Cigarettes, Beer, and Chocolate Chip Cookies

In memory of my great-grandmother, Agatha Kowatsch, born in 1900 on a cold December morning, died in 1986 on a cold December afternoon, who always took care of the people around her whether they knew it or not.

Insults and Injuries

Great. Now Giles is hell-bent on sending you up the coast on a fool's errand to some monastery so there won't be any time to slip out to Joyce's grave before midnight on the one Wednesday out of the year when it really matters. Worse, thanks to your being kitchen impaired, should you manage both, you'll have to use the stale package of Chips-A-bloody-hoys that you've hidden beneath your mattress from the locust-like Potentials when you'd really wanted to do it right this time.

Not like I've got a choice, ah, there it is!

You pull the gaudy package from beneath a corner of your thin mattress.

Bloody hell!-Anya! Xander! Not only did they do the back dance and leave my sheets all sticky, they mashed my stash!

Furious, you tear open the bag. The contents have been reduced to black and brown pea gravel.

"Xander, you bastard!"

The flattened package gives off an angry rattle of crumbs as you shove in a hand and start sifting through the chocolate rubble.

"When I get back, Special Ed, I'll shove your spine so far down your pants you'll spend the rest of you life walking like a tripod - and as for you, Anya, you nattering bitch... eh?"

You pause, there's a single battered cookie cowering beneath a coupon for Oreos.

"'Allo-o-o-o-o lover!"

Triumphantly, you hold it up in the dim light of the single, naked bulb in the basement.

"Bloody hell, lit'l bugger just broke in hal- now what?"

You pause, deflated in mid fume. Frodo Buggins is fidgeting at the top of the basement stairs with a big cheesy grin on his stupid face and a football helmet on his head, already honking away at you with endless quotes from Easy Rider.

And to top it off, it's my turn to mind Twat-Boy.

Uneasy Rider

Andrew resumes his stream of movie-centric irrelevancies as your motorcycle rolls to a halt in the trash-choked gutter that runs alongside the Sunnydale bone orchard - so you threaten to rip out his windpipe and beat him to death with the messy end if he doesn't shut up.

This buys you ten seconds of beautiful silence before you have tell the little squit to pipe down again, and that if he doesn't guard the bike while you go do something important, and no, he can't come with you, and if he tries to follow, you'll break both his legs and then his thumbs before you administer the threatened radical tracheotomy.

Andrew clams.

Ten to one the bike'll be gone before I get back.

Fox

Once out of sight you risk a long, luxurious piss against the headstone of a Bronze bouncer who once laughingly beat the crap out of you with a baseball bat when he caught you sneaking in the back door without paying the cover charge after you'd been chipped and couldn't defend yourself.

Laugh this one off mate - God it's sweet to be able to let fly without three wannabees banging on the door tellin' you to hurry it up, or snitchin' on you when you slip out back at 3 a.m. to water the lawn because the line's too long, whinin' "Eeeeeewwwww, Spike's killing the grass again. Buff-eeeeee, make him quit!" with Buffy stormin' out and yellin' "Put that thing away, I can't believe you!" Funny, she didn't use to-

There's a fox watching you with glinting yellow-green eyes from behind a fallen urn as you pull your zip shut.

Animals'r reclaimin' Mayor Wilkin's feedlot even as the people do a runner.

You scoop up a dirt clod from a fresh grave and shy it at the fox. Reynard casually sidesteps your missile before loping off between the uneven headstones. You've been seeing a lot of desert animals in Sunnydale these last few nights, foxes, coyotes, a mountain lion sauntering down the middle of Revello Drive at 2 am with a freshly killed Yorkie in its mouth, the crumpled pink ribbons in the little dog's matted coat telling you that it must have been left behind in the Sunnydale Diaspora...

Stop wanking 'round; get on with it!

Unsettled, you shove your hands deep into your duster pockets and start walking up the hill to the newer part of the cemetery, passing through the places you'd once, for lack of a better word, lived, loved, fought and fucked, the neglected turf crackling dryly beneath your worn boots.

Vigils

Three nights after her funeral, you found yourself sitting and smoking on Joyce's fresh grave, an open bakery bag of chocolate chip cookies and a six pack of Killlian's beside you as you watched the full moon rise over the cemetery, your mind a complete blank.

