I’ve never been in the stationery shop. I don’t know anyone else who has, either, except for the Donner twins, since Mr. Donner’s brother owns it.
I really can’t think of any reason why anyone would go in. Once a year, we’re each issued a notebook for school -- teachers give out as much as we’re supposed to use for each assignment -- and that’s about all the paper anyone can afford. Everyone learns to write very small, and make that notebook last for every class all year. I’ve known people who finish it about halfway through, and they’re not issued a new one. They have to trust their memories. Personally, I have a system, little symbols to remind me of what the teacher says – kind of a code that makes sense to me, even though Digger thinks it’s gibberish. I can do a week of classes on one page. Last year, I had enough of my notebook left to try and write a poem or two. They’re scrunched up and hidden with the things we have stuffing the walls for insulation now, but I know exactly where they are. One of them was a sonnet about Digger, which was very bad, and the other was a free verse about my house, which was a little bit better, but would still be pretty embarrassing if anyone found it.
At any rate, no one has a reason to buy special paper to write letters and invitations on. No one writes letters to anyone, and as far as invitations go, in District Twelve, they generally consist of standing someplace and yelling, “Hey! Anyone want to come over?”
Maysilee's uncle sees me when I come in and smiles. "Haymitch Abernathy, isn't it?"
I have no idea where he knows me from, and that makes me nervous, so I just nod.
"Kids aren't here yet. Dannel Mellark said he wasn't expecting you to come. They'll be pleased to see you. You can look around while you wait, if you want."
"I, uh… did they say why they were coming?"
"Homework, I guess," Mr. Donner says. "Maysilee likes it here. She's got her own spot in the cellar. I guess you could wait there, if you'd rather."
Since I don't want to look like I'm here to leave dirty fingerprints all over Mr. Donner's inventory, I opt for the latter, and he shows me to a door that leads to the cellar. The stairs are wooden and rickety, and there's a strange, cinnamon smell that I guess must be what dry old paper smells like, since it's piled up in yellowing stacks on shelves against the walls. It's not an unpleasant place.
I poke around in the old inventory, looking at boxes of pens that would cost Mom a week's salary back when she was working, piles of official stationery with the name of the last Capitol liaison on them, business cards for people who have been either dead or out of District Twelve for years. I don't know what Mr. Donner is supposed to do with all of this. There are even old Reaping cards here, and a yellowing box of blank ones. I'm surprised these are even allowed in the hands of district people, but I guess they're not worried about last year's entries, and it's not like someone's going to steal the blank ones for anything. Probably, Mr. Donner's supposed to package everything up and recycle it.
Besides the personalized stationery, there are little blank books with cloth covers, embossed with the word "Journal." I open one up. There's a space for a date at the top of each page, and I guess people are supposed to write whatever they've been up to. I doubt I'll ever have enough going on in a day to fill a whole page.
"Want one of those?"
I look up. Maysilee is standing at the top of the stairs, grinning. "Uncle Herk's keeping that stuff so I can sell it to the recyclers and use it to pay the inheritance taxes on the place when he dies. So it's mine. You can have a journal if you want."
I put it down. "No thanks. I was just thinking how I'd never use a thing like that. Anyway, won't you need it to pay the taxes?"
"I can spare one journal. You can write me a poem in it."
I shake my head and turn away from the shelves. "Danny said that… well, that everyone was…"
She nods. "Yeah. Kaydi's upstairs. Ruth and Danny will be along once they remember it's time to stop groping." She rolls her eyes. "And we're expecting a couple of other people, too."
"I thought it was about… you know. The girl."
"We'll talk about her before anyone else gets here."
"Someone planted herbs like your pin. I only came to say that wasn't very smart. We're not the only people who go to the woods."
She frowns. "We are the only people who know that poor girl is buried there. Someone had to mark it."
"Was it you?"
"Me and Ruth."
I'm stunned by this. Ruth Keyton is probably the most practical town kid I know. When she gets here (five minutes ahead of Danny), I ask her about it.
She shrugs. "I don't like people dying on my watch. Besides, there's caring to do for the dead, just like for the living. You have to pay them some mind. You don't just stick them in a hole."
"They're dead. What do they care?"
"You're not dead. It matters what you treat them like. Makes a difference about who you are."
I decide to re-evaluate my opinion of her practicality.
The girls and I nervously trade stories -- I don't recall ever spending time with just them -- until Danny sweeps in. He was at a final rehearsal for the show. "Who's coming?" he asks. "It ought to be good. You should see Mir." He takes off his jacket. "We should get her in on this. She'd be great at getting new people in. She can convince anyone of anything."
Ruth snorts. "Little Miss I'm-Really-A-Capitol-Peacekeeper's-Daugh
"She's not that bad," he says. "I mean, yeah, she's kind of a bitch, but she's… she's okay, if you know her. If you were her friends, she'd be better."
