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Before the Spark
I open my eyes to the searing glow of the morning sun, and stagger to the bathroom with the extreme need to vomit. When I get to the bathroom, Cedar is sleeping bruised and covered in blood on the tiled floor. For a moment, I flinch, but my throat is closing up, so I go and vomit in the kitchen sink instead. When I am done, I rinse my mouth out, and light the fire over the coffee. Rich, earthy fumes begin to pervade the air as I ease my bloated body out of our tiny kitchen.
Inside me, the baby is flickering desperately like a tiny candle flame. I can feel her fluttery movements, like many tiny butterflies inside me. I make my way back to the bathroom, where Cedar still lies unconscious, his discolored face pressed hard against the cool porcelain.
I squeeze into the bathroom, barely fitting between the wall and the toilet, and gently shake my husband until his eyelids begin to quiver. He whimpers gently, and then sits up far too fast. I see his eyes swimming with pain.
“Honey, what happened?” It doesn’t really matter, the particulars, because this has happened before, but I feel it’s the right thing to say. I know he won’t tell me anyway.
“Nothing.” Cedar’s voice is raspy and metallic. He pushes himself up from the bathroom floor, and goes to the little sink where he begins to splash water on his face. The coal dust comes off his face in inky streaks, but the bruises remain.
I get out of the bathroom to give Cedar some space.
As I make breakfast, I hear the splashing of water. I crack four eggs into a bowl, and stir them methodically, adding spices as I go.
Finally, Cedar comes out, water beading down his face. The blood is gone from his body, but the cuts and bruises are now more obvious.
I am a healer, and my fingers ache to rub soothing ointment into Cedar’s wounds. But I know he won’t let me. The wounds are his mark of pride.
“What happened?” I ask again, as I bend over the small gas stove.
“It doesn’t matter.” He sighs. Cedar loves to sing, and even when he breathes it’s music in my hears.
“Katniss is still asleep” I murmur “You can tell me.”
“They caught me hunting again.” Cedar admits.
I gasp in air. We haven’t had salt in months, but as I lean over the eggs I flavor them with my tears.
There is a deep, ugly silence in the room.
Finally, I turn on him “You can’t do this anymore. Sometime, they’ll actually kill you. I need you, don’t you understand? Katniss needs you. The baby needs you.”
Cedar sighs and shakes his head. “You need food more. I can’t bear to see you skin and bones.”
I want to scream at him, I want to beat my fists against him and tell him that nothing matters as long as he is here. But his battered face reproves me, and I turn back to the sizzling eggs.
Little Katniss pads out of the bedroom.
“Good morning, swamp root.” Cedar teases.
“Good morning, tree.” Katniss shoots back.
Then she sees his face. I’m glad she can’t see his back, where long strands of flesh broken by the cruel lash of the whip shine wetly.
“What happened to you?” her face wrinkles with concern.
“Oh, nothing.” Cedar makes his voice jovial. “I was just out wrestling with a big burly bear.”
“A bear?” Katniss doesn’t sound too sure.
“Yes. Have you ever heard the song ‘The Bear and the Bat?’”
Katniss giggles and shakes her head.
“I’ll sing it to you.”
My husband begins to sing in a clear, warbling voice. It reminds me of stream full of fresh water.
Katniss smiles, and inside me the baby twirls.
I smile too as I watch Katniss caught up in the harmony, unconsciously twisting her braid around her finger.
For a moment, everyone is so happy.
I just wish it could be like this forever.