By Annie Sewell-Jennings
My spirit grows heavy and I wonder at times
What keeps it from floating up high
The hatred of people that I might have crossed
Or the gravity of our desires
It's hell either way calling St. Expedite
Hell either way calling St. Expedite
It's hell either way calling St. Expedite
Well it's hell either way calling St. Expedite
--Grant-Lee Phillips, "St. Expedite"
Principal Wood was
right. As soon as the school year picked up, the kids started to flood
into her office. Problems left and right. This girl who might be pregnant.
This boy who lost his brother. The kids like her. Sometimes, there are
boys who get crushes on her, pretty Miss Summers in her low-slung slacks
and platform heels. They bring her presents, candy bars and teddy bears.
They want her in their photographs. At the end of the year, they'll clamor
to have her sign their yearbooks.
But they don't know
that she hears things.
when the office is quiet and no one is talking, Buffy can hear him through
the ventilation system.
Rambling words traveling
up through steel tunnels, pouring into her small, cluttered cubicle. Snippets
of sanity. Howling. Whimpers. Laughter, unhinged and without humor. He
can pour all of his misery into his nonsense, and she thinks that insanity
might be contagious.
She thinks it might
good, you know. Must behave. Stand up straight. Don't slouch..."
She brought in a
radio. Plays alternative music softly in her cubicle, murmurs of electronic
folk. Quiet, peaceful songs. Atmospheric noise. When that did not work,
she tried to cover the vent in her office. Muffle his mutterings with
a washcloth. It only made her sweat when she could not feel the air conditioning,
and still she heard him suffer.
love you. Never. Worthless fuck. Stupid, awful..."
When she could not
block it out anymore, Buffy tried to simply ignore it. Pretend that it
wasn't there. Just the voices of the kids as they laughed and changed
classes with the ring of the bell. The clanging of Coke cans in vending
machines. Lockers slamming shut. Easier to manage that way. Not so time-consuming.
Not so disturbing.
She does not want
to be disturbed.
not eat lunch in the cafeteria with the other faculty members, nor does
she hang out in the break room and gossip over cheap coffee and half-stale
doughnuts. She simply is not hungry. Good for me, she thinks
to herself. I'll keep my girlish figure and not pig out on fish sticks.
Instead, she tries
to meditate. Sits Indian-style in the abandoned office and thinks about
root systems and serenity. Channels her chi, relaxes her muscles. Closes
off the physical and concentrates on the spiritual.
She's trying to grow
a bite, just a taste... No, no, no. Stop it. Bad thing, awful thing, dead
Her skin always breaks
in the end.
Laura Cochran is
quiet girl sits patient and collected in the chair across from her, cable-knit
sweater smooth and the color of cream. She's always so well dressed. Immaculately
groomed. Wears nice, pearly jewelry and looks like she plays tennis and
cricket. Looks educated and smart.
Buffy has pored over
her file. Examined her grades, studied her history. Academia is one of
Laura's strong points; she's on her way to being the valedictorian of
her class. President of the student council. A member of the mock-trial
team. Accepted to Stanford on a full scholarship. Volunteers at the local
Three weeks ago,
Laura Cochran was sent to the hospital for overdosing on cocaine.
The girl bows her
head, swipes strands of hair out of her eyes with manicured fingernails.
"I feel stupid," she says. "I mean, thinking back. It wasn't
the brightest thing in the world to do. But I was at a party, and it was
there, and..." She shrugs gracefully, a tight motion underneath creamy
wool. "I just did it."
Buffy does not know
the proper responses. She had only a semester of psychology from a woman
who created monsters in her spare time, and she does not trust key phrases
and textbooks. "Pressure?" she asks, and Laura nods.
she admits. "Too much of it. I feel like I have to be on all the
time. I guess the coke was an easy fix. But then I started to do more
of it, and suddenly I couldn't function without it. I was addicted."
Addiction. It's a
word that Buffy knows well. Sympathetically, she smiles. Pats Laura's
hand. "You're doing so well."
Laura smiles brightly.
"I am," she says proudly. "I've gone twenty-one days without
any drugs in my system. My sponsor says that I'm on the road to recovery.
It's still hard, but I'm making it. These things take time, right?"
Whispers again, coming
from the vent. "Time, time, there's too much of it. Too much time,
and will you just sodding shut up..."
Tightly, Buffy smiles.
When she sees him,
he's curled up on the floor in a little black ball. Hair still bright,
but dirty and rumpled. Hands clawing at his disheveled curls. There's
blood on his face.
