Their Mayor's Daughter
For most, I am Madge Undersee, the Mayor’s Daughter. For my classmates, I am also Madge Undersee, the only girl who hangs out with sour, taciturn Katniss Everdeen. For Rory Hawthorne, I’m Madge Undersee who lives in a large house with a big library. No one has ever been interested enough in me to look beyond these superficial labels in order to describe me. All throughout my life, I have been the shy, withdrawn girl in the background, with nondescript features who is easily overlooked and forgotten.
I believe that besides my parents, no one knows when my birthday is, what I like to do outside of school, how I spend my evenings. Not even Katniss, who is the only person I occasionally consider as a friend, knows much about me beyond the obvious. If anyone wonders why I spend my lunch recess with Katniss, the answer is pretty simple. I’m desperately lonely all the time, but during lunch I choose not to be lonely, alone. I am not sure what Katniss is getting out of the bargain, but she has never complained, and neither has she tried to move away. We don’t question our arrangement, but keep each other company for reasons that neither of us has ever felt the need to fathom.
My meeting this morning with Gale Hawthorne and Katniss reminded me however, that in everyone’s eyes I’m also Madge Undersee, the Town girl who never needs to take tesserae, and whose odds of getting reaped are next to non-existent. Gale made no effort to hide his disdain for me, and of course, I can’t blame him for resenting me. I know that I am seen by all as being the most privileged girl within Reaping age, and perhaps even beyond it, in District 12. The effect of his words, however, only serve to stress into me the fact that I am also Madge Undersee, the rich, plainish girl with a forever unrequited crush on a handsome miner’s son. My only comfort is that, at least, this state of affairs is known only to me.
The irony is that there is a great chance that today Gale Hawthorne might be proven wrong. I stand in the square in front of the Justice Building, the blazing sun doing nothing to warm the cold sweat that is making me shiver in this August afternoon. I haven’t slept in two days, ever since that night when, as I made my way to the kitchen for a glass of water I overheard a conversation from behind the door of my father’s study.
“What do you mean there are going to be surprises?” he had asked, his voice etched with an emotion that seemed to range between suspicion and fear.
“I’m telling you Mayor Undersee, I don’t know the details,” a female voice had replied. “All I know is that there is some tension in 8 and 11, and informed sources have told me that the Capitol wants to issue a reminder to all districts during this year’s Reaping.” The voice sounded vaguely familiar, and so did the accent, but I failed to recognise who the speaker was at that time.
My father had paused before asking the obvious question. “What sort of reminder?”
“The Capitol feels that the wealthier classes from all Districts are feeling safe, and that the tessarae system might be backfiring in this respect. President Snow has noticed that the Tributes from the outlying areas have been predominantly from the poorer classes, who in their destitution are always somehow kept under control,” the woman explained. There was silence in the room and I moved my head closer to the door. “From what I’ve heard, this year’s Tribute will not fall under the usual range.”
The implications of those words were very clear to me as soon as they had left the woman’s mouth. The “usual range” of Tributes from the outlying Districts was predominantly made up of 16-18 year olds from the poorer areas; in our case, obviously the Seam.
What this woman had meant was that this year, the Tributes would be young and/or relatively wealthy. The odds of me being reaped, as a warning to any rebellious District Mayors, were suddenly very much against my favour. I heard steps coming to study door and I leaped up the stairs, peaking through the banisters to see who the woman could possibly be, managing to stop myself from gasping with difficulty.
The woman had short brown hair, tired eyes and a pasty complexion, and sported a slight tremor in her hands and an unsteady gait. However, her profile was unmistakable. On the eve of what would possibly be the Reaping that took my life, I saw for the first, and probably only, time the exposed, undisguised individual that made up the real Effie Trinket.
The Effie I see on stage, however, as she looks smugly at all of us in her pink wig and ostentatious suit, is the one that everyone knows, dreads and loathes.
