The moment the anthem ends, we are taken into custody. I don’t mean we’re handcuffed or anything, but a group of Peacekeepers marches us through the front door of the Justice Building. Maybe tributes have tried to escape in the past. I’ve never seen that happen though.
Once inside, I’m conducted to a room and left alone. It’s the richest place I’ve ever been in, with thick, deep carpets and a velvet couch and chairs. I know velvet because my mother has a dress with a collar made of the stuff. When I sit on the couch, I can’t help running my fingers over the fabric repeatedly. It helps to calm me as I try to prepare for the next hour. The time allotted for the tributes to say goodbye to their loved ones. I cannot afford to get upset, to leave this room with puffy eyes and a red nose. Crying is not an option. There will be more cameras at the train station.
My sister and my mother come first. I reach out to Prim
climbs on my lap, her arms around my neck, head
On my shoulder, just like she did when she was a toddler.
My mother sits beside me and wraps her arms around us.
For a few minutes, we say nothing. Then I start telling them
All the things they must remember to do, now that I will not be there to do them for them.
Prim is not to take any tesserae. They can get by, if
They’re careful, on selling Prim’s goat milk and cheese and the small apothecary business my mother now runs for the people in the Seam. Gale will get her the herbs she doesn’t grow herself, but she must be very careful to describe them because he’s not as familiar with them as I am. He’ll also bring them game – he and I made a pact about this a year or so ago – and will probably not ask for compensation, but they should thank him with some kind of trade, like milk or medicine.
I don’t bother suggesting Prim learn to hunt. I tried to teach her a couple of times and it was disastrous. The woods terrified her, and whenever I shot something, she’d get teary and talk about how we might be able to heal it if we got it home soon enough. But she makes out well with her goat, so I concentrate on that.
When I am done with instructions about fuel, and trading, and staying in school, I turn to my mother and grip her arm, hard. “Listen to me. Are you listening to me?” She nods, alarmed by my intensity. She must know what’s coming. “You can’t leave again,” I say.
My mother’s eyes find the floor. “I know. I won’t. I couldn’t help what – “
“Well, you have to help it this time. You can’t clock out and leave Prim on her own. There’s no me now to keep you both alive. It doesn’t matter what happens. Whatever you see on the screen. You have to promise me you’ll fight through it!” My voice has risen to a shout. In it is all the anger, all the fear I felt at her abandonment.
She pulls her arm from my grasp, moved to anger herself now. “I was ill. I could have treated myself if I’d had the medicine I have now.”
That part about her being ill might be true. I’ve seen her bring back people suffering from immobilizing sadness since. Perhaps it is a sickness, but it’s one we can’t afford.
“Then take it. And take care of her!” I say.
“I’ll be all right, Katniss,” says Prim, clasping my face in her hands. “But you have to take care, too. You’re so fast and brave. Maybe you can win.”
I can’t win. Prim must know that in her heart. The competition will be far beyond my abilities.