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The Rowing Endeth

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that untamable, eternal, gut-driven ha-ha
and lucky love

- Anne Sexton



once upon a time.

She finds a crack in the mirror. It is thin, dark silver, stretching down to the floor – one long slice. Like two raw cuts of meat, the mirror lays its insides bare. It is the beginning.

Or is it?

Maybe it truly was when she skinned her palms red, face to rod, suspended there, above the stranger. Maybe it was the breathless words, “Why are you following me?”

There have been many other beginnings though. When she peeled back another layer and was reborn – in the most painful way possible. She thinks she should have had a misshapen head after all those stops and starts, bent limbs and fluid shining her skin.

There were so many – if she looks back –

his fangs felt sexual, an intrusion. Beat beat beat and then a hot wet drink. She orgasmed twice. Her fingers reeked of copper for days and she heard the sound of breaking wood over and over. Often when she was with Riley or even Spike, she relived that moment. Teeth to neck, blood blood and slick flesh beneath her palms. It has never been like that since. No. But that cannot have been the whole beginning, can it?


Acathla’s jaws were making a strange glowing sound. Her gut knew what she had to do – even knew it was right. He had been a dark, oily stain over their lives. He had killed – executed. He must be killed – executed. But his lips, they tasted human, a little like her and it was as if he has been put back into that bed they shared. A Sleeping Beauty, just awakened to face the Beast. It is so unfair, but she knows who she is – the lies of life are not for her.


She had thought she knew how it would go. After she came back. His tears would be cold as forgiving snow. He would pry Heaven out of her, carefully excising each wound until he had the story. His arms would feel safe. There would be velvet against her cheek and promises would be uttered, made, broken, within the short space of an hour.

She was wrong.

His thoughts were elsewhere – enough that she recognized it. He held her briefly in the beginning – but he seemed wary of her, as if she was still dead. She got that she was a ghost to him, a product of mourning. But she wished for tears, kisses, anything. She wanted to unfreeze – for him to become – for her life to be recognizable again. For him to recognize her. But she was no longer sixteen and she realized in that moment that there had been others for both of them, that his life was not hers and that peace might not lie with him anymore. It hit her harder than she liked. She began to question everything – even her feelings for Spike. He smelled like Angel. It was a selfish, guilty pleasure, what she did with him. Yet she did not feel guilty or regretful – it was the beginning of too much.

Of course, her beginning was guts and blood and milk. The arms and heartbeat of Mother. But it couldn’t have been decided that early, could it?

--

there was a slayer.

She is in the Immortal’s apartment, getting ready to go out for lunch with him. They are meeting at their favourite café, on the Via Condotti. It hasn’t ceased being a novelty, if she’s being honest. Lunch in the sunshine with her boyfriend, the heat on her naked knees. Sandwiches thick with olive oily pesto and cheese, grainy lovely tea – the way he always touches her arm when he’s talking. Speaking of babies, of groceries, of little slayerettes. The light on his face, illuming each bone.

She is wearing a dark pink sundress – it is the color of her secret places, salty and vulnerable. There is gold hooped through her ears and she wears her hair drawn back from her face, in one clean sweep. When she takes it down before bed, it reaches to her lower back, the bowl-curve of it. And it makes her smile, this stroke of femininity.

Buffy turns to face the mirror in her bedroom. Well it is not technically her bedroom – but there are tissues in the wastepaper basket (hers) and lipsticks on the counters (hers) and there is the smell of tears and pussy – indistinguishable, really.

The crack appeared sometime between when she was pulling panties up the thinness of her legs and when she was slipping her feet into little gold sandals. It does not startle her, really, this little anomaly. His house is so out of left field anyway. Everytime she turns a corner she expects to find a zebra smoking a cigar . It is that kind of place.

But this is still new and tantalizing. The mirror is naked in front of her, offering its secrets. She feels very Lucy in Narnia, about to step off a cliff. So she reaches out.

It doesn’t sting at first. Not until the long, thin ribbon appears across all four of her fingers and the heart of her thumb. Buffy winces and yet presses on, hooking her palm around the edge and forcing the mirrordoor open and open again. Blood on her arm, from wrist to elbow. When she steps through, she keeps one foot lodged in the opening until she has looked around and sniffed the air.

It takes her breath for a moment. She is smack dab in the middle of her dream from the night before. It recurs, night after night, and has since Sunnydale. Her foot is balanced on the bow of a small rowboat. An ocean, vast and long as the Plains of Africa is spread around her. A tornado whips in the distant west. She’s trying to get somewhere, find something – but that is nothing new, is it? White horses swim beside the boat, their nostrils spraying salt.

She steps into the rowboat with both feet, takes up the oars and begins to row. This is crazy of a kind she used to attribute only to Faith. But she keeps plowing through the waves – because this must be a new beginning, it has to be – she can smell it happening.

His letter echoes in her ears as the white horses sing their salty tune.

Buffy,

I’m sorry for writing to you and disturbing your peace. No, I’m not sorry. I need to stop lying about what I want and don’t want.


But that wasn’t the beginning – it was part of the middle. This was, and it scorched her. No name, just a rush of words.