I don't bother answering this, and neither do the girls. Danny's a good guy, but he's not a very good judge of character. I hope he's not running around deciding who to trust, because one of these days, he'll decide President Snow's just misunderstood.
I decide we've wasted just about enough time. "We need to rip out those plants," I say. "I get what you said, Ruth, but we can't leave it marked like that."
"No one's going to see it unless they climb trees," Maysilee says. "We made sure it was big enough that you can't see it on the ground."
"Yeah? Well, what about from a train? Those windows look pretty high up."
Danny shakes his head. "There's trees between the tracks and the place we put her."
"Trees blow down in storms. They get cut down. They burn." I stand up. "Do you get it? If anyone finds her there, they'll figure out who buried her, and they'll decide we killed her."
"How are they going to trace it to us?" Ruth asks.
"How do you think? You used healers' herbs. It'll take about two seconds from them to find their way to the apothecary."
"We can't just leave her there."
"I get that. I know. I buried my dad, remember?" I shake my head and sit back down. "Danny buried the picture with her. Bury the damned pin with her if you want. But don't mark the grave."
"What if her people come looking for her?" Danny asks.
"They won't. No one's going to let them come looking for a girl who got whipped."
"Maybe after we get rid of Snow," Maysilee says. "After that, maybe we can go looking for everyone who's missing. And if they come, and we can't find her -- "
I stop. "After we… what?"
"Don't you understand? That's what she got whipped about in the first place! It has to be!" She shakes her head. "Haymitch, the kids from District Six have been riding the rails, telling everyone. Kids all over the country… they can't rule us without our consent! They can't keep sending us to arenas!"
"The hell they can't!" My brain puts pieces together that I wish it wouldn't. "Kids all over the country?" I repeat.
"Yeah… everywhere. Even in places like District Four. They had a rally in Seven. The kid from Six said they had about two hundred and fifty kids all up on a hill, singing and talking about the world without the Games. When the Peacekeepers broke it up, they fought back!"
"And how many died?"
"Just one. The others all got away. And in District Three, they knocked out the power plant. Some grown-up helped them, I guess. In District Four, they blew up a few of the mines around the Ghost Gulf, and a couple of kids got a boat through before anyone caught them. They're probably in South America by now!"
"And when was this?"
"A couple of months ago."
"In other words, just before the Quell card. Just before the Capitol decided to kill off a lot more kids this year."
Maysilee stops. "You don't think…"
"No. I think it's just a coincidence that they decide to kill more kids when kids are starting battles with Peacekeepers and talking about getting rid of Snow. What do you think, Maysilee? That Snow's just going to sit back and say, 'Well, I guess I can't do anything about that'?" I stand up. "Those forty-eight kids they're going to throw in the arena can thank those two hundred and fifty in District Seven. And you." I turn to leave.
Danny follows me to the stairs and turns me around. He's a big guy, and considerably stronger than I am, though I never heard of him getting into a fight. "Haymitch, that's why. Don't you get it? It's because he does things like that. That's why we have to do something. It's not right."
"Well, as long as we all know that, we should just take care of it." I stare at him, but he doesn't budge. "Are you crazy? All of you?"
"You didn't say that when my parents went to bat for you about the school," Maysilee says. "Everyone said they were crazy to do that."
"That's just about the Seam. The way things are here. The Capitol doesn't care about that."
"You really think so?" She crosses her arms over her chest. "I think they care about it. I think the last thing they want is for people in District Twelve to stop worrying over who lives where and start worrying about who's really in charge. So they assign us decent housing, and always put one of us in the mayor's house so you get the wrong impression. And then they sneak in messages about uprisings so the shop owners don't trust the Seam. It's all so we're looking at each other instead of at them. Don't you understand that?"
"I honestly don't think the Capitol feels all that threatened by anyone in District Twelve. We've got about eight thousand people. And what are we going to do, throw coal at them?"
"We could strike," Kaydilyn says. "Cut off the coal supply --"
"Most of Panem doesn't run on coal. Best we could do is stop a few trains."
"Which would stop a whole lot of commerce."
"Which they'd replace by putting it on the fancy electric trains!"
"What do you think makes electricity? They burn coal in the generators!" Maysilee throws up her hands in disbelief.
I roll my eyes. "And if we cut it off, they'd switch to nuclear. Or solar. Or geothermal -- I hear they got tons of geothermal power in Five --"
"And that's why we can't talk to other districts. If we could all strike at the same time, the Capitol wouldn't stand a chance."
This hangs in the air for a long time. Of course, she's right, in her "if" world. "If" we do this, then that will happen. "If" we can communicate with the other districts. "If" we can strangle the Capitol by cutting off imports. "If" the Capitol is as scared of this as she thinks.
