Note: The following story was inspired by the video for David Bowie's song, "Underground." Therefore [and mostly due to great laziness on my part], I have used the name David, and have also retained Mr Bowie's mis-matched eyes [mostly because, of course, Jareth shares them as well]. This story, however, is not about a fictionalized David Bowie visiting The Labyrinth. I'd love to tell you what it is about, but that would rather spoil the whole thing, wouldn't it? I hope you will enjoy it.
1. Once Upon a Time
Once upon a time, in a rented room above a butcher shoppe, there lived a man named David Jones. He did not believe in magic. He had been born two years after the great war to imminently practical parents, Haywood, a Public Relations Officer for a children's home, and Margaret, a waitress at the Ritz Cinema, who had enough trouble struggling to put food on the table, juggling ration cards for just about everything, and raising a boy to bother about such flimflammery as whether fairies fluttered about gardens or toads turned into bankers or any such thing. David managed to get his left eye nearly knocked sideways over some girl at the fine age of fifteen, and the bill that followed his hospital stay only helped to cement his parents' frugal and logical outlook on life.
There were no fairy tales before bed, no fairy lights at parties or on Christmas, no gnome out in the garden. Old Saint Nick did not last beyond David's sixth birthday, and the Tooth Fairy was never so much as introduced. His one brush with the supernatural came in the curious notion that, somehow, dying pirates were keenly concerned with a locker in his possession. "I'll be goin' to Davey Jones' locker," they said in the pictures, and so an eight year old David walked home from the cinema one downcast Sunday afternoon with a small, cheap, plastic locker under his coat. He placed it on his bedroom desk, propped open his window, and settled under the covers, waiting.
The thought of an actual pirate clambering up to his room, sharp cutlass firmly between his teeth and—he realized with a start—no longer living, sent such a paralysing jolt of fear down to David's soles that he tossed the locker in the bin the very next day.
He did not need dead pirates hovering around his locker, and he had no use for magic.
George Underwood, who once nearly knocked David's left eye sideways over the thought of Prunella Reeds ("Hey, mate, you've got me to thank for that freaky, wide open pupil look," he said solemnly), did not believe in magic either. He was always terribly bored at his siblings' birthday parties, when his mum and dad would announce Gadzook the Wondrous and his pack of playing cards. All nonsense, really. What George believed in was David's voice.
"Look, you're an odd looking bugger all right, but you hold a note pretty well. You've got that… that deep thing you do. And those odd squeals of yours. Pretty random, is my mind on that, but not all bad."
He said this in 1962, when they were both fifteen and David was ordered to wear a temporary eye patch, trying not to notice how grabbing onto things he clearly saw in front of him was becoming sort of a bother. He said, "Baritone, George. The lower vocal ranges are called baritone. And I can't be in a band."
By 1964, when anyone who could (or thought they could) wanted to become The Beatles, George (now quite proud of his name) kept at it. "Just think on how popular we'll be with the birds!"
Eventually, a guitar was bought, mates were reeled in (although they kept loosing their drummer), amps were plugged in and stacked up, and the band began to chug its way down the school halls, the auditorium, a couple of university campuses, and onto a few pubs and clubs.
It all sort of stalled then.
They lost their twelfth drummer and Jim, the bass player, married and got lost somewhere in County Cork. "That leaves us me on vocals," David said to George over a pint one Thursday night, "you on the sax, and Tom on the guitar." He was thirty, two months shy of thirty-one. It was already 1977. "This doesn't look good, man." George couldn't argue. He swallowed a gulp of bitter and slumped forward on his stool.
"So, wot, call it a day?"
Hamish Brentshaw, their promoter, a great believer in the magic of profit margins, was on the proverbial fence about any days being called. David's band, Jonesing for Change ("For God's sake, change that name," he said often) (he was often voted down), did not rake in armfuls of quid, no, but it did all right. The kids knew them, the venues were not empty when they played. They held steady, but were obscure enough that few people noticed the new or missing band members. They brought in money.
David cast a disinterested glance at a football match on the pub's television set. "Maybe I should wear a dress," he mused. "What do you think? Or dye my hair. Do you like red, George?"
George was at the bottom of his tenth bitter, and oblivious to the world.
David draped one of George's arms around his shoulders and shuffled him to his flat. He wondered—not for the first time—why either of them still hung on to the notion (an increasingly ridiculous and unprofitable notion) of being in a band.
"I like to hear you sing," George said once. "The audience likes to hear you sing. There's a… kind of magic in that."
"Magic? That's a rather useless word. Why would you say that? Are you drunk?"
"Might be." He emptied the mostly liquid contents of his stomach onto the pavement, stared at it as if trying to figure out what it had been doing inside him. "Well, I am." He laughed. "And I like your voice, Davey boy. Stick it out. You're gonna be bloody great. Everyone will love you!"
"All ten members of the crowd?"
The whole thing remained a mystery to David. Sometimes he figured going on was simply the choice born out of no concrete formulation of any other options. He wiped shower mist from his bathroom mirror on gig nights and pulled his lips into a rueful grin. "You're in a rut, Davey," he said.
He pulled George up the stairs to his friend's first floor flat in Kent on that Thursday night and knew that, come 10.00 PM, he would be on stage at The Bended Elbow and he would sing.
A buzz like a tiny chainsaw rasped out as he jammed his thumb against the doorbell, shoulders shifting under George's weight. A plump woman opened the door. She looked at David and then over at George's nose, partly hidden under bangs longer than the rest of his hair. She wiped hands covered in suds over frayed jeans.
"Why do you let 'im do it, Davey?" she said. "He's got a gig in a few hours and you let 'im get drunk."
"Hello, Sandra," he said. He squeezed past her and tipped George onto a plastic covered couch. "Doing all right, then?"
Sandra closed the door. She had married George in 1973, principally on the strength that, out of several much skinnier girls, he had smiled at her during various shows. She smiled right back. She believed in the magic of smiles. They lit up rooms. They got people into bed, into dinner, and into marriage. Even that beanpole David looked much better when he smiled, crooked teeth and skull cheekbones and all. Smiles were good. The magic of their marriage had lessened somewhat after the birth of Joe one year ago, but now Joe smiled within his crib, all chubby and dazed in layers of baby fat, and Sandra supposed that was all right.
She heard David walk into the living room. "Baby Joe," he said, and she could picture the painful flash of teeth, "how are you, you little…" And the last word was mouthed out, but Sandra knew what it was. Blob. You little blob.
Wonderful with kids, David.
"What time is the show?" she said, as she returned to the dishes.
David hovered by the kitchen door, hands jammed into a floor-length leather coat. "Ten," he said. He cast his mismatched eyes around the kitchen. Not the tidiest place, crowded with faded yellow chairs covered by pockmarked plastic and a Formica table with peeling orange flowers stencilled along its scratched surface. Orange doors sagged from grease stained cupboards. A chipped, battery operated clock, in the shape of a tree stump surrounded by red mushrooms, hung crooked on the wall, and a plastic shopping bag slumped over on the counter, filled to overflowing with trash. David lifted the front page on the newspaper crowning a growing, yellowed heap on the sideboard. He coughed.
"Listen," he said. "I'm gonna slide George into a cold bath, right? Shock some life into him. He'll be the cat's whiskers again in no time."
He disappeared into the living room. Plastic squeaked and rippled as he pulled George to his feet. "Taking daddy for a bath, Baby Blob," he said. "Gotta whip up some saxophone magic for tonight. You betcha."
No such thing.