Another set of these short-short-stories. I can't believe I've never posted these to . You see what you're missing by not keeping a close eye on my dA account? There's kissyface in these. MWAH MWAH MWAH SMOOCHIE SMOOCH


WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT OURSELVES

My mother once told me not to discuss myself with other people, that it wasn't polite.

"My dear, do not talk about yourself," she said, gazing into her vanity mirror, "Talk about the weather, speak of what you have learned of life, only do not talk of yourself." The keyword here is once, for she told me but once, and I did not seem to need encouragement after that. I have found many things in the years since then to talk about, and the weather is curiously never among them.

What we talk about when we talk about ourselves is each other. We sidestep one another, hanging off a Roman colonnade and looking down at the deep fish under the dark reflecting pool. We talk of what you have done in polite tones, talking about ourselves through each other, and in this way perhaps we understand one another better, taking on the task of mannerly speech without fear of really insulting one another. But sometimes, as people do when they become particularly companionable, we lapse in our lessons and talk of ourselves in quiet undertones.

"I was really happy with my sisters, you know," says Alice. There are too many ribbons in her hat, and it is very distracting, but then, so is any talk of herself, of her family, of anything besides a general philosophy on life. She is always waxing poetic about this and that in broad terms. Perhaps her mother gave her the same advice mine did; perhaps all mothers co-conspire to lead their children on in mindless conversation, skirting the real issues of who we are and what we talk about when we talk about ourselves. She has a pretty, clear sort of voice—not a mincing moppet voice in too many ribbons (which I am going to have to remove, I can tell this is already at issue), but a nice soprano sound that echoes back over the small lake. "Do you have any siblings?"

I am not sure how to answer this question, because the truth is that Alice keeps trying out these probing little questions in a very charming fashion, scattering them about the place like rose petals, and I think, I really do, that she is trying to solve me, like a puzzle. As if I need a logical conclusion.

"I was an only child." My reflection frowns back at me; I should have commented on how that cloud looks like a man with a bow chasing after a nymph of sorts.

"That must have been very strange," says Alice in that voice that says she's leading up to something, she's going somewhere with this, and then she says, "To have no one else to play with, or to be around."

This is all true, of course, but I don't think I had thought of it quite that way. Singular children become singular adults—I do not think all those years spent fishing and tying knots had anything to do with being quite comfortably mad, but Alice is looking for a response. And I'm still thinking of what to say when she apologizes for being so intrusive and the truth again is that she's daring to ask questions about someone with whom she gets up to misadventures and horrendous life-threatening perils—these are the sorts of facts one likes to know when one is in danger of going over a waterfall or being shot at by a chap with a compound bow.

"I wasn't lonely, you know. I had quite enough to be amused with, and I don't think my parents would have liked another strange uncanny child." Now she's looking terribly apologetic. "Besides, I've got you to bung through rabbit holes and to help me terrorize the countryside."

She finally smiles nicely, and we're off to find some other reflecting pool to reflect upon.


GLASS CASE FULL OF CAKES AT THE PATISSERIE

Alice watched him stuff the turquoise and white frosted petit four into his mouth and taste it thoughtfully.

"No, that one's no good either—I have to say, you have awfully high standards in terms of what these are supposed to taste like." Alice was more fascinated by the way he could fit a whole one into his mouth than she was irritated by the fact that she had had none of the pastel delicacies out of the glass case as of yet. She wasn't entirely sure how the Hatter's theory worked—he had posited that he would have to take the fall for her taste buds and make sure she got just the right balance of cake to frosting and flavor given that she was not as used to potentially deadly outcomes from teacakes, like he (supposedly) was.

She watched as a pink flower-shaped thing spotted with silver decorating baubles disappeared and he looked at the ceiling thoughtfully.
"What about that one?"

"That one tasted like amaretto," he said, and before she could respond he continued, "But it was far too crunchy."

"But five minutes ago you ate the exact same one and told me it had too much frosting."

"Well," he said thickly, for there was now a slight bluish ring around his mouth, "I daresay both of those can cause problems for ladies of a certain quality such as your splendid self. You don't want to be caught eating something declasse, do you? Ooooh," said the Hatter, bending over and sticking his finger up against the case, "What about that yellow one? That one has a fondant parrot on it, I bet it tastes like pineapple!"

Alice accepted the fact that she would probably not be having any cake and sunk back down into the spindly parlor chair. It only made sense that he would do something like this to her, just as it had taken her careful time and consideration to finally earn her tea at the Hare's teatable. She wondered if it was worth it to expend more energy simply for a few creamy whipped dollops of beaten sugar, and realized that her foot was jiggling impatiently at the mere thought of it.

Of course she wanted a petit four; wasn't that why they'd come in here? In fact, she didn't only want a petit four, she wanted a small cake all to herself, to sit and eat with a smug look on her face while the Hatter pouted like a vulture over the other side of the table--

Well, but that would be a source of consternation; she was quite sure she would not be having any more tea after an episode like that. She rose and went back over to the case where he was licking more frosting off his index finger.

"Which do you like better?" he said without looking at her. "Orange or rose?" He turned, and Alice looked down at his hands, which were turned palm in as though he had secrets inside them. He waved them both at her, daring her to choose one—one that would certainly end up in his mouth, followed by the other one "since it wasn't good enough for her to choose it."

