I wrote these a while ago with Tell-Me-Lies and posted them on deviantArt, but for some reason they never made it here. We had some prompts from her drawing project, the 123 pictures of Alice and the Hatter hanging out, picked up several at random, and wrote a short story in 10-15 "WCMI Thing" was a writing contest Rain held in the LJ community. Mine didn't win, and it's not entirely Alice and Hatter, but it rounds out the set.
ONE MORE TIME
They were stuck at the crossing in Bruxelles, and Reginald had been engaged in heavy conversation with a fat porter in a white tuxedo jacket and a thin mustache for the last five minutes, arguing about something involving chocolate-covered coffee beans. Alice didn't care, or at least she was trying to pretend she didn't care. What mattered was that the train had lost a water gauge somewhere between Calais and the station, and he simply had to go off and argue some more.
They'd argued with the man in the black jacket that morning, too, trying to hurry on their way to get going, get to the station to buy tickets, to move forward, for change. She wasn't anxious like she thought she would be about this whole trip; on the contrary, he'd given her a new hat, a very light grey one that matched her blue wool cape and one that he told her he'd been working on for months. Alice looked over her shoulder for the seventh time at him, standing there in a dark raspberry coat he'd changed into with grey trousers and looking quite smart despite his finger jammed in the porter's sternum. She was growing worried that there'd be a punch-up and he'd return, more irritated than ever.
But there wasn't, and he didn't. Instead, he floated back over, flung himself into the waiting chair next to her, propped his black and white spats on the seat opposite, and made to pour out a handful of the beans.
"Oh, go on," he murmured at her dissentful shake of the head, "You look absolutely exhausted, darling." She folded her gloved hands before remembering that he was genuinely concerned for her well-being and not simply making a lewd joke. She held out her palm and tried one of the beans, about to remark on the acidity, when he said in the quietest voice, one so honest that couldn't be heard anywhere else in the busy station,
"Mon aubade," very simply, not low and full of emotion, but simply an observation next to her there on the seat. He was looking at her very plainly, simply as if seeing her in a roomful of people for the first time, and Alice forgot about the other bean she had picked up and let the moment roll over.
She didn't even care if the train got back on for Avignon after all, she could spend a sleepless honeymoon in a train station with a gaze like that one more time, a thousand more times, and survive, Alice thought.
I STAND CORRECTED
He stared into the bottom of the clear glass, that little concave tunnel that obscured the pretzel he'd been eating underneath. Reginald frowned.
"This is..." he began before remembering that she had spent the day on this little project. He tried to think of something neutral, something nice that she might like. No, he thought, avoid going the over-vague route, she'd pick up on the insincerity and the fact that he was trying to be smooth and placating instead of genuine. Did Alice like constructive criticism? He doubted it.
"It's what?" she said, pouring herself a glass. "Is it any good?" He took a deep breath and flexed his eyebrows, mouthing but before making several facial variations in the key of I'm really not certain.
"I did put extra lemon in it, I know you like it better that way." Her voice had that ever so slight ladylike cringing tone to it, he could tell, the one that said she was unsure but hinted that she was hopeful. She had put extra lemon in it—he could pick up the notes like a fine wine, but there was something massively overpowering it, and he couldn't understand the necessity of it.
"I stand corrected," he said almost to himself. "Are you sure this is how they do it in other countries?"
"It's what the recipe said," replied Alice, and she too took a sip of it before relaxing, her eyebrows contemplative. "Hmm," she said.
"I mean, it's--"
"It's not what I expected," Reginald finally concluded diplomatically.
"Well, it's certainly a dear little drink, but... I don't think tea is meant to be boiled and then put over ice anyway, whoever heard of such a thing."
"And then all this sugar in the boiling mixture--"
"It's just the way I heard they did it!"
"I'm not saying you're wrong, love, I'm just... it's very new, that's all. I'm sure if the weather were quite hot and not a traditional English summer, cold sweet tea would be a far better thing. That's all I'm saying."
