Things aren't great in D12, and Haymitch has been trying to help out, without much success, since Thread has managed to find laws that make philanthropy very difficult. After all of this, he's actually glad to talk to Effie for a little while, since she isn't talking about doom and gloom. She asks him to remind Katniss that the wedding gown shoot has been moved up, but...
Ripper appears back in town at the beginning of March, claiming to have seen the light about the law. She says she will be holding meetings for those of us who want to change our evil ways. These meetings will be held in undisclosed locations, to preserve our privacy. We will all know the signs.
The signs are juniper berries, dropped at intersections. They lead to the abandoned sweetshop, where she's set up a new still. I decide to stock up before Thread wises up. She sends me away with twenty bottles wrapped up in cotton in my rucksack, and a pamphlet about the evils of liquor. She tells me to let other chronic evildoers know that the next meeting will be in a new location, next week at the same time.
I spend the next week pleasantly buzzed, until Hazelle threatens to lock my supply up if she has to launder the same pair of pants again. This is an embarrassing enough thing to get me to hold off a little. She takes it upon herself to water three bottles and leave those in easy reach in the kitchen, while putting the good stuff in a high cupboard above my bathroom sink.
I dutifully drink the watered stuff for a week. It doesn't numb anything or make me forget anything, but it keeps the horrors at a little distance, at least.
It's about the middle of March when I wake up in the early morning to the slamming of multiple car doors. I realize that I have forgotten entirely to tell Katniss that her photo shoot is early, and if I know Ruth, she stubbornly refused to discuss the subject. She seems to believe that if she doesn't talk about the wedding or acknowledge it in any way, it will go away.
"What are they doing over there, anyway?" Hazelle asks, breaking eggs into a pan for my breakfast (I have invited her repeatedly to eat with me when she's here, but she won't). "It's nothing about the Games, this time of year."
"Wedding dresses," I tell her.
She wrinkles her nose. "You don't think they'll really force that poor girl to marry Peeta, do you?"
"Yes. And they'll force the poor boy to marry Katniss, too."
"At least she's the one he actually loves."
I choose not to engage on this.
My doorbell rings, followed by repeated knocking. From the other side, I hear "HAYMITCH!"
I yell back. "I'm up, Effie!"
The door doesn't open. She knocks again.
"You going to get that?" Hazelle asks.
"Haymitch, you don't have the manners for a pigsty." She turns off the gas on the stove and goes to the door.
I hear it open, and Effie says, "Haymitch, you didn't say a word to--oh!"
I lean back in my chair and look toward the door. Effie looks stunned to see Hazelle there.
"That's Hazelle Hawthorne, Effie. Hazelle, Effie Trinket."
Effie smiles a bit madly and says. "You... live here?"
"I work here," Hazelle says. "Housekeeper." She gestures for Effie to come in.
Effie looks around my living room, stunned. "Housekeeper? Darling, you are a wonder worker! If Haymitch weren't sitting right there, I'd think I wandered into the wrong house."
"Thank you, ma'am," Hazelle says, then scurries back to the stove and starts my breakfast again. The exasperated and emotive woman I usually see disappears, and becomes the sort of withdrawn, sullen face that the Capitol always seems to see coming from District Twelve. They have a great fondness for showing us looking grim and standing in food lines, at least when we're not being rustically cheerful at a harvest festival or being maudlin star-crossed lovers. Hazelle, like many people from the Seam, is barely comfortable with the merchants in town, let alone a rich Capitol woman wearing an expensive dress and a tomato red wig.
Effie just looks confused by this for a minute, then turns on me. "Haymitch, I told you to tell Katniss we'd be coming. Mrs. Everdeen said she'd hoped we'd change our minds, so she didn't say a word." This seems to confuse her as well, but she just shakes her head. "What am I going to do with you? Poor Katniss was taken completely by surprise when her prep team said hello."
"Is Cinna over there?"
"He's not needed yet. He wanted to have a walk around town while she's being prepped."
I have told him nothing about the new state of affairs in District Twelve. "I should catch up with him," I say. "Or do you need me over at Katniss's?"
"I can't think why we would."
"Do you want me to send Peeta over?"