The tremor from her hands is gone, and her steps are strong and balanced in her ridiculously high heels. My father gives his speech, playing his role of loyal Mayor to near perfection as he speaks of District 12’s achievements in the past year, and thanks the Capitol for its unwavering support in providing for our needs. No one can possibly tell that Mayor Undersee is dreading this year’s Reaping, except for me. With Mama’s absence in my life, I’ve always been particularly close to my Father, even though we are not much alike in character. I’m shy and withdrawn, while he has the charisma and personality of a politician. The one thing that brings us together, however, is the ability to conceal our feelings, whether these happen to be general feelings of inadequacy, like in my case, or feelings of guilt, distrust and fear, like he is feeling now. His hand clutches the microphone in a way that it has never done before, and his eyes keep darting to me whenever he mentions how proud he is of District 12’s young people, and how we will be all behind them in our support from the minute our name is called.
We both know it’s going to be me.
I look around, searching for familiar faces, wishing them silent goodbyes that they will not even realise that they are receiving. I see Katniss, looking worried and searching for her sister with her eyes, and glance at Gale who is looking at her, with a resigned look on his face as he is probably sending her his goodbye as well. His brother Rory trembles in fear, while Vick, at his first Reaping, is already fighting back tears. I turn my head back to Effie as she dips her hand in the Reaping bowl, wretched in the knowledge that I have no one, no one, besides my parents who will really miss me. I clutch at the Mockingjay Pin that I wear for every Reaping and whisper Aunt May’s name in a superstitious mantra that has so far kept me safe, holding my breath as I wait for Effie Trinket to call out my name.
I’m not sure what exactly happens in the next few minutes except that I could have never possibly imagined that I could experience so many different emotions in such close succession. The minute Primrose Everdeen’s name is called out I actually double over and utter a cry of relief that is far too loud. Seconds later my cry is followed by a gasp of dismay and disbelief upon hearing Katniss screamed offer to volunteer. I am still stunned when I hear Effie calling out Peeta Mellark’s name, and this where I really lose it.
I realise that it is not me who was chosen to give a warning to the restless Districts. It was meant to be Primrose, a twelve-year-old girl at her first Reaping, with her one slip amongst the thousands, and Peeta the sweet sixteen-year-old son of the Baker, the merchant who feeds the district, and whose sons probably never had to resort to the Tessarae system. The message is clear – there is no way anyone can be safe from the whims of the Capitol. Seam or
Merchant, hungry or fed, we are all just a game in the Capitol’s hunger for dominion and repression.
I look at our District’s Tributes in dismay, willing myself to accept that I’m losing my only friend. I don’t know Peeta very well, though I see him often hanging around in close range whenever I’m with Katniss. I have always found him cute, and his obvious infatuation with my friend endeared him even more to me, seeing my similar state of mind with respect to Gale. I cannot even start to imagine what must be going on through his mind at the moment, as Effie enthusiastically asks them to shake hands. She plays her role to perfection, so well in fact, that I find myself wondering whether what happened two nights ago had been in fact just a dream.
My father gathers me into his arms and buries his face in my hair, confirming to me without a doubt the very real fears he had for my life. “I’m safe Daddy,” I whisper, “I’m safe for another year…”. He nods and holds me tight before releasing me to deal with “official business”, namely that of registering formally the tributes and setting up a fund for funeral arrangements for the families that fail the means test. With this system, and to add insult to injury, the Mellarks will probably have to pay for their own son’s funeral after he is killed for the enjoyment of the Capitol citizens.
I make my way inside the Justice Building and wait outside the room where I know that the Female Tributes are led. The door in front of me opens, and I see Mrs Mellark walk out of the Male Tributes’ room, impassive and tight-lipped, her rapid blinking being the only visible reaction to her son’s Reaping. Naan Mellark, however is dragging a hysterical Barley out of the room behind her. The middle Mellark boy cannot even hold himself on his feet and clutches at his pale and grim faced brother as he sobs uncontrollably. “I’m so sorry!” he wails, “I’m just a coward, I’m sorry, I killed him! I killed him!”
I can see Peeta from inside the room rushing to the door and calling out to him. “No one expected you to volunteer, Barley, no one!” he tried to reassure him. He is right, no one could have possibly expected eighteen-year-old Barley, at his last Reaping and after enduring the six years of terror that Panem kids go through, to sacrifice his life for his younger brother. No one, no one, could be possibly expected to do it.
