I'm with a sponsor when it happens.
I have a lunch meeting with Lucilla Campbell, one of Haymitch's usual sponsors, at a small restaurant where a television is discreetly placed above the bar. It's broadcasting a game show called Under Covers where people try to guess which of their former lovers is behind a screen by asking questions about their former sex lives. The audience loves to gasp and titter at the revelations. Miss Campbell gives it a disapproving glare, then ignores it.
She is sixty-three and has no regular job. Her money comes from a great-grandfather who made some major improvements in force field technology, and she's been fond of Haymitch since he actually made use of the force field in his Games. "Ga-Gandy," she assures me every year, would have been proud, and probably would have put Haymitch to work on his design team for creative thinking. "Of course, that was before things changed. People did move around then, as I understand it. My great-grandmother grew up in District Three, but she moved here with Ga-Gandy, and no one questioned it back then." She sighs. "It was a different world. The districts weren't so steeped in sedition then. It was safe to let people come here. Don't you think it would be nice if things were like that again?"
I flash briefly on Haymitch's belief that he has nothing in Twelve, and no one would go out there for him. I nod. "It would. In a lot of ways." I send our order in to the kitchen. "Miss Campbell, I know we've had some bad luck in the last few years, but the people in Twelve are very strong. Our tributes do need help from friends and -- "
I stop. I can see the television over Miss Campbell's head, and the volume goes up automatically for breaking news. I recognize District Twelve on the screen. My mind goes first to Haymitch -- Capitol news covering the districts is almost always about the deaths of victors, since they're the main point of interest -- but all it takes is a moment to realize that it's bigger than that. There's smoke drifting through the air, and Merle Undersee is carrying coffee (or some other hot drink) around.
"What is it?" Miss Campbell asks.
"Twelve," I say. "I should -- "
She turns and looks over her shoulder. "Oh, my! It's an industrial accident. Dear, you should watch."
I get up and move closer to the bar. The bartender turns the volume up further without waiting for me to ask.
"…how long deliveries will be delayed," the reporter, stationed in a Capitol studio, says. "The footage we're getting is from the local liaisons. Miners are being brought up on the elevators. You see here the native population of District Twelve, waiting for news of its loved ones…"
Miss Campbell comes up beside me and holds onto my elbow. I don't know whether she's trying to support me, or seeking support herself.
The explosion in the mines happened two hours ago, at half past noon, local time. No one knows what caused it. There will be coal shortages, and people all over the country must prepare for rationed electricity and less frequent supply runs from the trains, the two major uses of coal. They don't know the extent of the damage to the infrastructure.
The footage shows an elevator disgorging a crowd of coughing men and women. Smoke is rising from one woman's hair as she falls into the arms of her children.
They've managed to work with whatever the local liaisons have for media, and they've wired the mayor up for sound. He puts his hand on an earpiece.
"Is there any news of the cause of this accident?" the reporter asks.
"No. No news. Frankly, at the moment, we're more concerned with rescue efforts. We'll investigate the cause when -- "
"Capitol engineers theorize that miners may have been digging in unsafe areas."
" -- when we have recovered our people." I have never heard Merle Undersee sound cold, in all the years I've known him. It's disconcerting. His daughter runs up to him, and he hands her a stack of blankets to distribute. "Our first priority -- our only priority right now -- is bringing up the men and women trapped below."
"Have any of the rescued miners been able to shed light on the accident?"
"Most of them are still in shock," Merle says. "The mine supervisors will undoubtedly conduct a thorough inquiry in the near future, but they are currently leading the rescue effort."
"Has there been any word on how much of the operation is damaged?"
Merle glares at the camera, then says, in measured tones, "There is no report, because the crisis is ongoing. There are more chambers falling in now. We don't know the extent, because the extent hasn't yet been reached."
The reporter gives this up as a bad job, and brings in experts on mining to talk about coal production and what kinds of catastrophic failures might have caused this. Footage continues to run in an inset corner. Now some of the miners coming up appear to be seriously injured.
"Oh, dear," Miss Campbell says. "Those poor people. We need to help them."
I nod. "I'll find out how to get money out there, and I think I'd best start calling all of our sponsors. We may need help before the Games."
"You can count on my assistance, as always," Miss Campbell says.
I go back to my apartment. I can't think of who I would call in the government, so I call Caesar Flickerman. He promises to set up a fund and get things moving.