She knows that he's
done this to himself. Not just the wounds, not just the scratches. His
suffering stems from his own crimes. When he screams at invisible people,
he's yelling at his own victims. Telling them to leave him alone. Let
him be. But Buffy cannot have sympathy for him. She cannot give him strength
or teach him how to meditate. There is no chi for him to harness.
There is only karma.
a sigh. Slowly, too-blue eyes lift up and caress her face. It pains her
when he looks at her. His entire face lights up like it's Christmas (what's
a word means glowing?) and he gives her an expression that looks
too much like begging. "Buffy," he breathes, and a smile touches
his mouth. She hates that smile. It doesn't look like him. Too soft. Too
honeyed. Too gentle.
"You have to
stop screaming," Buffy says flatly. "It's disrupting my work."
the color of soot. The color of the streaks of dirt and grime on his high,
feline cheeks. Disappointment and shame register, and he drops his head.
"Very bad of me," he whispers. "Terrible. Should... Should
be quiet. Like the mice." Fingernails, dirty and ragged, skitter
over the floor in an impression of mice feet, and Buffy suppresses a shudder.
It frightens her when he's like this.
Her feet beg to run.
Her breath is quick, and her heart flutters in her chest. Get away from
him. Far away, where he can't touch her. There are bad implications in
the architecture of his face. His voice rubs her like sandpaper, burning
off the skin she's grown. A part of her feels mean and terrible, cruel
and callous. Insensitive.
"It's not your
fault," she tries, but he does not understand.
"My fault, my
fault, all my fault, terrible me..."
When he starts scratching
at his face again, peeling off his own skin to reveal the blood beneath
his once-gorgeous features, Buffy runs away.
Her old room no longer
smells like her.
Ashes snake and coil
on the end of the incense stick. Myrrh and unidentifiable herbs burst
into plumes of fine, fragile smoke. Everything is tenuous in this room.
Delicate and uncertain.
Willow sits Indian-style
on a pillow, her red hair pulled up in a ponytail, eyes closed as she
meditates. There is no need for bandages anymore; she has grown back to
her full strength. Yet sometimes, she slips up. A floating candle. Sparkles
and flickers in the air. The occasional flying pencil. But she is learning
control. She is working on it.
And when she smiles,
she looks like herself.
Her eyes open, and
there's that old Willow look as she grins at Buffy in the threshold. "Long
day at work?" she asks, and Buffy nods. Grimaces, rolls her head
back. Pops her back.
she admits. "But it's okay. The kids are good, and the pay's not
so bad. Sure beats flipping burgers."
A flash of old, mischievous
eyes, but they're tired. Weary. Too different. It's uncomfortable when
Willow looks at her like this, giving her eyes that have seen too much,
or a smile that's too thin and frail. "Mom wants me to go back to
school," she says. "Dad's not too happy with my less-than-stellar
GPA from last semester."
"Did you tell
them that you were too busy trying to end the world to cram for finals?"
As soon as it comes
out of Buffy's mouth, it is apparent to her that Willow does not appreciate
this humor. It irritates her, that her attempts at comedy are not accepted
here. She can laugh about what happened to her. Make her jokes, ha-ha,
I used to be dead and now I'm not. But bring up a skinless guy and an
ancient temple and Willow goes all turtle-in-the-shell.
not fair. I'm over it. Get over it, too.
She just wants things
to be okay again.
Florence, the school
secretary, is a smoker.
It's Florence's business
if she wants to kill herself with cancer sticks. Buffy does not want to
pry. She cannot control the actions of others.
But the smell...
It reminds her of
things. Bad things. Times spent on her back in the dark, cavernous underground
of his crypt, covered in sweat and quilts, watching him exhale loops and
hoops of smoke from his plush mouth. Nimble fingers flicking ash into
a chipped ashtray, so neat, so quick. The taste of his mouth when he kissed
It makes his screaming
She thought she'd
told him. No more screaming. How is she supposed to concentrate on helping
people with all of his fucking noise? Banging pipes, ranting and raving
at nothing at all, slamming things around. The worst is when he cries.
Sobbing, weeping, wailing. Sometimes, she thinks that she can taste the
salt of his tears in her bitter coffee.
Cigarette smoke creeps
in from the cracks of the window, and Buffy can see Florence leaning against
the brick wall outside of her office. The Virginia Slim between her fat
lips, the plaid jumpsuit that does not fit her well. Sometimes, she thinks
of telling Florence to take her smoke breaks somewhere else. Maybe lie
to her about it, tell her that she's allergic.