It was the weirdest vigil you'd ever held.

Wasn't a vigil. Her grave was a convenient place to sit, is all.

(You pause, lighting up in the intricate moon-shadow of a dead oak tree.)

Anyway, vigils are for someone you care about.

(You snap the steel lighter shut, slide it back into your hip pocket, take a deep drag from the fag...)

Or need.

(...and release everything in a long, delicate blue stream.)

The bag of cookies was something you'd nicked from an unlocked SUV in the YMCA parking lot after sundown. They came from some exclusive LA artisan bakery on Rodeo.

If you're gonna scrump, make it worth your time.

(After a while, you absently pinch out the lit end between two spit-dampened fingers, tuck the half-smoked dogend behind one ear...)

And you always drink beer.

Kills the pong in pig's blood; that plus a lit'l Tabasco.

(...and start walking with your usual unconscious swagger to a familiar part of the cemetery.)

Yeah, come to think of it, it was Wednesday night.

Silent or not, you sitting there didn't make it a vigil.

(Anyway, what's so soddin' special about Wednesday night?)

Little Rituals

Joyce always came home from the gallery every Wednesday night after going over the weekly accounts in an acrid reek of frustrated exhaustion, which was gently replaced by the scent of vanilla as she began baking.

But for you, Wednesday night started with Buffy's mum meeting you and your bag of dirty clothes at the back door with a fiver once Buffy and Captain Cardboard went on patrol for the night.

Funniest bit of patrolling I've ever seen; bumpin' uglies in the bushes while the big bads did as they pleased...

This was because the Niblet generally managed to find and eat all the chocolate chips hidden in the freezer before Wednesday night, leaving Joyce nothing to work with.

Sometimes she'd hand me another couple fivers while telling me to get beer while I was at it as she forgot to get that too on her way home from the gallery, and to keep the change if there was any.

After you got back from the 7-11 and started a load downstairs, you and the Niblet took turns distracting Joyce so that one or the other of you could sneak raw dough from the mixing bowl as she dropped little mounds of the stuff onto the baking trays.

We'd get caught every time and Joyce would let us have it! Me for being old enough to know better than to stick my hands in other people's food, and Dawnie for salmonella.

As soon as the first batch of chocolate chip cookies came out of the oven, Dawnie would gobble her way through the still hot cookies before getting shooed upstairs for bed. Once the sugared-up Niblet's stomping overhead hissy fit died down, Joyce would offer you beer from what you'd bought for her earlier, and then pour herself a glass.

Now that was posh. Joyce never drank out of a bottle or a can, but a glass.

Brave Ulysses

Between the dryer buzzer and the oven timer going off, the two of you would sit at the kitchen table eating cookies (that you couldn't taste) and drinking beer (that she didn't like) while the next couple dozen baked. Talk was noncommittal -nothing like what you want to say tonight, what you'd wanted to say that night, or the one after that the following year...

And the whole time, the radio on the windowsill by the sink would be playing Jazz FM down real low. Or some geezer rock station.

Sometimes Buffy's mum would get up and switch trays in the oven or start a fresh batch of dough in the big blue mixing bowl with white rabbits painted along the rim that she kept in the big china cabinet in the dining room during the week while singing along with the radio under her breath. She made so many because they were for Dawnie's summer school sack lunches...

"'Tiny purple...'"

...for snacks, for gallery openings and the town homeless shelters.

"Bloody hell, I've forgotten the soddin' words!"

When you weren't looking, Joyce'd slip a couple dozen wrapped in the day's newspaper in among your clean clothes.

"'And you ...' Bollocks, that's not it either, it goes '...with you... winter somethin' somethin' somethin'... "

Last call

Edgily whistling an old Cream song that you once witnessed performed live in the Albert Hall, you stop in front of Joyce's headstone while pulling a warmish pony of Colt .45 and the Chips A-hoys out of your duster pockets as the desert wind tugs at the black leather that hangs heavy from your shoulders and rustles overhead in the fading trees of the cemetery. Your whistling trails off when you really look at your piss-poor offering.

