A false flower never truly dies. Nor does it ever completely live; for it is never given the chance to breathe the airs that flow through a body to give it an experience. A true flower, though, lives and dies in beauty and grace. Although it starts as a puny bud, just barely showing its true colors, and it is unsure of itself in the way that flowers are, it quickly expands with the mid-spring rains so we may see its full form. In this stage, it is fearless; an unmatchable portrayal of perfection; never to see an equal as long as it may live.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and as the wind turns brisk and cool and the leaves begin to part from their summer homes, the picture of innocence starts to wither. For such a thing can never stay pure for long; this world is too cruel and cold and heartless, and although there are displays of goodness, they do not last long, either. Yes, this world is terrible, because it takes away beauty, innocence, goodness, perfection, bravery, and truth as quick as a blink of an eye, yet it keeps the falsehood, the wrongdoings, the evilness, the impurities, the fears, and the lies for all eternity, like a plastic rose. A pathetic copy of the real thing will never match, but because of its extended life, it is used in place of the unnatainable beauty of the truth.
Pathetic. Such a pity, that people feel the need to resort to a thing like that.
A man sits on a bed of dirt in a small graveyard, carefully caressing such a flower in his hands as the gentle winter snows fall around him. He seems to be a young adult, fresh out of childhood, but he carries an air of experience with him that would envy that of an old, old man's. Any competent person can see this is no normal man by his tall, large-brimmed top hat sitting carefully upon bright, electric orange hair. His large green eyes carry fresh tears, but not one dares to roll down his pale cheek. His outfit is questionable, too- a patchwork cloak, sewn from pieces of fabric that have no particular similarity to each other. Knee-high black buckled boots decorate his feet. What such man would be in this area, at this time of night?
The villagers see this man. They know not his story, they know not his name. He is referred to as "The Hatter" for the peculiar accessory that fits perfectly on his extraordinary head. Peculiar, extraordinary, odd; almost the only words to describe him. They see him every night, ten o'clock sharp, sitting in the same area, with the same rose in his hands. Sometimes the rose is laid down when he leaves, a reminder of his struggles. Other times, he takes it with him, staring down at its plastic petals with a faraway look that suggests that he does not see the flower, but rather a memory in its place. Still others he destroys the pathetic lie of a rose with his feet stomping and his huge, bright green eyes blazing a vibrant reddish orange that matches the light of the dawn. He's mad, the villagers say during the day. He's absolutely mad!
They gossip and rumor, titter and giggle, making fun of this odd man. And yet night after night he returns. Some say he has always been here; some say he only came a couple years ago. Few know the truth of when this man came to the town and began his nightly routine that made him infamous in the surrounding areas. They know not his story, they know not his name, but The Hatter has been here for sixty years to the day. He appeared soon after a beloved elderly of the village passed away. These two events are obviously linked, but only the old and wise of the village know the complete story; the ones who have seen him night after night since they were little tots sixty years ago.
They used to try to talk to him, did you know that? They used to try to interact with him, learn his story, learn his mission. The silly teenage boys would dare each other to go tease him. The young female adults went in small groups to try to comfort him, to try to find out why he came to the same place at the same time, just like clockwork. And yet whatever the villagers tried to do, whatever things they said, he would look at that poor flower in his hands in silence, twirling it around, with such a sadness, such a grief in his eyes, that the young ones would give up eventually, scared by the mere thought of the experience this man-like man must have had.
He hasn't changed a bit, the old ones say while they know the silly middle-aged ones aren't around. He's remained exactly the same for sixty years. How is that possible? Magic, they say, because they still believe.
The middle-aged adults, the ones have once tried to comfort or tease or learn the truth from this man and failed, warned their young children to stay away from him. They no longer believe in magic. They might again one day, but not anymore. He's mad, they said. You'll catch his madness. He's dangerous. Those kinds of people aren't safe. Do you hear me? Stay away from him. The little children would reply dutifully, Yes, Mama, or Yes, Father, but when ten o'clock came and the parents thought the kiddies were tucked away in their beds, they would look curiously out their windows to the man whose shoulders were weighed down by a depression that they could not even yet fully comprehend.
But there is a story around the village, that once, once, he spoke.
It was about twenty years ago, the elders say. It was a young woman of around 15, fair and beautiful, with blond hair that fell down her back in waves, and bright, sparkling blue eyes. She had heard the stories of The Hatter, about his madness, and used to be one of those little girls that stayed up late to see him and consider what his tale might be. She knew not his story, she knew not his name. But she did know that for as long as she could remember, he had been there, weighed down by sadness. She was determined to learn of the cause of his despair.
