Part 1 - Chapter 1
I glance up at the ceiling, as I hear a clap of thunder and the staccato of rain hitting the roof of our schoolhouse. It's awfully late in the year for a thunderstorm, but rain is never a bad thing in these parts. I hope Papa remembered his coat. He was going out to help my best friend Gale Hawthorne's daddy string some fencing today. Last night Papa told me that some of the Hawthorne cattle broke through the fencing and ended up on the neighbor's property, as they were getting ready to plow. I overheard Papa joking with Mama about the tirade Clove Larson's father had over the incident. He told her it was a sight to see. Everyone is prepping their fields right now, as planting begins in a couple weeks.
Bringing my attention back to class, I realize we are beginning to discuss William Dafoe's Robinson Crusoe. My class is about halfway through reading the book, but I've already finished it and have started rereading. This is my favorite part of school. Books. I love reading and discussing books. Maybe someday I can become a schoolteacher like Miss Trinket. She's from back east, where she went to Bryn Mawr, a women's college. I'm not sure how she ended up in Panem, Oklahoma, a small town located on the panhandle between Texas and Kansas. But I'm grateful she's here teaching grades 10-12. Many of my classmates stop school around the age of fourteen, but my papa and Gale's daddy wanted us to finish school. Papa says he'd be pleased as punch to see his little Kat become a teacher like Miss Trinket someday. Gale is two years ahead of me and is a senior. I'll miss him next year.
Miss Trinket reads the following from chapter 10 of Robinson Crusoe, "Thus we never see the true state of our condition till it is illustrated to us by its contraries, nor how to value what we enjoy, but by want of it." She asks the class about the meaning of this passage. I shoot my arm in the air. "Yes, Katniss."
"It means we have a tendency to take things for granted. We don't really understand what we have until we lose it."
Miss Trinket responds, "Thank you, Katniss. What other thoughts are there?"
Peeta Mellark raises his hand and replies, "If we don't understand other's living conditions both those who live above and below us, it is difficult to have perspective on our current state. We cannot see where we are blessed and if there is more to strive for."
Gale interjects, "It's also difficult to see where the true injustices lie."
Peeta rubs Gale the wrong way for some reason. As Miss Trinket continues the discussion, I shake my head and smile at Peeta. When Peeta smiles back, it reaches his eyes, which are the color of the summer sky. Honestly, I think they are probably the bluest eyes I've ever seen. My mama and sister, Prim, also have blue eyes but they are not nearly as clear. Peeta is a nice boy. Always friendly. Always willing to help. I don't understand why Gale dislikes him so much.
Soon school is over. As I gather my things, I look over and see Glimmer Avery run over to flirt with Peeta. They would be a pretty pair with their wavy blond hair and blue eyes. Glimmer. Such a ridiculous name. Her twin also carries an unfortunate moniker, Marvel. Her mother was some sort of actress back in New York on Broadway, but she suffers from asthma. She came out to a clinic in Kansas for the warm, dry air where she met Mr. Avery before they settled here in Panem. Glimmer and Marvel try to put on airs as if they are better than the rest of us, despite that they were born here too. Glimmer says that she is going to move to Hollywood, California and become an actress like Janet Gaynor, who won some award for being the best actress last year. I always nod at her, wishing her luck with a smile. It's easier to agree with her plan and who am I to tell her that she's dreaming. Maybe she too will be best actress.
"Katniss." I hear as I realize Peeta managed to shake off Glimmer and sneak up on me.
"Are you planning on going to the church social on Saturday?"
"Yes." I nod, grinning.
Peeta grins back, "I'll see you there."
Suddenly Gale walks up and interrupts, "Katniss, we need to get Prim and head out."
"See you at school tomorrow," Peeta responds.
Gale and I walk outside and meet Prim, my nine-year-old sister, so we can start the walk back to our homestead, which is a few miles out of town. Gale lives a little further down the road, but he's having dinner with us tonight. I've been best friends with him since we were in diapers, probably because his daddy is Papa's closest friend. Papa met Mr. Hawthorne when he bought a failed homestead at auction back in 1910. Part of our property borders the Hawthorne cattle ranch. Of course, now the Hawthorne's run more than just cattle. They acquired additional property to plant wheat. Wheat is food, it is nourishment, it is gold. Sitting in the barn, we have this year's Turkey Red Wheat seeds ready to be planted in the coming weeks. Over the fall, we first watch it sprout, then in the winter grow and turn green, before it takes on the most beautiful golden hue to be harvested in June.