I watch the news. They keep interrupting it by going back to regular programming, but as the day goes on, more information does trickle out. They know that there was a massive explosion in the lower chambers of the mines, possibly caused by entering a pocket of poisonous gas, most likely methane, which is contained in coal. The blast may or may not have triggered a coal dust explosion, which, they say, would have caused far greater damage than the initial methane burst. Poor ventilation and careless monitoring of these elements may have contributed. The shockwave has destabilized much of the structure of the mine, and some parts are simply falling in. They will eventually have to cut off oxygen to stop the fire. Engineers in the Capitol want this to happen immediately, but the mine chief loses his temper and yells at the cameras that there are still people down there, and they need to breathe. He is a Capitol liaison, but at the moment, he could pass for a local.
Haymitch appears on the scene late in the evening. They try to interview him, but I gather that his response is not television-friendly, as the cameras quickly pull away from him. I see him in the crowd a few times during the long night. He isn't doing anything other than helping Madge Undersee distribute blankets and food.
Caesar calls me back. He has set up a relief fund, and put me in charge of it, since I know the friends of District Twelve in the Capitol. I spend the next several days doing nothing but visiting Haymitch's sponsors and fans, and working with escorts from other districts to see if their sponsors will help out. A few ask if the government is doing anything. I don't know. It doesn't seem likely. I've never heard of the government doing much beyond trying to repair whatever a district's industry is. I call Merle in Twelve and ask what people need. He is beside himself. He spent the morning giving out medals of valor to the eldest children of the workers killed in the mines. There were twenty-one medals, and seventeen children. One of the miners was childless. Three families lost both parents.
"They're in the Community Home now," he says. "I gave them medals and they're orphans. I told the supervisor not to put husbands and wives on the same crews anymore, not that it does any good now."
"Tell me what you need," I prod him.
"They're maybe going to get enough to cover a month, if they're careful," he says. "The families, I mean. Then they need to go back to work. In a mine that's falling down every day. I'll talk to the foreman. We'll need to shore it up. The money from the government is enough to put out the fire and close off that vein, and start looking for another one, not to make any improvements. We need to help the Community Home -- those were large families, and they're crowded in. And one of the miners' wives was very pregnant. I --" He takes a few deep breaths. "Effie, it's not money. We need our people back."
"I know. But money is all I can do."
"I know. I know. And I'd be grateful."
He finally calms down enough to promise to get me a list of needed items. He knows off the top of his head that the Community Home needs more beds. Some extra non-perishable food, in case the bereaved families can't get on their feet. He'll find out what they need at the mines.
For the first two weeks, it's fairly easy getting help. The accident is still routinely on the news, and images of children with tears streaming down their dirty faces run constantly. I go on talk shows and ask people to give what they can. Finnick tapes a message down in Four which is very effective (I'm not sure why -- all he does is mention how very well he knows the Capitol, and how generous he's certain they'll be). Cinna has barely broken even with this year's collection, but he stages a show to raise money for us.
A little more than three weeks after the blast, an actor named Tiberius Cody is arrested for negligent homicide when he kills four people in a boating accident while he's high on morphling. The public discourse shifts to the dangers of morphling abuse. Charitable donations go to recovery programs and public service announcements. Money for District Twelve comes to a standstill before Merle even has a list ready for me. A few people I call tell me that they should take it as a warning sign and stop mining coal, anyway.
There's a lot of red tape involved in getting material support out to the districts, and I spend most of February working with Caesar to cut through it. It also takes several weeks to get processed foods together for the relief packages, and no one seems to know much about what kinds of clothes the Community Home might need. Finally, a factory worker in District Eight sends a quick sketch of easy to produce items, and I put in an order.
I want it to be quicker -- the month Merle mentioned is already up -- but the gears grind slowly. It's late March before I can get a shipment out there. I go on a passenger train that arrives two days ahead of it. I'm not sure why. I don't need to be there. But I feel like I haven't thought of anything other than Twelve for so long that I can't stay away until the Reaping. Caesar approves it, saying that he's sending a film crew along with the relief supplies, and I can host the broadcast on site. I ask Miss Campbell to look after Sweetheart. She has just lost her own cat, and is delighted to have one to look after.
The train ride seems longer than ever. We stop for hours in District Eleven, and there's even a search of the train. I'm not sure why. Seeder comes to see me ("as long as you're stuck here") and asks me to bring Haymitch some fresh fruit. The engineers finally realize that she's there and escort her off the train, complaining that she set off their alarms and wasted their time.
