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HG: The End of the World, Chapter Twenty-Two - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
HG: The End of the World, Chapter Twenty-Two
Haymitch is back in District Twelve, and has just been assigned his house. They tell him that a team of domestics has been getting it ready, but he only sees one maid... who turns out to be Digger.

Chapter Twenty-Two
I cling to Digger for a long time without speaking. She doesn't seem to mind.

She presses her hand against the back of my head and kisses me, then gently pulls away. "I'm glad you're home," she says.

I nod. "Are you… are you staying?"

She shakes her head and sighs. "I really am here with the domestic team. Sae's daughter got me on board so I could be here. But they'll check. I guess it matters in Victors' Village whether I'm legal family or not."

I squeeze her hands. "We'll take care of that as soon as they let me breathe. Okay?"

"Very much okay."

"You both need permission for that until you're eighteen," Mom says.

I look at her. She sighs, shakes her head, and relents.

"Let me show around," Digger says. "I've had a chance to see the place while we've been getting it ready."

She leads the way. We stop first in the living room, which has a huge picture window that looks out on the forest. I can't see much at this hour, though the gardens are lit up. I can see the fence at the back, but beyond it, there's darkness. On the wall, there's a huge television. Shelves stretch out to either side of it, full of shiny new books. I'll have to look through them later, but I'm sure they're all thoroughly Capitol-approved. One I can see is a glowing biography of Snow. Should make good kindling if I get cold. The rest might even entertain me for a while.

I want some of the atlases I saw in the Capitol. There's even a big desk in the study off the living room, where I could open them up and look at the maps more completely than I had a chance to in the library. There's a second fireplace in here as well, and a cabinet full of office supplies, all marked from Herk Donner's shop. Maysilee's voice comes into my mind, talking about how she liked the smell of paper. My legs lose their strength, and I sit down hard on a velvet chair.

"Haymitch?" Mom says.

I point at the pile of office supplies. On top is a brand new journal, in better shape than the old one she once wanted to give me.

"Oh." She takes the pile and puts it into one of the desk drawers.

Digger puts her hand on my shoulder, and leans over to kiss my cheek. I grab her hand and squeeze it.

Once I've gotten myself back together, she continues the tour. Off the study, there's a downstairs bathroom that's larger than Mom's bedroom at home. Digger says this is properly called "half-bath," since it doesn't have a tub. There's a large kitchen, with a fully stocked refrigerator and a set of fine china. Glasses gleam in the cupboards. Someone has taken the trouble to stock a bar for me. Mom glares at it as though it might bite.

Beyond the kitchen, there's a room with square machines I don't recognize. Digger tells me -- looking amazed at such a thing -- that they are for washing and drying clothes. There's even special soap for them. No washboard, no tub, no scrub brush. There are as many settings as there are on a Capitol shower, and all for my clothes.

"But I don't even have clothes yet," I say.

"Sure you do," Digger tells me. "Come on upstairs."

We go up the grand staircase near the door -- it has rich, wine-colored carpeting and a dark wood railing -- and into the first of the bedrooms.

"You can switch them around, of course," Digger says, "But I thought this one would be good for Lacklen. It looks out on the green." She goes to a door at the end of the room that I think must lead to another room, but it's actually a personal closet. It's been stocked with clothes that I'd guess are Lacklen's size.

"Wow," Lacklen says. "This is… they gave me stuff?"

"Well, you'll have to wear something tomorrow, won't you?" Digger grins.

Lacklen goes to his closet and starts looking at shirts. He looks back over his shoulder. "This is great!"

"Told you that you'd have a use for those laundry washing things." She looks over at Mom, who is sagging a little after coming up the stairs. "Oh, Rhona, this isn't going to work, is it?"

"It'll work fine after I get her to the Capitol to get new lungs," I say. "Caesar's trying to get you on the list."

"That's kind of him," she says, but I can see the rest in her face: It's too late.

I refuse to accept that. "Well, it could take a while," I say. "But you're warm and dry here, and until we get you better, why don't we make that study into your bedroom, so you don't have to climb the stairs? You'll even have your own bathroom."

"Don't be silly," she says. "That's a lot of trouble, and besides, I haven't looked out an upstairs window in my own place for a long time. I can handle the stairs."

"I'll put in an elevator," I say.

She smiles fondly.

Digger goes over to her and takes her hand, turning herself into a sort of living cane. "Why don't we see your room next, then?" she suggests.