"Peeta!" She holds up her hands in horror. "Oh, Haymitch, no! One of those dresses will be her wedding gown. How much bad luck do you think they need? He hasn't seen her try them on, has he?"
"I sincerely doubt it," I tell her, since I'm quite sure Katniss hasn't even looked at the dresses since they came.
She sighs. "I hope not. That would be just awful. Well, I should get back. But Haymitch, you are not out of trouble with me." She looks over my shoulder at Hazelle and says, "It was nice meeting you, Mrs. Hawthorne." She pauses and frowns. "Oh, wait. You're Katniss's... aunt?"
Hazelle raises an eyebrow and says, coolly, "I'm Gale's mother. Your people have interviewed him."
"Oh, yes. He's such a handsome and well-spoken boy," Effie says. "You must be so proud."
"Well, in that case it was doubly nice meeting you. Any family of Katniss's is family of mine!" She gives a cheerful wave and disappears toward the Everdeens'.
"Is she always like that?" Hazelle asks.
"Effie is... Effie."
For some reason, this irritates me. "She's a decent person. In her way."
"Maybe," Hazelle says, turning back to breakfast. "But I'm never going to like a woman who calls two kids up to die every year."
That's when the unbridgeable chasm opens up, the one I think Katniss and Peeta are both starting to discover, the one the rest of us have known about for years: the gap between people who've lived through the Games, and people who've only watched them. I'm sure that, to Hazelle, it's unthinkable that the woman who draws names out of the Reaping balls is a great comfort to the tributes put in her care (not to mention their mentor, no matter how annoyed he gets with her). But when you've been there, you know what it means to have someone extend a kindness of any sort in the middle of that hell. Effie extends a lot of kindnesses.
I consider trying to explain it, but there's no time if I want to catch Cinna before he gets into town. I pull on my boots and coat and go out into the morning.
Cinna is walking slowly along the less than picturesque path into town, and doesn't seem surprised when I call. He stops and sits down on a dirty snowbank while I catch up. He grins. "Surprised to see us?"
"Totally forgot," I say. "Twelve's gotten a little chilly since the last time you were here."
"I guessed as much, with all the falling down on ice," he says and gets up. We start walking toward town. "How bad is the scar?"
"Ruth did a good job with it. Just a little red line under her eye."
"Interesting way to get cut falling on ice."
"Yeah, well, we're headed for the ice she fell on. It's sharp." We come into the square, and I point to the whipping post. "She was trying to help someone else who slipped."
Cinna stares at it with disgust, but not much surprise. "Suddenly, I'd rather go back to the Victors' Village," he says.
I shrug. "Suit yourself." We turn to walk back. When we're at that golden spot between likely bugging areas, I say, "What's really going on, Cinna? Why did they push the shoot up?"
He stops and looks up at the sky. "I don't know, Haymitch. But I don't like it. The Capitol's been voting on wedding dresses. We sent the last six up for the shoot. They'll be making the final votes the day after tomorrow and I've been told to make myself available tomorrow night--probably something airing live. It was supposed to be closer to the Games."
"Have you heard anything?"
"No. But the only thing I can think of is that they want it before the Quell card reading. I don't like that Snow's got them tied up in his mind."
I don't like it, either. Visions of Prim go through my head again. Pairing her supposed happiness about the wedding with a devastating announcement costing the life of her beloved sister... by Capitol entertainment standards, that's pure gold. "Are the Quells really set out?" I ask. "Or does he make them up for whatever he needs at the moment?"
"No idea. Maybe it's all been very convenient for him. Or maybe he goes through a box of pre-written cards and decides which one would be best. Or maybe he decides what he wants and writes it on a card to put in an old envelope. No one's ever analyzed the handwriting or ink on the cards."
"What do you think, though?"
He shrugs. "Does it matter?"
"Who knows what matters?"
He thinks about it. "I think he chooses the card," he says. "I think he goes through all of them and he'll pick the one he needs. The first one was probably real enough, but it backfired."
"Whose kids do you think ex-rebels voted into the arena twenty-five years after they lost the war?"
I think about Hazelle standing at the stove, saying that she'd never like a woman who chose two kids to die every year. Of course. "Capitol sympathizers," I guess.