I am frightened at how much I need you. I thought I had outgrown this – but I have not, will not, cannot. I don’t just love you. It chills me – the lengths that I would go to. I cannot stand to think of you with others – or maybe I just cannot stand to know that you are in the world and I am not part of it. That piece of earth you stand on and take your bread from. I am not tasting you, plumbing your depths, ravishing your world like you deserve – because Buffy, you have never been a simple girl. There are things we need to do – places we need to fuck – and there are tastes of you that I still know nothing of. How can I not know the warmth of your thighs, the period blood, the cunt smell—“

She isn’t squeamish, but she felt raided by his words, changed by them. It was so unlike Angel and yet—yet.

--

and she had friends, and lovers, and fathers, and snakes.

When she tires of the rowboat, she climbs onto one of the horses. Her dress rides up and clings to the wet of her thighs. It is a darker pink now, the color of rose madder, of furious brave women. When the horse swoops down, down, down beneath the water, she breathes cold waves. Reaching behind her ears, she feels spongy, golden gills. Her arm is still bleeding. It sends a banner of pure stinging red to the surface.

There is a city below her, spread and shining. Buffy laughs a bit, gloriously surprised for the first time in a long, long while. Her eyes flare wide and her cheeks compress as the horse slows, soaring to the bottom of the sea floor. Its hooves sink into sand and silt and it pads slowly down the ghost city, between houses and forgotten stalls. She imagines they might have sold shell necklaces and brooches made of seaweed. A mermaid bazaar.

Her thigh arches as she steps off her steed.

--

and she slew dragons and avoided words written by powerful men and wanted to be - more

When she opens the door to the first building, the dream changes. It becomes Heaven. Her breath goes sour and she feels the sudden, crushing pressure of the ocean, even though she is no longer underwater. It is just such a shock. She has not dreamt of Heaven for ages. Eons and epochs, it seems. It became too painful, even in the nightworld, to imagine the kind of peace that surrounded her there.

She is in a glass coffin, breathing cool thin air.

When Spike lifts the lid, she realizes it is not quite Heaven. It is a perverted version, where vampires come and go as they please, disturbing the fragile skin of the world.

“Hello pet.” He looks shy.

“What are you doing here?”

He takes the heel of her hand and helps her to climb out. This is also new. In Heaven, people climbed in with her, but she never got out.

She is back in Sunnydale. The coffin has been set on the counter of the library – Giles’ old counter. An ache clangs in her chest, an old bell toll. She hears it when windchimes sound, when there is a man with glasses, when cornfields sway, when cigarettes are lit with a pop, when she dreams of witches and warlocks and awkward boys – when she remembers, oh when she remembers the constructions of his body, the hollows, the cool foam semen.

She turns to Spike. “You’re not here.”

“No. Why would I bloody well want to be here? ‘Passions’ is on.”

“How is that—“

“Syndication.” Spike takes her hand. He turns it over and examines the scars from the day the school burned down. His thumb traces the lips of her wound from the mirror, the fresh blood. She stares with him. “You always do things to the bone, don’t you, Slayer?”

“I don’t know any other way.”

“You’ve been living a sodding lie since you got to Rome. What’d you think? All the memories’d just vanish? Pop goes the Sunnydale? Don’t think so, pet.”

She is annoyed. Her lips twist and she knows she dons this mask well. “It’s been—fun-“

He scoffs.

“Refreshing!” she counters. “It’s been – normal.”

And his letter is rising again, bubbling over, a pot on a stove, a hot plate she sears her hand on.

I have been thinking – yes, I have been brooding. Of many things. Of that day – that perfect day. Those hours of yogurt and split tables, of tea burns and your wet tongue on my cock. I know you remember. How could you have hidden that? How can you hide yourself – my love, my fucking undeniable passion – sometimes I hate you for your learned resistance. But I know it was I who taught you to disbelieve, to love others—it was I who shattered your desire for normality. Is it sick and fucked up that I do not regret that? Fucking the Dead and loving the Dead – but I would not change that. I cannot pretend anymore. I cannot lie. I am as much yours, in this breath, contained in this sentence, as I have always been.

Buffy looks at Spike. “What do you want?”

Look,” he says, with a fierceness he reserves for when she knows he deeply, deeply wants to weep, but won’t. “Tell me what you see.” He lays his palm, cool as stones, against her forehead.

Her voice comes unbidden. “I see: my tears shivering as I lose Angel’s baby; a savage sunrise; a fight between us that turns violent, on both ends; sex between sheets in hot, hot darkness; fairytales of elephants and tigers and pyramids; a mud hut beneath the Andes where we grow vegetables and try to be bohemian – that’s ridiculous, I can’t even boil water—“

“What else?” Spike’s voice is rough.

“life in Paris, diamonds lacing my throat, velvet at his collar; echoes of Angelus – the way he touches my shoulder with the heel of his hand; fierce, freeing, ridiculous love. What could be the future, or might not be. What could be, if I let go, give the cookies up, say goodbye to stupid metaphors and even stupider pride.”

and so she faced the snake in his cave, and emerged soon after, beneath the ravishing moon.

The decision is as sure and as sharp as a knife’s blade. Climbing from the looking glass, she does not pack or dally or make excuses or speak. Nothing can render this moment unusable. She does not bandage her arm. Each step toward the door is marked by a drop of sorrowing blood.

she lived, ever after.

But when she walks through the door, she is smiling. For nothing about her is as simple as sunshine on naked knees. Soups and breads and babies cannot quell the wild – the savage – in her heart.

~Finis