A/N So, it turns out that for one who is just beginning to learn archery, there are 10 basic steps to keep in mind when drawing, aiming and shooting the arrow...and thus, a writing exercise was born for yours truly. All the chapters here will be short vignettes; call them warm-ups if you like. I already know which ones I want to expand into multi-chapters. They will all center around our favorite little family of four. Alas, the characters aren't mine, I'm just borrowing.
Step 1: Stance
The archer stands upright in a comfortable, relaxed position with one foot each side of the shooting line. The feet should be about shoulder width apart with an even amount of weight taken on each foot and an even amount of weight between the ball and heel of each foot. This will maintain balance and help keep the body steady.
During the shooting sequence, the body position must remain as steady as possible with no shifting of weight or leaning of the body...It can become difficult when a person is right-handed, but with a left eye dominance or vice versa...The person will probably have to keep their left eye shut, until learning to use their right eye for aiming. -Graeme Jeffrey Copyright Centenary Archers Club Inc. 1999-2008
"Okay, let's try again."
Our little girl slouches out in the meadow, bow in hand, lips pressed together and brow furrowed in a familiar scowl. Both she and Katniss are frustrated; the grassy field around them is littered with miniature arrows, none of which has hit the intended target. I watch them from the shade of an old oak, not far from where Katniss' house used to be; I lean easily against the trunk, hands behind my head. Our son naps on a bed of moss beside me, his mouth agape, drooling onto his arm.
Katniss circles our daughter, scanning her body position. "Feet apart...bounce for me?" Prue straightens her back, bounces up onto her toes, then back onto her heels. A grin plays across her face, and the gap just shows where one front tooth is missing, and it makes my heart ache, just a little. "Okay, good and balanced. Shoulders down?" Prue drops her narrow shoulders. "Shake 'em out..." The girl giggles as she bounces her shoulders crazily up and down. It is a hot day and the thin straps of her shirt reveal the glow of olive skin, her bare shoulder blades like wings.
"All right," Katniss breathes as she backs off to the side. "Now we draw, and aim..."
Prue lifts the small bow in her left hand and the arrow in her right, drawing back in one smooth motion until the string rests against her chin. She sights on the old, rusted-out oil can Katniss has wedged into one of the last remaining patches of chain link fence on the edge of the woods. She tilts her head strangely when she's aiming, Katniss says: she turns her face in to the arrow, or something. I look for it now. Her form doesn't look too terribly bad to me, but then, I've never shot an arrow in my life.
A gun, yes. But not an arrow.
"Wait, hold on," says Katniss, and she takes a few steps forward, studying Prue through narrowed eyes. Prue lowers her bow arm, uncertain; she has been told to never, never, never point an arrow at a person. Ever. No matter what.
"I think I know what the problem is," my wife says, moving her head back and forth in front of Prue like some strange bird, side to side, studying her eyes, first from one angle and then another.
"What?" Prue whispers, the bow now relaxed. She watches her mother as she always watches her: like Katniss is a goddess, deigning to impart wisdom. Prue's blue eyes are wide and never leave her mother's face.
"Here, do something for me. Put your bow down for a sec..." Prue places it softly onto the grass, then pops back up. The easy smile has stolen back onto her face; it's never gone for long. And it's impossible not to smile back, as Katniss now does, as she instructs, "I want you to try something. Hold up your hands like this."
And she holds both hands at arms' length, straight in front of her. She places the tips of her forefingers and the tips of her thumbs together, forming a rough triangle. "Can you make a triangle, like this?"
Prue nods and holds her own hands out, making a triangle of thumbs and forefingers.
"All right, now make it smaller, so it's just a little window," and she moves her palms closer together, forming just a small opening between her splayed hands.
I sit up a little straighter against the smooth trunk of my tree and drop one hand onto the sleepy boy's blonde head; it's sweaty, and I work my fingers through his curls with a frown. I'm not sure where Katniss is going with this...
"Now, we're going to find something far away, something to look at through our little window." She scans the horizon, uncertain, and Prue spins wildly, looking too, liking this game. Finally Katniss spots her target. "There, over there. Do you see Leevy's house?"
Leevy is Katniss' neighbor from way back; she escaped the firebombing with her family in '75 and moved back to 12 shortly after we did. She built herself a house in the smouldering ashes of the old Seam, a bigger house than she would have had in the old days, but only slightly. The kids love to visit her because she works as a tailor now, making clothing for practically all of 12, and she makes them little dolls out of cloth scraps. Leevy loves their visits. She always has.
