1When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. Myfingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but findingonly the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She musthave had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother.Of course she did. This is the day of the reaping.I prop myself up on one elbow. There’s enoughlight in the bedroom to see them. My little sister, Prim,curled up on her side, cocooned in my mother’s body,their cheeks pressed together. In sleep, my motherlooks younger, still worn but not so beaten-down.Prim’s face is as fresh as a raindrop, as lovely as theprimrose for which she was named. My mother wasvery beautiful once, too. Or so they tell me.Sitting at Prim’s knees, guarding her, is the world’sugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing,eyes the colour of rotting squash. Prim named him3
Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coatmatched the bright f lower. He hates me. Or at leastdistrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think hestill remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucketwhen Prim brought him home. Scrawny kitten, bellyswollen with worms, crawling with f leas. The lastthing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Primbegged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. Itturned out OK. My mother got rid of the vermin andhe’s a born mouser. Even catches the occasional rat.Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup theentrails. He has stopped hissing at me.Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will evercome to love.I swing my legs off the bed and slide into myhunting boots. Supple leather that has moulded to myfeet. I pull on trousers, a shirt, tuck my long dark braidup into a cap, and grab my forage bag. On the table,under a wooden bowl to protect it from hungry ratsand cats alike, sits a perfect little goat’s cheese wrappedin basil leaves. Prim’s gift to me on reaping day. I putthe cheese carefully in my pocket as I slip outside.Our part of District 12, nicknamed the Seam, isusually crawling with coal miners heading out to themorning shift at this hour. Men and women withhunched shoulders, swollen knuckles, many of whom4
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