Disclaimer: I don't own and the premise and writing is veryreminiscent of Lolita. I was inspired to write this after reading it.
Summary: Miwako was never Hiro's but Alice was; she was his and she took him to wonderland.
: Wonderland :
She was my daughter, my sister, my mother, my lover.
But above all, she was mine.
I loved one before her and none after.
Let me tell you a tale that I've been spinning in my head. And listen carefully and hold your judgment for in the end you will see that I did truly love Alice.
I loved her for being so exactly like Miwako. I loved her for becoming something more than Miwako. I loved her for seducing me, kidnapping me, taking me to wonderland.
My story begins with a little girl. No, this is not Alice. This was before Alice was even born. She was wearing jersey yellow shorts, a loose seer-sucker shirt, and was barefoot. Her long pink hair hung down her back as long and insubstantial as cotton candy.
We were ten, that day. And that was when I knew I loved her. I still remember walking along the beach then suddenly grabbing her soft hands that were so little I could put them in my pocket like a lucky charm. Imagine my ecstasy when she told me she loved me back! It was our first real kiss. Before that, we had all innocently given each other kisses on the lips and cheeks, even between me and Arashi.
But we could both tell that this time, it was different. Her sweet lips had melted against mine and I was completely and absolutely smitten. I could imagine waking up every morning of my life to the feeling of her soft hair on my cheek, her large eyes gazing at mine, always a little more mature than you would expect, her fragile, baby-bird hands slipped through my own. I was in love.
Once we were children. But not then.
We were ten but we were not young.
It felt strange coming back to Japan after spending so much time overseas with Yukari. Everything seemed familiar and surreal at the same time. But we had to come back. I remember the phone call and Arashi's strange, scratchy voice.
"We need Caroline back right now. We all need her," he had said. Then he had hesitated and said, in an even deeper, scratchier voice, "I need you back. I'm scared." We booked a flight for that evening, Yukari and I, and we were back in Japan by the next late morning.
She died. Miwako died in childbirth. A strange, archaic way to die, isn't it? Who dies in childbirth these days? If I were her doctor, I'm sure I could have saved her. But what was even stranger to me was the conception of my little Miwako pregnant. We had left Japan shortly after Yukari's career took off, when we were all barely in our twenties. Arashi and Miwako sent photos often, of themselves, their marriage, their life, but I never looked at them. These pictures were sacrilegious to the ribbon adorned, messy-haired, tulle wearing darling I knew from my childhood.
I didn't want to see Miwako with her hair pulled back, somehow matronly despite its color. I didn't want to see her in the arms of Arashi; I take a vindictive pleasure in how awful they look together. Then again, she and I don't make a picture perfect couple either.
I was…happy. Do not misconstrue me! I was not happy that my Miwako, my first love who I never truly stopped loving, was dead. But I was glad to have never had to see her grow old, her lithe arms becoming wrapped in papery, loose flesh, lines running across her face, gray eventually winning over pink. She was now forever safe from all the ugliness of time. Miwako had become the perfect, immortal angel, forever nubile yet innocent.
We went to that funny little studio that no one had been in for longer than we had all realized. I was never really a part of that small, intimate group, and even though my grievances were just as painful as theirs, I couldn't help feeling like an outsider, watching Yukari pat Isabella on the back and even daring to give George the smallest, most careful caress on the knee.
Yukari and my marriage is a strange one; it was one made out of convenience and friendship, yet it held absolutely no love at all. We married one another as second choices. Watching her look at George with more tenderness in her usually hard, obsidian eyes than I had ever seen, I did not feel the slightest pang of remorse at all.
I needed air.
I walked out the studio and up the stairs where I found Arashi smoking, leaning against the wall. I stood next to him without looking at him. All of his piercings were gone save one small, black stud in one of his earlobes. It made him seem strangely vulnerable, not the Arashi I used to know. He dropped the cigarette and stepped on it.
"Thanks for coming," he said. His voice was hoarse. I looked at him now and he looked back at me, as though those green eyes were searchlights.
