A sound escapes me. The same combination of gasp and groan that comes from being submerged in water, deprived of oxygen to the point of pain. I push people aside until I am right in front of him, my hand resting on the screen. I search his eyes for any sign of hurt, any reflection of the agony of torture. There is nothing. Peeta looks healthy to the point of robustness. His skin glowing, flawless, in that full-body-polish way. His manner’s composed, serious. I can’t reconcile this image with the battered, bleeding boy who haunts my dreams. […]
“Why don’t you tell us about that last night in the arena?” suggests Caesar. “Help us sort a few things out.”
Peeta nods but takes his time speaking. “That last night… to tell you about that last night… well, first of all, you have to imagine how it felt in the arena. It was like being an insect trapped under a bowl filled with steaming air. And all around you, jungle… green and alive and ticking. That giant clock ticking away your life. Every hour promising some new horror. You have to imagine that in the past two days, sixteen people have died - some of them defending you. At the rate things are going, the last eight will be dead by morning. Save one. The victor. And your plan is that it won’t be you.”
My body breaks out in sweat at the memory. My hand slides down the screen and hangs limply at my side. Peeta doesn’t need a brush to paint images from the Games. He works just as well in words.
“Once you’re in the arena, the rest of the worls becomes very distant,” he continues. “All the people and things you loves or cared about almost cease to exist. The pink sky and the monsters in the jungle and the tributes who want your blood become your final reality, the only one that ever mattered. As bad as it makes you feel, you’re going to have to do some killing, because in the arena, you only get one wish. And it’s very costly.”
“It costs your life,” says Caesar.
“Oh, no. It costs a lot more than your life. To murder innocent people?” says Peeta. “It costs everything you are.”
And the feel of it rushes through me
From my heart down to my legs
But the room is so quiet
And although I was losing my mind
It was a call that was so sublime
But the room is so quiet
I was looking for a breath of life
A little touch of heavenly light
But all the choirs in my head say no
Peeta crouches down on the other side of her and strokes her hair. When he begins to speak in a soft voice, it seems almost nonsensical, but the words aren’t for me. ‘With my paint box at home, I can make every color imaginable. Pink. As pale as a baby’s skin. Or as deep as rhubarb. Green like spring grass. Blue that shimmers like ice on water.’
The morphling stares into Peeta’s eyes, hanging on to his words.
‘One time, I spent three days mixing paint until I found the right shade for sunlight on white fur. You see, I kept thinking it was yellow, but it was much more than that. Layers of all sorts of color. One by one.’ says Peeta.
The morphling’s breathing is slowing into shallow catch-breaths. Her free hand dabbles in the blood on her chest, making the tiny swirling motions she so loved to paint with.
‘I haven’t figured out a rainbow yet. They come so quickly and leave so soon. I never have enough time to capture them. Just a bit of blue here or purple there. And then they fade away again. Back into the air,’ says Peeta.
The morphling seems mesmerized by Peeta’s words. Entrances. She lifts up a trembling hand and paints what I think might be a flower on Peeta’s cheek.
‘Thank you,’ he whispers. ‘That looks beautiful.’
For a moment, the morphling’s face lights up in a grin and she makes a small squeaking sound. Then her blood-dappled hand falls back onto her chest, she gives one last huff or air, and the cannon fires. The grip on my hand releases.
The boy never even glanced my way, but I was watching him. Because of the bread, because of the red weal that stood out on his cheekbone. What had she hit him with? My parents never hit us. I couldn’t even imagine it. The boy took one look back to the bakery as if checking that the coast was clear, then, his attention back on the pig, he trew a loaf of bread in my direction. The second quickly followed, and he sloshed back to the bakery, closing the kitchen door tightly behind him.
I stared at the loaves in disbelief. They were fine, perfect really, except for the burned areas. Did he mean for me to have them? He must have. Because there they were at my feet. Before anyone could witness what had happened I shoved the loaves up under my shirt, wrapped the hunting jacket tightly about me, and walked swiftly away. The heat of te bread burned into my skin, but I clutched it tighter, clinging to life. […]
I put my clothes to dry at the fire, crawled into bed and fell into a dreamless sleep. It didn’t occur to me until the next morning that the boy might have burned the bread on purpose. Might have dropped the loaves into the flames, knowing it meant being punished, and then delivered them to me. But I dismissed this. It must have been an accident. Why would he have done it? He didn’t even know me. Still, just throwing me the bread was an enormous kindness that would have surely resulted in a beating if discovered. I couldn’t explain his actions.