"Well," said Alice, and sipped demurely again. She wasn't offended, thankfully, but she wasn't going the extreme route of denunciation, either.
"It is different."
"Do you think you could get used to it at all? Perhaps with a different blend of tea? I wonder what oolong tastes like when it's cooled? Might be fun to experiment," said Alice with a waggle of her finger.
"Would you still put so much sugar in it?" He looked at his own glass sitting on the table.
"The recipe does call for it. Perhaps we're not used to it, or something. It is awfully sweet; what an idea."
"Not as sweet as you are," he teased in a perfectly serious voice. "You're all the sugar in the mixture one might need." She gave him a chiding look but curled up back in her chair, a secretly pleased little smile perfectly visible through the clear glass.
She turned the tiny frosted glass candle holder with the thin blackiron image of a man and a woman holding hands on its side. It was supposed to project an image of their silhouettes on the wall when one lit the candle. Alice stood up straight and looked around the room again before wandering back toward the fireplace to warm her toes on the bar grate.
She was lonely this afternoon. She was always lonely in the afternoon, picking through a series of needlepoints that long needed finishing and watching the grey clouds through the tall window with the dusty burgundy drape—not really clouds, as they weren't puffy or the sort of thing you could imagine into another shape while you stretched out under peaceful skies next to a dear friend. They were more like the inside of a mob cap, just a covering over the world, keeping all the air and thoughts in, bouncing them back on her when she wasn't expecting it.
It wasn't hard in the darkness of night, because at least then she could sleep. She had heard that that was the worst part; feeling the hot pillow and the warm sheets and being unable to sleep, but Alice always sunk into the linen coverings and closed her eyes and did not think because the association with the night just wasn't there. She sort of wished it were, but never completed that thought; it wasn't right.
Sometimes she dreamt, and when she did, it was of watercolor skies with fresh egg-green sprouts underfoot, long sighs while sitting comfortably between the roots of an ancient tree, his head just settled in her lap, the words from the stories she read aloud slow and methodical. They always put him to sleep, but she kept reading, watching him under the bottom of the page, asleep with his eyebrows perfectly relaxed and not a worryline on his face. If she stopped reading, though, the whole thing would be broken and he'd wake up and chuckle at her a bit, teasing her.
"You can't help but stare at me while I'm asleep," he told her with his eyes closed.
"You're full of yourself," was her reply, but he was right. He usually was.
In her dreams they came and went, twirling themselves around ancient Roman columns by black gazing-pools in abandoned gardens, sometimes not speaking but letting their bare fingertips brush up against each other, looking at each other's reflection to watch the subtle reaction. He looked at her with strange pale eyes, and she never felt so awake as she did when they really looked at each other. Sometimes she wondered if dreaming were waking and waking were just a strange... not a nightmare, but a dream that would end, that ending making everything well again. When she would wake up there would be nothing, but Alice would not feel the nothing until the afternoon.
Around tea time.
ENTRY FOR THAT WCMI THING OR SOMETHING
She knew the perfect stance: a jutting slouch revealing the two foot slit in her gown was what turned their heads walking past. The slithering crimson Galatea flipped one plait of hair over her shoulder and felt it glide in a smooth wave back into place where it belonged. Right over half her face.
It did give her a tremendous advantage, she thought, remembering to flick her eyelashes at a man with a long nose who then proceeded to walk into and over a drink table, pitching the punch bowl at his fat companion. There followed a loud conversation with a string of slangly foreign expletives she chose to either not understand or ignore. She took small comfort in the fact that anyone who happened to be looking in her direction was most certainly not paying any attention to where her own eyes might have been trained. Just as well, she supposed; more opportunity to people-watch, particularly a pair whose closeness would have been better described in terms of nuclear fusion.