"I know you guys came in a hurry and you don't have a place to stay," he said. "You could stay at my place but…" His voice trailed off to strange, heaving sobs that cracked in his throat. I put a hand on his shoulder and he grasped it with his own.
"It's too full of her," he said. "She's everywhere, standing just around the corner. I haven't been inside our-my apartment after…I've been staying with Mikako and Tsutomu. I know they wouldn't mind having you stay as well. Caroline as well."
"She's staying with her mother," I said, shortly, and Arashi looked at me strangely. "But I would love to stay with Mikako and Tsutomu."
Those tears on Arashi's face seemed foreign, as though they had suddenly appeared on his skin, not dropped from his eyes. But each of those crystalline tears seemed to hold a tiny image of Miwako, a miniature little pink-haired girl.
She seemed to giggle and laugh at me in her lovely, innocent way. She danced around a little and stopped to suddenly throw her arms around my neck and bury her face into the fabric of my shirt. I breathed contently and cradled the phantom to me. Miwako looked into my face one last time.
"Hiro," she said, in her sing-song voice. She kissed me with her strawberry lips and I caught the bottom lip between my teeth as though it was a fruit. She loved it when I did that. She sighed a little, against me, and suddenly, Arashi was standing before me.
The tears were gone and so was Miwako.
Arashi led me through the hallway, made narrow by my bags, to a room at the end of the hall.
"Here's their second guest room," he said. "You're welcome for as long as you're here." He left me, then and I sat down on the bed, feeling very strange indeed. A picture of Miwako and Mikako stood on the bedside table. I looked at it and touched a finger to Miwako's tiny face.
"Where are you now?" I asked the smiling face of Miwako. An unbearable pain hit me then. Until now, I felt as though Miwako could appear just around the corner and give me her mischievous smile.
"I got you, didn't I?" she'd asked. I'd pretend like I was angry and pick her up, hold her against me and twirl her around, while her skinny arms would be wrapped tightly around my neck, laughing into the crook of my neck. I could carry her over to the bed and we'd kiss. Until now, all of these things were a possibility.
But suddenly, reality set in, suffocating me. She wasn't around the corner, not now, and she never will be. She was lying in a wooden box that could hardly be called comfortable, and buried in the cold ground, to lay there and slowly rot away.
I sat down on the bed, heavily, and took my face in my hands and sobbed.
I had cleaned off my face and was walking back to my room, down the long hallway, when a sudden noise caused me to look left. My room was on the right. The room directly across the short hallway from mine had a closed door, white covered with various colored flowers and hearts. Was that Miwako's old room? I walked the short distance and put my ear to the door. I couldn't hear anything so I chanced myself to put a hand to the doorknob and slowly turn it. I pushed the door open and entered the warm, light filled room.
And was filled with a sudden tempest of emotions: shock, ecstasy, confusion. There, lying on her stomach in the center of the room, flipping through a magazine, was the very image of my Miwako, my sweet lovely Miwako. It was as though she had come back to me, from that day on the beach, and was lying right in front of me. She must be a phantom!
She slowly turned her head, seeing me standing there.
"Who are you?" she asked. Her voice was different. And slowly, as the bubble of hope burst and reality slowly trickled through me, I realized the hair that was spilling over her shoulders and back was a light gold, not pink. And that voice. It held none of the chirrupy-ness that Miwako's had. It was demanding yet sweet.
"I was a friend of Miwako's," I said.
"Oh." She turned to lie on her side and regard me with her large, doe eyes. She was solemn, all of a sudden.
"Alice." She nodded.
"I'm Mikako's daughter. Mikako is-was Miwako's older sister," she said.
"Alice like the little girl who gets lost underground?" I asked. She screwed up her face in thought.
"Maybe," she said. "I'm not too sure."
"Alice in Wonderland," I said.
"Oh, well, that sounds nice," she said, her face brightening. Alice sat up and crossed her legs. "What are you doing here?" The demanding quality in her voice was back.