But her communication scheme is a bunch of kids from Six riding the rails. They could get caught any time. There's no regular meeting place. No way to get quick messages.
And without any way to guarantee a win, there's no way to get any district to go along with it.
I go back to the little circle, and everyone sits down. "Maysilee…" I start.
I take a deep breath. "Maysilee, they don't pay the miners enough to have anything set aside. Money, food, anything. They go down there every day until they die from being down there, just to keep their kids from starving. They're not going to risk it to make a political point for you."
"It's not for me. It's for everyone."
"It's not going to work. If we don't have a solid line of communication… If we don't…" I shake my head sharply, before I start coming up with scenarios. "It's not going to work. We don't have anything we need for it, including the people."
"We have more people than you think." She looks at the wall, where I see a beaten up old clock ticking away. It looks like it might have survived the Catastrophes. "They should be getting here soon. So, let's finish up about the grave."
"You have to rip the plants up," I repeat.
Ruth sighs. "Haymitch is right."
"I don't like it. But it's true. It's too dangerous. I'll get them."
Feeling like I should also make some kind of concession, I say, "You could… I don't know. You could make some kind of mark so you remember where she is, but nothing anyone else would notice. Rock or something."
Maysilee looks like she's about to start arguing, but Ruth raises an eyebrow at her. For some reason, this shuts her up.
A few minutes later, other kids start to appear. We turn on a radio to make it sound like we're having a party and dancing, but we put it up near a window, away from us. Most of the kids are from town, but they've managed to bring in a smattering of Seam kids (all friends of Danny's, so I guess they are trusting him). Some aren't even kids anymore. To my surprise, a youngish miner named Clay Hawthorne is among the guests, along with Onnie Chester and Elmer Parton from my math class. They are with me about trying to do a strike without any proper communication from the other districts.
"And weapons," Hawthorne says. "Even if we could get every district to do something at the same time, if we have armed Peacekeepers against unarmed civilians, we're not going to last long."
This causes a lot of conversation, even though it's plain sense. The idea of nonviolent resistance is brought up -- that somehow, we're supposed to throw off the Capitol by sitting on our hands and refusing to play along with them. Some of them are caught up in the idea -- Kaydilyn talks about how it worked in South Asia, along with here in North America, according to the history books -- but Maysilee shakes her head. "That works against decent people who feel guilty about mowing down unarmed civilians. How guilty do you think Snow would feel? Come on, the guy kills twenty-three kids every year and turns it into a production number. He's not going to care if they tie us to the tracks and run a train over us."
Somehow, in the middle of it, I feel a journal and a pen pressed into my hands, with a terse request to "Take notes," since Danny's are illegible and they know I study from my school notes pretty well. Mine are coded, so I don't think they'll like it any better, but at least I'll be able to read them at the next meeting, which is more than Danny can claim for his chicken scratching.
I don't realize that I've somehow committed myself to attend the next meeting until we finish up, and Maysilee says she's going to walk home with me. It's raining again, so she wraps the journal in plastic and puts it in my hands.
We're about halfway to the Seam when she says, "You were right."
"About… the plants. The ones that are growing in the wrong place." She looks around ostentatiously, probably to remind me that we shouldn't talk openly outside her safe space. "Danny says you did really well with that box, too. The one… the one that…"
"Oh, right. The one for his show, right?"
"Yeah. That one. He says you set up just right to get the effect they wanted."
"Someone had to."
"That's why I wish you'd hang around with us more. I never seem to think about things like that."
She glances up at me and blushes, and I think about what Adda said earlier, about her sparking me, and I realize with some astonishment that it might be true. "Um… Maysilee?" I say. "I have a girlfriend."
She smiles. "I know. And I think she's about the luckiest girl in the district."
"I think most of the district would disagree with you."
"Yeah, well, that wouldn't be anything new." She stops and bites her lip. "I wasn't talking about that, anyway. It's just -- you should hang around with all of us more. And it would look funny if you did with Danny being your only friend. You could be friends with all of us."
"I… I thought I was."
She laughs. "You're an odd one, Haymitch." She starts walking again, holding her jacket up over her head to protect her from the rain.
We walk down the Seam without talking. I probably shouldn't have let her come down here, but she didn't exactly ask. Maybe I should walk her back. The thought of the wagging tongues down here stops that idea cold.
Just before we reach my house, she slows down again. "Haymitch?"
"Do you really think what you said? About why the Quell is what it is? Because of… you know… me?"
"I didn't just mean you. I shouldn’t have said it like that."
"Do you really think it?"
"I don't know. For all I know, they really did write out all the Quells fifty years ago. I can't see where the last one did anyone any good. Maybe it's a coincidence."
"But you don't think so."
I look at her and think about lying. I don't. I shake my head. "I don't think so."
