Fandom: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Title: Between Main Street and Corner Avenue
Characters/pairings: Katniss, Mrs. Everdeen, Peeta, Prim
Genre: Hurt/comfort & Family
Disclaimer: If it's familiar, it likely belongs to my friend Suzanne Collins.
Between Main Street and Corner Avenue
Between Main Street and Corner Avenue sits an old building, dilapidated and left to rot where it stands. The buildings surrounding it are pristine, with big display windows that flaunt fresh-baked pastries and handmade dresses. Main Street and Corner Avenue have always been able to keep their vintage appeal by polishing their cobblestone roads and strictly erecting colonial style stores. Because of that, those two roads get more tourism separately than the rest of the tiny town gets collectively.
The only thing they haven't changed is the forgotten home standing between them like a great wall of tarnished, decaying oblivion.
When I was little and couldn't fall asleep at night – when my parents were fast asleep and sighing – I used to sneak out of the house in my socks and walk to the old house. Sometimes I would stand on my toes like how they taught me in ballet and peer through the window, almost hoping I would see someone sitting at the table in the dusty kitchen.
There was never anyone there.
After a while I grew up and things changed and got bad and my mother stopped sleeping anymore. Instead, she sits in a rocking chair on the other side of my room at night, watching me and my little sister with big eyes like a cat on its perch scouting for mice. Her chair creaks at night while she rocks back and forth, the wood of the floor squealing and groaning in pain beneath her weight. She waits for us to fly away in our sleep, to stop breathing or roll off the bed.
Sometimes I think she's more afraid of me dying than I am. Sometimes I still hear her muttering at night, praying softly to God, singing a lullaby under her breath. Begging my father to come back before we leave her.
At night I almost love my mother. Bathed in moonlight, she seems softer than she does in the daytime, as if every night for a few hours the lines of worry and fear shift on her face. I could stare in the moonlight for hours and be content. At night her sadness makes her beautiful and young. Like the type of mothers you see in magazines, hugging their children and with the arm of their strong, hard-jawed husband around their shoulders.
But there is no big strong husband. And when the sun wakes up with me, her worry lines and pinched lips make her look old and hardened again.
Sometimes I watch her on the weekends – when I'm not pulled away by school and when she doesn't know I'm staring at her through the hole in the drywall that connects the kitchen to the living room. Crouched behind our sofa and face plastered to the water stained wall, I watch her knead dough and shred cheese at the kitchen counter. She doesn't use a cutting board or wax paper when she cooks. Instead the once-polished wood of the counter becomes stained with flour and scarred by steak knives and cleavers.
There's a crack in the counter where my mother once dropped something heavy on its surface. It's been there since before. Since before my father died and before things got bad and before I even knew about the old house between Main Street and Corner Avenue.
Seeing the crack makes me think of when I clutched at the windowsill of the creaking old house and stared inside the building until the sun peeked over the horizon. Its light would reflect off the glass and I would run back home, fearing my mother's wrath. Back then the sun hadn't yet hardened her features, but it still instilled me with precognitive nervousness. As if I expected her to someday be as sad and weary as she is now.
Unlike many other cities, the town I live in isn't shaped like a Ferris wheel on a rainy day. Instead, it's shaped like a checkerboard with all the people and cars dashing from road to road like glorified chess pieces. Main Street and Corner Avenue are at the center of town, converging together as they diverge from all other lanes and brooks.
I walk down the crumbling sidewalks of Corner Avenue every weekday after school. There's a shortcut through a tourist biking path that leads almost directly to my house, but I never take it. I pretend I'm not biding my time until I reach home and face my mother and her homemade meals and her scowls that seem to be drawn on her face in permanent ink. Only the cool wash of moonlight makes them disappear.
As I walk down the street, I sometimes imagine what it feels like for tourists in the tiny town. I gawk at the classy dresses in shop windows and gape at the pristine cobblestones that are only ever mucked up in winter by dirty snow. More often than not, though, I find my eyes sliding up and following the cars that bump over the road.
There's this one woman who drives her car with abandon, applying lipstick and stuffing tissues between her lips. She puts on far too much and it smears while she dabs away at it. Her lack of concern speeds by quickly in her sleek, black Toyota Prius, and a little man in a tweed jacket goes by in a candy red Volkswagen Beetle. Even though the car looks like a windup toy whizzing down the rutted street, the man handles the car in a way that makes me think it's his prized possession.
I don't usually bump into people when I walk down Corner Avenue – locals cluck their tongues at my recklessness, and tourists give me wary looks as I pass. Once or twice, though, I've bumped into a boy.
Every time he knocks me over he darts away – like a driver fleeing from an accident – but I've caught sight of his back before. Of the way his legs buckle under him then seize up again in the tepid, wavering dance of a marionette. One time he clipped my shoulder as he rushed by with the biting March wind on his heels. As I blew my hair from my face – unwieldy and tangled and nothing like my mother's – I caught the glimpse of a prominent nose and a concerned blue eye.
I considered following him, but stopped as I brushed the remnants of winter's snow from the seat of my pants.
Blond hair – fine and tawny as the downy feathers of a duckling – peaked out from the upturned collar of his coat as his lumbering gait slowed at the corner of Main Street and Corner Avenue.
Now, I stand in a crowd. My eyes trail the contours of the forgotten house I had so often visited when sorrows sang in my mother's sleep and my own evaded me like a bar of soap in a clenched fist. Ducking into the hood of my sweatshirt to protect me from light raindrops – licked with the warmth of a midsummer sun shower – I listen to the creaking of rotting wood under pressure. I watch an explosion of glass shards and fragments of shingles, each wafting the heady scent of mothballs and topsoil. The garden that I had stained my socks in when I was younger is buried beneath upturned drywall and stones.
Almost unwillingly, I turn from what was once the dilapidated building between Main Street and Corner Avenue. A face that I've never seen before but seems strikingly familiar stands nearby, soft eyes trained on the rubble. In the sunlight, the locks of fledgling's feathers falling into his eyes are gold, the pure brass color spaded by idle rainfall that darkens it bronze.
I look away when his eyes meet mine, and I realize too late that I've been staring and he's the boy I bumped into who always ran away.
Gaze slithering – grasping at the scenery for something else to occupy my eyes with – I turn to my mother beside me.
The hardness in her features is gone, softened the way I've only seen in hushed darkness and the light of the moon. An ethereal quality overcomes her face, and I feel my face blush with joy not my own, even while I watch her eyes run over the ruins of the building we're huddled watching. Instead of wizened melancholy moon-kissing her face, I only see wrinkles left by happiness. Crow's feet embrace the corners of her eyes, wrinkled like the colorful tissue paper stuffed into boxes and bags for Christmas. I catch the makings of dimples on her flushed cheeks, and I know why she's so beautiful.
As if the wreckage before her has lifted an overbearing weight from her shoulders, she smiles – grins in a way that makes me feel at peace like I never had before – and she whispers something soft under her breath.
And I think that maybe the old house between Main Street and Corner Avenue wasn't forgotten after all.