"I'm just staying here for a little while. I don't live in Japan."
"You don't?" she asked. Her eyes were wide open, as though she couldn't possibly comprehend the idea of living somewhere that wasn't this sweet, homey flat in the heart of the throbbing metropolis. She stayed here. Everyone else did the moving.
"I usually live in the U.S. with my wife, Yukari," I said.
"You have a wife?" Alice asked. Her nose wrinkled. "You look too young to have a wife."
I raised my eyebrows. "And how old are you, to be saying this?"
"I'm twelve," she said, her sharp chin protruded just a fraction forward, showing off her defiance. "I'm almost thirteen."
"And I'm more than ten years older than you," I said, chuckling.
"How long are you staying here?" she asked. "I like you."
"Not too long. Maybe a week. And thanks; I like you too."
"No," she said. "I like you." And the childish, demanding voice was back.
She's just a child, my mind was saying. She does not mean it. You are her new plaything; that is all. But by God, I cannot deny that my heart did not flutter like a bird when she said that! I could not reveal this. I would play along.
"But I'm married," I said, adopting a teasing, lilt in my voice as well.
"I don't see your wife here," she said, cocking a golden eyebrow. "I think you're lying. You're too young to get married. How old are you?"
"Do you really want to know?"
I reached over to dare and lightly tickle the sole of her lavender and white striped sock-soled foot. She immediately pulled her foot out of my reach and my stomach suddenly dropped like an elevator, with disappointment.
"I'm twenty-eight," I said. "Happy?"
She shook her head.
"Everyone's so serious and sad. Because Miwako's gone," Alice said. "I'm sick of being sad."
"Don't you miss her?" I asked.
Alice looked indifferent. "I don't know."
"What do you want to do then?"
She looked at me, a small smile spreading across her face.
"You'll play with me?" she asked. She looked at me with unblinking, honey-colored eyes. I had to close my own, at the unintentional innuendo. When I opened them again, I saw that her lips were a shade of red that I found suddenly and uncomfortably provocative for someone her age, and reconsidered whether or not the innuendo was intentional or not. Though it makes no difference whether it was or not; it does not change her age.
"Sure," I said. "To be honest, it's getting a little stuffy in here. Whatever you want, we can go do."
"Can we get ice cream?"
I had to smile. It sounded like what Miwako would say. I suddenly realized that I hadn't been thinking about Miwako since I started talking to Alice. They were quite opposite, I could see that now, taking a step back and mentally comparing the two. Miwako always exuded a genuine child-like innocence; it was harder to tell with Alice.
She was sneaky. She was seductive. She was twelve.
And I suddenly found myself hooked and falling.
The next day, I woke up early and found no hope of falling back asleep. The jetlag was still with me. I somehow stumbled to the kitchen and washed my face and decided to make breakfast. I hoped Mikako and Tsutomo were cereal people. When I got to the kitchen, I realized I wasn't the only early riser. There was Mikako sitting at the table, a cup of coffee between her slender hands.
She looked worn and sagged into the chair. Age seemed to have finally caught up with her and she simply looked tired. She turned around and saw me standing at the doorway.
"Tokumori," she said, and got up to walk over to me. The silk, rose pink robe moved slickly against the skin of my neck when she rose on her tiptoes to hug me.
"I'm sorry we didn't properly get you settled yesterday," she said. "Things have been a little crazy. Tokumori and I've been busy putting…matters in order. We got home awfully late but Arashi told us you'd be staying with us. I have to say, I'm happy. An empty house would only make this worse."
"I'm sorry," I said. It was the most meaningless words I could possibly say but Mikako just sighed and said, "I know."
I was starting to wonder how long she was going to stand there, hugging me, when she cleared her throat and stepped back.
"I should get going," she said. "You can help yourself to anything. Just put the dirty dishes in the sink; Alice will take care of them." My heart involuntarily jumped at the name.