When I finally get in, there is a cold and miserable rain falling. People don't notice me coming from the station, wrapped in a heavy brown coat with a hood over my wig. They're hunched over, looking beaten and bedraggled. Everything here is gray and muddy. The town seems to be melting away.
I move through the crowd. There are illegal stalls set up where people are trying to sell things. Some kind of gambling is going on behind a building. A terribly skinny little girl with her arms full of rags keeps stopping people. I suppose she's offering to clean for them, but no one seems to be taking. She disappears into the crowd before I can tell for sure.
Merle meets me with his old gardening cart, looking grim. He's been running himself ragged with the re-opening of the mines, trying to work with the safety supervisors to get some kind of reassurance that they're not just inviting another disaster. The oxygen cut-off worked on the fire, as far as they can tell, though they don't have the right equipment to make sure that none of the deep pockets are still burning. Coal can burn for a very long time. They've moved back to older veins. He doesn't understand everything. He grew up a merchant. He only knows a little bit about coal.
He stops driving because he's crying (from exhaustion as much as anything else, as far as I can tell), and can't see properly. I tell him that I'll walk the rest of the way to Victors' Village.
I knock on Haymitch's door for quite a while before I decide he's not going to answer. He's left the place unlocked, almost inviting thieves (a supposition that I find perfectly plausible, given that he's left boxes of imperishable foods in the front hall). The thieves aren't taking up the invitation. Maybe they're put off by the smell.
I don't know how Haymitch lives in this. His clothes are strewn around on the first floor. Food is spilled everywhere there's room for it. Something has gone bad in the kitchen sink, and it smells like the toilet may not have been cleared for a while. I have to clear garbage off the table in order to put down the basket of fresh fruit that Seeder sent.
"Haymitch?" I call.
There is no answer.
I pull up blankets in the living room, but he's not on the couch. He's not upstairs. He's not outside on the green.
I can't think of where else to look, so I go back into town and try the bakery. There's not exactly a crowd, but there are a good number of visitors wearing mine insignia, waiting in the crowd, and the baker's wife is badly keyed up, and she's shouting at the three boys to work faster, because they have an order to fill, and their father decided to wander off in the middle of the day to go pick up orders. The way she says "pick up orders" leaves little doubt that she is assuming some other, less wholesome, activity. She sends the biggest boy out to deliver a cake, and the middle one annoys her enough that she sends him to the back shed to get the next day's ingredients in order.
"Peeta, you're watching the ovens," she snaps at the youngest. Behind the frosted window that separates the work area from the counter, I see the blur of movement as a small boy rushes to his task.
Every time she turns to a customer, she is wearing a completely believable smile, as though we have somehow missed the screaming in between. We all look at each other awkwardly. The middle boy comes back in partway through and whispers something to her. She throws down a ball of bread dough and I hear the back door slam open. I don't catch everything she screams, but I do hear something about "Seam brats" and "pawing," then she's back, smiling at an engineer who wants to buy a dozen dinner rolls. I don't see Dannel anywhere. He seems to be taking a long time with his errand, and I can't stand the sound of his wife's voice. I'm about to leave when there's a crash in the kitchen. Her screech rises above every other sound.
"You clumsy idiot!" she yells, and there's a harsh, whistling sound, followed by a pair of impacts and a yelp of pain. Through the frosted window, I see the shadow of the woman holding a metal spatula. It is springing back and forth from its impact with the cowering child below her. She moves to swing again.
"Hey!" one of the engineers calls. "That's not necessary!"
Her arm freezes, and she realizes that she's been seen. She comes out, her smile pasted on again. "I'm so sorry," she says. "My son burned your order. We'll replace it for you, but I'm afraid it will take a few hours for the bread to rise again."
The engineer narrows his eyes. "Never mind. I'll wait until your husband is back."
Her smile disappears. "Good luck with that," she says. "Next?"
I leave with a few other customers.
I'm about to give up on finding Haymitch and just go to my room at the inn -- for all I know, he's passed out on their local rotgut in some woman's house -- when I spot him coming across the square with Dannel. They're dragging a large crate on a sledge. It seems to be quite heavy.
I run over to him. "Haymitch! I went to your house and you weren't there."
"I was helping Danny with a shipment," he says. His words are slurred enough that I know he's been drinking, but I can't tell how much yet. He frowns at me. "What are you doing here, Effie?"