Had she known about that sort of thing, of course. She pursed her lips and let her eyes look glazed, but her cerebral cortex was beaming. Splitting like atoms; now that was a good joke, she thought to herself. Too bad she couldn't share it with anyone—she faked another hairflip and glanced around. No, she was lacking in sympathetic ears tonight. But the white-haired man was looking for his blonde date. Again. Couldn't seem to keep track of that one, despite his well-honed skill of drawing and retaining women's attention. And then drawing and retaining their sense of self-worth. This was sure to be juicy, or at the very least a fascinating psychological study of co-dependency and gender self-image proportions. Whichever you found more interesting, granted.
The old story, of course, was that you resisted, denied, got into fights, found some tiny glowing sliver of hope in an ultimately meaningless gesture or rescue effort, let it grow, let it expand, hesitated, and then at the last possible second reconciled that feeling to be love. Not everyone did get their happy ending, though. Girls who grew up thinking one day their prince would come wound up getting an oversized foot shoving their ass out of bed and a few dollars more for cab fare home. And the blonde girl wasn't an ordained princess, either. She wondered if the girl would be a crier or a screamer when the truth came out, but quickly felt guilty in light of her own happily ever after. When had she gotten so cynical? God, she wanted a cigarette. Where was that monochromatic salesgirl?
She shook her head. No. Sure, she was all celluloid and would never really fade, but the preservatives tended to react badly with the tar. Besides, she didn't need any more controversy given her little tumble and peek show—the questions were old, but no one seemed to tire of asking. She was sick to crap of being their Frankenstein sex fantasy; where were the men willing to palm her the medallion for haikus and brokering piratic democracy (how else had that latest movie been a smash)? She understood the difference between gnosticism and noetics, could fill out the Friday New York Times crossword in ten minutes with a pen, and knew who the Kwisatz Haderach was, but lord help her if anyone's eyes ever got past her neck.
She wasn't stupid. She was just drawn that way.
THE RAIN STOPPED SUDDENLY
The rain stopped suddenly, and Reginald opened his eyes to check if the sun had come out. It hadn't, and he was glad; he wanted the thick and heavy stormclouds that were hanging thickly about like a herd of impatient pregnant cows, to start up again with the soft overlapping taps against the leaves and the open windowsill.
Lord, but it was hot again. Not hot enough for the mirror across the room to steam up with all the humidity, but hot enough for them to have opened the window and let the rain lull them both to sleep, lying on the bed in the wrong direction on top of the covers like they'd simply collapsed mid-day, which they had.
Let's just rest our eyes for a bit, their poses seemed to say. Let's just lay here with our legs over the edge, feet not quite to the floor, and listen to the rain and the birds' silence and let the wind come through open window cool to the house down. It's been so hot lately, hot enough for bare feet and avoiding the back garden.
He could see her in the grand halfcircle periphery of his gaze, lying perfectly still with her mouth just barely partway open, her eyebrows still sort of surprised that she'd managed to fall asleep so fast. The rain started up again, and he turned halfway onto his side and traced the bracket of her profile with his mind. She still had her hair up in a bun, and the apron with the worn edges tied on, as if she'd never finish cleaning in this lifetime. No frills, no ringlets, no pretty little ribbons, just an Alice in a gathered smock, plain and simple.
She wasn't often like this. Most of the time she was sitting quietly with her guard up, calculating, trying to figure him out in a confusing way; he certainly wouldn't spend so much time and effort trying to figure himself out, and yet she would often pause with knitted brows and the teacup halfway to her lips just to stare for a moment like some light would burst through and reveal all his inner secrets. If it wasn't that, then she was shaking her head with a cynical sideways look and a half-pursed lip at some joke he'd made. Which made the times when she did grace him with a laugh all the more worth grabbing for.
And now here she was with that strange look upon people when they sleep, for some people make so many faces when they are awake it's as if they wear a mask at night, even though it's their true expression and the masks really come in the daylight. Or clouded lights of midafternoon rain, he thought, listening to the sudden cloudburst. She opened her eyes and looked up at the ceiling, but Alice's expression didn't change.
"What a nice sound that makes," she remarked quietly. He did not say anything. "I'm not going to sleep tonight if I lay here for so long." Then she scrunched together, put her temple against his shoulder, and pretty soon they were both asleep again.