She leads us up the hall to a large room that looks out toward town. Mom goes to the window and smiles. "Oh, this is lovely!"

"You have clothes, too," Digger says, and opens the closet, which is big enough to actually walk into, and has a floor to ceiling mirror at the end. Mom doesn't have as many clothes in there as Lacklen does. All of us notice it, and all of us, I think, suspect the same reason: The Capitol assumes she won't need them for long.

"They're so lovely," Mom whispers, touching the sleeve of a forest green suit. "I've never had anything so pretty."

"I think you should wear that one tomorrow," Digger says. "It'll be nice and warm, and you'll look great in it!"

Mom's eyes light up, and she nods. "Let's see Haymitch's," she says.

Digger takes us past the full bathroom first. It's the size of my room at the training center, and has a big, circular tub in the middle of the room. There's a shower as well, and I can see the buttons on it, just like the Capitol showers. Lacklen will have fun trying to figure it out, but I better warn Mom about the more alarming settings. The whole thing is fixed up in the same dark wood as the bannister, and the fixtures are practically gleaming. The knobs on the sink are actually crystal. I have no idea why I need a bathroom that looks like Capitol day spa, but I guess it's okay.

Finally, we come to the end of the hall, and a room that stretches across most of the back of the house. It's the master bedroom, and it has a giant bed in it, and a little study area, and a walk-in closet bigger than my old house, I think. The closet has been stocked with all the clothes they gave me in the Capitol (except the ridiculous parade outfit, thankfully), and many more besides. There are racks of shoes, and ties that I have no idea how to wear. I'll need to call Gia on that… which will be easy, since there's a phone downstairs in the study, which has a private staircase directly to this room. I didn't notice that before. I guess it would be a little weird for Mom to sleep there.

Again, there's a huge picture window looking out on the back garden and the fence and the woods. I can see further here, since I'm higher up. The moon is high in the sky, lighting up the tops of the trees, and picking up a standing rock somewhere out beyond the fence.

I have never been in a bedroom this grand, even when I was staying in the Capitol. Even the grander rooms I was in aren't as likeable, because they were for banquets and entertaining, and were always too crowded.

This place might as well be made for me, and in a way, I'm sure it was. I've given them plenty of time during my recovery to fill it up.

I hate it.

I love what the people here have done to try and make it mine, but I can't look at all this and not think of Sigh Tomby's face melting in the poison water, or Gilla's arm lying at a distance from her body, or Maysilee, thrashing to death on the windy hillside.

I don't know how I'm going to live here. But it's sturdy and it's warm and it's dry. I can keep Mom well. Lacklen will have clothes, and I can keep him in glasses. And Digger will come, as soon as we take care of the legal issues. She'll be in this big room with me, and I'll buy her every pretty red dress in the Capitol to hang in our closet.

I can do this.

I turn away from the window and smile at them. "Well?" I say. "You like it?"

None of them seem fooled by my smile. Mom's eyes are deep and full of something that might come close to understanding. Digger slips her arms around my waist and holds me.

Lacklen looks around and says, "I'd rather you hadn't had to go to the Games." He smiles slyly. "But as long as you did… I like my clothes."

I laugh. "You're officially in charge of making sure I don't take myself too seriously."

"Was I ever not?"

The four of us laugh together, and the strangeness of the new place starts to fade as we bring some of who we are into it. Digger takes us back downstairs (I carry Mom, though she objects at first), and we settle in the kitchen. We're all too full to eat anything, but Digger pours us some sweet orange juice to drink. Lacklen has never had it, and samples it carefully before gulping it down and asking for more.

We sit awkwardly for a long time, because there's a huge topic of conversation that I think we all feel hanging around us, and no one wants to bring up.

Finally, I say, "What have you guys been doing? I mean, anything that doesn't have to do with the Games. I'll talk about that later. Sometime. Maybe."

They all nod solemnly, and I see them searching for something to say. I hate this.

"Mom went on a date," Lacklen says.

Mom's jaw drops, a little too theatrically. "It was not a date, Lacklen Abernathy. It was just dinner with Mr. Burk, from the mines."

Lacklen forces a laugh. "Which he paid for at Sullivan's Inn."

"The mine foreman?" I make myself smile. "I knew he was sweet on you."