"There's a relief train coming in a couple of days. I'm sorry it took so long."
"A relief…" He rubs his head. "Capitol charity?"
"Your sponsors have been putting it together," I tell him. "Merle knows. Didn't he tell you?"
"Oh, yeah. I'm top of the list for District Twelve business. I get consulted on everything."
"He's a little drunk," Dannel explains unnecessarily. "I… I thought maybe some fresh air would help him. Come on. I'll just drop this by the bakery, and we can get him home."
I bite my lip. "Maybe… maybe you should stay at the bakery."
"Your wife seems a little… out of sorts. She was having an argument with your little boy and we --"
His eyes go wide and livid, and he grabs the rope on the sledge, dragging it away like it hardly weighs anything, fuming toward the bakery.
"I'll be back to send Beetee his birthday cake!" Haymitch calls after him. "Next week!"
There's no answer. We watch until he disappears around the side of the building.
"Maybe he'll do those boys a favor and kill her," Haymitch says.
"And end up in jail like Finnick's mother?"
"Good point. Maybe I should do it. It's the only thing I'm particularly good for."
He flaps his hand to close the subject, and starts heading out toward Victors' Village. I follow him.
We don't talk, but he does slow down enough for me to walk beside him. When we pass under the gate into the Village, he says, "You've been fundraising? Really?"
"They haven't shown any of it on television out here?" I ask.
"No. Help comes from the capital-letter Capitol, not from the people who live there." We get to his house and he opens the door. He surveys the untouched pile of food. "They might not even take it, Effie. They might let it rot just to spite you."
"That seems a little short-sighted."
"Yeah, well, when all you have is pride, then giving it up is pretty expensive." He goes into the living room and starts throwing away the garbage on the floor and the sofa, until there's enough room for both of us to sit down, then goes rummaging for something edible. He finds the fresh fruit Seeder sent and brings out the basket, along with a liquor so strong it makes my eyes water across the couch. He pours two glasses of it and hands one to me. "To pride," he says, and drinks without waiting for me. I taste it. I can't say I've ever tasted anything quite like it, but it tastes like some of the stronger hair products I've used have smelled. My head swims at the first swallow.
He downs the whole glass and pours himself another.
"Haymitch, you shouldn't do this," I tell him.
"Do what?" He drinks. "This is me, Effie. This is the guy you pretend doesn't exist when we're in the Capitol. I'm a slob and a drunk and I don't do anything worth doing. This what you want, Effie? Is this where you wouldn't be unhappy?"
"It's not even what you want." I reach over and take his glass away, then press my hand over his. "Is this about the accident, Haymitch? I saw you on television helping at --"
"Helping?" He stands up abruptly and grabs the bottle. He drinks directly from it. "I was helping, that's a laugh. I was handing out coffee to widows and orphans."
"You were doing what you could."
"No, I wasn't." He goes over to a pile of what looks like more garbage -- crumpled papers that have been flattened out several times and scribbled over, an old pile of stitched-together rags (with more scribbling on it), moldy and broken books. He fishes through it and comes up with a handful of papers. "Look!" he says. "Look at that. My daddy was working on this while he was dying, Effie." He waves them at me. "A detection system. It would have been cheap. I could have been working on it all this time. I could have finished it. Beetee invents things. Useful things. I could have asked him to help me finish. Momma made notes on it. See?"
I look. I do see two different hands in the mess of writing and sketched diagrams. "But Haymitch, you don't know about this."
"I should." He sits down miserably on the floor and takes another drink, then carefully spreads the notes out on the floor in front of him. He puts his hand on them gently. "Why do I have a brain if I'm not using it? Look at me, sitting up here and thinking I'm too good to learn about mining. My people have been mining since forever. Why was I too good to learn about this? I should've studied on it. I should have been down there, or nowhere. Maysilee should have come home from the arena. She wouldn't be sitting up here doing nothing. She'd have gotten everything fixed by now. She had plans. All I ever do is poke holes in other people's plans. Told them not to hit the tracks --"
He looks up, spooked. "I mean, I told people it was stupid. That the tracks got hit that year. Only what did I ever do to fix things?" He looks down at the notes and starts to weep. "Why am I even here, Effie? Better people than me are dead. I should have done something."
I get up and carefully move his parents' notes up to a coffee table, where they'll be at least a little safer from the constant spills. I put my arms around him. His hands clasp together in the middle of my back, and I brush his filthy hair with my fingers. "It's why I love you, you know," I say. "Because you look at all of this and try to figure out how to fix it. Because it matters to you."