Prue is bouncing up and down now. "Yes! I see it, Mama."
"So, lift up your hands and put Leevy's house in your little window."
Prue does this, looking at the distant rooftop through the opening between her hands. Katniss focuses on Prue's face as she says, "Now. Keep both eyes open, that's very important." Prue opens her eyes comically wide, giggling. "And bring your little window closer, and closer, and closer to your face...keep looking at Leevy's house, keep it in focus..."
She and I both watch as Prue practically goes cross-eyed, keeping that rooftop in her sights. I'm not sure what I'm looking for, but I find myself watching very closely as Prue's hands get closer to her face, and finally settle that little window...over her left eye, not her right.
"Hah!" Katniss shouts with a smile, and claps her hands. "I knew it. You're left-eyed."
"You're right-handed, but left-eye dominant. So you're shooting with your right, but trying to sight with your left. That's why all the shots are going wide." Katniss is grinning down at her and Prue looks skeptical, one eyebrow raised. "You're going to have to close your left eye when you aim, and train your right eye to do most of the work. Can you close just this eye?" She taps the left side of Prue's face. I see my daughter's cheek screw up and the eye closes.
"Good. Let's try again."
Prue takes her stance. Draws her bow in one smooth motion, just like she's practiced. Closes one eye and takes aim.
Katniss' fists close and she bites her lip. "Shoot straight, Little Bird."
Prue draws her arm back just a little further and lets the arrow go, and there is a muffled crunch as the arrow catches the oil can dead-center and knocks it through the hole in the fence.
My mouth pops open, as does Katniss'.
Our little girl is immediately jumping up and down on the spot. "I did it! I did it!" She raises her bow above her head, arm pumping.
And Katniss and I both have a moment. I can see it in her suddenly-stiffened posture, I can feel it in the dread that washes over me like the tide. Because in that moment, our daughter looks like...a Victor.
My mind flashes back to every tape of every Hunger Games we ever watched, dreading the moment when the winner would stand at the end, finally alone, victorious. A Victor. Some of them were so jubilant, pumping their fists as my daughter does now, accepting their dubious honor with such relish. Not understanding that there were never any winners in that Game. Not really.
But the moment passes. Prue is six, and tiny, and her weapon is no more than a toy. Her smile is not bloodthirsty, but gap-toothed and adorable. She is innocent.
Sage wakes up when he hears his sister belting out her new favorite song: "I diiiiiid it, I diiiiiid it, I diiiiid it..." It is accompanied by a kind of spinning dance; she sets her bow down softly and then she's off, across the meadow, twirling and skipping and singing.
"Sissy?" the little boy asks, still sleepy. He rubs his eyes a few times with chubby fists, then struggles to his feet and runs after her. "Sissy! Sissy! I dance. Me too." Prue is turning cartwheels on the grass now, her long hair skimming the fluffy tops of the dandelions, and Sage's chunky legs struggle to keep up with her lithe, graceful ones.
Katniss brushes her fingertips through Sage's curls as he breezes by, and the gentle smile on her face right now, as she watches him run, is worth everything.
She saunters over and settles down at my side, and we watch our children dance. "Glad we finally got that figured out," she says, rubbing at mosquito bites on her forearms and not meeting my eyes. She's still thinking about that moment, earlier, when we both nearly lost it. "Turns out she's pretty good for only six years old."
"Well, she has a great teacher." I work my hand over her back, up underneath her braid and give her neck a tender squeeze; she leans into me.
"The best teacher," she scoffs. We both chuckle. "My dad had to do that eye test on me, too. When I was first learning."
I glance at her, but say nothing; she's still carefully not looking at me. She's frowning faintly as she watches the kids frolick in this beautiful, sad place. "Peeta?"
"How do we tell them?"
Tell them what? Where to begin? Tell them why there are so few people here? Why Mama and Daddy are covered in burn scars, fading but still very much there? Why there are certain places where Mama still can't go, by law, like District 13? Why Daddy has to go away and be by himself sometimes? Why Grandma never, ever visits? I have no idea, I want to tell her. Instead I say: "We wait for the right time. When the right time comes, the words will come."
Katniss heaves a long, tired sigh, and settles back against me. I wrap my arms around her and we just sit.
Finally she says, "I'm glad it's just a game for her."