Alice placed her hands over his fists, raised up on her tiptoes, and kissed his mouth gently, savoring the surprised way his lips relaxed into hers.

"No, I think I still like the amaretto one best," said Alice with the soft inflections of the clever victor.


"I'VE SAID TOO MUCH."

Alice was certainly glad she had worn the court shoes with the suede soles, because the Hatter was steering her around in circles that very probably would have resulted in much twisted ankles without them, causing her to start sounding like something out of The Magic Flute or something. The look of pure determination on his face seemed unwarranted, however, and Alice did wonder what all the fuss was about. He wasn't tangoing with her, he was handling her like a show pony and she was doing her best to keep from knocking into all the other grand bouncing bustles as the passage sped in tempo.

"What on earth are we doing?" she managed to ask after they did something like skipping forward in long lengths.

"We are watching that dastardly chap over there by the vodka fountain," he said in a low voice which hinted at devious and possibly even sly goings-on. Games afoot, and Dr. So-and So I presume, and At last we meet agains and so forth. Alice had not been aware that there was a vodka fountain, and this new information puzzled her so much that she stopped in the middle of the dance floor to watch the Hatter stride, predator-like forward, arms outstretched, only without a partner, so it was suddenly a bit funny, and she had to leap forward to keep from laughing.

"Who is he?" The Hatter had apparently not noticed her absence.

"I'm not sure, but he's been watching us for the last ten minutes, and in my expert opinion, he's a rather rum-looking sort who seems like he might want to bury us somewhere before the sun comes up."

"Wait, do you mean the one in the red coat--"

"I've said too much," said the Hatter, and turned her entire body by directing her arms before they strod off in another direction.

"But he's like all the others, they're stationed around the room--"

"List!" said the Hatter, which did not make any sense, because the only thing Alice could listen to was the sound of the music and the fact that they were now off-tempo. He spoke low in her ear. "I know that singular type of beady eye, that contrived paunch made to look as though he has lived a life of ease, and I tell you he is the worst sort there is—a cat burglar or a spy or something. Here he comes, quick, think of a distraction!"

While Alice tried to look over his shoulder to see if the man really was approaching them, the Hatter seemed to be trying to block anyone's view of her, hurrying her off the dance floor and up against one of the crown-moulded and bewallpapered... walls. She could hear someone's footsteps over the music now, and the Hatter turned to her, that fevered look of a desperate man in need of some escape.

In the years afterward Alice often wondered where she had misplaced it, but would shrug her shoulders, the helpful information having been superseded by far more pressing matters. He grabbed her suddenly and pulled her up against the close tart taste of his mouth and his rather surprisingly flexible nose, and had she been listening, Alice might have dimly heard the footman say,

"I do believe your dancing partner has lost one of her shoes, m'lord."


PRICKLISH KISS

It wasn't until she got the top of the ladder that Alice realized it was going to be a sticky wicket of a maneuver trying to get up next to him without giving the hidden creatures of the forest a real show. She turned in rocking steps back and forth until her back was against the sky, and then she flipped her legs around, and Alice sat next to him on top of the large old hedge in the Queen of Heart's garden and watched the sun begin to turn that rare shade of gauzy magenta and orange.

They were quite a ways up, though not dangerously so, and she could finally see the center of the awful maze. She imagined they made a rather pretty picture, sitting side by side in their bowling green whites, looking crisp and matching against the greenery and the dripping roses. He had rolled up the sleeves of the cable jumper and was kicking the hedge lightly, aimlessly, unconsciously.

She wondered how much of what he did was unconscious, how many of those little tics were not some sort of secretly planned mechanism designed to drive her into squawking fits of outrage and despair for the future of her own sanity and goodwill toward others.

But for now he seemed to be swinging his long legs back and forth in a contented way that said he was pleased with the events of the day, quite proud of her last-minute throwing save on the green. They had beat the White Queen as fairly and squarely as a madman who has been hiding extra bowling spheres in the toes of his shoes possibly can, but Alice looked out at the world and smiled, for it didn't even matter that he had cheated just a bit, because for once they were getting along.

Chummy? Convival? Companionable? She did not think their version of things really met any standardized form of what it means for a man and a woman to relate to one another, and for that she was glad. There was nothing about them sitting together in that way that was categorical or safeguarded in the lexicon of the English language.
He gave this long, immensely satisfied sigh, and the hedge was so wide and thick that he leaned back on his elbows and looked over and up at her with the sun sinking from her face.

"What do you think we're going to do tomorrow?" he asked, so muted that she turned very slowly and deliberately.

"I'm sure we'll think of something."

And their elbows started to prickle against the pressing sharpness of the little waxy hedge leaves as they both leaned forward to taste the last bit of lemon tea on each other's mouths, and Alice could feel the peculiar way he laughed straight up from his throat and into her lips like a conduit of sorts--it was awkward straining and leaning over to meet him, but he absolutely radiated with a warm relaxed gladness so that she couldn't possibly expend the good common sense to break their mouths apart until the sun finally angled down. The sky was a strange violet color, not quite day and not quite night, and they were not quite friends and not quite something else, but Alice liked being that color.