FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,

Repost: The Golden Mean, Chapter 9

A third of the way!

Mostly fixing it to match the history of Haymitch's love life, and to address his relationship with Hazelle a little more.

Chapter Nine
I've barely hung up from talking to Ruth when the phone rings. It's very loud. I'd forgotten that in the years since I ripped it out. I don't remember it being so unpleasant-sounding when it was Mimi calling. I look around the living room, and I'm glad it's not a video connection.

I pick it up, and am somehow not surprised to hear Effie. From the sound of her, she's a few magic pills into the day's stash.

"Good morning!" she chirps enthusiastically. "I hear you've had some bad weather."

"Blizzard," I say.

"Oh, I've never seen one. I understand it's quite a lot of rain."

"Snow." They have snow in the Capitol, but only when the controls allow it. Certainly, they've never had a blizzard.

"Oh, of course."

I wait a minute, then say, "Effie, did you want something?"

"Yes! I wanted to talk about Katniss. I called her mother yesterday -- that's how I knew about the weather -- and she said it could take some time to heal up her face. She said it was a fall on the ice. The poor thing! And just after such a lovely trip."

I wait again, but this time don't say anything. Effie can usually carry on these sorts of conversations alone. She doesn't really need to talk to me about Katniss. The Victory Tour is over. Katniss is as much her boss as I am now. I don't really know how other districts handle having more than one district mentor, at least in terms of the authority. I'll have to ask Finnick. It never occurred to me before.

After this many years together, I don't think Effie would think of calling anyone else, anyway.

I can hear her shuffling papers, and almost see her examining a schedule, then she says, "We'll want to have the photo shoot before the madness that will surround the Quarter Quell. We can put it off until late March, I would think. I can send the dresses ahead in about four weeks. There's a great process involved before Cinna puts stitch to cloth on these."

I jump on this chance. "Is there news from District Eight? About the accidents?" I ask. "I mean, will he be able to get the cloth in time?"

"He may have to use some older fabric he has in reserve," she says. "They had a series of fires, you know. That's why they shut the factories down for safety inspections."

I'll just bet they had fires. I'll bet the fire came down from the sky and crisped everything in its path. I don't say this. I doubt the Capitol is done with Eight yet, but if this is the kind of information that citizens are getting, I probably won't be able to piece much together from Effie. "So," I say, "dresses in a few weeks, then a photo shoot in March. Did Ruth think the cut would be healed by then?"

"Hmm," Effie says, and I can actually hear the frustration in her voice. I imagine her pursing her lips and flaring her nostrils. "Well, Mrs. Everdeen said that it will be healed by then if it's healed by then, whatever that means. I don't know how I'm meant to build a schedule from that. I tried to secure her passage to the Capitol for plastic surgery, but I'm afraid that I was turned down."

"I doubt she'd want any surgery," I say. "When is Snow planning the wedding?"

"Oh, these things take time. I'm sure he'll wait until after the Quell. Maybe even right after it, as a cap on the Games. I haven't been told yet. You seem excited about it!"

"I do?" I ask, genuinely curious, as I am mostly feeling nauseated.

"Well, you never ask about this sort of thing."

"I imagine they'll drag me into it somehow."

She laughs. "We'll find a way if they don't. Oh, Katniss lost her father... do you want to give her away?"

"As soon as possible," I mutter, hoping it has exactly the right degree of grumpy uncle in it to amuse Effie and whoever listens in on the phone calls. I am still turning over the idea that Katniss and Peeta are going to be forced into a marriage that they're both too young for as "a cap on the Games," a final amusement for the Capitol after the festivities have ended, maybe during the time that some poor kid will be trying to put his or her mind back together in a hospital after the Quell arena.

I manage a little small talk with Effie, who has no idea what she sounds like to anyone outside the Capitol these days. She tells me about a fashion show and a cruise on the lake with one of our sponsors. I ask if she's seeing anyone lately; she laughs and asks if I am.

"You know I'm saving myself for you," I say without thinking.