He nods. "And pacifists. Anyone who'd said it was a bad idea to rebel. Snow lost the only people in the districts likely to be actually loyal to him. I seriously doubt he leaves it to the prescience of whoever wrote the cards in the first place after that."
"Why not just make them up?"
Cinna laughs. "All these years, and you still don't understand the Games, do you? It has to be pre-ordained. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of kids murdering each other."
"Why do you hate the Games, Cinna?" I ask. I have never asked before. It has seemed rude. But as long as we're talking treason on a sunny morning here in District Twelve, it seems like a natural enough thing to say.
"I hope you're not expecting some big story about how my life was ruined by Snow," he says. "I was working on a prep team for District Ten while I finished design school. Sixty-seventh Games. The boy I was working on was only a year younger than me, and I realized that he was no different from me. He wasn't seditious. He was a scared kid, same as I was. We even liked the same books. And I was prepping him to die. Which he did, at the Cornucopia. I couldn't see a single way it made Panem any safer to be rid of one teenage boy with bad acne and a crooked nose. If there was no way it made sense for him to die, then there was no way it made sense for the others."
"A complete stranger," Cinna says. "I told you it wasn't a big story."
"Sounds like it was big enough to you."
He doesn't comment. We get back into the Village, and Effie tells him that Katniss is ready for her dresses. She sends me to Peeta's to make sure he doesn't take it in his head to drop in. There's little danger of that. Delly Cartwright is there, and she has brought homework from school... and Peeta's niece. She is babysitting, and has been told by Peeta's sister-in-law that the baby would enjoy a brisk walk out to the Victors' Village.
"And I wasn't to take 'get out of here' as an answer," she says, smirking.
Peeta is too delighted to bother making an argument for his own martyrdom. He is reading Betony a story from Delly's textbook, complete with funny voices, though they don't fit the subject at all. When he excuses himself to check on some cookies he's baking, he hands the baby to me.
I am not at all sure what to do with it. Delly laughs at me, and says she needs to finish her trigonometry assignment, so I'll just have to figure things out myself. We barely notice when the cars leave Katniss's place. I walk Delly and the baby back into town.
"Thanks for doing that," I say.
"Peeta's brothers decided to stop humoring him. Actually, it was a whole family decision. There was a meeting in the bakery. We voted and everything. Sarey and Jonadab are going back to being Mellarks. Though they may have to move out of the restaurant. Her family's afraid of Thread."
This is a fairly reasonable fear, and I don't bother saying otherwise. I drop Delly off at the shoe store, where Sarey Mellark is waiting on the porch. She seems relieved to get the baby and disappears inside quickly.
I go home, trying to figure Peeta's family out. One minute, I hear Ruth's voice, talking about Glen finding Peeta wandering around with bruises on his arm. I hear Peeta saying bitterly that his mother expected him to die in the Games. Then I think of Ed and his fury on Peeta's behalf, of family meetings to decide what's best for him. I doubt I'll ever make sense of them.
When I get back, I find supper on the stove and a note from Hazelle reminding me that she'll be in early tomorrow to sweep the floors.
Peeta comes by in the morning with bread, and says he really should apologize for being ridiculous about the baby. He's her uncle, and Katniss will be her aunt, and I'll be her... something. He hasn't decided yet. He's going into town to spend the day with his family, sort of a command performance after yesterday. He's going to ask them if they mean to include Katniss in the baby's life, since she's in his, but he seems hopeful that they will. I have honestly not seen him so happy since the end of the Games. He greets Hazelle cheerfully as she comes in, and heads toward town with barely a limp on his bad leg.
By the time my doorbell rings again, I have eaten breakfast and had drink. Hazelle is upstairs, sweeping the study energetically. I answer the door myself. It's Katniss. She bites her lip and says, "Can we talk? Peeta's not home."
I frown, wondering what on earth I've come in second to Peeta for, but judging by the look on her face, it's not about wedding gowns and photo shoots. I grab my coat and go out to the green with her.
"I've been watching television," she says.
"Mostly the news. Mostly about District Thirteen."
Everything inside my head stops, and the world seems to freeze. "District Thirteen?"
