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Snowmelt, pt 2 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Snowmelt, pt 2
Part two after a long while. I think I'm starting to understand the story more, but it's definitely a wanderer, mostly because... well, Peeta's wandering in his own wilderness here.

Part 1 here.

March 8, 637 After Founding (Year 0 Panem Republic). Psychiatric transcription by Aurelius Gavin, subject Mellark. Private notes.
A: You haven't been sleeping.
P: Sure I have. I'd be dead if I weren't sleeping.
A: You're not sleeping
enough. You're taking art history and technique classes. You're working at the bakery. You're visiting old women. You're still working with the refugees. Most of them have found places. The orphanage is really just an orphanage now. They've found all the families that are going to be found.
P: I'm just keeping busy. Have you talked to Katniss?
A: No. But if I had, I couldn't tell you about it, any more than I could tell her about your sessions. Have you called her?
P: I got through to Greasy Sae. She says Katniss is still feeling bad. In Twelve, that could mean anything from a bad cold to… to what she was before she left. We don't really get into a lot of detail about things like that.
A: But you did try.
P: I tried. I want to see her.
A: How are the nightmares?
P: If I have them, I don't remember.
A: Is that why you're not sleeping?
P: It's pretty effective for that.
A: What were you dreaming about when you decided to stop dreaming?
P: I didn't decide. I just stopped. [pause] Okay, I was dreaming about prison. About what happened there. Not on my top ten list of happy memories. I think I'd rather remember the arena. At least I sometimes got kissed there. Not that I wanted anyone in the prison to kiss me. That would have been strange. [subject grins]
A: I've told you before, you're not here to entertain me. Stop joking.
P: But I always entertain people. Didn't you say you wanted me to be myself?
A: And that's something that's real to you?
P: What, making people happy? Yeah. I like doing that.
A: Even at the cost of your own happiness?
P: (pause) It's not a zero sum game. It's not like I make someone else smile by chopping off parts of myself and handing it to them. It makes me happier, too. I mean, what does it really cost me to be nice to people? What does it cost anyone? Wouldn't everyone be happier if we just…
A: Just what?
P: Just… moved on?

"You're still telling stories, Peeta," Pacuvius Henry says. "Using a one-to-one symbol for your characters doesn't change that."

I sigh and look at my canvas, which is a mess. The other three students in the class are working in somber tone fields, while my painting is a mishmash of reds and greens and blues and a splash of yellow that doesn't belong there at all. I've been trying very hard not to paint figures, just shapes and colors and feelings, but I keep finding forms anyway, then trying to hide them under meaningless smears. "Sorry," I say. "I'm not getting this."

Pacuvius inspects the canvas. "No. You're not. It's all right. There's nothing shameful in illustration. It's simply not the subject of this class."

"You don't like it, though."

"No. I was forced to be an illustrator when I wished to be a fine artist. My sort of art was only appreciated in the underground, and when I tried to introduce it…" He shrugs. "Well, I wasn't punished, but I was also not making a living, and I was sneered at. I don't intend to sneer at you for the opposite. But I wonder, Peeta… are you an artist who happens to tell stories, or a storyteller who is also a skilled painter?"

"I don't know." I scrape the canvas down slowly. "I wanted to learn this. I wanted to learn to understand it."

"You can understand it without it becoming your native artistic tongue." He shakes his head. "Paint as you will," he says. "I am capable of teaching an illustrator, and you are capable of adapting the lessons of one form to another. Abstraction will give you tools to express the non-photographic elements of illustration, but it's useless to pretend to be an artist other than the one you are. Paint what you need to paint, boy."

He walks away. From the next easel over, Wenna Liang gives me a sympathetic smile. Her painting is shades of brown with the slightest hint of red. I don't know what I'm supposed to feel from it, but the sense it gives me is being in a warm, comforting study.

I can't think of anything else to paint, so I take out my charcoal and sketchpad and sketch a picture of her at her easel. I tear it off and give it to her at the end of class. It's not great work, and she knows it. She smiles. "It's not exactly painting practice."

"Let me take a picture," I say. "I'll paint him a close-up of your left eye. I'll get every color."

"Don't forget to put an abstraction in my pupil," she tells me, packing up her oils in an old leather briefcase. "Some inscrutable symbol of the deep confusion I arouse in you."

"Confusion... Is that what's aroused?"

"Don't tease."

"I'm not. Not much, anyway." I tuck my sketchpad under my arm and we walk out into the darkened halls of the National Art Museum together. Pacuvius's studio space is a gallery that was between shows when the bombs started falling, and never filled up again. Our class ends after the museum's work day, and the night shift guards look at us suspiciously as we make our way to the doors.