"Hmph. Sure you are." For a moment, neither of us says anything. It's one thing to joke about it with the press. It feels a bit different trying it with one another. I decide to think of it as a performance for the bugs. I imagine her standing by her phone, an awkward, confused smile on her face, maybe with a little flush in her cheeks. It's a weirdly attractive daydream, but it's the old Effie. The new Effie is probably just looking through her notes to see if there's something else she needs to consult with me on. She apparently decides there isn't, because she just tells me to try and take care of myself (I never know when someone will want an interview), then says goodbye.

I hang up and take a shower and look for clothes that are at least partly clean. With the weather better and the roads cleared, I'm pretty sure Katniss will decide to discuss her insane plan to run away today.

I'm not wrong. She and Peeta show up just before noon, suggesting a refreshing walk into town. It's the last thing I want to do, but I go anyway. She barely says a word as we make our way between walls of snow. I can imagine cameras hidden there -- in the arena, they'd be perfectly placed -- but I don't really think they're there. It would be too much trouble to bug a snow bank that will melt soon anyway. I break the ice by saying, "So we're all heading off into the great unknown, are we?"

She shakes her head, and I'm not particularly surprised. "No. Not anymore."

"Worked through the flaws in that plan, did you, sweetheart?" I ask, wondering if she's realized exactly what will happen if she disappears. "Any new ideas?"

"I want to start an uprising."

I laugh. I can't help it. She seems so cutely determined, like no one has ever thought of it before. And like she didn't already start a nationwide uprising completely by accident when she held up a handful of berries. She wants to start an uprising. Well, that's good.

This would be, in some ways, the perfect time to let her in on some facts of the rebellion and her place in it, but something holds me back. And if it's not everything, it can't be anything.

I pick up on having laughed and joke, "Well, I want a drink. You let me know how that works out for you, though."

"Then what's your plan?" she demands.

Well, it's to do exactly what you want, only with you standing up there in front of it, keeping people from going off the deep end by not being a hotheaded zealot. This will not work if you're acting like the rest of the hotheaded zealots.

"My plan," I say, "is to make sure everything is just perfect for your wedding."

She doesn't buy in, and neither does Peeta. Peeta is, in fact, completely quiet about the whole business. I wonder what he's thinking. I tell her this will never work. And it's true about Twelve. The scared little mice who ran away from Gale's whipping aren't ready for the rebellion. They're rebellious enough in spirit (I doubt any of them are devoted to the Capitol's permanence), but not in action. In action, they want to make sure that food stays on the table, that --

I stop. So do Katniss and Peeta.

During the storm, our new Head Peacekeeper has been busy. He's pulled out the stocks and pillory again, and he's installed a fresh new whipping post, which won't even have the comforting graffiti I remember from the old one. Worst of all, he's set up a gallows. He's not fooling around.

"Thread's a quick worker," I say, and then there is a great clatter and a flare of light. A few blocks away, the Hob goes up in flames.

Katniss turns to me, wide-eyed, the cutely determined rebel gone in a fraction of a second, the real rebel returning. "Haymitch, you don't think everyone was still in -- "

I am not sure, but I say, "Nah, they're smarter than that. You'd be too, if you'd been around longer." I think about my friends there. And about Ripper's still, which she kept by her stall. I want to check on them. And it. So I tell them I'm off to look for rubbing alcohol.

Which is also true. I won't drink it if there's any option, but I'm certainly not giving Ruth my liquor as a disinfectant. I leave the kids to their business, which will undoubtedly include checking on Peeta's family, a trip I am happy to skip. I'll check on Danny later. I have no interest in seeing Mir.

The apothecary is where it always was, around the corner from the sweet shop the Donners once owned and next door to the stationer's that Maysilee was going to inherit from her uncle, except that she predeceased him. Ruth inherited the apothecary when her father died, but the inheritance taxes were hell, and Glen's wages had been cut, and Prim was a sickly baby... she was forced to sell it back to the government, which finally found a buyer four years later. I imagine Snow's lackeys made a tidy profit on it.

