Everyone tells her that she is beautiful. She naturally believes that this is the best way to be.
"That smile will take you places," they all say, and so she beams at them and wonders what kind of places she'll go.
She used to be a happy child. She assumes that this is so because that’s what her mother tells her, just before she gets on the train. She has few memories of her life before the Academy – she remembers the flowers outside her grandmother’s house, and sitting in the grass to tear up clover flowers from the lawn and braid them together to make necklaces. She remembers the nice man at the liquor store who always gave her candy, after which her mother would prompt her to “Smile for the nice man, Glimmer.” At school they told her not to take things from strangers but her mother always just told her to smile.
She has other memories of this time, but they are not so happy, and most involve her mother. Her mother is very beautiful, but when Glimmer hugs her, she smells like cigarettes and the amber liquid she drinks from the bottle every night, and she isn’t soft to the touch the way her school friend Chiffon’s mother is. Glimmer’s mother is tense and yells a lot and always has a headache, and most nights she leaves Glimmer with her grandmother and goes out to work. Glimmer wonders why her mother works at night – Chiffon’s mother works during the day, making jewelry out of beautiful silver wires and chains and gems. When Glimmer is old enough, her mother begins just leaving her at home alone each night, and when she comes back in the middle of the night, her makeup is smeary and her hair is messy and one time, she came home with a black eye, but when Glimmer asked her what happened, her mother yelled at her and told her to go back to bed.
Sometimes she asks about her father and her mother tells her that he was a very handsome man who won the Hunger Games for District 1 years and years ago. Glimmer asks if they can go to see him the next day, and her mother tells her that isn’t a good idea, and when she asks why, Mother explains that victors often have lots and lots of children, and they don’t have time to see all of them.
During the Reaping each year, she sits too close to the TV, her nose almost pressed up against the screen, hoping to catch a glimpse of the man Mother says is her father. He sits with the other mentors up on stage and she wonders what it would be like to go to the Reaping and volunteer for the District and have everyone look at you and clap and love you. Probably exciting. Nothing exciting ever happens in her life.
When she is eight years old, she has been written up for fighting in school fourteen times. “Consistently seeks out and instigates trouble,” her report cards say. “Shows strong aptitude for problem solving and physical education. Respects authority, but does not extend that respect to her peers. Recommended to District 1 Academy for Service to the Capitol; accepted pending interview.”
Her mother blows a smoke ring and tells her that this means she might go to a different kind of school.
“Do I have to do spelling there?” she asks, annoyed.
Mother looks at her funny. “No,” she says. “You don’t have to do spelling. But you will have to listen to everything your teachers say. Do you understand that?”
“Sure,” says Glimmer. “I already do.”
“You fight with the other girls. You fight with the boys.”
“But that’s different. They’re mean to me.”
“What do you mean, they’re mean to you?”
Glimmer bites her lip. She isn’t sure that she should tell her mother what her classmates say to her, because she isn’t sure what some of the words mean, but the ones she is familiar with are definitely not nice. “Emerald told me that the reason I don’t have a father is because you’re a… something.”
“I’m a what?” Her mother’s voice is sharp and Glimmer cringes. “I don’t remember the word,” she lies deftly, and walks out of the room. She can hear her mother cursing after her.
The Games are good that year. The girl tribute from District 1 is very beautiful and Glimmer watches her like a hawk when the Tribute Parade plays on the TV. Her name is Cashmere and she is seventeen, and she has long flowing golden hair and green eyes (just like mine, Glimmer thinks) and when she’s all dressed up in a fluttering green dress, she looks just like the princess from the book they read in school about Cindrelle, the lowly maid who got to go to three parties in the Capitol where she met a handsome boy, the President’s son, and they lived happily ever after. Cashmere looks just like that girl, but during her interview she doesn’t seem meek or scared like the princess at all. She stands tall and sticks out her chin and tells the audience that she is strong and smart and they should definitely bet on her.
Glimmer sticks out her chin and points her nose up as she watches the Games. Cashmere kills a boy from District 6 and onscreen she looks haughty and beautiful and proud, a streak of blood smeared across her forehead like a trophy, and Glimmer looks at her and wants to be her.
The Academy is the end of these memories. It’s a special kind of school, as her mother says, where she gets to sleep and eat all her meals as well as studying, and Glimmer doesn’t like the idea of this because she doesn’t even like school in the first place. But it isn’t like the regular school in town where she had to sit still and read books with hard words and work on her handwriting and spelling. There’s almost no books with hard words here and absolutely no spelling whatsoever. She does have to sit very still and stand very still and generally be very still when she isn’t moving for a reason, but she makes this into a game with herself, betting that she can be quieter and more still than all the other kids. She seldom loses. The adults don’t yell or punish her when she gets into fights with girls who are mean to her, but they always tell her to smile.
