…. so now i tend this admirable garden.
but my hyacinth girl is gone.
she wearied of forever and i
gave her back her day to live out,
clean. and clear of me.
still she was beautiful in
From Spike Makes a Garden
Since I moved to Cleveland, I get a lot of junk mail. That’s because Dawn orders from catalogs, so we’ve ended up on every mailing list in the world. Every day I come home from class and mount the steps of my wooden porch and open my mailbox and pull out a big handful of mail. The magazines I stick in my bookbag to read during lunch– I mostly lunch alone… at the community college all the students have their own lives, no room for new friends. The catalogs I sort out for when Dawn comes home from Ohio State, which hardly ever happens lately (I think she has a boyfriend, but she isn’t telling). And any bulk mail envelope gets tossed right in the trash.
Now I stand in the foyer and sort and toss, and in the end I’m left holding a single manila envelope. It has actual stamps affixed to the corner, and my name and address printed in actual ink. Maybe they were even printed by an actual human hand, though since the lettering is so precise, it could have been a machine. There’s no return address, but there’s something inside. Not just paper. Something a little heavy. I hold the envelope up by the corner near the clasp and the something slides to the opposite corner.
I am just holding it, wondering if demons have learned how to make real small letterbombs, when Giles walks down the stairs, the afternoon sun glinting off his glasses. He’s here to set things up for the new slayerette coming for training– and also to see me. He says he misses me when he’s in London and I’m here. It’s a big deal for Giles to say that, I know. I mean, he’s not the most demonstrative guy out there, and I’m not either, and there is still that … that thing between us, the thing we never talk about. But he’s smiling at me as he comes down the stairs, and I tell myself again to let go of the past, to live in the moment, to let bygones be bygones, all that.
So I smile back, and Giles ask, “How was your history class?” and it’s almost like old times, when he was the closest thing I had to a father.
“Okay,” I reply, and since he’s still the closest thing I have to a father, I give into the urge to brag. “I got 19 out of 20 right on the exam.”
“Very good!” He pats me on the shoulder as he goes past. “Let me make you a celebratory cup of tea.”
“Make that a cup of diet Pepsi, and you’re on.” I trail him into the kitchen, answering absently when he asks what the exam covered. I am still regarding the manila envelope suspiciously, but it hasn’t come forth with any of its secrets yet. At least it hasn’t blown up in my hands.
You probably think I’m paranoid. But Cleveland demons are a lot more organized than the ones in Sunnydale. There’s a mob boss at the top of the demon pyramid, a Wehoe, and I worry all the time he’s going to figure out who the Slayer is and find some sneaky indirect way to get me.
“What do you have there, Buffy?” Giles asks, and I hold up the envelope for him to see. “Aren’t you going to open it?”
I feel sort of silly, holding an envelope away from me like it’s radioactive. Like I’m scared of it.
I’m the Slayer, and I don’t get scared. Out there, at least, in the killing fields. I’m good at my job and I know it. And when I’m in a cemetery or abandoned warehouse, kicking and chopping and staking, I … well, I don’t feel so alone, you know? No. You don’t know. How could you know? All I mean is, I came out of retirement and started slaying again last year because… because I felt I had to. For him. You know. Like when I’m out doing what we used to do all the time, I’m doing it for him. Almost with him.
Him. Never mind. He’s not around anymore. He hasn’t been around for a long time. Years. But when I’m slaying, I kind of feel like he’s still there. Guarding my back, like old times.
It’s just all the rest of the time… I live with this sort of low-grade dread. It’s not intense enough to be fear. I don’t know. I’m just waiting for something to happen all the time. And it never does. I just wait and wait, and it never happens. The beast in the jungle never strikes. (That was some story we read in American Lit 201. The Beast in the Jungle, by Henry James. The protagonist waits and waits for something important to happen, for the beast in the jungle to strike, and it never does, and then he realizes it already has and he missed it. “A cautionary tale,” the professor intoned, and I thought for sure she was talking to me.)
So I put the envelope on the kitchen table and undo the clasp and stick my hand inside. No bomb. Just a piece of paper – and a small gold key.
As I stare at the key, Giles sets the glass in front of me and sits down opposite me with his teacup. “What is it?”
“I don’t know. A key.”
He reaches over and snags the piece of paper and give it a good hard Gilesian study. “This is a property deed. Made out to you.” He looks up. “Did you buy an unimproved lot? On Bellwood Avenue?”
I grabs it out of his hand. “Of course not. Why would I buy an unimproved–” But there’s my name right there as owner. “Maybe that’s what the key is for.”
“Unimproved means no dwelling structure.”
“It’s a puzzle,” I agree. The key is cold in my hand. “We probably ought to go check it out.”
I expect him to say What do you mean, we? But Giles isn’t like that. He’s still sort of my Watcher, which means I can expect him to Watch while I go check out potential danger.
He takes a contemplative sip of his tea. “I thought you had a date.”
“Yes. That means an hour in your closet, sorting through clothes and swearing and discarding them, and then two hours at the mall spending most of your monthly salary on–”
“I will wear something I already own.” Like I said, Giles is the closest thing I’ve got to a father, worse luck. “And if that doesn’t work out, if we go now, I’ll have plenty of time to shop.”
