Turning Over

When the Mad Hatter awoke in the morning the small breakfast table was set for two in the kitchenette. He seemed pleased by the whole affair of bread-and-butter and tea. "I'm sorry it couldn't be more; I don't eat all that much," Luttie said.

The Hatter, his mouth thick with a slice of toast oozing with butter, shot her a look. He swallowed thickly, washed it down with a gulp of tea, before saying, "It is more than our standard fare, at the table."

"True. I hadn't thought of it." A moment of silence, in which Luttie studied her companion: he looked like he hadn't slept well, with circles shading the undersides of his eyes. Of course, all hatters never slept well. There was no reason to worry about him. Except of course there was something to worry about, because he was banished. Desperately fishing about for something that wouldn't remind the Hatter of being banished, Luttie finally said, "I was thinking, last night, of when we first met—remember?"

The Hatter's mouth curled upward at the corners, which had been her intent. He did have, for all his oddities, a very nice smile. This alone was one of the few bare facts that Luttie would admit to herself about herself and the Hatter. Well, that and the fact that she'd given him a doorknob—which Luttie didn't hand out to just any Tom, Dick, or Jane who walked by.

"Yes," the Hatter said by way of return. "You complimented me on the garden then promptly told me your name was Luttie—in reverse order from what is normally done, I might add. Then again, I've done things in the reverse order most of my life—it's become sort of a hobby, you might say. I like having hobbies; it gives one a sort of well-rounded feeling, somehow."

"Agreed," she said.

There was a moment of silence, bled only by the quiet tick-tick of the clock on the wall. The Carpenter had given her that clock after she'd knitted him a net—Luttie hadn't asked what it was for, nor had he offered information. She had heard from the Tweedles, however, that he and the Walrus had started some crack-brained scheme to capture oysters—not that any oysters, mind you, grew in the Sea of Tears, which had mysteriously shown up a year ago.

Luttie had to wonder if that Alice had anything to do with it.

"Hatter," she said, still looking at the clock, "did Alice make the Sea of Tears—you know, the one that appeared by the racetrack?"

"Yes."

"Oh." Luttie considered the ramifications of this for a moment or two. Then she sipped a bit of tea from the porcelain cup by her elbow. The she said: "I made you something—for when you go." The Hatter refused to meet her eyes at this; instead he assiduously studied the dregs in his tea cup, as though he'd never seen such a thing before. "Hatter," she added gently, "there's no place else for you to go."

He leaned back into the chair, which was a tiny thing, really; it creaked under the unaccustomed weight of a man full-grown. The Hatter's sigh spoke a full paragraph. "I know," he said.

There was a moment of silence.

"Shouldn't the White King be able to grant you political asylum? You are, after all, one of his couriers."

"No." That was all he said, but the way he said it assured Luttie not to pry as into why the White King could not—or would not—grant the Hatter asylum.

"Oh," she said. This time the silence was awkward, filled with unspoken questions. Luttie could tell that the Hatter did not want to talk about whatever-it-was—once again the twist of his mouth betrayed him—and she figured that she could always ask the Hare for information later, if she really had to.

Slightly mollified by this thought, and thinking to break the silence, she inconspicuously pulled out from one of her many pockets, which had been stitched and hemmed into the folds of her dress, the package she had prepared the night before. "It's nothing much," Luttie said. She placed it by the Hatter's elbow on the table. "Just a scarf—you won't know what the weather is like until you get there—and, well, I thought you might need it." She betrayed herself by blushing, which irritated her to no end; Luttie was grateful indeed that the Hatter was busy untwining the black ribbon which wound around the wrapped package; he couldn't study her face that way and note the red-stain besmirching her cheeks.

The Hatter unwound the ribbon which held the wrapping in place, the brown paper which had been used to wrap the present falling away. The wrapping paper was leftover paper bags from the grocer's; the word Grocer's was still visible on the inside of the paper when it was stripped away under the Hatter's fine-boned fingers, which shook just a bit—but palsy was just something which came with being a hatter; that was understood.

The scarf, when it was revealed naked to the light of Luttie's kitchen, fell languid, thick and heavy, over the Hatter's hands, concealing them in linked ropes of dense black; the red of Luttie's hair, and the thin gold threads of the song, were barely visible in the knitted wool, which seemed to suck in the surrounding light, somehow, making the scarf seem less dark than it really was; Luttie hadn't realized before how black a skein she had used. And when the Hatter didn't say anything, just stared at the thick, coiled thing in his hands: "I hope you like it." She whispered this, feeling unexpectedly shy. "See, look."

Reaching out, she lightly touched the wool. "The gold is the song and the blue thread, tucked away here—where it's the color of the cupping firmament of the sky on an autumn's day; y'know, when everything is perfectly poised and balanced—that's the thread I got when I thought of the table, and the afternoons spent there." Luttie did not bother pointing out the flashes of red, buried deep in the dark mass—that, more than anything else, was what would protect him. For Luttie was the thing most tied to Wonderland, over everything else; she was the only thing that did not exist outside of it, between the pages of a book created by an anagram.

"It will protect you," she finished with a mumble. "Help to keep you from forgetting us—since you are not taking the hat with you."

"Yes," he said. "I am not taking the hat with me." He looked at her. "It is a very beautiful present"—although he inwardly reflected that it would have been nice to have it in a different color—a nice lime green, perhaps. "Thank you."

"Oh—I am ever so glad you like it!" And then, with Luttie smiling at him, with the morning sunlight pressing up against her hair and shadowing her left cheek in dazzling rays, glancing off her golden eye and coiling in eddying pools against the curve of her lips, the Hatter's heart turned over once.

He realized something that had never before been considered, not by anyone—and certainly not by him, bachelor as he was. The Hatter had always said that his one true love was tea, and that that would be enough to get him through life, thank you very much; but now, as Luttie pressed one of her bird-thin hands to his sleeve, her touch light and cool, felt even through the barrier of jacket and shirt, the Hatter considered and blushed, just a little bit. Quickly, before she could have time to catch this newfound knowledge in his eyes, he turned away; and, just as quickly as the thought had arose, he buried it; it was still there, though, and resurfaced when he looked at Luttie again, who, unaware of the internal struggle, said, "I'll miss you."

"And I you." Yet the Hatter was only beginning to realize just exactly how much he'd miss her.