She smiles a lot. She is very, very good at smiling. In fact, the two things she is best at are smiling and fighting.
The girls in her level talk about her when they think she can’t hear. “What a slut,” whispers Satinna, who is short and mean and trips people when they walk by her. “I mean it. You know she got sent here because her mother was unfit to take care of her, right?” The other girls all murmur and Satinna presses on. “I mean it. Her mom’s some alcoholic junkie hooker. It’s just gross.”
Satinna does not make it through the program. Some people will whisper that Glimmer saw her standing too close to the target and threw the spear anyway. Some people will say that she had it coming.
The teachers haul them out of bed in the middle of the night and make them run sprints, throw knives, shoot bows. “That’s life in the program,” they yell when anyone cries. “Deal with it.”
Glimmer learns not to cry. Instead, she smiles. “Wipe that smile off your face, Blondie,” they yell, and she obeys.
The food is great. They get three meals a day and it’s always good stuff, even better during years when the winner was from the district. She loves the fresh red tomatoes and crisp sliced cucumbers but most of all she loves sugar cookies. They only have them at dinner once a month, and she stuffs herself with as many as she can, trying to never forget the taste.
Wilderness is her favorite class, because they get to go outside for practical exams. Each year the exams get longer and harder – less food and clothing given to you, more hazards to overcome – but Glimmer likes the challenge, and besides, she never gets to go outside otherwise.
The trainers yell at her for being careless at times (“You have to look at your surroundings; you were almost bitten by snakes twice”) but she brushes it off.
It’s just that she sometimes gets distracted by the sky and the trees and the cool, fresh air that’s so unlike the air in the middle of the district or in the training center.
Marvel is a jackass. The trainers leave the two of them alone every now and then, letting them talk, hoping they’ll somehow form a dynamic that looks good on TV. The truth is that Glimmer has no interest in District 1 boys. She’s going to move to the Capitol after she wins, have an apartment there and throw parties where she can dazzle all the wealthy men who live there.
Image class is her other favorite, because it’s easy.
They watch videos of old interviews to learn from the pros, and talk about their “angles.” The Games are just as much about entertainment as they are about survival, after all, and if she is going to survive in the arena, she will have to be lovely.
This is something she can do. She has the skills, to a degree – she passed her last wilderness exam with flying colors and made high marks on her kill tests as well – but the other girls are not quite her; they don’t command the camera with ease and aren’t quite so good at making up stories. When Glimmer takes a life, she becomes someone else – sometimes a bashful little girl and sometimes a stone-cold shimmering queen. When the others kill, they just look like themselves. Like scared teenagers. This, the trainers tell them, is what separates trainees from tributes and tributes from victors.
The kill tests are the hardest. They use criminals from the district; if the accused can defeat their teenage executioners in combat, they walk free. It’s an enticing offer. After all, they’re just kids – no amount of training will make them a match for a grown man.
She’s got her target pinned to a wall and he’s babbling about his innocence, calling out for his wife. “Keep crying, baby,” Glimmer says, and lifts a dagger to his chest with her most winsome smile.
Her hand falters. Just a bit. She sinks the blade into his heart and strokes his jawline with one finger, delicate, almost sweet, as he dies.
The eliminations get harder every year. They fix her up in the medical wing when she makes mistakes. It hurts to breathe but they make her run on the treadmill as soon as she’s mobile again.
“Don’t stop smiling!” they tell her, and she smiles harder than ever, sparkling, winning. Everything hurts. She wants to go home. She doesn’t stop smiling.
The last year is the easiest, oddly enough. She and Marvel and their alternates train in the mornings and eat separately in the evenings. They don’t get sugar cookies anymore. Therapists work with them to make them “ready” for the arena, but she’s been ready for the arena for years.
This isn’t a choice. This is her destiny. Without the Games, what could she do with her life – make clothing or jewelry for a living, or be a whore like her mother? This is her only chance to have something better. To be someone better.
She doesn’t dream of winning the Games. She dreams of her life afterward, of parties and bright-colored expensive bubbly drinks and beautiful clothes that fit her just right. She likes to imagine herself as a mentor, working the rounds at the sponsor parties in couture dresses and making absolutely certain that one of her tributes will go home a winner.
She does not necessarily yearn to kill. But she wants so badly to survive.
It is Reaping Day. It is her time. All of District 1 is applauding for her, cheering, and she knows she is invincible here in this moment. The mentors greet her warmly onstage as their Capitol escort asks her name.
“Glimmer,” she says, and everyone loves her.
She cannot remember the last time she was happy.
She smiles anyway.