Wenna moves closer to me. "I keep expecting them to search us every time we leave," she says.

"What's it about, anyway?"

"About a third of the collection got trashed in the war. Some pretty important stuff, too. Things they brought over from European and Asian museums in the Ingathering. A few from the coasts. Pre-catastrophe stuff."

"And they blame district people for the war and…"

"…and we're district people, so maybe we're out to wreck the rest of it." Wenna rolls her eyes. "Like I, personally, wanted to trash the terracotta warrior. I'd just as soon wring the neck of whoever dropped that bomb. It was probably one of my ancestors."

"Whoever it was probably didn't know he was bombing ancient art."

"Or care." We get outside and discover it's raining. I take her briefcase and she gets out her red umbrella, and we both huddle under it to awkwardly run to the sheltered bus stop. When we get there, we separate, and she delicately shakes the water off of the umbrella. "That's the real problem," she says, like there was no break. "It's bad that they accidentally bombed a statue. But they didn't care. It might not have been statues, and it wouldn't have made any difference. I heard they might have even done it deliberately at City Center."

An image of Prim Everdeen comes into my head, and I feel sick. I sit down on the little metal bench and try not to look ill, but Wenna spots it. She sits beside me, looking concerned. I put up my hand before she can put hers on the back of my neck. "I'm okay," I say.

"I forgot that's where you got hurt."

"I did, too. That wasn't what I was thinking about. I lost someone there. Primrose Everdeen. Katniss's sister."

"I don't think I've ever heard you say her name."


"Katniss's. I mean, except on television." She looks across the street at the dusky sunset. There's still so much dust in the air from the wartime explosions that the view is spectacular. "I wondered if…" She shrugs. "Nothing."

I know the question she has decided not to ask -- she wonders if it was all a fake, because I haven't spent my time in art class painting Katniss or talking about her or crying over our separation -- but I decide to leave it alone. It's not her business.

We board the bus together when it arrives a minute later, but she gets off in the government district to change routes, and I take it up to the fashion district.

There's not good bus service to Effie's, so I pick up a taxi at the stand in front of Clothiers' Hall, the auditorium where the designers put on their shows. I could have picked one up in the government district, but the conversation with Wenna had gone far enough.

I check in with Effie every week after class. It's a ritual that keeps both of us grounded. She tells me whatever she's managed to pry out of Haymitch on the phone. It's never much. Effie's convinced that he's holed up in his house and not actually talking to anyone, no matter what he says, and I'm fairly sure she's right. I tell her that I'm fine, getting stronger, and generally in good spirits. It doesn't really matter what we say to each other. The point is just seeing each other and remembering that neither one of us is really alone, and that there are two other people out there who matter to us and aren't with us. I invited Aurrie to come along, since he adores Effie, but he's still afraid that he'll run into Tazzy, since she lives in the adjoining apartment.

It's not a fancy gathering, or even a planned one, which is why I'm taken completely by surprise when I spot Gale Hawthorne sitting on the steps of her building. Generally speaking, it takes a lot of planning to see Gale anywhere.

He's been doing something with a handheld device, but he turns it off when he hears the cab door open. He stands up, looking about as surprised as I must. "Hey," he says.

I nod. "Hey."

"I didn't know you were coming over."

"I didn't know you were in town."

We look at each other awkwardly. Gale has had me over at his house, and he even helped me move into my apartment, when I bought some new furniture. Of course, we had our little jaunt through the Capitol sewers together. We had a very serious talk about him doing an "I choose to be free" propo, and I think we respect each other.

But the fact is, the only thing we have in common that matters isn't exactly a comfortable topic of conversation. We never seem to know what to do with each other.

"I'm just in for two days," he says. "A quick check in with Paylor about things in Two, and a report to the Council. Jo wanted to visit Effie. They're upstairs shopping."

"Jo's with you?"

He blushes. "Well. Yes. She's, um. Well, she's… I gave her a job in Two. She's bored. Enobaria's letting her use her house. Jo's place got wrecked during the war. And I guess Enobaria decided to stay here?"

I nod and come up the stairs, leaning against the rail across from him. "Eno's been hanging around with people who want to start another district. I've seen her a few times. She didn't mention giving her house to Jo."

"I thought they hated each other," Gale says.

"Nah. Victors. They're weird." I smile, and he makes an attempt at returning it, but doesn't do very well.

We're quiet for a while, and I feel like we should go in and go up to Effie's apartment, then Gale says, "Have you heard from Twelve lately?"

I don't pretend not to know what the question really is. "Twelve hasn't been picking up her phone," I tell him. "I'm actually kind of worried about Twelve."

