Claire. Duh. That was obvious.
I think we all have Hunger Games on the brain these days. (Actually, I’ve never read them. I’m waiting for an opportunity to borrow them or, failing that, sneak them through the debit card under hubby’s nose.)
But such an insanely great, creepy, emotional piece from last week’s judge. We learned her a thing or two last week, didn’t we?
Thank you, Ms. Claire, for sharing this brilliance with us. Here, folks, is her winning entry. Enjoy. I know I did.
I wake to him slipping into my bed. He settles between my body and the wall, drawing me back into him. From his arms around me, his leg hooking over mine, I can feel him relax. He is never relaxed unless he is with me.
We say hello. I hear the tired smile in his voice. I feel his hands shake as they cover mine. It has been a long six months. We are tired, weak, broken. But today was the end. Our replacements have taken over. They are not as good as we are, but we have done our part. Now we have the peace of our bodies falling asleep side by side.
There is pain in my back, my bones, my blood. As I trace my fingers over his arm, I feel the rough slices of scalpels. I know that if I were to peel back the sheets and spoil him as I have always wanted to, I would see where they inserted the teeth and fed him the chemicals. They would look like angry tattoos beneath his skin. It probably hurts him to hold me this close. I want to cry for him, but I am too tired to allow myself tears.
The most I can manage is, “Are you in pain?”
He laughs a little, or maybe sobs. The sound is confused, just like everything else. Through the drapes, I see a yellow-green sky. Past the sound of his breath at my neck, I hear the drums of victory.
Victory. I guess you can call it that.
I close my eyes, but what I see on my lids throws me into a tiny panic. I will never stop seeing the dark balconies above me, myself in the bright white center, the pain of teeth, the touch of the children’s hands. On the colder nights, I nestled into their corpses for warmth. At points, there was applause.
I try to stop my whimper, but it comes out anyway.
His arms tighten around me. He kisses my cheek and says there is nothing to be afraid of anymore. He is here.
I know it was worse for him. Many nights, clutching a lifeless, chubby hand for comfort, I heard him scream.
Last week, they welcomed us home with cameras and smiles. They say they will give us medals. We will never have to work another day for the rest of our lives.
The sky erupts into purple and white. Fireworks. Everyone is celebrating. They will use bits of bodies to decorate buildings. They will paint walls with the blood of the dead.
I am not sure if I like the idea of the rest of my life.
He has become very quiet. His eyes shine with blue light from outside. Yellow light. Green light. I cannot remember what color his eyes really are. I cannot remember anything but teeth and poison.
He tells me to hush. I wonder why and realize I have begun to cry. He wipes my cheeks and kisses me. It does not take long for the kiss to deepen. I have always wanted this, and so has he. But it has never been a good idea. Too risky.
It is better than I imagined, although our bodies are so frail that I wonder if this will actually kill me.
After, I turn away and become a child in a womb. I close my eyes and see people turning into monsters. I am a white light, burning, buzzing, peeling away the flesh of little freckled girls, little blond boys. Even moving with him in a bed of colored stars isn’t enough to make them go away.
I do not like the idea of the rest of my life.
He knows it. I see us in the corner mirror. We do not look human, especially in the twirling lights. We are already dead. I am therefore not afraid when I see the glint in his hands and feel the blade chill my belly. He puts his mouth to my ear. His voice shakes as he tells me what I had already guessed.
We have not won. It is a ruse to put everyone at ease.
They are sending us back. We are the best. We have always been the best.
“I won’t let them,” he says. He kisses me. His face is wet. “It won’t hurt.”
He is right. It does not hurt.