She nods and turns away without saying goodbye. I watch her until she disappears into the rain. I hope I don't go into school tomorrow and find her with a black eye or worse.
I go in. Mom tells me I'm late for dinner, but hers is mostly still untouched. Lacklen is begging her to eat. I beg her to eat. She finally manages to choke it down, then goes to bed. Lacklen and I listen to her labored breathing. Neither of us is very hungry.
In the morning, she seems to be feeling better, though she asks for a sheet of paper from my school notebook so she can write a few things down. I have a feeling those things are instructions on what to do with all of her belongings, but she doesn't say so in so many words.
When I get to school, I find Digger in the hall with Glen Everdeen, who is singing a ribald song about a tiger in the tall grass. Digger's laughing. She grabs my hand and invites me into Glen's little circle of friends.
Suddenly, I seem to have a lot of friends. I don't know what I'm supposed to do with them all.
The weather does get warmer as we head into spring, though it continues to rain almost every day, and the whole district looks like mud soup. The upcoming Quell finally fades into the background and people are talking about tests and break-ups and sports and Danny's show, during which Mirrem was upstaged by a falling spotlight, which she cursed at in terms even the miners admired.
Digger spends a lot of afternoons out in the woods with Glen, learning how to shoot. She takes me out into the woods on weekends, mostly to tell me about how much she's enjoying it, and how it's totally taken her mind off the Quell. She and Glen have cut a deal for a bow (though it will require a lot of game), and he's teaching her to make arrows.
I spend a lot of those afternoons in town with the Donners and Ruth and Danny and the others, pretending to talk about school, actually passing information around. I teach them the code I use for my notes, and everyone starts using it, claiming it's to save paper. A District Six boy comes on a train and tells us that there's been a crackdown in Nine after some of us -- and I have started to think of us as "us" -- burned a fresh-planted cornfield. Elmer Parton tutors me in math, but of course, the only person most of the school notices me hanging around with is Maysilee. Rumors start making the rounds.
Digger ignores them for a while, and I ignore the rumors about her (Glen apparently has a history of doing pretty well with the girls), but they start to get to us, and we start arguing partway through April. I tell my town friends that I've had enough, and I need to fix things with my girl. We promise each other that there's nothing happening with our new friends.
She brings up the pennyroyal tea again. I finally break down and ask Ruth Keyton how well the stuff works, and if she's ever heard of it going wrong. She says she hasn't. She has, in fact, used it herself. I decide that this is more than I need to know.
The news starts in on the Games in earnest as Reaping Day approaches. Gamemakers are interviewed. Historians go through the fifty years since the Dark Days ended, talking about the ever-increasing wealth and well-being of Panem under the kindly hand of the Capitol, and how we can never risk going back to the chaos of the world before. They make a great point of talking about the young leaders of the Rebellion, the firebrands from Thirteen who incited disloyalty among the rest of the districts.
Of course, this starts people talking about the Games again. Lacklen re-doubles his efforts at booby traps, focusing on ones that make noise to help him find enemies. People in the cafeteria build mock historical arenas out of plates and re-enact old battles -- for educational purposes, supposedly -- with silverware.
Mom's cough gets worse for a little while, but she will not allow me to worry about her. She says she's too tired to try and get me calmed down, and she's damned if she's going to let me be her nursemaid. She seems embarrassed by her sickness.
Digger gets very quiet. She's taking her shooting seriously now, hoping that it could come in useful in an arena. She takes me to the woods toward the beginning of May and tries to make me learn to shoot, but I'm hopeless at it. She gives up. She doesn't want to be out here shooting, anyway. She wants to be out here not having any regrets.
Two days before the Reaping, I give in. I am having nightmares that she's taken away. She's having nightmares that I am. We go out into the woods together, to a place near a lake that Glen has told her about, and we do our best to make sure neither of us regrets it. I tell her that I love her. She tells me that she loves me, too.
After, we lie in the golden afternoon sun together, and we talk about the future, about what could be, if things weren't the way they are. She chides me for being too cynical. She also tells me that she'd like to spend the rest of her life with me. I am not averse to the idea.
"We could start off now," she says as we make our way back through the woods. "Just make a run for it before the Reaping."
"I can't leave my mom," I say.
She nods. "I know. Just wishful thinking, anyway." She slaps at a branch. "I can't wait until the reaping."
"I want it over with. In three days, we'll probably just come out here and have a good laugh at how much we're panicking."
"Sure," I say.
We start walking again. She is wearing my shirt. I am carrying hers. I think I will sleep with it close to me until the reaping is over.
"Hey," she says, "say a poem to me."
"A poem? Which one?"
"The one with the funny words. Brillig and slithy."
I laugh, and start reciting "Jabberwocky" to her. It always makes her laugh, even today, and I could live a long time on nothing but the sound of it.