"When are you going back?"

"I haven't got the all-clear yet. I might not be safe."

"You might not be. I'm definitely not. So neither of us can help her."

"I'm not sure we could help her if we were right there."

Beside my head, the speaker buzzes. "Come on, Gale," Jo says. "We're done talking clothes, so you can no longer be infected by discussion of sequins. You can come up now if you think you can handle being in the same room as a pink rug, oh you manliest of all male, manly men."

"Buzz us up, Jo," I say.

"Oh, Peeta!" Effie calls in the background. "Is it already that late?" A tone sounds, and the door's magnetic lock lets up.

Gale and I go inside and take the elevator upstairs without speaking to each other.

When the doors open, Effie runs over and gives me a hug. She makes a move toward Gale, but apparently spots that he's bracing for it the way he might brace for an expected blow. She loops her arm through mine and says, "I didn't know Johanna and Gale were going to be in town today. I'd have let you know ahead of time.

Jo waves from where she's sitting, near Effie's comm station. "I wouldn't have. It was much more amusing for you two to run into each other without expecting it."

"Thanks, Jo," I say. "You're always so considerate and helpful."

"Well one of us has to be, and you're such a pill."

"Johanna!" Effie scolds, rolling her eyes in an exasperated way. "Really.."

"I'm ordering in," Jo says. "Have you tried that new restaurant in the Scar?"

The Scar is the part of the Capitol's business district that was leveled in the war. The surrounding buildings have been shored up, even made almost fashionable, by businesspeople moving into town after the war. I haven't been there much, mostly because the people setting up there are people who want to seem chic, who spend their days complaining about how gauche their home districts are, and how they're so glad to be somewhere cosmopolitan, now that they have the freedom to move around.

They remind me of my mother.

I see her hand in my head, beckoning from its vat, her ring melted across her fingers.

"Haven't been," I mutter.

"It's a guy from District Ten," Jo goes on, oblivious. "Some relative of Toffy Taggart's, I think. Barbecue joint, but he ended up marrying a girl from Four during the war, so fish. Done barbecue style, with all the trimmings." She starts typing.

"I have no idea what she's talking about," Gale whispers, and I glance over to see that he actually looks sheepish and embarrassed. He shrugs. "I just go with it."

I laugh, pushing away the odd, random thought of my mother. "Probably a good idea. And I don't know, either. It's not like I ever had a chance to hit the Capitol restaurants. Even now, I mostly don't."

"Where do you eat?" Jo asks.

"At home. I cook. After shopping. In grocery stores. Have you ever seen one? Very exotic."

She makes a rude gesture at me.

It strikes me that a lot of the victors might not be particularly familiar with grocery stores or cooking. Most would have come from poor backgrounds, where hunting, begging, and picking up grain from the tessera office would have been the major modes of picking up food, and later, a lot was just ordered and shipped to their doorsteps. Haymitch avoided the grocery store in Twelve. My father told me once, when I asked why Haymitch hardly ever came into town even to shop, that one of the grocers' kids was a tribute who died in the arena, and the other one died of a sickness, and somehow Haymitch had worked that around to the whole family hating him and him being ashamed to walk into the store.

"Then why doesn't he come here anymore?" I asked.

Dad rolled his eyes and said, "Because he won't go where I won't let him drink. Damned idiot."

I was maybe seven then, but even then, I knew that my father drank sometimes… and sometimes it was way too much. I also knew that my mother hated everyone, but Haymitch more than anyone other than Mrs. Everdeen, so she wouldn't exactly be happy to see him.

Gale's hand falls on my shoulder, but before he can express concern, I just shake my head and wave it off.

The food comes half an hour later, and it's very good. We all sit in the living room, watching television, for a while. Effie has talked to Haymitch, and, while she doesn't mention it, I know she thinks he's been drinking again, which is a surprise to absolutely no one.

"What's happening in town?" Gale asks. "Does he know?"

"He says there are more people coming in all the time."

"What about Katniss?" Jo prods.

Effie shakes her head. "He hasn't said much. I think she hasn't been talking to him."

"Someone needs to go out there," Gale says.

"I wish I could," Effie says wistfully. "I really do. Haymitch asked me to go with him. But there's so much work to do!"

"Me, too," Gale mutters.

"I'm not allowed yet," I say.

"Well, that leaves me!" Jo gives a big fake smile. "I'll just go out there and use the power of positive dialogue and sympathy to put our little Humpty Dumptys back together again. I mean, who's better at being kind and sympathetic?"

"I don't know," I say. "Did they keep any of those orange monkeys from the arena?" I grin.