"For all the good it does. I can't even save anyone in the arena, let alone here."
"Do you know how many people would just give it up as a bad job?" I kiss him. He'll be angry when he sobers up -- if he remembers -- but now, he takes it gratefully. I put my hands on either side of his face and make him look at me. "But this isn't your fault. I've had a reason to read about these things lately. There've been explosions in mines as long as there have been mines, no matter what detection systems they have. It's ventilation they needed."
"I tried to buy into the mine, so I could put in better ventilation. I tried it years ago, Effie. They won't let me. Only the government can own it, so I can't do anything about it. I want to. I want to be able to do something. It's poison down there. It's a death trap and they go in every day. And I never really tried. I never did as much as my daddy and momma. I didn't even do as much as you. All I ever did was sit up here and waste everything. I'd do as much good dead. But I promised her I wouldn't."
I try very hard not to understand what promise he's having trouble keeping, but I can't quite do it. If I want to see what Haymitch thinks of himself, all I have to do is look around this house, at the hatred he spews at it, the same hatred he treats himself with when he's here. I remember the pills spilled around him after Nasseh Rutledge died. He invites thieves to steal his food, and he invites Death to steal everything else.
I don't have anything wise to say to him. I don't know how to fix what's wrong with him, let alone the problems in the world that are eating him up. I just hold and kiss him until he finally falls asleep beside me on the filthy floor, his head resting on my breast, his arms clasped around me. I stay for a little while, then get up without disturbing him. I can't rouse him to move him someplace more comfortable, so I get him a few pillows and wrap him in a blanket, then get things straightened up a little bit around him.
He wakes up quite late at night, and seems surprised that I'm here. He vaguely remembers running into me on the way back from the station. I just tell him that he seemed upset, so I stayed.
He looks at me for a while, and I wonder if he's remembering anything else, but he just says, "I'm all right now, Effie. Thanks."
"I should go over to the inn."
He looks out the window. "No. It's late. I have a lot of extra rooms. Most of them, I never go in, so they're not…" He glances at the filth. "They're not like this. You stay in one of them tonight. Mom's, Lacklen's, whichever. They only slept here the one night. There are even two more that no one was ever in. I never filled up the house. Do you have any of your things?"
I don't -- my luggage went straight to the inn -- but he has enough toiletries for me to clean up with, and I can sleep in one of his old shirts while I run my clothes through his washer for tomorrow. He takes me up to one of the unused rooms, this one overlooking the empty house next door. It's in pristine condition, except for the layer of dust. He takes off the bedspread and shakes it off without comment, and beats a little dust from the curtains. "You'll be all right here," he tells me.
"Are you sure you don't want me to… stay with you?"
He thinks about this for a very long time, not moving, then looks down and repeats, "You'll be all right here."
Sleep is slow in coming. I can hear Haymitch snoring down the hall, and muttering in his sleep. He calls out once for Maysilee. There's a lot less soundproofing here than in the apartment in the Training Center. I finally sleep in the wee hours of the morning.
When I wake up, I hear him moving things around downstairs, and I go down quietly to find out what's happening. My outfit from yesterday is out of the washer and hanging neatly on the bannister (I almost laugh; he's hidden my underthings discreetly in one sleeve), and it looks like he's been trying to clean up the vast majority of the mess. He's not doing a very good job, but he's trying. I take my clothes and go upstairs to get dressed before he notices me.
He walks back to the inn with me that afternoon. It's a pretty spring day, and the wildflowers and dandelions are starting to bloom. We have lunch together. He makes a point of telling Mrs. Shannon that we just talked late into the night, even though I'd guess that, as an innkeeper, she's seen more scandalous things over the years than a pair of old friends comforting each other. My luggage is sitting behind the counter, and she tells a teenage boy who's just come in with Sarey to take it upstairs for me ("Since you spend half your waking life in here anyway, you may as well make yourself useful").
Haymitch comes upstairs with me, but doesn't come into my room. We stand on either side of the door for a minute or so, then he kisses my cheek and leaves.
I spend the rest of the day meeting with Merle and the engineers at the mine, with the list of all the things coming on the relief train. I talk to the camera crew on board, and we discuss keeping the coverage low key. We're not here to have a party, but to deliver needed supplies.
Everything is working out.
But the train never arrives.