She puts her hand to her face. She's actually blushing, which makes me feel good. "He's not sweet on me, and it wasn't a date. Dates would be… well, a bit pointless." She winces. "Sorry."

"Did you have fun?" I ask.

"No." She sighs. "I've been worried sick about you, and having fun wasn't on the agenda. Mostly we talked about that. He almost lost his little girl last winter from the pneumonia, and he understood. But if he asks me again, I just might see about having a little fun."

I look down. "I'm sorry you were worried."

"That is not your fault. You are not the one who owes me an apology."

We fall into an awkward silence again. I look at Digger. "Mom says you and Lacklen have been helping at the Donners' shop." I make myself say this in an even tone. I make myself not think about the fact that it was because the Donners are in mourning. I remember Maysilee saying that there was no reason Gilla couldn't be a shopkeeper, and she herself was strong enough to be a miner. "Do you like being a merchant?"

Digger blinks a few times, not sure what to do with this, since it's obviously connected to the Games. Finally she says, "Well… I'm actually kind of good at it. A bunch of us have been taking turns watching the counter. Your friend Danny taught us to work the register. And you always have to smile." She shrugs. "I'm good at smiling."

"I thought they'd close," Mom says. "But they have to pay every day, even if they don't sell anything. They don't even get time for -- " She stops before saying "mourning," but I hear it anyway.

I sigh. I guess there's no talking about anything without talking about the Games.

Lacklen looks around anxiously, then says, "Well, as long as we're bringing stuff up, can I ask about Caesar Flickerman? We talked on the phone and he sent his very own eye doctor out with the camera crews, but it's not the same. What's he like?"

I latch onto this. Caesar Flickerman is a safe topic. I tell them about the tour of the Capitol, all the things that weren't on television… except for the baby named for Maysilee. I don't think I'll talk about that for a while. They want me to describe the library and the museum. I tell them about how "Abernathy" is from a place called Scotland, and am surprised that Mom already knows that.

"Your daddy looked that sort of thing up. I think he even wrote it down in his dictionary. My folk were Coburns, which is Scottish, too. At least that's what Daddy said."

"What's it mean, though?"

"What was in the museum?"

I shrug. "Men going to war in skirts."

Lacklen bursts out laughing.

"Hey!" I say. "They were tough-looking skirts."

Mom and Digger start laughing, too, and after a while, I get going. It hurts my gut, but I don't care. I can't seem to stop. After everything that's happened, laughing myself to death doesn't seem like a bad way to go.

We're still laughing when the Peacekeepers come and tell Digger that her work hours are over, and she is here long past the Victors' Village curfew. She kisses me goodnight, and I promise her that we'll get the paperwork taken care of just as soon as they're done with the festivities. I watch her leave under armed escort. The giggles dry up.

The pain in my gut doesn't.

I head for the bar, but a look from Mom stops me. She sits me down and makes me some kind of herbal tea that Ruth's been giving her.

I don't like that she's been in enough pain that's she's actually told Ruth about it.

I want to stay up longer, keep Mom and Lacklen in sight, but I'm about ready to fold as it is, and when Mom suggests that we all make our way to our fine new rooms to sleep, I don't argue. Lacklen and I help her up the stairs. We all hold onto each other for a few minutes when we get to her door. None of us says anything about this.

Then, we go to our separate places. Mom claps and cries out, with some real delight, that they've given her a real nightgown. "It's silk!"

I grin. I guess I can live with something that makes her happy enough to actually clap.

I check my dresser and find that they've given me pajamas as well -- a few pairs, actually. I pick some lightweight ones out and go to bed. There are cool silk sheets here, and the bed is big enough for about ten people -- there are probably families on the Seam that sleep more people in less space -- but I'm in it alone. It seems strange, but I'm too tired to worry about long thoughts.

I dream about Maysilee. It's not a nightmare. We are just sitting in the back garden, and she wants to know how everything has turned out. I tell her how awkward it is to talk to everyone, and she tells me to get over it. She's glad that her parents' shop is open. She thinks Digger is adorable in her maid's uniform and tells me I ought to have her keep it for "special occasions."

"I sure wish you were here," I say. "You could live next door. I bet that house is nice, too."

"I imagine it is."

"It'd be nice to have someone I could actually talk to."

"You have people. You need to trust them."

"No. It's not smart."

She touches my face, the way Mom did up on the stage, and says, "Not everything's about being smart, Haymitch."

