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Out of the Night: An Interview with a Mockingjay

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To: miller.d@districtjournal.com
From: glosselton.s@districtjournal.com
Date: 21.42 - 10-03-2568
Subject: Mockingjay article

Hi Drupe,

Thanks for letting me do this. I know it’s the kind of thing you’d normally film, but I think it’s really valuable to do it in print - people trust it so much more, knowing how easily you can fake footage. Irrational, but there it is. My record chip will be couriered to you tomorrow morning, I didn’t want to interrupt your night.

There’s a great bit about a thousand words in - you’ll know the one I mean. We’ve got to use it for the pull quote. Can you imagine the shock? We’ve just got to. I’ve got images of them hand in hand and looking away from each other, depending on the angle you want to go with. There’s something else you’ll want Livia in Political to follow up on, but it’ll keep.

Anyway, article’s done and Fire and Ashes is just starting on the television. See you tomorrow!

Cheers,
Sapphire




It's amazing what a lick of paint can do. The devastation of District 12 remains one of the most enduring images of the Revolution - is there anyone who doesn't recall seeing the slow pan out over the ashes of a thriving marketplace, either in real time or in one of the most chilling history classes any student will ever take? But now, twenty-five years after the Capitol razed the entire district, there are signs of new life. As I walk up the lane, I am attacked by geese.

"Oh, they're harmless," says Peeta Mellark, shooing at them casually. "Haymitch breeds them."

This begs the question, of course, of what exactly Peeta Mellark considers harmless. Looking at him, it's hard to say. His hair is still fair and it flops into his eyes when he ducks his head. His smile is still as breathtaking as it was the first time anyone saw it, in his interview for the 74th Hunger Games. But he wasn't harmless then, as Penelope Silk could testify. He cut her throat as she struggled to safety.

Of all the Hunger Games victors, though, Peeta Mellark has a reputation of being the nice one. Back in the day, he cultivated a persona of a sweet-natured boy bewildered by a world that suddenly wanted him dead. He broke every mother's heart in the Capitol and probably their daughters', too. Today, he seems little different.

"I always was that person, really," he says. "I never wanted to be anyone else."

This peculiar statement seems to need a further explanation.

"The Games changed people," he clarifies. "They molded you into the person they wanted. I mean all the styling they put us through, to start with, and then the arena..."

The usual philosophy has it that the Games exposed the human soul for what it truly was. I put this to him.

"No," he says. "That was the war."

We've reached the house where Mellark lives with his wife, Katniss Everdeen. He pauses, and says he's going to leave me now. He wants to go and see Haymitch Abernathy, and mention something to him about the geese. It won't do any good, apparently, but he says it feels like he's doing something. And then the door closes, and I'm alone in the house with the Mockingjay.

To thousands of people across the districts, she was the symbol of the Revolution, born from the hellish fires of the Games and their greatest victor. She was the Phoenix of the Districts, her smoke-stained face plastered over every rebel broadcast - and Capitol broadcast, too, once they realized that, either way, the Mockingjay still meant ratings. People of my parents' generation sometimes choke up when they talk about her, because the Mockingjay stands for every bloody mile of ground gained, every last inch of dignity regained.

When she sits down, I'm somehow not expecting Katniss Everdeen.

Nowadays, the Mockingjay is a slim, dark-haired woman in her early forties. Her hands are covered with faded scars and her eyes are too old for her face. She doesn't smile, but it's not that she's not pleased to meet me. "Smiles are expensive," she says. For a moment she seems lost in those dreadful days, but she recovers swiftly. "That's how it was. Smiling or being happy - well, for a start it cost a lot of effort. And then, of course, they knew they could take something away from you."

"They" - there is only one "they", to Katniss Everdeen. To her, "they" still means the Capitol as a malevolent force, someone who watches your step and takes away your children when you stumble. In this she is no different from many of our parents. Distrust of centralized government is high in the Districts. The fear of losing what we have fought so hard to win is so strong it's almost instinct.

I ask Katniss Everdeen what it was like, being watched all the time. In the arena, of course, it wasn't just political types - she had several million people watching her every move. She doesn't reply for a minute or two. Her eyes are on my recording device. I offer to switch it off and take notes instead, but she refuses. Apparently there's no problem - except there obviously is. Eventually, she answers.

"What was hardest to remember was everything you had to fake."

And out it comes.

"I didn't love Peeta for a very long time - that was all for the cameras."

This bombshell hits hard. The love story of Peeta Mellark and Katniss Everdeen is a staple of any drama about the Revolution. Probably the best-known version is Fire and Ashes, Gale Hawthorne's first feature film, which is the only one so far, critics say, to get to the heart of the desperation felt by the rebels. The reunion scene has topped 100 Best lists for the better part of a decade.

"Yeah," says Katniss Everdeen. "People have always wanted to write their own stories about me and Peeta." I feel suddenly that I am only the latest in a long line, that Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are almost fictional now. We have written and rewritten their story so many times that they belong more to myth than to reality. Even Everdeen's hair, I notice, is still in its iconic style. Something prompts me to ask about it.

"My mother did it this way on special occasions," she says. "I can't do it like that on my own, so Peeta helps now." And that's that - the style that shaped a fashion generation rendered ordinary by a shrug and a nod to her husband, who has come back in.

"I did love Katniss," says Mellark kindly, as if to restore my worldview. "Always. She just wasn't sure of me."

"It got confusing," Everdeen says. "What was real and not real." I look at Mellark to see what he thinks of this. Infamously, he was hijacked during the war. Hijacking has been the subject of many a psychological horror film and, of course, the comedy Hijacked!, which more or less killed off the genre, with its scenes of a zombielike President Snow wandering round being nice to people.