The new owner, a perfectly pleasant merchant woman named Lizzabee Leggett, is not a healer, just a shopkeeper who handles medicines and sundries. She refuses to sell me rubbing alcohol, but promises that she'll bring some out to Ruth. I offer to take it out instead, and she laughs in my face.

I am still arguing with her about this when Greasy Sae comes in. She has a shiny burn on her arm.

"Tried to get my best pot out of the Hob," she says. "But I couldn't. The fire went too fast. It melted. Hey, Lizzabee, do you have some salt?"


"Best thing for a burn. I'll melt some snow on it, then salt the thing. Works like a charm."

Lizzabee shakes her head as she usually does at such local folk remedies (about a third of which work on occasion), and goes up to her personal quarters, probably to get salt from her own cupboard.

"You saw?" Sae asks.

I nod. "Everyone out?"

"Barely. But yes. Ripper lost most of her supplies. She's going to start scavenging new tubes for a still."

"I'll see what I can find for her."

"That's a kindness."

"What happened during the storm?"

"Thread found out that the Peacekeepers had friends in the Hob. Purnia tried to warn us to keep our heads down, but he followed her. Said he'd had it with people thinking they were above the law in District Twelve and packed off all our regulars for re-training. More like being punished, I guess, especially Darius." Sae looks down. "He didn't say it, exactly, but he implied pretty strongly that Katniss may be untouchable, but anything she does, we're going to feel."

"For trying to stop him from whipping a boy to death?"

"Laws have consequences, apparently," Sae says. "And we're all going to be remembering what they are. You remember. I imagine they do it every time there's a new victor in town. Make sure the District remembers who's really in charge."

I don't correct her. It's actually true, at least if a victor has managed to get Snow's nose out of joint. He did it with Chaff, he did it with me, and he did it with Johanna. He even did it with Finnick, though that was disguised as needing "extra security" for such a popular victor. But this time, I think it has a whole lot more to do with the mockingjay that's showing up in every rebelling district.

Lizzabee comes down with a salt shaker and Sae goes outside to get snow. She treats her burn as she said she would, and asks Lizzabee how much she owes.

"It's a gift," Lizzabee says. "You get better, Miz Sae."

Sae nods and thanks her, and we go out into the day together. We manage to find Wenna Barkley, who sells scrap metal she scavenges around town, or did until this morning, and Claude Hudock, whose wife teaches at the school. Claude himself runs a dice game behind the Hob. The house generally wins. The four of us talk for a while about what will happen next. Claude and Wenna are too young to really remember. I tell them to keep their heads down, which is probably what they would have done anyway.

I don't wait for Katniss and Peeta before I go home. I can see them in the bakery, talking to Danny. I go up the road to my house, and find all my hidden bottles. There are eleven. I will have to ration them more carefully. Ripper doesn't have a license to sell alcohol, and she'll end up in the stocks if she's caught. I suppose I could go to Murphy's, but if Thread's anything like Beckett, he'll try to shut down the pub as well. Too many people talk to each other in pubs.

It turns out that Katniss and Peeta have both been stockpiling for me as well, each with what they think of as an extensive collection of six or seven bottles, which they display for me when they come by that night. That'll make things a little better, but they won't just give them to me to ration out to myself. When I run out of my own supply at the end of ten days, I have to ask Katniss for a new bottle, which is humiliating.

She brings it over quickly enough. Peeta is in tow as usual, but to my shock, so is Hazelle Hawthorne. They come in together. Hazelle looks at my mess and wrinkles her nose. I wait for her to start ridiculing me, but she doesn't.

Katniss hands me my liquor, and I drink from the bottle. "Thanks, sweetheart," I say. "So generous of you."

"You're welcome. No more until Wednesday."

Hazelle looks almost as annoyed at her as I feel, but just says, "Katniss, maybe that's not your call." She goes to my cupboard and starts to hand me a glass, then looks at it and says, "Haymitch Abernathy, this dish is filthy. Why are you living like this?"