Well, except for Katniss Everdeen apparently. I can understand how Barley must feel, how in the one occasion where he was called to volunteer for his brother, Katniss had to go and raise the bar for all siblings in Panem. Barley will not be seen as the unfortunate young man who lost his brother to the Hunger Games, but as the strong eighteen-year-old wrestler who could have taken his younger brother’s place, just as the girl from the Seam had done. The fact that he would have almost certainly died in the arena would be
conveniently ignored or glossed upon.
I realise that the real atrocity of the Games is this, when young kids are placed in this impossible situation, brother against brother, with the full knowledge that the only way to save the other, is to sacrifice yourself. As I look at Barley’s crazed face, I wonder how he will possibly live with the guilt of not having volunteered for Peeta. In fact, were it not for the fact that Peeta was actually going to die in the coming weeks, I would actually resort to thinking of Barley as unlucky.
The door opens behind me and, to my amazement, Mr Mellark comes rushing out from next to Katniss and pushes through the Peacemakers to storm into the room where Peeta is still standing helplessly, next to the door. I see him fall into his father’s arms and weep helplessly before the latter ushers him back into the room whispering frantically into his ear. Peeta nods as he buries his head into his shoulder, and I tear my gaze away with an effort. The least I can do is allow my classmate to come to terms with his death sentence in the arms of his father with some privacy.
My visit to Katniss is brief. Unlike Peeta, she is handling the Reaping with silent decorum, although I have to swallow a lump in my throat when I see her absently clutching a bag full of Mr Mellark’s cookies. The thought of Peeta’s father handing her that gift, fulling knowing that she and his youngest son will be tasked with killing each other makes me almost lose it completely. She is geniunely touched and surprised to see me, and on an unplanned whim, I decide to give her my Aunt Maysilee’s Mockingjay Pin. I figure that she needs my lucky charm more than I do at the moment. I have two Reapings left, and at least another year to live. For now I consider that to be enough.
I bid Katniss farewell and as I look closely at the features of the only person who I could possibly consider a friend, I try to prepare myself for the fact that I will probably never see her again alive in District 12. While I walk out of the Justice Building, I realise that I’m not the only person who is resigned to Katniss’ death. Gale Hawthorne is crouched by the wall, tears streaming down his face as he stares blankly into space. I am not sure how I get the courage to move towards him. I guess surviving a Reaping and losing your friend to it at the same time leads to a re-organisation of priorities. As I crouch next to him, he turns to look at me, his face a mixture of resentment and helplessness.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, “I think it should have been me.” Little does he know how true my words were.
“It shouldn’t have been anyone,” he spits out angrily. “I’ve had enough Madge, enough of this,” he adds, as he leans the back of his head to the hard wall,
trying to swallow his tears.
“Don’t say these things here, Gale,” I warn hastily, “not with all the Peacekeepers around!”
He nods and looks at me, his expression unreadable. This is the longest conversation we have ever had, and chest is clenching so hard round my heart that it pushes all thoughts about the Reaping, Katniss and Peeta away. All I know is that I’m sitting next to Gale Hawthorne, and we are talking.
No wonder I’m alone, I think with an internal wince. I’m a horrible friend.
Unlike me, Gale has obviously not allowed his thoughts to stray far from today’s events. “She’s not coming back, is she?” he whispers, as he looks at me for the reassurance that I can’t give him.
I turn my head away as I see Effie Tricket hurriedly escorting Katniss and Peeta to the car that will take them to the train station. Peeta’s eyes are red rimmed from the tears he shed in the Justice Building, but Katniss still seems to be unmoved by the whole situation. I catch Effie and my father sharing one look, and the theatrical demeanour of the Capitol escort melts for one quick second to show a glimpse of the exhausted, disillusioned woman I saw at our house two nights ago. I might have been spared this year, but nevertheless, she is still knowingly leading another two innocent kids to certain death. “No, Gale,” I murmur back, “I don’t think so.”
He lets out a shuddering breath, and without thinking, I find myself grasping his hand gently. I expect him to snatch it away from my grasp, but he seems to be too shellshocked to offer much resistance. In fact, I nearly gasp when I feel him tightening his grip slightly.
I am Madge Undersee, a terrible friend who is turning a tragedy into her advantage.
I might even become Madge Undersee, Gale Hawthorne’s second choice. The mediocre replacement of Katniss Everdeen. His afterthought.
As I look at his broken eyes, however, I know that with that description of myself, I could happily learn to live.