But then she thinks
of living without the cigarette smoke, and it doesn't sound so good after
Shut up, Willow.
She does not want to talk about these things. Not when she's trying to
be calm, when she's trying to paint the walls of her mother's bedroom
a sunny, funny yellow color and listening to poor Rat's compilation tape.
A shrug of her shoulders, a flip of her ponytail. "Don't know,"
she lies. "He hasn't exactly been clear enough to give a straight
Willow frowns, sweeps
the brush down the wall. "Have you asked him?"
A jerky motion, and
she almost drops the brush. "No." The word is firm, hard like
Willow does not ask
He haunts her nightmares.
Sometimes, she thinks
that it would be easier if she would dream about the bathroom. The torn
gray robe, the hard tile floor. Those are nightmares she can handle. She's
the victim, rolling around on the floor while he makes demands he has
no right to make and presses his bruising, forceful knee onto her thigh.
If she could dream about that, it would be...
But Buffy only dreams
about the church.
Slender silver man
walking between the pews, rattling off nonsense with tears in his voice.
So desperate, so tired. His hands unbuckling his pants. Service the girl.
Horrifying, absolutely frightening, but not because of... That. No, there's
another kind of fear entirely in the unsnapping of buttons, the resignation
in his voice.
I flesh to you?
When she wakes up,
there are tears on her face. Tears like that night. Pain squeezing her
heart. Suffering. Mourning. Grief. Regret.
Something akin to...
The tears burn like
Laura Cochran is
Not by vampire. Not
Something much, much
worse than that.
The news of her death
spreads quickly throughout the school. Laura was well-liked, beautiful
and popular. She was a model student, and this is not the way that perfect
girls are supposed to die. They aren't supposed to have seizures behind
the wheels of their brand-new Mustangs, their pretty cashmere sweaters
stained with blood. They're supposed to live forever, bright beacons leading
the way, happy and free.
Buffy does not know
what to do.
She was clean. That's
what she'd said, just a week ago. Clean. How poised she'd been. How collected.
That bright, glimmering smile as she flipped her hair. Talk over Homecoming
decorations and which deejay she should choose for the dance. She was...
Helplessly, she sits
in her office while the teachers go for lunch. Meditate, meditate. Connect
to the root system. Grow new skin. Gather the chi, collect strength, heal.
away, she's gone away, and hush, you're not being quiet enough for her,
When he starts weeping
in the basement, Buffy cannot help but join in.
It's a sad affair,
as all funerals are. Mourners gathered around a dark rosewood casket,
throwing crocuses and lilies onto the lid. Her parents stand stricken
and confused; the mother breaks down into sobs when the casket begins
its final descent into the ground. Buffy wants to console them, but she
does not have the words. She wants to apologize.
sorry. I thought she was fixed.
She decides against
Willow is there,
dressed in black, her slender hand wrapped around Buffy's wrist. They
stand together, quiet and somber, until the workers begin to shovel dirt
and the mourners disperse. When Laura's grief-stricken parents pass by
her, Buffy cannot meet their eyes. Shame passes through her, and a deep,
resonating guilt resounds through her bones.
she was fixed.
"I don't understand,"
she says through dry lips, and Willow turns her head, frowning. "She
was in my office just a week ago. She was clean. No more drugs."
Quietly, Willow nods
her head. "I know, Buffy. These things... They happen. People can't
keep it under control all the time."
not it. She was a straight-A student. She had everything going for her."
"But you don't
No. She supposed
As they walk through
the graveyard, the sun starts to dip into the horizon. A ball of fire,
blazing and bright, dimming into dark twilight. "I thought I helped
her," Buffy says numbly. "She seemed... Happy. Like she'd made
sense of everything. And I thought that I'd helped her do that."
She shakes her head. "I should've listened harder. Should've... Should've
done something differently."
says abruptly. "I was supposed to help it, Willow. That was my job.
Guidance counselor and all. But all I did was guide her into..."
She cannot finish the sentence. Raw pain slices through her like a dagger,
and she feels ill. "I wasn't strong enough. I didn't..."
Suddenly, she realizes
where she is. Where she is standing.
morning in May. Crawling out of the open grave, her sister at her side,
the world laid open and gorgeous in front of her. Sunlight epiphany, gorgeous
and majestic. Everything was in bloom, the wind carrying the scent of
flora and possibility. A dry sort of heat crawled on her body, and it
was the best feeling in the world. I can do this. I can live. I can
live in this world, and be happy. It's over.
So strong. So bright.
