Wishful Thinking

The Time of Her Life

Stephanie was on the ground, in her own clothes, and soaking wet again. She lay there, doing a quick assessment for possible damage, and decided she was fine. She pushed herself up into a sitting position. “What the—?” She looked around her. What she saw was an utterly desolate landscape, a desert whose only features were heaps and scraps of junk. “Where am I?”

“This way, sir Ludo!” Sir Didymus said, leading the way. Stephanie saw that he was the small dog riding a bigger dog that she had seen through the portal. The big, rusty-red haired creature was with him, too.

“Are you looking for Sarah?” Stephanie asked them, standing up so they could see her better amidst all the trash. They turned and looked at her.

“And who might thou be?” Sir Didymus asked. “How is it thou knowst of our fair maiden?”

“I’m her sister,” Stephanie said. “I’ve been looking for her.”

“Sarah—sister?” Ludo asked.

Stephanie nodded. “Yes. We were split up from each other.”

Sir Didymus gasped when he noticed the blade in her hand. “And that sword in thy hand? How didst thou come by it?”

Stephanie realized she was still holding the dragon-slaying sword. “I pulled it from a stone.”

“Oh! Thou must possess a noble heart indeed if thou was able to perform such a feat!” Sir Didymus praised her, deeply impressed. He looked at the sweet maiden before him in a new light. Despite being a lady, she had the makings of a knight. “But what might a lady such as thyself need with such a blade? It is for slaying dragons.”

“I fought a dragon,” Stephanie answered with a shrug.

“A drag—! Dost thou speak truly?”

“I do. It ended in a draw, though,” Stephanie admitted.

“How splendid! I should like to face the beast as well!” Sir Didymus said, looking around. “Where is it?”

“I’ll tell you if you help me find Sarah,” Stephanie said.

“Find—Sarah!” Ludo agreed.

“Of course, my lady!” Sir Didymus said. “We are on a quest with thy fair sister. We must find her in order to continue.”

Sarah woke up in nowhere. She opened her eyes and above her saw a somber sky, but the bare ground beside her was harshly lit, like the pictures she had seen of the moon. Perhaps she was on the moon, for all she knew.

She had been at a ball, that much she could remember. Where it was, and how she had gotten there, and why—nothing came back to her; just the ball. She closed her eyes at the memory of Jareth, hot with shame at how she had succumbed to his charm. She felt soiled by what had ensued in the ballroom. Somehow, it had all been her fault. Those men who pawed at her, Jareth trying so rudely to force a kiss upon her—had she been truly innocent, they would not have behaved like that toward her, would they?

If Stephanie were with her, she would have gladly told her it was all nonsense, that none of it had been her fault; it was a nightmare conjured up by Jareth, and the dancers had pawed at her too. But Stephanie was not there and had no idea her sister was thinking such things.

“What was I doing?” Sarah asked aloud. She sat up and looked about her. She saw the same junk desert as Stephanie. They had both landed in different parts of the same territory. Sarah’s face was blank with despair. There was nothing to do here, nothing. No one in sight. It was a place where you would soon forget your own name.

With an effort, she stood up. The first step she took landed on a small pile of rags. The rags moved, suddenly, beneath her foot. She jumped back.

” ‘Ere!” said an old woman’t voice. “Git orf my back!”

“Sorry,” Sarah apologized instinctively, without knowing whom or what she was addressing.

A section of the rags rose up. Sarah saw that it was actually a pile of junk, stacked up on the bent back of a little old goblin woman. At the same time it dawned on her that other mounds of garbage were in reality (if anything here was reality) loads on the backs of other people, who were moving very slowly across the moonscape. She spotted the painted chair from the ballroom not far away, surmounting a pile that someone had collected.

The junk woman’s puckered face was staring crossly at her from beneath the load of bent and battered metal objects, discarded clothes, chipped crockery, and broken furniture that she bore. “Why don’t you look where you’re going, young woman?”

“I was looking,” Sarah answered, slightly aggrieved.

“Then where are you going?”

“Oh… er… well, I can’t remember.”

The junk woman sniffed. “You can’t look where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re going.”

Sarah thought they could have argued the point, but she decided politeness would serve her better. She looked around and said, “I mean, I was searching for something.”