Sorry Joyce. Something, and it's not the First, tells me that this'll be my last chance to sit out here with you, and I blew it, just like I blew it with your eldest, just like I blew it with your youngest.

You frown at the mangled package. Bloody hell, you'd even gone so far as to shoplift half a dozen rolls of frozen cookie dough out of the local 7-11 last night right in front of the spotty-faced overweight clerk before spending the entire afternoon today trying to figure them out after Buffy and the Potentials went on another group training exercise in the city park.

"Soddin' waste of time that was!"

Dough Boy

The first three batches you burned no thanks to you being distracted by the telly.

It was a 24-hour Knight Rider marathon, all right?

The fourth found you armed with a flashlight and sitting in a kitchen chair staring at the cookies through the oven door until they looked exactly like the ones on the package. Too bad they were still frozen in the center.

Easy as 1-2-3, my arse! If I ever meet the Pillsbury Dough Boy, I'll do more than poke the little sod in the belly and make him giggle.

Halfway through the fifth batch the air conditioner gave out a death rattle like it'd been threatening to all week - which made the kitchen heat up to inferno proportions even with the windows open. Andrew barged in on you with your shirt off and stood there with a stupid grin on his mug and a bulge in his Bugle Boys while you tried to determine through the grease specked oven door if the damned things were done or not while the Sex Pistols bellowed in the background. When you finally gave up and took the bloody things out of the oven and turned around to shitcan them, he was right behind you and you got a chest full of red-hot tray and cookie dough. Once you'd peeled Andrew and the tray off of you, you grabbed the little pisser by the ear, dragged him blubbering into the living room and locked him in the coat closet. Then you snapped the key in two and tossed the broken pieces down the garbage disposal and ran it until the clattering went away.

Should'a killed the lit'l Nancy- too bad there's only just so much you can blame on the First.

Batch six was perfect. By this time you realized that baking wasn't as easy as you thought it would be and maybe it wouldn't be a bad thing to read the directions on the package and follow them to the letter.

Bitter Triumph

Savoring Andrew's wails from the coat closet, you inspected your handiwork as they lay there cooling on the last clean dish towel in the house. Not only did these cookies look exactly like the ones on the package, they were done in the inside and not black on the bottom.

That was when Dawnie came in, yelled, "Mmmmm! Cookies!" – while greedily stuffing two or three into her mouth at once. Around the crumbs, she asked, "These are great! Who made these, Anya? Willow?"

When you said, "No, I did." Dawn pointedly spat them out in the crapper and flushed it twice. Then she took down the spare key that you hadn't noticed hanging by the phone and let Andrew out just as the Potentials came milling in through the back door, saw the cookies, and ate them, squabbling over who got the last one.

Bloody Hell!

You spent the rest of the day moodily smoking down in the basement on your cot, drinking the one Coke that the Potentials hadn't found yet, and watching Dr. Phil discuss forgiveness with a group of trailer-trash losers on the out of focus portable black and white telly.

Wanker.

Ritual

After kicking aside the faded silk flowers, you kneel facing the sun-warmed stone and open the pony, the last surviving cookie clenched between your teeth for safekeeping in two pieces like a broken wafer, dog-end still behind one ear.

Never had the guts before to say what I want to say -where do I begin?

The Colt mingles in your mouth like warm battery acid with the disgustingly stale, hard crumbs of the cookie halves as you chew.

"Bloody hell!"

Unpleasant mouthful forgotten, you twist around, catching spastic motion down by the front gate of the cemetery. The dry wind blowing off of the surrounding desert is suddenly filled with the stench of too much counterfeit Polo.

"I told the little sod to watch the bloody bike!"

Annoyed but relieved by Andrew's interruption, you stand up and lounge against Joyce's headstone, watching the little turd as he blunders around the lower half of the cemetery with a flashlight that has to be smacked repeatedly to get it to work before he pitches head first into an open grave with a cut-off shriek when he hits the bottom.

"Better'n reality telly, this is." You derisively toast Robbie Rocketpants as he strenuously Jr. Birdmans himself out of the grave only to go yowling in the opposite direction after kicking up a deer that was harmlessly grazing among the stones. "Stupid Happy Meal, look where you're going next time!" You shake your head in amused disbelief as Andrew finds another open grave in the midst of his panic. The thud is audible even at this distance.

