Megan Giddings – We Love the Thin White Duke

   We didn’t want David Bowie to join our coven, we wanted to be him. We loved how he dressed: his shirts white and crisp as snow falling on a mountaintop; his black waistcoats making him look like a modern Dracula. It made us, we who are usually so pragmatic about the forward movement of time, feel nostalgic for how the rich used to dress. Sometimes we spent hours discussing his black trousers and how they were as dark as our own hair, as sensual as the night sky pressing against our faces as we rode our brooms among the moths and moonlight. We loved his guitar’s voice and his human’s voice as well. We loved how smart and artistic he seemed. We even loved his damaged eye; we thought it made him even more beautiful. We took turns dressing like him, learning how to imitate his motions, his voice. We played covers of his songs together, all of us becoming David Bowie when the songs sounded somewhat close to his.

When we heard he was writing a new album, we sent a vision to inspire him. A beautiful woman sitting on a cream-colored couch. Her toenails were freshly painted red. She showed them to him without speaking. Her eyes said, don’t you think they’re pretty? Don’t you want to put them in your mouth? She put her feet up on the clear glass coffee table. And then the television woke up. It flickered static. It sat in a heavy brown base, its antennae stretching out after a long sleep.

“We should watch something,” the woman said. In the vision, Bowie said nothing. She walked to the television, red toes so noticeable among all the white that they felt important. He didn’t want her to put her feet on his nice table, but we didn’t allow him to speak in the vision, only to see, to view, to be inspired. On the television a face appeared. Its eyes blank and square. A mouth full of pixelated teeth. The woman reached forward and the television leapt, smooth and sleek like a tiger. She fell into its mouth. It gulped her whole, only raking her with its teeth. We made Bowie watch her body slide into the smooth grey screen, watch the red toes disappear. The television expanded to accommodate her body. It was man-sized now. Bowie could feel its eyes upon him. He wondered if the woman was dead or was now a Jonah, doomed to live among the wires and inputs until the television spat her out.

“Transmission to David Bowie: write a song about that,” we whispered in unison. We could tell he thought it was the cocaine.

It wasn’t.

We hopped on our brooms and took up residence around his estate. Some of us became mermaids, sleeping at the bottom of his pool. We loved seeing his face reflected in the water as he looked to see if we were still there. We liked to imagine him diving in and frolicking with us. We would do headstands and see who could swim the fastest. We would write about the experience in our diaries: the day we had a pool party with David Bowie.

Some of us lived on the grounds. We turned ourselves into bats during the night and sparrows during the day. We sang outside his window, begging for him to notice us. We turned into the grass, hoping to feel him stride and stand upon us. We turned ourselves into the lights strung up in the backyard, happy to glow upon his shoulders when he walked out into the evening.

Some of us took residence in the house, making ourselves tiny so that we couldn’t be seen. We stole small things from him: books, a comb, once a lock of his hair that we swore never to use in our spells, pieces of paper with doodles on them, fingernail and toenail clippings, socks. We pressed these things to our chests, then handed them off to our familiars to be taken back to our homes. The thefts made Bowie paranoid. He started thinking we were after more and more. He saw our faces, dark eyes full of wanting, red lips parted open in the bathroom mirrors, in the small white hand mirror he used for coke. He started checking the trash and noticing the missing fingernails. He began collecting them in a tiny velvet bag that was kept either in his pocket or in a locked drawer.

Then one day he heard us joking about his paranoia.

“Next he’ll think we’re after his semen,” one of us groused after watching him take out all the fingernail and toenail clippings and count them, double-checking the number in a small red book he kept in the kitchen junk drawer. His eyes grew bright and scared, a squirrel about to be hit by a pick-up truck.

Bowie made one of his friends go buy fifty jars of baby food. He didn’t specify the flavors. The friend didn’t question him; he was used to Bowie’s weird food requests. It was a little surprising not to be sent out for another jug of whole milk, a container of good coffee, and the freshest, brightest red and green peppers he could find, but he did what Bowie asked.