Something starts buzzing, and suddenly, we're back in the arena. There's a swarm of mutts. Maysilee gets out her blowgun to chase them down. I tell her not to. I try to run after her but I'm tangled up in something.

I struggle until I wake up and find myself twisted in my silk sheets. The clock beside the be reads seven-thirty. The holiday won't start until people are up in the Capitol to watch it on television, and they're two hours behind us, so I have a little while, I hope. Outside the window, I see a thin merchant boy in the back garden, doing something to the shrubbery. He looks familiar, like everyone around here does, but I don't think I know him.

I get up and dress in black pants and a soft sweater. It may be the same sweater I was wearing my first night in the Capitol, when I drank too much wine with dinner, but I'm not sure. That was a very long time ago.

I peek in the door of Mom's room. She's sleeping peacefully in her big bed. There's blood on her pillow from her coughing in the night, but the fit seems to have passed. I watch her until I'm sure I see her chest moving up and down, then close the door again. Lacklen didn't bother closing his door. It looks like he didn't go right to sleep. There are several piles of books beside him on the bed, probably taken from the shelves downstairs. One of them is open beside his head, and I guess he finally drifted off to sleep reading. I turn off his light and let him sleep.

The buzzing is still going on in back. It's too early.

It takes me a few tries to find the back door, which turns out to be off the laundry room. It goes out onto a porch that's quite high up, since the land slopes a little bit. The merchant boy is trimming the already perfectly shaped shrubs, pausing to sweep away the detritus now and then.

I go down into my garden. In the daylight, I can see that it's mostly the shaped shrubs here, but there are also flower patches and a little fountain with…

I wrinkle my nose. It's the fountain from the little meadow, the one shaped like the Cornucopia. This thing is going to leave as soon as the Capitol film crews go home. I consider befouling it now, but the boy with the hedge trimmer has already noticed me.

He turns off the buzzing tool and raises a hand in greeting. "Hi, there," he says, coming over. "Sorry it's so early, but they wanted the grounds cleaned up before the tour."

I grind my teeth. I forgot that they were coming here before the holiday. "What time?"

"I guess ten. I still have to do the green and the other houses."

I sigh. "Okay."

He holds out his hand. "I'm Merle Undersee. My dad has the garden shop."

"We have a garden shop?"

He smiles. "All sorts of supplies. And I guess once they're done filming, you'll be keeping your own garden, so you might want to come by."

"Can I hire you to do it? I mean… later in the day than this?"

He laughs. "Sure. We'll talk about it. I could come up after school."

"We're not in class together, are we?"

"No. I'm a year behind you."

"Good. I mean, it wouldn't have been good if I just forgot."

Merle keeps smiling. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say to him. He seems friendly enough, but what do you say to someone you never met before, whose trimming shrubs in garden you've never set foot in until now, and who wants a job. I don't even know when my salary will start coming. Or how I get to the money. I hope someone will show me that stuff. I've never had any reason to know about it.

He ends up suggesting that I take a walk around the green and see the Village in the daylight. "I come up here to do the caretaking a lot," he says. "It's real pretty."

It better be, I think, considering what it costs to live here. But I don't say it. Merle Undersee is a total stranger.

I go around to the front of the house. There are roses planted along the sides. I stop at the end of the path to door and look up. It's a fine house. No doubt about it.

I turn away from it and head up the carefully tended path along the green. The house next door stands coolly empty, and the one after that, as well. I stop looking at them after that. It's sort of creepy to stare at their blank eyes.

I do turn and look when I pass Duronda Carson's house. I don't know what I expect to see, and in fact, I don't see anything, except that tree, waving in the wind. She raised a child out here alone (there's not even a solid rumor about who the father was). Her daughter, Sheba, lives on the Seam now, with her husband. There's no inheriting a victor's house, in case we need a reminder that it doesn't really belong to us. She probably wouldn't want it, anyway, not after losing her little boy to the Games. I wonder if I should talk to her. Find out more about Duronda.

I decide not to. Everyone saw Sheba when her boy's body came home. She accused Duronda of getting her child killed. I guess it probably wouldn't be a great conversation.

I stop cold.

That will be my job now. Getting tributes killed every year. Even if I somehow have a winner every year, there'll still be one coming home in a long cargo box. And it'll most likely be two.

I look at the tree behind Duronda's house and a chill comes over me. I don't know why no one has cut that thing down.

