Mark Reads ‘Mockingjay’: Chapter 21

In the twenty-first chapter of Mockingjay, THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Mockingjay.

Well, we’re just plowing straight into the realm of UNBEARABLY UNCOMFORTABLE, aren’t we?

That makes two requests for Peeta’s death in less than an hour.

It’s party time here in Mockingjay!

“Don’t be ridiculous,” says Jackson.

“I just murdered a member of our squad!” shouts Peeta.

“You pushed him off you. You couldn’t have known he would trigger the net at that exact spot,” says Finnick, trying to calm him.

“Who cares? He’s dead, isn’t he?” Tears begin to run down Peeta’s face. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen myself like that before. Katniss is right. I’m the monster. I’m the mutt. I’m the one Snow has turned into a weapon!”

I’ve been worried about Peeta for a while now, but now I’m really freaked out by this. I mean, he did kill Mitchell, but I honestly don’t think it’s his fault.  But how do you communicate that to him? How does he accept what he’s done?

“Maybe you think it’s kinder to just dump me somewhere. Let me take my chances.”

COULD THEY NOT. PLEASE. PLEASE DON’T DO IT.

“I’ll kill you before that happens,” says Gale. “I promise.”

WHAT.

Peeta hesitates, as if considering the reliability of this offer, and then shakes his head. “It’s no good. What if you’re not there to do it? I want one of those poison pills like the rest of you have.”

Ah, christ. There has to be another solution, right? I’m impressed that no one, even Gale, seems to want to get rid of Peeta immediately, and I’m glad they recognize that he’s not himself, but Collins has set up SO MANY pieces that could make this mission absolutely fail. THIS SHIT IS STRESSFUL.

I don’t know if it’s the pods, or the fear, or watching Boggs die, but I feel the arena all around me. It’s as if I’ve never left, really. Once again I’m battling not only for my own survival but for Peeta’s as well. How satisfying, how entertaining it would be for Snow to have me kill him. To have Peeta’s death on my conscience for whatever is left of my life.

I’ve complained in the past that Collins has a tendency to spell out metaphors or analogies or parallels to the past, but I don’t mind it here at all. Hell, I don’t think I would have even picked up on this without this section. In a way, that means that Collins put the arena in every book. It haunts these characters’ every move and thought and even when they are fighting to rid the world of the Games, it’s now apparent they still have to make it through one last “Game” before the end.

Katniss insists to Peeta that he’s necessary to their mission, so she’s not letting anyone ditch him. No one fights her and they begin to look for some food in the Capitol apartment before heading out again. It provides yet another instance of the Games coming back to Katniss’s thoughts, too:

I poke around in the pile, about to settle on some cod chowder, when Peeta holds out a can to me. “Here.”

I take it, not knowing what to expect. The label reads Lamb Stew.

I press my lips together at the memories of rain dripping through stones, my inept attempts at flirting, and the aroma of my favorite Capitol dish in the chilly air. So some part of it must still be in his head, too. How happy, how hungry, how close we were when that picnic basket arrived outside our cave.

It seems like that was a lifetime away. I mean, for the characters, it must certainly feel that way, but I started this trilogy back when I launched my sites three months or so ago. That seems so long ago, and I’m kind of wistful this is coming to an end so soon. Also: CANNOT FIGURE THIS OUT.

Back to the book. Another Capitol broadcast comes on the TV, where they all have to watch their “deaths” yet again on screen. Surprisingly, though, President Snow makes an appearance this time. He predictably celebrates the death of Katniss and I sat there YAWNING OUT OF BOREDOM FOR HIS PRESIDENTIAL-Y WAYS.

Somewhere in District 13, Beetee hits a switch, because now it’s not President Snow but President Coin who’s looking at us. She introduces herself to Panem, identifies herself as the head of the rebellion, and then gives my eulogy. Praise for the girl who survived the Seam and the Hunger Games, then turned a country of slaves into an army of freedom fighters. “Dead or alive, Katniss Everdeen will remain the face of this rebellion. If you waver in your resolve, think of the Mockingjay, and in her you will find the strength you need to rid Panem of its oppressors.”

Well, that’s REALLY AWKWARD. Right? I mean, we know Coin didn’t give a shit whether Katniss died in the Capitol. In fact, it works in her favor. So, reading this little speech of hers, I feel pretty creeped out. It doesn’t make me feel any better about the leaders of the rebellion, and now I’m truly hoping that Katniss finds a way to do what she needs to do for herself, not for District 13.

It seems that’s exactly what she’s set out to do. After Snow closes out the broadcast with some more yawn-inducing threats, Katniss resolves that it’s time to simply move on. Jackson helps her out with basic commands of the Holo. That’s when she learns that they’re moving ever closer to the center of the Capitol; the pods are increasing in volume. Rooftops are out of the question, and the streets are nearly impossible. And that’s when Gale suggests moving underground.