We watched as the friend was forced to eat or pour out, whatever he chose, all the baby food. The leftover glass containers were cleaned, the labels were removed, and then the containers were placed in Bowie’s room. No one questioned him on this. Around the coven, we couldn’t figure out what he was up to. Maybe he was going to make a marimba out of glass. Maybe he wanted the sound of glass shattering for a song. Maybe he just liked them, wanted to collect them. We didn’t understand the whims of people as well as we do now; we couldn’t distinguish between the reasons and decisions for what was and wasn’t junk.

None of us saw him fill the first jar, but when we saw him walk out into the garage with it clasped in his long pale fingers, we knew what it was instantly. Some of us were so in lust to be titillated by the sight of it. Some of us were disgusted and offended: to use something like that in our spells would only bring to life a beast so evil we could never tame it. Something with the breath of a volcano, the heart of a tsunami, and a hypnotic voice. Some of us, most of us, were just worried. A few of the most-in-love found it sexy. He seemed to be as white as his shirts, as white as the residue on his coffee table. His body was so small, we could’ve lifted him onto our backs without using magic.

We invented a healing spell to cure David’s addiction. We combined dove’s blood, crushed maple leaves, our warm wishes for his health and imagination, and the roots of a violet plant into a smooth paste. We slipped it into a glass of his milk, stirred it in so well that the milk only had the slightest purple tinge. But he was now too far gone to drink anything he had left alone for a few moments, let alone something that didn’t look exactly the way it was supposed to look. We wept as he poured the milk out.

We tried to send visions of a healthier, more put-together him. We showed him his face full and laughing as he drove a beautiful car, the windows rolled down, one hand on the wheel, another skimming across the summer air. David didn’t care.

We took him out into the night with us. We turned him into a giant bat and encouraged him to fly over the city. We showed him the LA lights dripping with glamour and anger and beauty. We encouraged him to look at the palm trees from above, notice the formation of their leaves. We glided over the Hollywood sign, encouraging David to touch each word with his sonar. We took him up to a cloud, letting his bat’s fur get dewy with contact. We wanted it to be a moment that made him realize how delicious life can be. We guided him back to his home at dawn and transformed him back into a man. We thought it would make him finally ask us to make music with him, but he was horrified after his body had taken his true shape again.

“Why are you tormenting me?” Bowie asked. It would’ve been better if he had screamed at us. But his voice was as low and silky as it always was. We tried to speak with him, but he refused to acknowledge us. He fled to his room to count his toenails again, to do another line.

Another friend suggested to him an exorcism was needed. Around the house, Bowie began drawing pentagrams, thinking they would warn us away. We didn’t have the heart to tell him they only made our magic stronger. We watched as humans posing as witches lit incense and chanted nonsense, trying to drive us away. At first we played tricks on them. We blew out the candles they were using during their ceremonies. We boiled the water in the swimming pool, letting them see an outline of one of us slowly emerge. We wrote the words “We love the Thin White Duke” in lipstick on the white walls as a response to a message sent via a Ouija board.

One day, as he lay around the house, staring up the ceiling, we realized we were only hurting him by being there. We realized he was blaming his addictions on us and our pranks, our love. We gathered together in the gloaming, joined hands, and stared at him through the sliding glass door. He was writing in a notebook, we didn’t know what. Without planning to or rehearsing it like we should have, we started singing. We sang “Wild is the Wind” outside the window to him. We sang, hoping he would feel the thunderstorms and fireflies and the dead leaves that were embedded in our souls. We sang, hoping that the love and respect we had for him, the love we tried to show through watching, through spells, through visions would flow through his ears and into his brain. As we harmonized, we realized the only people we could ever save were ourselves. When we finished, we got onto our brooms and flew home. The melody stayed in our heads for weeks as we tried to understand how things had gone wrong.

For years, we couldn’t listen to any of Bowie’s music. It hurt us too much. We tried to get into other singers, other bands. Nothing and no one felt quite as good. We decided to invent our own music. We learned to play the scales of the ocean, turn the stars into finger cymbals, use the long redwoods like guiros running our brooms up their trunks to create a satisfying whoosh. We turned toad skins into trumpets. We invented guitars made of thunderclouds and used them to shred, headbanging as our fingers surprised us with their ability to move faster and faster across the strings. We played slow ballads using wind through the meadows as our pedal steel. We created our own rock opera, getting the black cats and crows to sing back up.

We listen to our recordings and close our eyes. We are happy to have our own sound.