The junk woman chuckled, mollified. “Well of course you was, dearie. We’se all searching for something, ain’t we? But yer got to have sharp eyes if yer going to find anything. Now me, I found lots of things.” And she glanced upward, indicating the burden of junk piled up on her back.

Sarah looked harder at the woman’s rubbish trove and found it curiously interested her. “Why,” she exclaimed, “so you have!”

The junk woman grunted with satisfaction.

“There’s a cookie tin,” Sarah observed, “and a colander, and some pieces of candle…”

“Oh, yes.” The junk woman was nodding. “It’s hard to find classy stuff like this nowadays.”

“I suppose so.” Sarah was looking past the old woman. Occasionally a pile of junk would arise on the back of someone who wandered across to try the pickings in another mound. All of them were heading, desultorily, in the same direction, as though making for home at the end of the day.

“But don’t you worry, dearie.” The junk woman had become like a grandmother to her now. “I’ll give you a few things, to get you started, like. How’s that?”

“Oh,” Sarah said uncertainly, “thank you.”

The junk woman had started to trudge along in the same direction as the others. Sarah walked along beside her. As she went, the old woman rummaged with one hand among the pile of junk on her back, feeling for something. Sarah watched her anxiously, fearing that the whole load could come crashing down around her feet if she pulled out one item.. Eventually the junk woman said, “Ha,” and extracted what she wanted. She handed it to Sarah.

It was Launcelot.

Sarah swallowed, and smiled with childish joy. “Launcelot!” she cried, hugging him. “Thank you,” she told the junk woman. It was as though she were again the little girl being given the teddy bear by her father.

“That’s what you was looking for, ain’t it?” the old woman asked kindly.

Sarah nodded eagerly, clasping Launcelot. “Yes, I’d forgotten.” She sighed, and gave the teddy bear a kiss.

“Now,” the junk woman said, “why don’t you go in there and see if there’s anything else you’d like?” She was pointing to a sort of tent they had come to, as colorless as the rest of nowhere. The woman bent down and pulled back the flap of the tent.

Sarah took a step forward, saw what was inside the tent, and opened her eyes and mouth wide. It was her own room.

Sarah was lying on her bed at home, clasping her teddy bear. It was nighttime. She was still dressed.

She sat upright slowly, and looked around the room. Everything was where it should be. She rubbed her forehead. “Oh, it was just a dream.” She looked at the teddy bear. “I dreamed it all, Launcelot.” She shook her head wonderingly. “It was so—so real, and so…” She gave Launcelot a squeeze. “I’m still a bit nervous.”

She tiptoed across to the door of the room, still holding Launcelot. “I wonder if Daddy’s back?” she whispered. Cautiously, in case they were asleep, she opened the door.

The junk woman was standing outside, peering concernedly at her. “Don’t you like them fings, dearie?” Behind the old woman, the bleak, harshly lit moonscape stretched away.

Sarah slammed the door shut in the woman’s face. She ran across to her bed and buried her head in the sheets. After a while she looked at Launcelot and said firmly, “It is a dream.” She closed her eyes and forced herself to breathe calmly. “It’s a dream,” she said, and nodded. She held Launcelot tight. “It is a dream.”

She stood up, taking a deep breath, and walked confidently to the door.

When she opened it, she saw the junk woman still waiting there. This time, she was in the room before Sarah could shut the door again. “Best to stay in here, dearie,” the junk woman told her comfortingly. “There’s nuffink you want out there.” The woman gave Sarah a wink and a confidential smile. Sarah remained quite still, beside the door. “Launcelot,” she whispered.

The junk woman was bustling around Sarah’s room, picking things from the shelves and examining them, as though she were clearing out a house. But when she found something that caught her fancy, instead of adding it to her own pile she placed it in Sarah’s arms. “Look, here’s your nice fluffy rabbit. You likes your rabbit, don’t you? And Raggedy Ann!” The woman smiled fondly. “You remember Raggedy Ann.”

Sarah was distractedly following the woman along the line of shelves. That the woman could know and name these familiar possessions of hers was bewildering. Below the bewilderment, something else was working at Sarah’s feelings, something gray and listless, like despair. She recognized it but could not be sure of its cause.

What was it, this low feeling? It had to do, she suspected, with the way this old woman was fussing over her.