The Holo can show subterranean as well as street-level pods. I see that when we go underground the clean, dependable lines of the street plan are interlaced with a twisting, turning mess of tunnels. The pods look less numerous, though.

Well, great. Let’s trade pods for CONFUSING CLAUSTROPHOBIA. I’m telling you, I would have been dead in like…chapter 12 of The Hunger Games. Easily.

The thing is, Peeta still isn’t really ready to go with them. I have to say that I do recognize the difficulty of the situation. Peeta is concerned that he will, in his words, “disclose [their] position or hurt someone else.” On top of that, there’s a part of Katniss that wants so dearly to acknowledge that Peeta is probably right and he deserves to have his perspective respected by everyone.

“Stop being noble! I don’t care if I die!” He turns to me, pleading now. “Katniss, please. Don’t you see, I want to be out of this?”

I can’t even pretend I would know what I would do, but I am glad that, at the very least, Katniss realizes that there’s a great deal of truth in what Peeta says. But what’s the alternative? Leave him behind to die or be captured or commit suicide? She doesn’t really make a decision, though, so much as simply deferring it until later. I mean, how could make the choice to kill your friend in the span of a few minutes?

And so they move on, breaking into the middle apartment in the complex where the utility door to the underground tunnels is located. Castor briefly explains that his brother Pollux actually worked down below after he was made an Avox, so he actually leads the way into THE GREAT UNKNOWN. First though, this happens after the Pollux revelation:

Finally, Peeta turns to Pollux. “Well, then you just became our most valuable asset.” Castor laughst and Pollux manages a smile.

We’re halfway down the first tunnel when I realize what was so remarkable about the exchange. Peeta sounded like his old self, the one who could always think of the right thing to say when nobody else could. Ironic, encouraging, a little funny, but not at anyone’s expense. I glance back at him as he trudges along under his guards, Gale and Jackson, his eyes fixed on the ground, his shoulders hunched forward. So dispirited. But for a moment, he was really here.

It’s not irrational to cling to hope, is it? MAYBE HE WILL BE OK. RIGHT? RIGHT?

The tunnel system is rather impressive. They’re much larger than I expected, as Katniss describes how they’re used to skirt around the network of pods aboveground for delivery purposes. And Pollux quickly proves to be invaluable:

Pollux knows details that would lead to disaster for a newcomer, like which offshoots might require gas masks or have live wires or rats the size of beavers.

COULD THEY JUST BE BEAVERS INSTEAD. Those are really, really cute!

The group presses on through the tunnels, under Pollux’s guidance, and stops sometime after three in the morning (!!!) so that they can get some rest before they have to clear out again four hours later. (Side note: This reminds me of nights when I would travel somewhere in California for a show, like San Diego or Fresno, and get home at three and have to wake up at seven for work. I could barely function the next day and I’m not fighting a war. Good god.)

Katniss sleeps on an early shift before Jackson wakes her up around six to take the final watch shift. Pollux has been awake all night and continues to stay awake with Katniss. The two of them look through the maps on the Holo for a while before Katniss focuses on the now-awake Peeta and that small bit of hope I was clinging to a few pages ago finally gets a chance to blossom.

Katniss takes the opportunity to give Peeta some food and while he’s eating, she asks him about the strange statement he made before about a memory not being “shiny” to him.

“Oh, I don’t know exactly how to explain it,” he tells me. “In the beginning, everything was just complete confusion. Now I can sort certain things out. I think there’s a pattern emerging. The memories they altered with the tracker jacker venom have this strange quality about them. Like they’re too intense or the images aren’t stable.”

It’s something to latch on to. It’s something to have hope for. Peeta’s a bit more cynical about being able to process his memories in that way, but for Katniss, it’s a sign that he might be able to truly begin healing.

In the fluorescent light, the circles under his eyes look like bruises. “There’s still time. You should sleep.” Unresisting, he lies back down, but just stares at the needle on one of the dials as it twitches from side to side. Slowly, as I would with a wounded animal, my hand stretches out and brushes a wave of hair from his forehead. He freezes at my touch, but doesn’t recoil. So I continue to gently smooth back his hair. It’s the first time I have voluntarily touched him since the last arena.

OH MY GOD!!!!! OH MY GOD ASDLKFJF A;DJSF A;KJADF this is seriously one of the best moments of the whole book OH MY GOD.

“You’re still trying to protect me. Real or not real,” he whispers.

“Real,” I answer. It seems to require more explanation. “Because that’s what you and I do. Protect each other.” After a minute or so, he drifts off to sleep.

Even my black heart cannot deny the amazing-osity of this. Holy shit, I AM ACTUALLY QUITE HAPPY.

And that’s when, as they wake up around seven to keep moving, Suzanne Collins crushes all our hopes and dreams with merely a sound.

I hush the group to get a better read on it. There’s a hissing, yes, but it’s not one extended sound. More like multiple exhalations that form words. A single word. Echoing throughout the tunnels. One word. One name. Repeated over and over again.

“Katniss.”

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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