She nods. "The day I broke my foot, I met two people in the woods," she says. "From District Eight."
I listen with increasing dread as she talks about meeting two women called Bonnie and Twill, who told her explicitly about the uprising, and that the Capitol cracked down with great brutality. They were heading to District Thirteen on the strength of an urban legend that all the footage from District Thirteen showed the same mockingjay. It may be true or not true about the footage--Katniss says she's seen the bird a few times now--but the last thing the rebellion can afford right now is to have any attention turned to the north. If Snow catches even a whiff of Thirteen, the whole thing will go down in flames. I do the only thing I can think of, and treat the idea with complete disinterest. Too many denials will only raise her suspicions.
She looks irritated that I don't care, which is fine. She has also, through her conversations with her preps, figured out that Three and Four are in rebellion. There is no point in denying it. She needs to know sooner or later, and if Cinna's right, "sooner" may be the operative word. I tell her there are rumors about seven and eleven as well. There's still the hard truth that here in Twelve, we're nowhere near prepared for an uprising.
"What do you think they'll do, Haymitch? To the districts that are rebelling?"
I look at her. All the wheedling in the world wouldn't move me, but Katniss isn't wheedling. She's looking at me like she thinks I'm someone who can actually help her. Dammit. I sigh. "Well, you've heard what they did in Eight. You've seen what they did here, and that was without provocation. If things really do get out of hand, I think they'd have no problem killing off another district, same as they did Thirteen. Make an example of it, you know?"
"So you think Thirteen was really destroyed?" She looks crestfallen, and I can tell she's been envisioning a land of magical elves who would solve all of our problems. "I mean, Bonnie and Twill were right about the mockingjay."
I toss out a few reasons that the Capitol might use stock footage, hoping to discourage her, and basically call her desperate for believing it. She looks like I've killed her pet canary.
We talk a little more about her whirlwind visit from Cinna yesterday. She is annoyed that they barely got to talk. She invites me to have lunch with her and Ruth, but I'm sure Hazelle has already started on mine.
"I'm sure glad you hired Hazelle," she says. "Sounds like she's got you eating right."
"I'm glad I hired her, too. It was a good idea. Thanks."
She smiles and goes home.
I am right. Hazelle is actually cooking up a good-sized midday meal when I go in. Chicken and dumplings, with boiled onions and carrots. I ask her to eat with me, and take a page from the Mellark family book, refusing to humor her refusal any more. She laughs and sits down with me. We have a pleasant conversation--oddly, about Effie--and drink to each other's health. There's no fresh fruit to be had with Eleven in rebellion (or, as the Capitol insists on putting it, with the bad weather in Eleven), but I have some canned fruit, and we split it for dessert. I am just settling in to it when the phone rings.
"I never should have let Effie fix that thing," I say.
Hazelle laughs. I feel good. I like having Hazelle here, and Katniss came to me with her problems, and Peeta's family is actually working to help him out.
I answer the phone. It's Mayor Undersee.
"Haymitch, there's mandatory programming tonight," he says. "No idea what. But if Hazelle Hawthorne is there, could you ask her to spread the word down at the Seam? I'm sending Madge out to the Square."
My good feelings disappear. Cinna mentioned that he was expected to be available tonight, probably for something to air live. The wedding shoot. And if they were pushing it up because of the Quell, then I can guess what the actual mandatory viewing is for.
"Sure thing. I'll ask her," I say, and hang up.
I turn to Hazelle, who is frowning. "The Mayor wants you to tell people on the Seam that there's mandatory viewing tonight."
I approach the next part cautiously. "Hazelle, those dresses they were trying on Katniss yesterday--"
"The wedding dresses?"
"Cinna said the Capitol's been voting on them. They'll probably show the finalists tonight."
"Well... you might not want Gale to be taken by surprise by it. I'd guess that wouldn't feel too good."
She stands up, looking furious. "I can't believe this! Not only are they forcing her to get married, they're inviting themselves to dress her up! Like a doll, or one of those stupid little dogs they carry around."
"And don't pretend you're worried about Gale. I know where you stand on this." She grabs her coat. "Your floors are done. I'll be back tomorrow afternoon to do your laundry." She storms out.