The junk woman was heaping more and more things into Sarah’s arms. “And here’s your shoebox—lots of pencils and elastic bands—you want all those. Oh, and look! Here’s your panda slippers. You know how you loves your panda slippers… never wanted them to get thrown away.

Sarah sank down onto the chair in front of her dressing-table mirror. She spread all the objects in her arms upon the table and stared at herself.

“Ooh, and here’s a treasure! You wants that, don’t you, dearie?” The woman handed Sarah her broken lipstick. “Go on. Put it on.”

Sarah took the lipstick from her and obediently started to apply it.

Meanwhile, the junk woman began to load ever more objects upon Sarah’s back. Peculiarly, they stuck there, one on top of the other. Perhaps it was some trick of the trade.

“And here’s your old horsie. You likes your horsie. Horsie, horsie, don’t you stop, just let your feet go clippety-clop. Heh-heh. And all the Badger books… Oh, and here’s dear old Flopsy. And the printing game. And your toy shop—it’s still got the little candies in jars. And The Wizard of Oz. And there’s the first knitting you ever done, just look. You want that, don’t you, dearie?”

In the mirror, Sarah saw that the pile of stuff on her back was getting to be almost as tall a burden as the old junk woman herself bore. Moreover, her shoulders had started to look bowed. As if mesmerized, she stared into the mirror, into her own eyes, and in a distant voice said, “There was something I was looking for…”

“Don’t talk rot,” answered the old woman. “It’s all here, everything you’ve ever cared about.”

Sarah looked around at the junk woman, who was still happily poking among the shelves. She turned back to the mirror and went on applying the broken lipstick.

“And here’s your ducky book,” the woman was chanting. “You haven’t forgotten how it goes up and down and quacks…”

Sarah stopped listening. She had to, or she would have wept with humiliation. She looked around for something to take her mind off the junk woman’s condescending litany. On the far side of the dressing table was The Labyrinth, where she had left it. She put dow the lipstick, opened the book and began to read aloud. “Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered,” she recited. “I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City, to take back the child you have stolen…”

She laid the book in her lap and looked around the room. The old junk woman was still prattling on, but suddenly Sarah had risen above it. “The child you have stolen…” She remembered what it was she had been looking for. Toby!

Everything altered. The room was the same as it had always been, night and morning, day after day for as long as Sarah could remember, but she was seeing everything with new eyes. It was all fabricated from pieces of scrap, everything was rubbish, relics. All her things, the furniture, even the walls, the whole room was a garbage heap, a dead shrine to a spirit that had fled.

The junk woman had noticed the new expression on Sarah’s face and was asking her, in a concerned voice, “What’s the matter, dearie? Don’t like your toys?”

“It’s all junk.”

The woman was taken aback. She stuck out her lower lip and made a grumbling noise to herself, as she shuffled around the room, looking for something, poking in drawers and along shelves. Eventually she found it and held it up decisively. “What about this?” she demanded. “This isn’t junk.”

It was her trump card, the music box. She gave Sarah a knowing look and turned the key. “Greensleeves” tinkled through the room, sounding strangely like the haunting music of the ballroom.

“Yes, it is!” It was all junk like everything else in there, the litter of a time of her life that she now passionately wanted to leave behind. She knew what the gray despair had been. This room was a prison, and she was her own jailer. And so she had the key to release herself, to go and do the thing that mattered.

“I’ve got to find Stephanie and save Toby!” she cried.

Faintly, from somewhere beyond the room, she could hear her name being called. “Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!” She recognized the voices. She couldn’t believe it. It was Stephanie calling to her with Ludo and Sir Didymus.

She stood up, hurling from her shoulders all the stuff the old junk woman had been sticking on her. At the same time, the walls of the room started to vibrate. Things tumbled down from shelves, handles rattled. Then the very walls began to fall apart, as though it were all jerry-built junk.

Sarah looked around to see what was happening. Through the crumbling ceiling, three pairs of hands appeared, reaching down. She seized hold of two of them, and the hands at once hauled her up, out of the room.

She rose from a pile of junk and was set down on the firm ground. Ludo was smiling; Sir Didymus looked brisk and courteous; and Stephanie had tears of relief in her eyes and was pulling her into a hug.

“Fair maid,” Sir Didymus said. “At last thou art with us again.”

Behind them, Sarah could see a great pair of grotesque gates. Beyond the gates was Jareth’s castle.

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