silent. Until her face is very close to mine.
I try, with everything I am, to smile. But I just can't do it. She looks at me with Peeta's blue eyes, and a very stern expression. I have never seen anyone else with that expression, so I can only assume she learned it from me. Peeta lingers at the doorway. Perhaps he hopes our eldest will dredge me up from the murk of my depression.
"I'm staying here with Mommy."
Peeta takes a step into the room to take her away.
"No," I croak. My voice sounds like it did when I made my first words after he strangled me. I swallow, and realise how dry my throat is. I realise also that I can feel it, that I am starting to feel again. The numbness is receding. I try again, "No, it's alright."
He doesn't leave. He stands sentry at the door, while Madge climbs up onto our high bed. Her chubby child's legs seem made of rubber, and for a moment she is all limbs and cotton skirts. Then she finds her right way up, and she is burrowing under the covers with me, nestling into my side. I don't look down at her, but curl my arm around her, holding her as I did when she still slept in with us. Her little fingers find the ends of my hair and start playing. Madge is very careful, though, and doesn't pull.
I stare at the ceiling some more.
"Why aren't you well?" she whispers hoarsely in the way that children do. Her hot damp breath slides over my neck.
Floorboards creak over by the door. I can tell Peeta wants to take her downstairs and find something to distract her.
Several times I take a deep breath to answer. Several times the air sighs back out of me, without any voice to answer. Eventually I roll onto my side and tuck Madge's head under my chin, so I don't have to see her face when I tell her. "I have very bad dreams, Madge. They're so bad they make me very very tired. So tired that I can't do anything." She still plays with my hair. I don't even know if she's listening. "So I'm stuck. I can't get up, but I can't sleep either."
Madge thinks about this for a minute. I wonder if she's looking stern again. I wonder if she's starting to suspect her mother might be crazy.
"When I can't sleep," Madge whispers, "I come into bed with your and Daddy."
"But I can't do that, sweetheart. I'm already in bed with Daddy. And he does make it much better. He makes sure I sleep well most of the time. But sometimes the nightmares are so bad, they come anyway."
There's another long pause. Then slowly, Madge pulls away to look at me. Her little pink hands come up to my face, and her fingers touch my cheek where it's wet. "Why do iyou/i have nightmares?" It is the question of a girl who can only see her mother as an immovable force of nature; as a woman who hunts in the woods, and fights, and has won a war.
When I think I am going to start sobbing, Peeta says, "Because a lot of very scary things happened before you were born. And a lot of very sad things. And when Mommy or I remember them, it can make us very scared or sad."
"Like spiders," Madge says matter-of-factly.
"Just like spiders," I whisper into her soft hair as I kiss it.
After a while of playing with my hair, Madge says crossly, "I can't think of anything that makes me sad!"
I burst out laughing, a hollow bark of a sound, and as I do fresh tears tumble down my cheeks. "That makes me very, very happy. I don't want anything to make you sad." I kiss the top of her head, feeling heat return to me. Feeling the fierce burn of love for my little girl. "Ever."
"Maybe we could show Madge some of the things that make us sad."
Peeta has been practicing moving quietly. He's right beside me, and bends down to stroke my hair. He wants to show Madge the book. There is a part of me that wants to keep it from her forever. This tiny person, who never knew the cruel world in which Peeta and I grew up. I do not want her to see the hunger of our past, or the danger, or those who died when we carried on living. I do not want her to hold me accountable for the pages and pages of dead.
But these are the wrong things to think. These are the things my mind creates to stop me going forwards. They are the things that I must be strong and overcome.
Slowly I nod, bundling Madge onto my tummy and leaning into Peeta as I stand. My body feels heavy still, but the rush and whirl of my thoughts are starting to abate as I focus on my husband and daughter. He wraps an arm around my shoulder, and we go downstairs to show Madge our book.