"It took a long time to sort out," says Mellark. "For both of us." Outside, the geese start up honking again. He nods at Everdeen. "Real or not real?"

"Real," says Everdeen. "But not for long." Her fingers twitch towards her bow, stored casually on the coat-rack, and Mellark laughs. I sense that this is a conversation they have often.

I want to ask about Primrose Everdeen, but her sister's eyes are bright and happy, so I find a different question. Every drama ends with the grand kiss, with the noted exception of Fire and Ashes. No drama has ever pushed past the happy ending. What was it really like, in those first months after the Revolution?

"Quiet," says Mellark. "And then sometimes loud."

What he means, Everdeen eventually explains, is the nightmares that plagued them both. They lived quietly, sometimes going for days without speaking even to each other, but at night they clung together, haunted. Everdeen went through a period of drinking a glass of wine before she went to bed, despite Mellark's protests, until Haymitch Abernathy made a forcible point by falling off a wall and breaking his arm.

"He does that," Everdeen says, and once more she gazes past me, seeing something I cannot see. Mellark lays a hand on her shoulder and she starts like a sleeper awakening.

District 12 after the war was, and still is, sparsely populated. Everdeen fought hard for the reintroduction of industry. Today, the medicine factory accounts for most of the work in the area, but it's an insecure life. The Loxedrin disaster in 2555 killed thirty-two people and severely poisoned a further eight hundred and forty-three. District 12 factories lack many of the safety protocols mandatory by law in the Capitol and District 5. It is still one of the poorest localities. And that's despite what Everdeen calls "grief tourism."

"You get people who come here to look at the bombing damage," she says. "And they cry and say how awful it is and how they know someone who knew someone whose family were killed. Sometimes they stop me and Peeta in the street and ask us to show them round."

To someone who's been on school-trips to all the worst battlegrounds of the Revolution, her perspective is surprising, to say the least. I ask if her own children go on these trips.

"They're not old enough yet," says Everdeen. "I don't know. Maybe I'll let them." She says I, not We, and I glance at Mellark. He shrugs. Clearly, he is the "fun" parent. Everdeen is ignoring us both, working through her thoughts. "I don't think I mind it so much if they're from the Districts," she admits finally. "It's the people from the Capitol that make me angry. They're always the ones who want to talk to me."

I ask if she and Mellark have received a lot of press attention. They look at each other, and Mellark says, uncertain, "Yes?"

"It's hard to say," says Everdeen.

"A lot" of attention, it seems, is relative. Some things are second nature to them, like leaving the house via the back door. It's never been as bad as it was during the Games but, considering the media frenzy they caused, I feel mildly ashamed for my profession that there's even a comparison to be made.

"I mostly ignore it," says Everdeen. She avoids politics that go higher than the mayor's bald patch, nowadays, and for excellent reason. Mellark does collect clippings about her, though he doesn't about himself. He particularly enjoys the most unflattering articles. He keeps entire editions of the Thirteenth Voice in the attic, he claims, because that's the paper that hates Everdeen the most.

"It's good to have an outsider's perspective," he says, and a shiver passes between the two of them that goes beyond my understanding.

It takes some courage, but since Mellark brought up the Thirteenth Voice, it's easier to ask my question. Katniss Everdeen suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder even before the war ended. In his private records, released earlier this month under the Freedom of Information Act, her psychiatrist predicted a lifetime of struggle and recommended ongoing therapy. This, Mellark reveals casually with an odd twist to his mouth, was not followed up on. Everdeen gives him a speaking look, but I summon up all my bottle and ask about President Coin.

Everdeen is silent for a long time. Mellark moves toward her slightly, as if he wants to hover, but she waves him away. He goes to boil some water. The sound of the kettle bubbling distracts me, and I almost don't realize how long it is until Everdeen says anything.

"There's a conversation that was recorded just after the war," she says. "It was released under the Act, but no one's got to it yet." She smirks a little, without seeming to find much of anything funny. "They buried it pretty well. It was only a short meeting. Coin put it to a vote, whether we should keep the Hunger Games going, only with Capitol children this time." She won't tell me who voted for or against, and the minutes of the meeting, such as they are, end explicitly before the vote was taken. But it brought her to a crisis point. How far should we go for revenge? How do we decide who lives and who dies? And there's a third question, she adds, but that one didn't come up until later. What do we tell our children when they ask why we did what we did?

"And this is what you want them to know?" I ask. Everdeen is silent, but Mellark answers for her.

"She wants them to know that everything she did for the Capitol children she would do for them."

I think if the Everdeen-Mellark children want to know how much love their mother is capable of, they only have to watch the footage of her first sacrifice. It's the perfect moment, so I ask.

"Prim was the best person I ever knew," says Everdeen, and the light of fanatical love is in her eyes. Years of mourning have made Primrose Everdeen into a benevolent, beloved stranger to her sister. Only one thing in the picture she paints rings true, and when Everdeen says it, she laughs a little and looks surprised at herself, as if she can't believe she remembers it. Apparently Primrose Everdeen had a bad habit of leaving her shirts untucked, giving her a duck-tail from behind. The detail is adorable, and for the first time, the martyred Primrose seems real to me, too.

"What would you say to her, if she were here?" I ask.

"Tuck your damn shirt in," says Everdeen, and her laughter breaks and dies in her throat. And that's when I realize. Nothing could be the same for Katniss Everdeen after the war, but she wasn't alone. People of my parents' generation sometimes choke up when they talk about her because the Mockingjay stands for everyone they’ve lost, too.

But if the Mockingjay stands for grief and war and blood, Katniss Everdeen stands for life and hope and overcoming the past. As I get up to leave, she mentions that her daughter's name is Primrose. She's not the same girl, she says, but then, neither is Katniss. None of us are the people we used to be. But the Mockingjay lets us forgive ourselves for it.