Trying Not To Think Of Elephants
It's been five weeks, now, to the day, since she and Tara moved into the
room at the end of the hall. Sixteen days since she happened upon the robot,
buried again in the basement, and had to crush down the impossible,
immediate rising of hope in her chest. Two hours since she found the ziploc
bag stuffed under layers of the kitchen trash: all of Dawn's dinner from
that night. Three minutes since she set the kettle on the stove and thought:
I'll just wait a little longer before going upstairs and knocking on Dawn's
Willow turns off the wailing tea kettle, sifts through the day's mail. Just
going to wait a little longer. Just going to rest for one moment, surely she
deserves that. There's a letter from the college about student housing. Two
bills. A postcard invitation to some art opening. And a credit card
advertisement, addressed to Buffy Summers.
It's been five weeks, it's been sixteen days, it's been two hours. She's an
adult now. She can be mature and level-headed. Willow doesn't need to slit
the envelope open and knock its contents out into her palm. The slick paper
insert with its promises. She tears the little golden card out of its pocket
and fingers the raised letters. BUFFY A SUMMERS 928 507 1463. Better throw
this away, she thinks, before Dawn sees it. It wouldn't do her any good. She
starts to dig through the kitchen trash to tuck it away, but remembers
Dawn's bag of chicken and asparagus, now sitting in the kitchen sink, slimy
with juice and orange rinds, like a reproach. If Willow can go through the
trash can so can Dawn. No, just dropping the card into the trash won't work.
Willow lays the card flat on the kitchen counter and fumbles in the
pencil-holder for a pair of scissors. I
t takes her a few minutes; the kitchen is so dark. But really, it shouldn't
take much longer for her eyes to adjust. She doesn't need to turn on the
lights at all, or puff a ball of light above her head. She's a grown woman,
she can stand a dark kitchen for a few more minutes. Nothing to do with the
fact that the electric bill came last week, or that the last time she tried
a spell her headache returned full force and she'd had to sit down, fast.
No. She pulls the credit card off the counter, crouches over the trash can
and starts to cut. It's harder to slice through than she had thought it
would be, and after the third struggling stroke of the scissors Willow nicks
her hand and mutters a curse (an expletive, that is to say, a profanity;
nothing in Latin or ancient Sumerian, nothing to bend the scissors to limp
curls of metal or explode the trash can into dust). And the thought, of
course, comes to her: Here she is cutting Buffy's credit cards up for her.
Because Buffy won't ever do it herself, will she. Buffy won't ever fall prey
to the small print on the back of a credit contract, won't go through the
money lessons it seems every college student must, painfully; she won't lean
over her trash can with a pair of pinking shears and slice effortlessly
through the cards with her Slayer-strong hands: make these plastic problems
gone gone gone.
Gone. Willow twists her lips. She can't seem to stop conjuring these
situations, seeing Buffy everywhere she turns. Constantly being hit with it:
You could have saved her, Willow, but you didn't try hard enough. You
concentrated on rescuing Tara; you weren't there when Buffy needed you. And
now Willow's being flooded with the memories. Last week she went down to
campus to return her overdue books and was striding up the great stone steps
of the Kyler Library, zipping up her coat and thinking, It's much too cold
for summer in California, why is it so cold, when she nearly stopped in her
steps, remembering a day long ago, in winter, in high school.
Remembering the way Buffy had hiked up the steps of the library, two steps
at a time, with her arms full of demonology books, and Willow had been
walking right behind her when she suddenly became aware of the space between
the crease of Buffy's knee and the top of her boot a few inches below it.
Staring at the back of Buffy's knee folding and unfolding just a foot of so
in front of her. She had had the urge, like a sudden warmth in her chest, to
place her hand there, against the bare calf, and hold on. Willow had slapped
that thought down, of course, as soon as she had been jolted away from the
knee by Giles' mild voice, and she had (as if to compensate) gone with
Xander to the Bronze that night and studied his hands, his ears, the
jangling way he walked, the curve of his neck-- all the things she had loved
for years-- and thought, relieved, of course nothing has changed. But it's
like trying not to think of elephants. Once someone tells you not to,
they're all that will fill your mind: elephants and their long, expressive
trunks, their ridiculous ears. Tender elephant mothers and their squealing
elephant babies. Cartoon elephants singing arias in opera halls. Real ones
sleeping on concrete zoo floors. It's not the same now as it was then, of
course; Willow isn't being driven by sex but grief; and although underneath
the overarching emotions there still runs the familiar current of guilt, she
knows that the guilt stems from a different place. You're going where you
were never meant to go, her mind whispered three and a half years ago.
You're going to lose everything, it hissed. She says back, now, the truth
thudding inside her stomach like the ugly remains of Dawn's chicken, made
from something good and edible to disgusting trash: you never went far
enough. Never far enough to save her.
No, she's being ridiculous. She's not accomplishing anything, sitting on the
floor with a damn half-shredded junk-mail credit card loose in her hand and
a pair of scissors in her lap. Willow should go and talk to Dawn now,
shouldn't she. She's already forming the words under her breath in practice:
"Dawnie?" No. No one could call her Dawnie. "Dawn? Honey?" Voice too bright
with false cheer. "Hey, Dawn. I just noticed that, um. Have you been-- not
hungry recently?" Willow winces. She sounds like a tiptoeing TV sitcom
mother on the Very Special afternoon show.
Well, it's late. Dawn has probably gone to sleep, she tells herself. Nobody
wants to start a weepy fight right now. And she'll need Tara beside her.
Tara who somehow knows how to talk Dawn out of any screaming, dead place
back into reality. Willow only fumbles, loses her voice somewhere in her
throat. And when she does manage to say something, it never comes out right.
Her intentions are good but she can't seem to do anything but damage: laugh
when Dawn's crying, awkwardly pat her shoulder when she only wants to be
left alone. Not to mention the time Willow left out the book with
resurrection spells for Dawn to find. No, thinks Willow. I'll wait until
She stands and puts away the scissors. Her back aches and the tea kettle is
only vaguely warm under her hand. How long was she sitting on the floor? It
hadn't seemed like very long. She has to get up early tomorrow and work on
the robot; she should get to bed. She starts up the top of the stairs and
turns towards the bedroom where Tara sleeps under the weight of the
comforters. Grow up, Willow, she tells herself. Stop worrying. You have
everything you need. Tara is alive and well again. And Dawn will be okay,
eventually. She's young; her mind will grow out of this tragedy as surely as
a cicada molting through its shell. But as she turns the doorknob and steps
softly into the darkened room she thinks, Once it's awakened it can never go
back. Once someone tells you not to you just can't stop. Trying not to think
Willow. Credit card. Vacant.