She'd thought it over, the pain of last year, the suffering. The depression.
But how could all of that fade away in one sunlit revelation? How could
she possibly have thought that it was over, that it was finished and done?
That she was so strong, so beautiful? Inside, there are parts of her that
are still broken and shattered from her resurrection. A piece of her that
still longs for heaven.
"It was a quick
fix," Buffy says softly. "Just a quick fix."
But pain like that
cannot be expedited. It cannot be hurried along, or made to disappear.
It lingers, like scar tissue. Like the scrapes and burns on his body,
so dark and bright.
"They put the
spark in me..."
Willow asks, her pretty face lined with worry, and Buffy swallows hard.
"I have to go."
He's writing on the
She'd always thought that he would write in chicken scratch, long and
tall lettering, slashing wounds. But he is unpredictable as always, writing
in flowing, lovely streams of sentences and phrase, etching his strange
poetry onto the walls of the basement. He talks to himself as he writes.
"Not so good,
this one, but it'll do. It'll do." His voice grows louder, agitated.
"Stop laughing at it! Not funny, is it? Still not done, you know.
Could use a little work. I'll try harder. Hard worker, I am."
When she speaks,
she keeps her voice gentle, and cannot staunch the admiration. "You
Startled, he drops
his pen and steps away from the walls, and then ducks his head. "Sorry,"
he whispers. "Was too loud again, wasn't I? They yell. They don't
understand. Need your quiet, you do. Got a job to do." He covers
his heart with his hand, the heart covered by so many scratches. I tried
to cut it out. "Got to help people."
Buffy nods and drops
her head. "I'm trying to help," she says.
She's brought him
things. Blood. A change of clothes. A blanket, some candles. The scented
ones. Sandalwood and cinnamon. The scents that he likes.
A little nervously,
Buffy extends her arms and lays the duffel bag at his feet. "I, um,
brought you some stuff," she says, and she quirks her mouth at him.
"You look like you haven't been eating well." Conflict crosses
his face as he looks at the bags of blood she's laid carefully in the
bag, and he leans forward, takes a smell. Shocked, he lifts his eyes,
and she swallows, a little embarrassed. "You look like you need the
he says, and then he shoves the bag away. "Can't. Not that. No, no.
Mentally, she curses
herself. Stupid, so goddamn stupid. She shouldn't have brought him human
blood. How fucking thoughtless she is. "I'm sorry," Buffy says.
"I'll go to the butcher and come back."
But he's still shaking
his head, pushing the bag away from him. "Don't deserve it,"
he says. "Donít deserve your help."
Doesn't he know?
He's always been so insightful, even when she does not want it. Can't
he look at her and tell? She's helpless. As helpless as she's always been.
Her help has landed a girl in a grave, all because she thought that there
was such a thing as a quick fix.
"No such thing."
lifts her eyes. "What?" she asks, and he shakes his head.
fixed it," he says, rubbing his arms together. Blindly, he looks
around him, seeing something that only he can see. "Didn't I? Thought
I'd come back all right. But it didn't work. Didn't take." He hangs
his head, winces. "Still a monster. Still a thing."
She can feel them
stinging behind her eyelids. Assaulting her, assuaging her. Part of her
wants to be strong, wants to be bright and beautiful again. Wants to be
whole. But the other part tells her that there is no shame in crying.
There is no way to live in this world and not feel pain.
Especially when she
has destroyed something beautiful.
She steps closer
to him, and her feet scream to run again. Her body wants to flee. Hide
away from his dirty, tearstained cheeks. Cower from the face of his madness.
Run away from the mess she has made. Pretend that she is still all right.
That she's fixed.
The only problem
is that he is broken.
Buffy does not speak
as she sits down next to him. Her words are worthless. Instead of dispensing
wisdom, she has only dispensed death and demolition. He tries to move
away, mutters something about worthiness, but she grabs his hand before
he can do so.
the one who's not worthy.
So cold. His hand
is so cold. His face illuminates as she makes contact with him, and he
turns the power of his blue eyes on her. Haunted. Harrowed. Stripped.
Unhinged. So innocent, and she's ashamed of herself for thinking that
he deserved this. Ashamed of herself for ignoring his help. But not anymore.
She can't do that anymore. Not to him.
And not to herself.
She licks her lips.
Draws soothing, anxious circles on his skin with her thumb. She wants
to tell him that she's sorry. That she's suffering. That she wants him
to make her feel better, that she wants him to tell her that he still
loves her. That she's still lovable.
But instead, she
swallows hard and nods at him.