Papa's hoping that with this year's harvest and next, we'll finally have enough money saved to afford to build the two-story frame house he and mama dream about. We still live in a two-room soddy. A few years back Papa built a new barn to house our dairy cow, our horses, a pig, and Prim's goat Lady. Papa says it pays to be frugal. He'll borrow to buy seed for the year's crop and to update our machinery but he won't mortgage the land the way our neighbors have to increase landholdings and his production. Papa doesn't like owing people. The neighbors say he's foolish, "The cost of growing wheat is so much lower than the price, profits are guaranteed."
My father is innately cautious and a saver because of the stories my grandpapa told us about emigrating from Russia. Papa is Volga German. My understanding is that long ago Papa's family moved from Germany to Russia along the Volga River because Catherine the Great promised farmlands and exemption from military service, which was important because Papa's family were Mennonites. The Russian Czar revoked that promise later and when the government notified my great grandpapa that my great uncle was to report for military service, the family quickly left and came to America. Papa says there is a lesson to be learned there. They could do that because they were frugal.
Gale, Prim, and I turn down our road. In the distance, we can see the house. There is a couple of vehicles out front.
"Hmm. That looks like Uncle Haymitch's Model T. I don't know the other truck. It doesn't look like Papa's back from your place yet, Gale."
"Katniss, do you think Uncle Haymitch brought cookies?" Prim inquires. Prim loves cookies and Uncle Haymitch knows it. Often when he comes by to see Papa, his foster brother, he stops by The Mellark Bakery to pick up a couple for us. Uncle's parents died of when he was two, so my grandparents who were cousins raised him. I love my Uncle Haymitch, when he's sober. Uncle loves two things in this life, his family and his moonshine. Ripper makes a fortune off him, especially since Prohibition has allowed her to charge extortion level prices.
"That's odd. It looks like Thom's truck. I wonder what's going on."
A feeling of foreboding comes over me when I realize that Mr. Hawthorne's farmhand and my Uncle Haymitch are there but not Papa. Gale and I look at each other and we pick up our pace.
We enter the house and see Mama, Uncle Haymitch and Thom sitting at the kitchen table. Mama is covering her face. Her shoulders are shaking. She is crying. Uncle and Thom quickly get up and tell Gale and me to sit down. Uncle seems surprisingly calm as he picks up Prim and sits back down situated her on his lap. Thom looks distressed as he stands off to the side, fiddling with his Stetson, slowly rotating the brim around as he holds it in front of him. Gale, Prim and I are silent as we wait for whatever news is forthcoming.
Uncle takes a deep breath and says in a calm, quiet voice, "Girls. Gale. There's been an accident." He takes another breath as my eyes widen. "Both of your fathers did not survive."
Prim starts crying in earnest, cuddling into Uncle's shoulder as he rubs her back. I want to say something, but it seems my voice is caught in my throat. I can't seem to breathe as I hear Gale ask, "What? How?"
Uncle asks Thom to explain, who quietly coughs before beginning.
"As you know, Mr. Everdeen was helping Mr. Hawthorne string some fencing today. They rode out early this morning. I was working in the barn after lunch when I saw the horses come back without Mr. Everdeen or your daddy." He looks at Gale and briefly shakes his head. "I figured the horses must have been spooked by the thunder earlier. I rode out to bring their horses back to them." His voice shaky, "The best I can figure is that lightening set the prairie on fire. The winds bringing in the storm caused the fire to spread quickly, and with the horses gone, the fire overtook them. Then the rains started, putting the fire out as quickly as it began."