So much for our pleasant lunch. I climb up and get one of the un-watered bottles of white liquor. Stare at it. Put it down unopened. I will want it later, I'm sure.
I lie down on the couch and turn on the television, even though it's four hours until the broadcast. I am unsurprised to see a report "from" District Thirteen, with its smoldering Justice Building, and the flap of a mockingjay's wing in the corner. They return to a show about fine architecture. After it, there's a reminder about mandatory viewing, then a Games movie, which just increases my dread. It's a comedy that I've seen before -- drunk, with Chaff and Johanna, in the Capitol two years ago -- which focuses on the antics of barely fictionalized versions of the mentors. The man who plays my fictional self (Jamey Abberson) is a rotund comic, known for his pratfalls. Fictional Chaff (Wheat, in the movie) is a thundering idiot. Fictional Johanna--well, the less said, the better. Her actress is not known for the comedy genre. Drunk and trying to be numb together, we actually had fun watching it. Alone and sober, it isn't very amusing.
I fall asleep briefly and dream that the actor playing me has taken over my life. He's welcome to it. I wake up to the sound of the national anthem, and make myself sit up.
Sure enough, there's Caesar Flickerman, and there are the wedding gowns. I wonder if Peeta is excused from mandatory viewing to prevent bad luck, and somehow doubt it. Effie is probably beside herself with anxiety. Caesar shows sketches of about two dozen gowns, a dozen mock-ups on foolish looking Capitol models, then six of them on Katniss. All of them are beautiful. Katniss looks scared to death in them, even though Cinna managed to somehow tease smiles out of her.
"Don't forget," Caesar tells the Capitol, "if you want to cast your vote, you have to do it by noon tomorrow. Let's get Katniss Everdeen to her wedding in style!"
I wonder if anyone is fooled into thinking this was the entire purpose. Caesar certainly doesn't miss a beat before reminding people to stay tuned for "the other big event," which is, of course, the third Quarter Quell.
I remember mandatory viewing twenty-five years ago. The card saying that there would be twice as many tributes. I didn't think anything of it at all. So there'd be four instead of two. I never for a second thought I'd be one of them. No one ever does. It's always going to be someone else, or someone else's child. People pay lip service to how horrible it is, but the main reaction is always, "It wasn't one of mine! It was someone else."
Only someone else is always someone, and that year, someone else was me. And Maysilee, and Beech, and Gilla.
Everyone else must have really felt like they dodged a bullet, with the odds that bad.
The anthem plays, and Snow comes out to give whatever version of history seems good to him. This year, he pounds on the issue of the Dark Days, and the creation of the Games and the Quells. All to remind the districts that the price for rebellion is too high, the blood too dear. So of course, the Quell will find some way to make it even worse, to "freshen" our memories.
The camera moves briefly to Caesar during this history, but cuts away quickly. His usually cheerful expression is gone. I can't quite read what's in its place, and I decide to hell with Plutarch -- I am going to try and bring Caesar on board. No one with that expression actually loves the Games.
"And now we honor our third Quarter Quell," Snow says, and calls forward some poor little boy who's been recruited to carry twenty-three death sentences. Or more. There are stiff standing envelopes in a box, marching forward to who knows how many Quells. There have to be several centuries worth.
I am disgusted and bored. I want to turn off the television, but whatever horror they have in mind, I'm going to have to mentor two kids through it, and pretend that Katniss is mentoring one of them.
Snow pulls out the card, and I lean forward, waiting to see what sadistic twist I'll have to work around. Snow doesn't hesitate. "On the seventy-fifth anniversary," he says, "as a reminder to the rebels that even the strongest among them cannot overcome the power of the Capitol, the male and female tributes will be reaped from their existing pool of victors."
The world goes silent around me, balanced on the point of a needle.
I have thought of a thousand horrors they could inflict, a million vicious turns of mind. Prim being thrown in for Katniss to mentor. Family members of rebels. District partners forced to fight one another. Tributes having to be sibling pairs.
But I never thought of this.
And it's not a Game meant to prove anything to districts, or to the Capitol audience. This isn't one of Snow's mind games at all.
He knows what we've been doing, and he means to kill us all.
I start drinking.