Awwwww, that's just too soddin' bad.

You take another pull of beer.

Andrew doggedly scrambles out of his newest pitfall, first tossing out the flashlight and then the bundle that he's carrying before scrambling after.

Good thing for Nancy that the nasties what hunt around here are too busy running toward the Hellmouth to bother with the likes of 'im...

Panting and covered with dirt, the sole surviving member of the Nerd Herd staggers up the hill, half-blinding you with his unreliable flashlight before it cuts out entirely, leaving the two of you in the fitful light of the full moon through the racing late night clouds.

"Salut mein verund! Mein capitan ordered me to vatch ze da bike undt I haff abandoned mein post against orters," he bleats, attempting to click the heels of his muddy cross-trainers, "Dawn told me to give this to you if we stopped at the cemetery. I almost forgot, but-"

"Sod off!" You snap. "Remember what you'll get if you let anything touch my bike?" You pull the dogend from behind your ear and relight it one handedly before snarling around your first puff, "It involves a windpipe and a thrashing."

Andrew's too busy wheezing like a punctured accordion to reply. Eventually the little tit catches his breath and gasps as he staggers upright. "Dawn says-"

"Dawn says what?" you flick contemptuous ash in his general direction when what you really want to do is break your bottle over his head.

"I-still-hate-you-lots-but-I-think-I-know-now-what-you-were-doing-today-in-the -kitchen, I mean." Sissyprat's now dancing in place; once more you resist the urge to hit him on the head with the pony as he tucks the useless flashlight under one arm and tries to brush the dirt from what he's been carrying at the same time. "I, I mean we, as in Dawn, and, and, and..."

You cut him off sarcastically. "Dawn and me, what?"

Andrew stops dancing long enough to swallow hard a few times and looks at you with his usual mixture of wary adoration which makes you want to throttle him, "I'm sorry I made you drop that all those cookies and burn yourself. I mean you did six-dozen and if someone does six - I counted all the packages in the trash. Anybody who makes that many cookies, well, he means it."

Twat-boy here says he's sorry.

In the dying town, a siren goes off, only to be abruptly silenced.

Nobody in this bunch has ever apologized to me before.

Andrew prattles, on heedless of your sudden stillness: "So Dawn and me, you know, the perfect and glorious Dawn? Uh, like, uh, she won't tell me why it's so important to you that you have these, but I, I mean we, Dawn and me?"

Dawnie.

Inwardly you close your eyes. Why does it still bother you, that look of disgust on her face when she realized where the cookies came from? Would Buffy have done the same?

"Anyway, Dawn and me, well, we got out all the baking stuff after you went downstairs into the basement, and we... I mean me... since Buffy's little sister puts weird stuff in everything she makes - don't tell Dawn I said that or she'll give me another atomic wedgie! Anyway, I made these. For you." Andrew rushes at you, face averted and eyes squeezed shut, holding out the package at arm's length. "Dawn supervised."

Quietly you accept Andrew's offering; he skitters back, expecting to be slugged. It's a greasy brown paper bag folded over and held shut with what looks like half a roll of Scotch tape. You put down the bottle, break the tape, and open it while Andrew stands off to one side, chewing on his nails and fidgeting from one foot to the other.

It's full of chocolate chip cookies.

They aren't perfect; Andrew's Indiana Jones-style crossing of the Sunnydale Cemetery took care of any attempt on his part towards perfection, but they're better than what you'd brought.

"Oh, and Buffy's little sister says she's still majorly-majorly mad at you but she knows what you're up to because she once followed you out here one night - what does she mean by that?" Andrew shoves his hands deep into his pockets nervously; one foot standing atop the other like he's gotta take a wazz.

"Go. Watch. The. Bike."

"I mean, what's so big about, I mean, I mean, why coo-"

"GO. WATCH. THE. BIKE."

Andrew scrams, tripping over his own feet in his haste.

You open your mouth to say something, close it, frown, shake your head - and then you call out, "Thanks!" before turning back to Joyce's grave.