"Thanks," I said. Mikako smiled, patted my arm, and left.
I opened the pantry and found, thankfully, cereal. I was on my second bowl when I heard movement at the kitchen doorway. Looking up, I was greeted with Alice, dressed in a yellow and white gingham dress that tied at the shoulders.
"You better not have eaten all of my cereal," were her greeting to me.
"Good morning to you too," I said. She rolled her eyes and grabbed a baby blue bowl and sat down across from me and grabbed the cereal. It was only after her own second bowl of cereal that she seemed to finally sweeten up to me.
"What are we doing today?" she asked.
"Anything you want."
"Anything?" Alice asked. She was looking at me with a strange look in her eyes. She looked excited and smug.
I shrugged. "I suppose. Anything you want."
"I want to meet your wife."
I put down my cereal and looked at Alice.
"I want to meet your wife. You said you had one. Or were you lying this whole time?"
The sneaky little minx! I was furious and yet I wanted to take her up on the challenge.
"Yes I have a wife," I said, my voice a little more testy than I had intended. "She's staying with her mother. If you really want, I could call and see if Yukari wants to meet us somewhere."
Alice gave me the sweetest smile and I was momentarily distracted by the cotton-pink color of her lips. They were vaguely the color of Miwako's hair and I could smell the sugary sweetness. I would be lying if I said I didn't want to taste it as well.
"Where's the phone?"
Alice pulled out a pale pink cordless phone from the folds of her dress and set it down in front of me. She had been planning this! I had never met a colder and more calculating person, and she was only a little girl! I felt indignant, that she would play me like this when I was more than ten years her senior.
I picked up the phone and dialed the number and waited.
"Hello?" It sounded an awful lot like Yukari's mother.
"Hi, this is Tokumori, I was wondering if I could speak to Yukari?"
"Yukari? You're not with her?" It was Yukari's mom; I could hear the bite in her voice now, the same sharp edge that time had not dulled. "She said you were both staying with an old friend."
It hit me then. Yukari never went home.
She was with George.
For all I knew, she was probably rolling around in a massive bed with that still blue-haired, bisexual designer having sex this very moment. For some reason, this bothered me more than I thought it would. My pride was wounded. Yes, I said before that we were both each other's second choices but to learn that I've been cuckolded was an entirely different situation. I, personally, had never once…
I sighed and shook the angry, bitter thoughts out of my head. Yukari loves George in a way that she never loved me. Who was I to make things ugly when this might be the last chance they have together?
"I'm sorry," I said, thinking quickly. "Yukari must be out having breakfast with our friends, then. I'm afraid I slept in a little more than them. I was just wondering if she dropped by."
"No, she hasn't. But tell her I won't forgive her if she doesn't stop by at least once during her visit."
I turned off the phone and set it down on the table.
"Well?" Alice demanded. I suddenly remembered why I had been making the phone call in the first place.
"Am I going to see your wife?"
"No," I said, simply.
"Do you promise not to laugh, Alice? I'm not feeling very good right now," I said. I sat back down against the chair and sighed, heavily.
The sweet side of her was back.
"Yukari loves someone else, more than she ever loved me. She's with him right now."
"That's a pretty rude thing to do," Alice said.
"I thought you'd find it romantic."
"But she shouldn't have married you if she loves someone else," Alice said. She was standing in front of me, one hip thrust out with a hand on it, looking irate.
"It doesn't matter. I loved Miwako more than her too."
"But Miwako's dead," Alice pointed out. "You can't really sleep with her now, can you?"
I wanted to grab her and shake her and tell her to shut up. This incessant, demanding brat was trying my patience. But all such feelings evaporated entirely when Alice slipped a teeny-tiny hand through mine and crawled into my lap.
"I'm sorry Hiro," she said, humbly, in a voice so like Miwako's that I was confused for a moment. Then, she leaned in against my chest and settled her head right below my chin so that with each breath I took, I could smell her sweet perfume of flowers and powder. She felt like a tiny little doll in my arms and I could hardly contain my happiness.