Bellwood Avenue isn’t far from my house. It dead-ends at one of the Broadwood cemeteries, but then, a lot of streets in Old Brooklyn dead-end into one cemetery or another. That’s why I got a house in this neighborhood, because there are so many cemeteries. And the hellmouth itself is just a mile or so away, under an old stockyard.
Bellwood is a typical Cleveland street– lined with maples, separated into small lots with little brick bungalows. We cruise down in Giles’s rental car, looking for the right number on a mailbox. But it turns out that there isn’t any number, because there isn’t any mailbox. There’s 4342, but beyond that there’s just an high brick wall. It’s actually part of the brick wall that lines this side of the cemetery, and it forms a small square where a yard would be. I open the car window and look up, but I don’t see any evidence of a house behind that wall. Unimproved lot, I remind myself. Big deal. Not like I scored in some church raffle and won a new house.
It’s sort of weird, a bricked-in lot right here in this neighborhood. It probably used to be part of the cemetery. Maybe it’s where they buried the unconsecrated bodies– the suicides and the unbaptized babies.
Giles pulls to a stop in front of the wall, and we get out. Only then do I notice the old wooden arched door set in the middle of the brick wall. I feel in my jeans pocket for the key, and walk over to the door. He’s right behind me, and I hear the quiet snick of a blade being withdrawn from a scabbard.
I’ve already got my stake in hand. And just like every time I draw wood, I hear that seductive, dangerous voice in my head: Lesson the first: a Slayer must always reach for her weapon…I’ve already got mine.
The door is gray with age, but the lock is new, bright and brassy. I shove the key in, and the door swings inward, and with a deep breath, I enter the brick-walled yard.
It’s cooler in here than back out on the street– cool and sweet-smelling. I’m on alert, of course, glancing around, corner to corner, smelling deep. But the fragrance of flowers is all I breathe in. And the colors of flowers is all I see.
It’s a garden. A little walled garden. That’s all. No demons, no tombstones even.
I hear Giles sheathing his blade. I hear the buzz of bees. I hear the quiet trickle of water. I hear the door swinging shut. I don’t hear the noise of traffic anymore, or any city sounds. It’s quiet here.
Here in the garden.
I take a tentative step onto a flagstone. There’s a path that leads in a curve through the flowerbeds, and without much conscious thought, I follow it. Three steps past the bluebells, along the peony border, two more steps past a couple little bushes with bright pink flowers– I wish I knew more about flowers. They are pretty, even if I don’t know all their names.
I stay on the flagstoned path, my jeans leg brushing a crooked row of daisies, and at the back, in the corner, is an old cherry tree. (I do know trees, because I had to do a leaf-collection project in 10th grade.) Underneath it is a bench made out of logs. It’s rustic and pretty and I find myself taking a seat there and looking out at the garden.
Giles is still prowling around, hand on his scabbard, looking for danger. But there’s nothing here but flowers. Oh, there’s a little pond in the opposite corner, with one of those little electric waterfalls they sell at the garden stores. I guess a sea-monster could come jumping out of there. And there’s that old brick wall surrounding us, right up against the cemetery. But it’s the middle of the afternoon and all the cemetery-bound demons and vampires are probably fast asleep.
It’s safe here.
Giles eventually agrees, and comes over to stand on the path in front of me. “Someone gave you a garden,” he says, his voice carefully noncommittal.
I let the words sink in. Someone gave me a garden. Someone made this garden and gave it to me. “Who?”
He shakes his head. “I don’t know. The plantings are recent, I can tell that much. So someone has gone to a great deal of work this spring.” He turns and surveys it, the mix of shrub and flower, the intensity of the colors. “It’s rather like a cottage garden, like the ones back home.”
“Only there’s no cottage,” I point out. “And it’s in Cleveland. Next to a cemetery. What does it mean?”
Gently he adds, “Perhaps it’s a reward, Buffy. A thank-you from someone you saved.”
I breathe in. The air tastes of serenity. Gratitude. Can that be it? I’ve saved it hundreds, maybe thousands, of people in my time, but few stayed around long enough to thank me. I don’t do it for the thanks, anyway. “It’s nice.”
That is inadequate, to say the least. Giles walks over to a pot full of pansies, and I see the sunlight filtering through the cherry leaves to dapple the stone at his feet. This feels magical– but not magical like Willow. Just… oh, magical in a metaphorical way. Special. The air is golden and green around me, and the ground is mossy, and everywhere I look, I see color– pink and purple and yellow and red. Flowers everywhere.
“Later I’ll check the records for previous owners,” Giles says as he starts towards the door. “But now I’m going to replenish my tea supply at that grocery down the street. I’ll be back soon.”
And he leaves me alone. He knows I want to be alone. And all of a sudden, I just forgive him. Oh, the hell with it– with all my grievances against him. He came here to the garden with me, and he left me alone when I need solitude, and he’s coming back. He’s Giles, and I guess none of the rest of it matters anymore.
So I sit there and listen to the little waterfall and watch the purple irises swaying in the slight breeze, and I don’t think of anything at all, really, until Giles returns. And then I rise and brush the tears off my face and find the key in my pocket. And then I lock up and we go home. I have a date, remember.