I think this is the most I've ever heard Thom say at any one moment. He stands there trying to be stoic but failing miserably. I can imagine the sight he saw. I am numb. My mother on one side of me and my sister on the other are both sobbing. I can't shed a tear. I can't speak. I can only just look ahead staring at Gale. A thousand emotions flash through his steel grey eyes, while I keep my face blank. I hear Uncle tell Gale that Thom is to bring him home straight away. His mother is waiting for him. I rise with Gale from the table. He walks around the table. I look into his face. He's glassy eyed as he gives me a hug. I just stand there. Arms at my side. Not crying. He tells me that he will see me tomorrow.
Less than ten minutes can change a life forever. Fifteen minutes ago, Gale was a laughing boy, learning the ranching business so he could inherit those responsibilities from his father in the future. Sometimes he is too serious and shows frustration at things that we have no power to change and stop. I always tell him that it is pointless because it's like being frustrated that the wind blows. Gale is both an optimist and a fighter, believing that we have the power to change things for the better. On Sundays after church, Gale and I spend the afternoon hunting jackrabbits and prairie chickens. Not a very girlish activity by any means, but I begged Papa to include me when they were teaching Gale how to hunt with a bow and arrow. The Hawthornes have some Comanche blood. I think this is the root of Gale's frustration. Some of the townsfolk don't like to do business with the Hawthornes and it shows, but money is money. I understand why he feels that way. Some of the townsfolk would just as soon shut their door on us for being German, especially since the Great War. As I watch Gale walk out of the house with Thom, it seems that Gale holds his head a little higher. The future has come a lot sooner than he could have ever anticipated. He is head of his family. He must take care of his mother, Hazelle, and his three younger siblings, Rory, Vick, and Posy. He is in charge of overseeing a cattle ranch. Many people depend on him, not just his employees but also their families.
I sit back down at the table. Uncle is trying to soothe Prim, who is inconsolable. I glance at my mother. She hasn't moved or said a word the entire time.
Uncle Haymitch quietly begins speaking to me. "Sweetheart. Please look at me." When I don't respond, he says my name. I look up at him. "I'll be over tomorrow morning to help you and your mama start to plan the funeral. We should plan to have it within a few days. Thursday would probably be good."
I blink at him. I quietly get up and begin preparing supper. Later that night as I lay in bed, I still can't cry.
I sit in a rocker by the stove quietly mending socks. I listen to Uncle plan the funeral for my papa. Mama has finally stopped crying but all she's managed to do today is to get out of bed, clean herself up, and sit down at the table. I coaxed her into eating some breakfast. The only acknowledgement she gives to Uncle is to nod her head occasionally and say, "That's fine." Uncle Haymitch explains that he spoke to Hazelle earlier this morning. We are going to have a joint memorial service at the church in Panem followed by two graveside services on Thursday morning. The reception afterward for both will be held at the Hawthorne ranch. I stop paying attention as I look down and realize the current sock I'm darning belonged to Papa. With a shaky hand, I carefully finish and place it back in the basket and look for one of Prim's to repair.
I lift up my head as I hear Uncle Haymitch talk about the music for the memorial service. Song is very important to us. Papa loved to sing. Mama has always said that when Papa sings the birds go silent to listen and that is why she fell in love with him. I grew up in a house of singing. Papa taught me the old folk songs of his people, while Mama taught me the Scottish and Irish folk songs passed down to her.
"Katniss. I've spoken with the Schmidts, the Bauers, and the Henkels. They are joining me in singing, 'Das Schicksal' during the memorial service. You have such a lovely voice. Would you like to sing with us?"
It takes a moment to realize that Uncle is addressing me. He wants me to join him and the other Volga German families in our community to sing one last song. Stiltedly I reply, "Papa would like 'Das Schicksal.' You sing it, but I won't join you."
Uncle Haymitch looks disappointed before I continue, "I will sing, but it will be the last song of the service. I will sing 'The Parting Glass.'"
Mama takes in a sharp breath and silently starts crying again. "The Parting Glass" was Papa's favorite song.