She flicks a finger full of coleslaw at me, and I toss a roll in her direction.

Effie despairs of us. Jo and Gale leave an hour later. I stay to help her clean up. She asks me how I'm feeling. I tell her that I'm fine.

"Are you sleeping?" she asks. "You don't look like you're getting enough sleep."

"Effie, I'm fine."

She sniffs. "Haymitch says he's fine, too. And sober."

"Okay, I'm not fine yet, but… I'm all right."

She accepts this.

I go home. Aurrie and Justinian are both up waiting for me, and I play a few hands of poker with them, which is something like playing with my brothers… not a one of us has a good hand, but we bluff the bets up into the stratosphere, since we're playing with fake money. After a while, Justinian goes home and Aurrie goes to bed. I stay up in my studio, painting portraits and listening to the rain as it washes the winter out through the gutters.

It's still raining when I fall asleep at last and dream of my brothers in the kitchen, stirring bowls of ashes.

I don't think the rain has even paused when I wake up before dawn.
11 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 8th, 2016 10:48 am (UTC) (Link)
I winced a bit when it was described that pre-Panem stuff was destroyed during the war, and I'm not surprised the rebels didn't give a damn; considering what happened at the Grove as well as Coin's love of reeducation, the potential for deliberate destruction is unfortunately not out of the question.

I'm even less surprised that the new immigrant neighborhood comes off as even more Capitol than the native Capitolites. The nouveau riche aesthetic knows no bounds. :p

Of course, leave it to Peeta to go from a lighthearted jab to dwelling on depressing implications of said jab. Probably why Dr. Aurelius wasn't so amused at Peeta's humor, despite the latter making a good point that it's not a zero-sum deal.

Compulsive liars playing poker: nothing says escalation quite like that.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 9th, 2016 04:27 am (UTC) (Link)
I am extremely disturbed by the destruction of world heritage, and I can see why people whose fundamental life's purpose was protecting it would be leery of the rebels.

Nouveau riche... they say in America, we're pretty much all nouveau riche (if riche at all), but there's most definitely a clear attitude that people are talking about, and that condescending sneer toward those lesser people with whom one was once forced to associate... grrr.

And yes, playing poker with anyone in Peeta's family would be a fool's errand. Them playing with each other. Gold.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 8th, 2016 02:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

Really nice!

Kind of a quiet, sad story so far, but appropriately fills in a lot of gaps between the other narratives you have. I'm really enjoying it!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 9th, 2016 04:28 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Really nice!

Thanks. I'm not sure what to do with a story so quiet sometimes!
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 8th, 2016 05:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

All I...

Can say is: loving it! Very, very well done, with the way things are changing with reconstruction, Peeta seeing Effie (thanks for throwing in Jo and Gale as well), and the horrible little bits of Peeta's memory surfacing every now and again. Also impressed with how understanding the art teacher was with Peeta's difficulties.

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 9th, 2016 04:28 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: All I...

I think it may be a sign of peace on earth when people who are aficionados of different kinds of art can coexist without casting aspersions on one another's forms.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: April 9th, 2016 05:02 am (UTC) (Link)
I really like it -- I don't have a whole lot of trenchant commentary but I'm enjoying reading it very much. I like the art teacher, Wenna's trying to feel Peeta out on his emotional state, Gale not quite getting the victors' relationships (though I bet he'll be pleased to visit that house later :) -- all of it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 10th, 2016 02:14 am (UTC) (Link)
I wanted a likeable art teacher who still wasn't Peeta's cuppa in terms of art. All we hear about him doing is figurative, and I wanted someone to say, "That's okay."
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 9th, 2016 04:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love how you weave the conversational gambits between Effie and Peeta, Gale and Peeta, Jo and Peeta, (and so on and so forth) with the realities of their situation. All of these characters especially, are broken in some way and all of them have made a decision not to just survive, but live. I find quiet introspection such as this very interesting, because when you're trying to build a new life after your old one has been almost utterly destroyed, you're not looking for more upheaval (of course that can come around regardless) but emotionally...it's an ocean in a storm.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 10th, 2016 02:16 am (UTC) (Link)
They really are doing their best in the storm. Gale is probably having the hardest time of it, because his whole life was surviving, followed by overthrowing the Capitol, and he's achieved both ends, so... now what?
redrikki From: redrikki Date: April 11th, 2016 01:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I like how you've portrayed Peeta's mental state as he tries to keep it light but keeps hitting the land mines of his own memories. I also like how many people keep asking him what and who he wants to be, even if they aren't quite using those terms. Is he an artist who happens to tell stories, or a storyteller who is also a skilled painter?
11 comments or Leave a comment