"Housekeeper's decade off," I mutter. "And maybe that's my call, too." I take the glass, which has a little dried liquor scum in it, but isn't bad. I pour another drink.

Katniss and Peeta give each other one of their conspiratorial glances, then Peeta says, "Well, actually, Haymitch, we were thinking. You know they're going to be in here filming when Snow calls the Quell. And Effie will kill you if it looks like this when she gets here."

"And I need a job," Hazelle says, cutting through whatever persuasive argument Peeta was planning to make. "No one's hiring me for washing, the mines are closed up, Gale can't get us food, and I have four kids to feed. I can make this place look like a human being lives here, and my rates are reasonable."

"Come on, Haymitch," Katniss says. "I'm sick of coming over here and trying to find you under the trash."

"What kind of reasonable rates are we talking about?" I ask.

Hazelle nods. "I think business is better discussed just between the two of us," she says. "Katniss... do you mind?"

They go.

"I'll pay you whatever you need," I say, waving the bottle aimlessly, not wanting to engage her. She doesn't say anything, and when I turn, she's biting her lip nervously. "What is it?"

"Before we talk business," she says, "I have to apologize to you. I was unkind to you when we were kids."

I think of her standing there on the road, her lackeys holding me down while she ridiculed me for putting on airs, pretending to be quality. "It was a long time ago," I say.

"I'm still sorry, though." She smiles. "I ended up with a houseful of smart kids, and I wish sometimes they were doing all that fancy stuff. I think it'd be neat if they were. I think I'd brag about it. Gale's sharp as a tack, but he's never had time to use his brain for school things. He gets mad like I used to. I was hoping maybe Rory would, or Vick, or Posy. But they want to be just like Gale. And I just wish sometimes that..." She shrugs. "Anyway, I'm sorry. I'm real sorry."

"It was a long time ago," I say again. I don't exactly forgive her, and I know she's angling for a job, but it's all right. It's not like it really did me any harm. "Don't worry about it. What are your reasonable rates?"

And that's how I end up with one of my childhood tormentors as my housekeeper, the first I've had in the twenty-five years I've been rich. I pay Hazelle more than she's asking for, but it's not out of charity. I know she just took on a pretty unpleasant job.

It takes her a week just to "dig out," as she puts it. She gets all the obvious trash on the first day: food wrappers, apple cores, things in the refrigerator that have grown mold. She gives me the sharp side of her tongue about letting food go bad when there are hungry people in town, and I tell her she can take anything I haven't eaten down to the community home if it's not at a point of being poisonous.

I have a washing machine for my clothes and a vague idea of how to use it, and she puts everything I own through two cycles once I show her how. Then she lays it all out in a spare room, and tells me I have more clothes than I need, and that's why I can never find anything. Most of it I don't wear. We pick out the things I actually like, and she takes the rest into town to give away to men whose clothes are worn through. Some of the fancier things, they're not allowed to wear. I suggest that maybe I could send them to the Capitol on the next train, for the poorer people there. She looks bewildered at the concept.

What's left fits into my closet and my dresser, once she clears out the empty bottles and old invoices and everything else that had been stored in them.

She cleans up stains in my upholstery without comment. I can't quite look at her during that, and I am sure she'll gossip about it, but if she does, I never find out. The last big thing, which we start at the end of the week, is the carpeting. I've done a lot of damage to it. With things not coming into Twelve very steadily (she says even the tessera grain has been unreliable), she decides not to try ordering a carpet. Instead, she tells me she'll need my help, and we spend a day with buckets and brushes, scrubbing my living room and den. By the time we're done, I am willing to swear on my mother's name that I will never spill anything on it again. My arms are killing me.

But my house looks like a house for a person, as promised.

She makes me dinner every night before she leaves, and on the day we finish with the carpets, I ask her to stay and join me. I'll send home extra for the girl who watches the kids after school.

She smiles -- a fairly rare occurrence -- and says, "Am I being asked on a date, Haymitch?"

It is the last thing on my mind, but I say, "Why not?"