Oh, all the comrades that e'er I had
They're sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e'er I had
They'd wish me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I'll gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be with you all
As I finish the second stanza of the song, I look out at the family, friends, and neighbors gathered to say goodbye to Papa and Mr. Hawthorne. Gale has aged ten years in three days. He holds his baby sister, Posy, whose just two years old and keeps asking for her da, as she doesn't understand where he went. Rory and Vick, age nine and seven, stand uncomfortably between him and his mother. My mother stands straight, silent tears falling down her face. Uncle Haymitch is patting my sister's shoulder as she cries into his side. I finish the last refrain and go back to my seat. Papa used to tease my mother that the last refrain was about leaving his friends to come find her. "There is a fair maid in the town, That sorely has my heart beguiled, Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips, I own she has my heart enthralled." Papa's never coming to find her again. The minister closes the service, reminding our guests of the burial immediately following and the reception at the Hawthorne's ranch.
We quietly file out of the church and walk to the graveyard. Papa's burial follows Mr. Hawthornes. Once we arrive at the Hawthorne plot, I stand next to Gale. He's still holding Posy in one arm. I gently lace my fingers through his and give him a squeeze. We remain with our hands clasped until it's time for Gale to shovel in the first pile of dirt. He's head of the family now. The burial is very brief.
My papa's service is much the same. Gale stands next to me clasping my hand. Uncle Haymitch shovel's in the first pile of dirt. I'm surprised when he doesn't hand the shovel to one of Papa's friends, instead he hands it to me. I step forward and scoop up the rich dirt. Dirt that before this, I only associated with goodness as it allows the wheat to grow. I hear the dirt hit the top of his wooden casket. I hand the shovel to Gale and bend over to hug my sister. My mama just stands by a shell of her former self. We walk back to the cars and trucks. I help Mama and Prim into Uncle's Model-T before climbing in. Uncle Haymitch drives to the Hawthorne's for the reception.
It appears the whole town has cooked for both our families. The kitchen is overloaded with casseroles, bread, and other baked goods. I sit quietly on a love seat with my sister watching. My mama seems to have come out of the frozen spell she's been under since the burial and is showing graciousness to friends and neighbors.
"Katniss." I look up into Peeta's blue eyes. He runs his hands through is blond waves.
"I'm so sorry for what happened to your father," he tells me.
I nod. Woodenly I mumble, "Thank you."
"If there is anything you need, please just ask." I nod at him again and stare off into space. After a few moments, he quietly reaches out. He gently squeezes my hand before walking back to his father.
The reception is a blur. Several of my classmates and their families attend. I see Clove Larson, Glimmer and Marvel Avery, and Cato Schmidt talking. They keep glancing at Prim and I, as if we're some weird freak show on display at a carnival. I refuse to give them a reaction. I must be strong. I won't let them see any weakness.
Gale comes and sits beside us for a while. We don't say much. He mentions that he's not returning to school next week. He has to take care of the ranch now. I'm not surprised. Frankly, I hadn't thought about school at all. I've been too busy keeping mama together and helping Prim. This is a reminder that tomorrow is coming. What are we going to do? Planting is supposed to start soon. I will think on it later, perhaps tomorrow morning I can talk to Uncle Haymitch about it.
Soon the reception is over and we go home to a house that is too quiet. No rumbling laughter from Papa. No soft singing from Mama. No giggles from Prim. My mother has returned to her shell. I help her get ready for bed. Soon after, I crawl into bed with my sister. She snuggles into my side. I hear her breathing even out as I stare at the ceiling. Papa would want me to keep the farm going. I hope that tomorrow I can talk to Uncle Haymitch about the planting. For being a drunk, he's remained surprisingly sober the last few days. We have to plant, and the crop needs to come in. Papa took out a loan from Mr. Snow at Capitol Bank of Panem for this year's seed and for a new plow called a One-Way, which plows the good earth faster. We have savings but as Papa told me, "It pays to be frugal." Last month Prim, Mama, and I canned tomatoes, corn, and beans from the garden. That is good. We won't have to spend money there. I can still hunt to help bring in meat. We have Bessie and Lady, our cow and goat, to provide milk and cheese. I let out a shaky breath as I realize how scared I am. I hope Mama will wake up to help me soon, with the exception of the reception this afternoon, she has been acting as if she died with Papa. She is a ghost, drifting in and out. No matter. I will take care of us. I turn on my side away from Prim. I finally allow myself to cry.
A/N: If you would like additional information about this chapter, you can visit my tumblr: dispatchesfromdistrict7
The characters are the property of the amazing Suzanne Collins and do not belong to me.