"It's…quite…alright." My voice was hardly steady as the words dropped from my mouth.
"We don't have to do anything I want today," she said. "We can do whatever you want."
"Ah, how generous of you," I said, chuckling, finally feeling a little more relaxed, though it's quite hard to be even the smallest bit unperturbed when there is a irritable and seductive fairy perched on your knees.
Arashi had disappeared and Mikako and Tsutomo were both busy that day, which meant Alice and I had the house to ourselves. So we spent the day doing what I wanted: washing the dishes together then holding sweet little Alice in my arms for the rest of the day.
That night she came crying to me.
I was lying awake in bed, trying to make out the stars through my window, but the air was too thick and hazy. The soft glow of the childish nightlight in the corner seemed to become more glaring by the minute. I turned the face of the illuminated, glow in the dark clock towards the wall and unplugged the nightlight.
I sat on the edge of the bed, my mind a tempest. I couldn't even venture to snatch one thread of thought; there were so many running through my mind. I watched lights turn on and off in the building outside my window, and started to count, looking for patterns in the numbers. They almost started to make sense.
Then I heard a rustling at the door and watched as the doorknob turned slowly and the door opened. A ghost of a figure seemed to race across the rooms and into my arms.
"What's the matter?" I asked. I held Alice at arm's length, encircling her lithe arms with my hands. I could almost span even her upper arms with my fingers. Tears stained her face and her cheeks were flushed. She had something clenched tight in one of her hands. I carefully pulled it from her fingers and she sighed and leaned against me, with what felt like exhaustion.
I slowly unfolded the wrinkled piece of paper to find that it was actually a photograph. It was a picture of my darling Miwako, looking at the camera, laughing with her pink hair blowing across her face. She is standing in sand, the beach behind her, dressed in a short, ruffled white dress that barely reaches her thighs.
Juxtaposing the two, now, I can see that Alice does look a little different. Her nose is rounder, Miwako's mouth is fuller, but their eyes and their smiles are identical.
I drop the photo.
I then remember how many times Miwako had sent me e-mails from her phone while babysitting Alice. I remember how Mikako was always busy and it was Miwako that never forgot Alice's birthday.
I hold Alice close to me, stroking her brilliant hair. She had come to me, you see, for she has nowhere else to go and no one to go to. She will cling to a stranger like me for the house is full of nothing, nothing but even more strangers; but these are of a different sort, strangers that she has been living with for twelve years but has never really known.
Days seemed to melt, as I continued staying at Mikako's. I hadn't ventured outside for anything further than the ice cream parlor across the street, with Alice. The flat was always empty and most days would be spent lying on a sunlit bed, either holding Alice or talking with her. She had the most infuriating habit of managing to wriggle out of my arms after only a few moments. Despite her initial spark of interest at being held, I found Alice to be quite contrary to anything that really involved touching of any sort.
She hated the hand on the shoulder or at the small of her back. She'd grow irate and pull her hair away if I tried to tangle my fingers through the flaxen strands. And each time, I would grow clumsy and feel old and silly and disappointed. But then, she'd crawl back into my arms to stay for a few moments and all would be forgotten.
Alice knew she had me on her little string and she enjoyed it immensely. Some days, she would dare to brush her soft lips against various parts of my body: my fingers, the palm of my hand, my ear. I would be thrown into cosmic galaxies of kaleidoscopes and stars and spangles of light. She'd lead me into her little wonderland, only to cruelly pull me out after a small taste of it.
She never seemed like a child. She was but she did not seem like it. She was too mature and sneaky and smart. She was too smart to be caught. If it wasn't for her, I'm sure Mikako or Tsutomo would have suspected something unsavory. But charm fell from her lips like precious treasures and our secret was safe.
"What are you thinking about?" I asked. We were lying on a plush, purple velvet lounge chair, easily big enough to be a daybed. It was fit for a princess, with silver trim and buttons, pillows strewn across it. The sun streamed in through the large bay windows that Mikako had specifically designed for this room, and Alice looked as content as a cat, blinking sleepily in the sun.
