The Hatter

Alice meets Lewis Carroll.

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2. Alice

~~The day I met Alice was much like any other. My parents were again trying to find a suitable bride for me, by that I mean a rich bride. They hardly cared that the girl Alice was believed by many, her father included, to be mad. It was no secret that Alice had disappeared for nearly eight years. When she returned suddenly she had been taken away from the public view. They had claimed that she needed time to recover, but everyone knew that the family had changed many things in their lives because poor Alice was a raving lunatic. She had remained hidden away for a year and a half, all the while her parents sought to marry her off. For a large sum of money, might I add.
 It had been a beautiful spring day. The roses were in bloom. I only remember this because the women were discussing it. “The roses are beautiful today, are they not?” My mother’s shrill voice echoed in my head. Though she would ask a question she never seemed capable of waiting for an answer. Mrs. Liddell, Alice’s mother, did not seem bothered by this fact as my mother continued, “Red roses are all the rage in town. I am surprised that you do not have them adorning your beautiful garden.”
 Though this was a statement Mrs. Liddell opens her mouth to speak. Her voice was soft and gentle, never raised above a whisper “We would, save Alice’s odd fear of red roses.” ‘Odd’ that was the word she had chosen to describe her daughter’s affliction. I had thought that a better word perhaps was bizarre or mad.
 “She’s gone mad.” Mr. Liddell’s statement is nothing but a fact. His voice tells of nothing else. As a university professor Liddell had limited his comments to those that were logical. It is not that he lacked emotion, only that he chose logic over emotion.
 “Yes father, I’m completely mad.” Alice walked into the room. Well, walked is too mundane a word, it appeared that she glided above the ground she was so graceful. She was stunning, she wore her golden hair down in golden ringlets rather than up in the traditional bun. Her dress was the color of sunshine, a beautiful yellow. She was not pale as her mother was, but had been kissed by the sun. She kissed her father’s cheek and took a nibble of a cake. I could see in her eye a slight distrust of the treat before she seemed to decide it was safe and consumed it little by little.
 “Alice, sit down.” Her mother spoke harshly, yet her voice was not raised. I could then hear the similarities in their voices. Alice’s voice contained wonder that her mother’s didn’t.
Alice was much like a child seeing the world for the first time. It seems odd, but it was no surprise when she stuck her tongue out at her mother discreetly and yet sat down obligingly. Her eyes scanned the area, both filled with curiosity and something else that I couldn’t quite identify. She seemed both scared and on high alert all at the same time. When she catches sight of me her eyes flash red. I don’t just mean that she seemed angry, but I could have sworn that her eye color changed briefly from blue to red. The instant passed and she stood stiffly. She made to leave when her father stopped her with a look. They seemed to have a conversation only with their eyes. His were the only ones I could see, they appeared commanding. She turned to me and curtsied slightly. “I apologize, I have yet to greet you. It is a pleasure to meet you, sir.”
I stood to face her cold, unwelcoming eyes. “The pleasure is mine.” I put my hand out for her, “Charles.”
“Alice.” Her handshake is far more powerful than I had expected it to be. “You must pardon me, but I cannot stay.”
“Shall I accompany you?” The words slipped out of my mouth before I could stop them. I was far more intrigued with this girl than I cared to be.
“It would be lovely.” The words are tight, far less gentle than they had been before. She gave me a warning glare before leading me out of the garden onto the road. When we were quite a distance away from the house she looks at me sheepishly. “I’m not mad you know.” Her voice had taken on that whimsical tone once again.
Her comment startled me out of my thoughts. “I said no such thing.”
“Perhaps not out loud, but they all think it.”
 “How exactly do you know that you are not mad? Would not a madman claim to be sane?”
 “I suppose so, I had not thought of that.” She seemed to ponder my comment before proceeding. “But is madness not subjective as to where you are and where you are going, as time is. It could be three o’clock here, yet four another place and two in another place. Just as one might do things that are thought to be mad in one place, yet be completely commonplace in another.”
 “Madness is not subjective. If a person is mad they are mad.” I stated it as though it was a fact, how wrong I was.
 “Yet, we are all mad here.” The words sounded solemn, almost as though they were a truth only she could know or understand.
 “What exactly do you mean by that?”
 “I mean that even those who think themselves sane often do nonsensical things. Things like being afraid of the dark, or a fear of spiders.”
 “Or a fear of red roses?” The words fell out of my mouth before I could stop them.
 She laughs, an enchanting sound. “Yes, though you do not understand. I actually have an absurd desire to paint white roses red. My mother cannot understand it, so she does not plant either red or white roses.”
 “Paint the roses red?”
 “Yes, of course.” She smiled brightly. The first smile I had seen on her face.
 I must admit, at this point in our conversation I thought he to be truly mad, for who would paint roses red. But I must also admit to both myself and to you that I was completely infatuated with dear, mad Alice.
 We continued down the road as I attempted to think of a way to respond. We stopped in front of a colorfully decorated shop and she produced a key. The door opened to a room filled with the oddest hats I had ever seen. The first to catch my eye was one that was completely covered in playing cards. At the top was the Queen of Hearts staring down at me. At first glance she seemed to have a light to her eyes, as though she truly was glaring down at me from her pedestal. Yet a second later she was only a card once more. “Welcome to the Wonderland hat shop.” Alice smiled and opened her arms in a grand gesture.
 “What is this place?”
 “It’s my shop. I’m a Hatter, you see.”
 “This cannot be a profitable business.”
 She laughed once again. I could not seem to make sense of this nonsensical girl. “Profits do not concern me. I simply needed something to do outside of my parent’s house. I spent eight years in absolute freedom, I was not prepared to relinquish all of that at once.”
 She had brought up her years away and I seized the opportunity. “Where did you go?”
 She looked at me with a look of mischief in her eyes and simply said, “A place where the impossible is not only possible, but commonplace.”
 The words struck me and my world of logic began working. What she said was impossible, there was no other explanation in my mind than drug use. Yet she did not exhibit any signs of being a rehabilitating drug addict. My mind quickly shut out that thought, she could simply be hiding it well.
 To keep myself from being rude I began to look around the room. The hats were wild, there was no way that any person, sane or mad, was going to buy them. “Your hats are…. Interesting.”
 “You need not hide your true thoughts. They are quite odd. But they each represent the character perfectly.” She takes my hand and leads me to the front of the shop. I was suddenly back to staring the Queen of Hearts down. “These two are the King and Queen of Hearts.” I had not noticed the smaller hat sitting next to the Queen, it was the same bright red, and covered with even more cards. The King atop this hat seemed to be small, almost insignificant. She then dragged me to another hat. This one was shaped much like a chess piece, it was a starch white, pure, yet it exuded an air of strength. The piece next to it was much the same, yet this one was an off white, the queen piece. “These are the White King and White Queen.” She listed off several more, the Red King and Red Queen, Tweedledee and Tweedledum. The list could go on, yet it was the last hat that interested me the most. It was the most normal looking of them all. It was a plain green top hat, the only oddity was a paper sticking out of the liner that read 10/6. Alice called it the Mad Hatter. I could not tell why it should be called mad when all of the other hats exude an air of insanity far more than this one.
 When Alice had turned her back on me I felt an insatiable urge to touch the hat. I reached up and that’s when my day began to go mad.

 

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