I make myself keep walking, around the green, past the empty houses on the far side. It is pretty; Merle was right about that. It's also cold and empty.

I sit on one of the little benches for a while and try to appreciate the pretty part, but a squirrel scurries down the side of a tree and startles me. I reach for my knife, but I didn't bring it with me. Careless.

I go back to my house, though it takes me two tries to find it, since Merle has moved on to the next house and I try to go there first.

Mom is up now, and has made it downstairs on her own. She's fussing around in the kitchen, making breakfast. We have to work together to figure out the fancy stove. By the time she has some flapjacks going, Lacklen is up. We eat together, and I tell them about the green. I tell Lacklen he can have his friends over to play whatever games he feels like out there. We all stumble a little over the word "games," but I decide to just force it out. There are games that don't end up with corpses.

We've barely finished eating when the camera crews arrive for their tour.
15 comments or Leave a comment
From: tree_and_leaf Date: September 25th, 2013 11:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, Haymitch. Digger. Haymitch's mum. *sobs*
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 26th, 2013 05:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah. Now, I'm wishing I hadn't gotten to know them.
cleindori From: cleindori Date: September 26th, 2013 05:01 am (UTC) (Link)

Not sure I want to keep reading, given all we know of what's to come...

(There's a compliment there, really...)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 26th, 2013 05:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Just remember: He ends up with a sweet wife, a fluffy white cat, and a daughter with curly pigtails.
cleindori From: cleindori Date: September 26th, 2013 05:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, but everything tragic has to happen first. Almost 30 years of "everything tragic". :-(
sonetka From: sonetka Date: September 26th, 2013 05:08 am (UTC) (Link)
God, poor Duronda -- what a life, such as it was. And I'll bet Haymitch wasn't the biggest fan of "The Hanging Tree."

It's a very Capitol-esque move to skimp Mrs. Abernathy on clothes, since she won't be there for long. Always that little flick of the whip to let you know who's *really* in charge.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 26th, 2013 05:20 am (UTC) (Link)
The Hanging Tree definitely would have more meanings for him than others.

The pettiness of the Capitol is always the weirdest thing about it.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: September 26th, 2013 01:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Do you know what a hope spot is? It's when you have a brief shining moment where you believe it will all turn out alright right before the epic tragedy sets in. I like how this chapter wasn't quite that. There's too many sinister currents flowing underneath to make anyone (even the minor characters) ever think things will really be okay.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 27th, 2013 02:57 am (UTC) (Link)
I think, since we know there's no hope, that it wouldn't have paid off to have a hope spot. But yes, even with that in mind, I think Haymitch is too aware of the situation to have real hope spot.
redlily From: redlily Date: September 27th, 2013 01:37 am (UTC) (Link)
During the dream conversation with Maysilee, I was wondering if Haymitch resents Katniss for being able to bring Peeta home, just like he wanted to bring May home, or if he's just glad for her.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 27th, 2013 02:37 am (UTC) (Link)
I think he might have even seen it as his second chance to bring Maysilee home.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 27th, 2013 04:17 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't think Haymitch would resent anybody coming home from the games alive. Though I'm sure he wants to smack Katniss (every once in a while) for not realizing what she has.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 27th, 2013 04:41 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah... I think he'd actually envy the fact that she has to deal with her angsty love triangle. Because both of them are, you know, alive.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 27th, 2013 04:26 am (UTC) (Link)
This isn't really a comment on the story but, as a fellow librarian, I thought you'd like this/share the pain.

A patron came into the library tonight and wanted some suggestions on good audio books. I asked what she liked.

"No science fiction. Something like Hunger Games. That's fun."

I went from wrapping my head around a dystopia set centuries in the future with genetically engineered mutts and all that NOT being science fiction to trying to wrap my head around Hunger Games being a "fun" book. Maybe she was thinking of a musical comedy with a similar name?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 27th, 2013 04:39 am (UTC) (Link)
Snerk. Yes, I've had a few of those. It's not science fiction because it doesn't have laser guns and spaceships, and the star of it is a girl. And besides, girls don't read science fiction, therefore, if she's read it and liked it, it's not science fiction.

It's fun because... I don't know. I'm lost. I did have one boy complain about Mockingjay because he was only reading it for the games part.

Edited at 2013-09-27 04:40 am (UTC)
15 comments or Leave a comment