"Nothing," she said.
I've never seen her troubled or depressed, ever since that strange night where I held her as she cried until the sun rose. I ventured a hand on her shin, and she kicked it away.
"Hey, cut that out," she whined. I snatched my hand back.
"I'm leaving soon," I said.
"Okay." She seemed completely apathetic.
"Alice, do you really care that little about me?" Her back was towards me, and I could make out the bony spine poking the thin, white fabric of her eyelet, ribbon adorned frock. Her pale, golden hair was pulled over one milky white shoulder.
She finally turned around towards me.
"If you had to choose between your wife and me, who would it be?"
"Do you really need to ask this question again?" I asked. "What would happen to the person I don't pick?"
"You'd have to watch them being humiliated." Have I mentioned she has a strangely morbid streak of imagination?
"I'd choose you."
"You'd watch them being tortured."
"You'd watch them die."
"You like me an awful lot, don't you?" Alice said.
"Don't tease me."
I entangled my fingers into the flaxen strands.
"I don't think you like me enough," she said, the now familiar coy look back in her eyes.
"Oh really? And what makes you say that?"
"You haven't kissed me yet," she said.
"If you're willing to watch your wife humiliated, tortured, and killed for me, you'd think you would have kissed me by now."
I looked at her, searching for any sort of mean streak of cruelty. Hoping to find none, I cupped her face in my palm and pulled her closer with my other hand. She looked at me, completely calm, waiting.
I kissed her slowly, tentatively. Trust me when I say I attempted to keep this chaste! If anything, it was her, it was Alice, who pressed up against my mouth firmly and demanding, slipping in a diminutive tongue between my lips. She was amazingly soft and warm against me and so fragile. I sighed a little, and pulled her even closer. She's enchanting me, taunting me.
And this was why I did not see Arashi standing in the doorway.
There were screams.
There were screams of frustration, horror, and absurdity. Pillows were thrown, my arms were grabbed and my back was thrown repeatedly into walls. I was threatened and then scolded, like a child.
I can vaguely remember Mikako's small hands grappling with my only instinctively resisting hands. Alice had run to her room and locked the door when the screaming started. She hadn't been out for the past two days, although sometimes you could hear the water running in the bathroom very late at night.
Yukari showed up on the third day. She greeted me with the coldest, most scornful look in her obsidian, dead eyes. I did not even dare respect her contempt with a response. She conferred behind closed doors with Arashi and even George and Isabella, who appeared the following day. It was just one big happy reunion, wasn't it?
My things were thrown unceremoniously onto the foyer leading to the front doors, leaving me to scramble to gather my belongings and attempt to put them into the suitcase, on all fours like a pathetic animal.
There was some talk of a divorce that I did not bother to listen to.
I was standing on the street alone, with one suitcase in my hand. A taxi was called for me and was waiting outside. I looked back up at the apartment. I saw movement in the large bay windows and suddenly, the hand reaching towards the door of the taxi froze. I froze.
I was finally rewarded with the soft pitter pattering of feet. It was Alice, my dear sweet Alice. She was running down the stairs, her hair a golden banner behind her. Streams of ribbon and lace fell from her dress and flapped in the wind. She was in my arms and I breathed deeply, smelling the fresh flowers in her hair.
She tilted her face up, stood on her tiptoes, and kissed me full on the lips. I melted into it; I savored the fury I could feel around me, encasing me in its hot, searing burn, yet being able to relish in the sweetness of Alice.
This was all I would ever need.
I left her, then. I left my Alice, but I knew the conflict would not be over.
Oh no, it is far from over, for I love her and I will have her in this lifetime. I was unable to have Miwako, and I am unwilling to make that mistake again.
I will have her in my arms, I will have her in bed, and I will have her as mine.
And I can only hope that there are cries of fury that will greet me. That they will one day understand and love me as Alice does.