Monday, March 2, 2009

Alice's Wonderland

"Do you think I'm fat?"

"Of course not Alice.” It occurred to him though that this was a most peculiar question for his wife to ask so soon, having caught him as she did, hanging his frock coat upon the rack. “Why would you ask such a silly question?”

“It’s only that I was thinking. I don’t think I could fit myself down a rabbit hole, no matter how hard I tried.” Now his wife was usually of a curious disposition, and this had indeed set her somewhere above the hoipolloi by his own estimation, but this response struck Mr. Hargreaves as being rather more curious than most.

“Silly girl, rabbit holes are for rabbits - I wouldn’t think it terribly surprising for a person not to fit.”

“Oh yes,” Alice exclaimed with a gentle laugh, moving through the hallway and out the door like a breeze, pausing only briefly to give her husband and kiss on the cheak. “Silly me, prattling on about nothing. Elza has tea waiting in the study. I’m off!”

The incident passed without further comment, Reginald withdrawing to the study to review company ledgers(leaf through the latest newspaper serials) while Alice went to a book club meeting at the Banners’(whom Reginald couldn’t stand and refused to attend on principle). Still over the next few days, as Alice’s birthday approached, he could not help but notice her usual flights of whimsy growing more frequent and less ‘usual.’

Alice had always been imaginative, a trait that had evidently carried over from her girlhood. To draw a page from her book, he sometimes pictured her as a ballerina when they went out. There would be the suits and the dresses, and Alice with a pink-frilled ballerina skirt and leotards, dancing through some dinner gala leaving behind a long line of muddled and befuddled powdered wigs in her wake. That was Alice.

Still, what had once been her own unique, eccentric charm had taken on a more worrying form. She began speaking of white rabbits, and playing cards and chess pieces that talked and moved - which wasn’t unusual for her, save that she no longer seemed able to tell that these things weren’t real. No one said anything to him, but sometimes when they were out, he noticed concerned glances from their mutual friends and finally he was forced to admit that something was not right with poor Alice. He decided to confront her about it.

“Oh I’m sorry, I’m terribly busy right now - could we talk about this another time?” She was indeed writing feverishly, hunched over a large set of papers and surrounded by books.

He looked over her shoulder at what she was writing - half of it wasn’t even real words but some for of gibberish. “What are you writing?”

“Oh - nothing in particular.”

“’Leep-Gwosh?’” He looked at her incredulously. “I don’t recall ever coming across those words before.”

“Well of course you haven’t,” She replied indignantly without missing a beat, “I just wrote them.”

“What do they mean then?” He asked.

“Do I look like Humpty Dumpty?” Was her reply, but before he could press her on this curious remark she, resignedly, began to explain. “Leep means to jump into something very deep. ‘Gwosh’ is the sound you make when you land on a frog after leeping.”

As Alice seemed quite serious and looked at him as though he were stupid and as Reginald himself could make no response, he withdrew from the drawing room leaving Alice to her writing.

A few days later, Reginald arranged to run into Dr. Markwell who was on one of his periodic visits to The City to arrange his finances. He was one of the most eminent physicians in the whole of Britain, a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and an old friend. He agreed to come over to dinner that evening in order to give his professional opinion and after a brief interview alone, confirmed Reginald’s fears with a diagnosis of temporary insanity due to acute neurasthenia.

Reginald took a few weeks to make the arrangements for her to stay with the Holbrooks up near Edinburgh. In the meantime Alice’s condition grew steadily worse and she increasingly shut herself up with her books and mad writings. Reginald accompanied her on the train ride, the house servants saw them with sad sodden expression; Reginald was acutely aware they had much preferred his wife to himself and were sad to see her gone.

They talked animatedly throughout the trip. She was witty and intelligent and everything he remembered her being - but thoroughly committed to her fantastic delusions and disjointed logic. He tried to appeal to her by laying bare his own heartfelt concerns, but she seemed oblivious - laughed it off - which left him feeling stung for the rest of the journey. She smiled throughout, like always, she seemed to float above the writhing mass of mundane reality. And now she had been severed from it completely.

The train back to London was painfully dreary. It was the uncertainty that was worst. Uncertainty, he imagined, as an over-eager vulture: tearing at the still living, unwilling to wait for them to expire. Madness would have been preferable.


Shauna said...

Wow. What a great story of Alice all grown up (and insane). I can't wait for part 2.

Gustavo B. Rockwell said...

I'm very curious to see where it goes, personally.