"No." She shakes her head. "I don't know that it's a good idea. I haven't been on a date since my husband died."

"I got you beat. Last date I went on was before the Fifty-Third Games. Unless you count a few gropes in Capitol bars."

"I don't. Weren't you dating some Capitol actress for a while?"

"That was the Fifty-First," I say. "I went on a couple of dates with Violet Breen after that. She was the Fifty-Third."

Hazelle frowns. "Haymitch, do you ever just say how old you were, instead of which Games something happened before?"

"That would require math. Figuring out how many Games after mine, adding it to sixteen… math was never my best subject."

She doesn't address this. Instead she says, "Wasn't there someone here before your Games? I remember that you had a steady girl."

"Digger Hardy," I say. "She… she passed."

"Oh." Hazelle puts her hand to her forehead. "That's right. I'm sorry. She was a nice girl. I hadn't thought about her… about… well, what happened."

"I haven't thought about her either," I lie.

"Until you started being responsible for a girl who likes to slip the fence?"

I don't want to get into everything that made me start thinking about Digger again, in large part because it's tied up with the pressure Katniss is under, which is not something to which Hazelle is indifferent. She barely acknowledges Peeta when he comes with bread, and routinely talks about Gale and Katniss in the future, and how much she's looking forward to Katniss being in her family. She re-hung up the painting in the living room, but lost much of her enthusiasm for it when I told her Peeta had made it. Her opinions on where Katniss belongs are clear and unchanging, and any talk about what really started my old girlfriend haunting my nightmares is likely to upset her.

In truth, I hadn't even thought about Katniss and her proclivity to be outside the fence, but it's as good an excuse as any. I nod, then tell Hazelle, "Let's forget the date thing. That was a bad idea. I'm your boss, anyway. Effie'd say it's not proper. Just stay for dinner. Have some decent food and get some rest before you're back to chasing three kids around."

She agrees to this, and we have a perfectly pleasant conversation, talking about life on the Seam when we were kids. She still sees a lot of the people we knew, though she realizes I don't remember them as fondly as she does. We talk a little bit about the situation in town (Thread has been using the stocks very liberally) and then about Lucretia Beckett. I am not the only one with her on the brain lately. Hazelle lost her younger brother to the gallows when Beckett accused him of trying to have his way with her. I'd forgotten it as thoroughly as she'd forgotten what happened to Digger. We both agree that Beckett likely retaliated when he refused to give her a "private apology."

We talk about Lacklen, and finally about Digger. Hazelle seems to have forgotten that she gave Digger grief about going around with me, and I don't remind her. Better that she remembers her as a nice girl with a loud laugh. We have a glass of wine (she says she hasn't had any for years) and I see that her face is flushed, and I realize we've maybe both been laughing a little more than we're used to. I also notice how long and strong her legs are, and I see her eyes on me as well.

She notices at the same time, and tells me that it's time for her to go home.

She's all business when she comes back the next day to scrub my kitchen, and any other talk is forgotten. It's probably just as well.

Still, I sort of enjoy having her in the house, walking around barefoot and humming to herself while she cooks.

After she goes, I have a few drinks and go to sleep. I dream that I am here, in my clean house, and I hear her humming downstairs. I go down, hoping maybe she'll re-think that date, but when I get there, it's Digger, cooking in the kitchen as she melts into the floor. Her blackened face is running like tallow, and when she smiles at me, her jaw falls off. I pick it up to hand it to her, and when I look up at her from my place on the floor, she has become Katniss, wearing her hunting clothes, carrying a bow. The mockingjay pin is electrified, and lightning arcs across her chest.

I wake up frozen in bed, a scream caught in my throat. The moonlight is coming into my room, and the reflection off the snow makes it bright blue. I barely recognize the place without its piles of clothes. I curse Hazelle in my head for bringing up Katniss's jaunts, but of course, I'm the one who was ignoring them. I'm the one who hasn't told her a thing.

I stay awake in bed, rock still, until sunrise, then finally let myself sleep again. I hear Hazelle working downstairs, but don't go to say hello. She brings me a tray at lunchtime and asks if I'm sick.