Shared Memories

The traffic sounds of the steady stream of refugees leaving Sunnydale even at this late hour fade to a dull murmur as you stare down at the name engraved on the headstone of Buffy's mother while lighting up a fresh one. You take a drag, the red glow briefly illuminating your face before you exhale.

So, the Niblet once followed.

No surprise there, you'd caught whiffs of her on the wind that night, like you did Andrew and his faux designer marinade, only hers had been "Happy" - not exactly Chanel No. 5, but it suited her. You did nothing about her following you out to Joyce's grave that second night because you hoped that given enough time, Dawn'd come out and join you in your quiet not-a-vigil.

She never did.

Afterwards, you'd silently trailed Dawn home, allowing her to think that she was being daring, never letting on that there were other, similar times when you'd been close enough to touch, when she'd slip out the window at night to sit on the roof to enjoy the stars or shinny down the nearby tree from the roof and over to Kit's house...

Lotta nasties out here what eats lit'l girls - used to be one of 'em was me.

After another swallow of beer, you rummage around in the bag for an unbroken cookie. Your fingers hit plastic and you pull out an old butter tub. It's full of dough; somebody's written something on the translucent lid with a Sharpie. You remove the lid and hold it up to the moon, before flipping it over so that the writing, Dawn's, reads right: "This time don't just sit there all silent like the big dumb stupid you are. Open your big mouth and tell mom everything. She deserves to know." Then: "P.S. I'm still mad at you." Followed by, "P.P.S. Really-really-really mad!"

That's our Dawn.

You laugh, a little, while scooping up a handful of dough. It's just as you remember; lumpy with chocolate chips and gritty with sugar and salt between your teeth for all of its tastelessness on your long-dead tongue, mingled with a summer's worth of Wednesday nights.

Tell Joyce everything? Everything? Niblet, that's what I came out here for, but it just won't come!

In the distance as you lick the last of the cookie dough from your fingers you hear Andrew slam shut the wrought iron gate of the cemetery and then yelp because he caught his fingers between the rusting sections.

I owe the Niblet, no, I owe Buffy even more to do the right thing, so I'd best quit stalling and get on with it.

Confessions

Trying to organize your thoughts, you crouch among your growing accumulation of butts, shoulders pressed hard against Joyce's name, staring up at the moon, one hand loosely gripping the pony resting on one knee as you eat the rest of Andrew's work. Thinking was never your strong suit, not with your head anyway; which was what got you into this whole bloody mess in the first place - starting out about five years ago when you stupidly thought you could own this town and instead ended up being owned by it even as it slowly hemorrhages to death.

Where do I begin? Can you tell me that Niblet? Buffy? Anybody?

Maybe like that book by Lewis Carroll (You know the one all about mirrors and shit that sounds like Dru babble?) you should begin at the beginning and keep going until you reach the end as the last, lingering trace of sugar between your teeth melts away.

So you give it a try.

"Joyce, I've done a lot of... stupid things. It started in a back alley when I didn't know any better. No. It started when I went to a party, a stupid posh party thrown by a girl, nobody you'd know... a real snob... I thought I loved her..."

At a loss for what to say next, you finish off the beer, tossing the big empty bottle randomly into the shadows so that it shatters unseen against a headstone as you light up and take another stab at things around the fresh butt: "Who the hell cares about Cecily or some gormless tiddler named William? Look, things around SunnyD are going tits up in the worst way - I don't think I'll ever get another chance..."

A bat chasing a Luna moth flutters past. You watch their frantic dance that ends with the moth's large pale green wings drifting empty to the ground before awkwardly getting back to business.

"Don't laugh, but I went and got my soul back and… No, that's not when it started, either. You see, I did something... something..."

It takes another fag before you can continue.

"I did something... something shameful... In your house." You pause, nervously running one hand over your heavily pomaded hair, "I thought Buffy loved me; I was wrong. So I hurt Buffy. I hurt Dawn. And when I hurt them, I hurt you, though you weren't around any more when I tried to take something that was never mine to begin with. Well, don't worry, I got what I deserved. Hell, still am..."

Slowly you tell your story, no matter how ugly or embarrassing some parts are, for the reason that somehow, mingled in with the scent of cigarettes, beer and chocolate chip cookies, you sense that Joyce is listening.