"No. Just... just didn't sleep great."

"You want me to put off cleaning your sheets until tomorrow, or do you want to go sleep on the couch?"

I shake my head. "I should get up."

She doesn't argue. She helps me up out of bed and shoos me out of the room while she strips my bed and puts on new sheets that don't smell of my nightmares.

Katniss and Peeta drop by together while Hazelle is there, which is awkward, as even she can't pretend Peeta's not there when he's part of the conversation. Peeta has brought me one of the liquor bottles from his stash. I think about telling Katniss to watch her back, but with the bugs in the house (Hazelle actually found one of them behind the television), it doesn't seem wise. Besides, she says that everyone is scared and no one's stepping out of line. That must include her.

After they leave, Hazelle points out that Ripper is in the stocks again (she's been caught scavenging twice) and I may not be able to get much more white liquor. She suggests starting to water it down.

"What's the point of that?" I ask.

She shrugs. "I've seen a few people get the shakes, Haymitch," she says. "And worse than the shakes. Remember Elsie Gownken? Her heart started going so fast it just stopped itself."

Elsie Gownken, the town drunk before me, has been waved in my face before. I've always brushed it off because there was no chance of me running out of money to buy liquor. Now, there may not be liquor to buy. "Yeah," I say. "I remember."

"Well, you can't just quit straight, or that'll happen. Just start watering it a little. Quarter of the glass the first week. Half the glass the second week. Then drink less often. Least that's what everyone says. I never tried that kind of thing myself."

"I doubt Ruth Everdeen would recommend that."

She smiles sheepishly. "Well... actually it was Ruth who told me to try and work it in somewhere. She says you don't listen to her."

I take her advice, though I only thin today's glasses by an eighth or so. It doesn't make much difference.

At night, I am at the fence, but it's not Digger there at all. It's Katniss, and she's alive as she burns, telling me to hurry up, to get her free before she melts away. She's wearing my district token. The foul slime from her melted skin is all over me, and I try to tell her that she's too wrapped up, that it's all through her now, but she just keeps screaming at me to get her out.

I get up and wander through my hazard-free house, not turning on the lights, trying to get the image out of my head. I go to my pristine kitchen and look for something to eat that doesn't require any effort. I settle on the remains of yesterday's bread from Peeta, slathered in goat cheese from Prim and washed down with undiluted white liquor.

Hazelle finds me at the table two hours and three quarters of a bottle later and gives me a frustrated grimace before sending me upstairs to get cleaned up and dressed. She tells me that Ruth wants to see me over at the Everdeens' place.

I follow instructions. There's nothing else to do. They forget to tell you that most of life as a victor boils down to not having anything whatsoever to do.

Ruth is steaming when I get there. She takes me to the basement, which is supposed to be a recreation room but is never used. Six different wedding gowns, all obviously designed by Cinna, are strewn over the puffy chairs.

"Yeah?" I say.

Ruth looks at me like I'm crazy. "Wedding gowns? Already? They mean to actually go through with this so soon?"

"This isn't news," I say.

"I thought they'd let them have a nice, long engagement. Until they're grown up, at least!"

"You grow up pretty fast in the arena," I remind her.

"No, Haymitch. I absolutely forbid it. Under no circumstances is my sixteen year old daughter getting married."

"Maybe she should be the one to make the call."

"She made the call. These things came last night. I heard her tossing and turning for hours. And this morning, she left!"

My head clears very suddenly, focusing on this. "What?"

"She ran out. She took those heavy winter clothes that Cinna gave her and she left. Haymitch?"

I don't listen to her calling after me. I leave Katniss's house and run for the fence.

I doubt she left from Victors' Village. There are no gaps in the fence here. But still, I go to my garden, to the Cornucopia statue in the back, now dulled from decades of weathering.

To the place where Digger died.

I stand there, closer now than I was then, but with the same sense of helplessness. I don't see her. I can't warn her.

The fence hums to life.
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic
    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.