Maybe I can help him, she said right before she left to see him. Maybe he just needs someone to talk to.
Her friends would not join her, frightened subconsciously of the stories their mothers told them when they were little tots. But this girl was fearless. At the chime of ten o'clock, she popped up out of her bed that her mother had so carefully tucked her into and climbed out of her window with the grace of a cat. He was already there when she reached him. The villagers who dared to watch still remember every detail. Although no one heard their conversation, the physical movements were unmistakable. When she reached him, she said nothing, but sat down next to him carefully and pried the false rose out of his hands. He looked at her, his eyes widening, and he said a single word. She shook her head slowly in response, and asked a question. Words seemed to pour from his lips for the next fifteen minutes, and every once in a while she would ask a question again, which he would answer with a relaxed air around him, as if getting the chance to finally tell someone relieved him of a huge burden. When he was done, they sat in silence for a moment. Then she reached over and took him by the hand, and together they looked at the stone in front of them. Finally, after sitting in peaceful silence for a long time, he stood up, brushed himself off, helped her up, and together, hand in hand, they walked into the mists and away. Needless to say, she was never seen again.
Ah, wait! Didn't I mention the stone? It was much like just a block with a rounded top, and on the top, a beautiful inscription. No one knows who did the inscription, although it was said that soon after The Hatter started coming, he appeared one night with tools and such and worked long into the night against this piece of rock. Just a legend, of course; but then again, all these were legends, stories of nights long past. What was true nowadays? The truth never stayed long.
Sometimes, a small mouse would accompany The Hatter to his nightly ritual. Other times, a couple bunnies might join him; one was short and stout, with black markings around his torso that to the faraway eye looked almost like a vest, and the other was tall and thin, scuffed, dirty, with a wild look to it, as if it had just been in a fight. Still other times a cat emerged and laid down in the young man's lap; so black it was almost purple, it had reddish-pink stripes in crazy patterns lining its body. Tonight, he is alone, save his flower, and-
Wait. What's this? The animals are all coming to him! At first, he does not see them, but soon he seems to hear their quiet approach. He turns to them, and as they approach him, he embraces them with open arms, letting the long awaited tears fall from his wet eye to his strong jaw. The animals seem to almost be crying, too; for they must feel the same remorse he does. After a while, the man looks up again and is astounded to discover that he is now surrounded by animals! Their differences range from an impossible size of a white bear-like creature to a small peculiar blue caterpillar perched on his shoulder. Every single one of them carries something. One carries a picture. Another animal carries a pen and paper. Yet another creature holds a crown. Most of them carry live roses in their mouth. The man stands up, astonished. His original friends rise with him. They step back as the creatures, one by one, lay their object somewhere around the grave and bow their heads respectively to the gravestone before them. When the final object is laid and the final creature paid its dues, a down-trodden beagle gives the surprised man the pen and paper. He closes his mouth and eyes, breathes deeply, and begins to write.
The next morning, the villagers will see the changes made to their graveyard. What is this? they will exclaim. Who has done this terrible thing, to mar a grave? The witnesses will stay silent, watching the reaction of the uninformed people. Then it will dawn on the over-reactors: This was a display of love.
Sixty roses surround the grave in a perfect circle, and upon the gravestone itself, a shrine. It has the picture of a young girl, much like the one that disappeared, but different in a way. It also holds the plastic rose, a beautiful, intricate crown, and a message addressed to the person who the shrine is for. But before the villagers read this message, they will take a moment to stop and observe this beautiful scene; they will re-absorb the sadness emanating off of the shrine; they will reread the inscription upon the stone, which says simply, Alice Kingsley, a loving mother, sister, daughter, and friend. A true rose, surrounded by painstakingly carved swirls and roses; and they will fully realize that magic has been at work here.
Then they will read the message.
But none of this has happened yet. The Hatter is still writing the message, although most of the animals have left him to his own devices. When he is finished, he lays it down on the grave, puts two fingers to his lips, and then presses the fingers against the paper in what is unmistakably a transfer of a kiss.
And he is gone, disappeared into the mists; if only for a night.
Oh, you want to know what the message says? Well, it tells his story, more or less; but it also tells of a peculiar girl who falls down a rabbit hole and ends up in all sorts of misadventures. Perhaps you've heard of the story that came out of this message from one of the villagers. But this letter is much more sad and loving than anything in that book. This letter tells of the suffering of a man who was cursed to sit back and watch while the woman he loved most in the world grew up without him, moved on from him, had a family without him. He never completely got over her, the letter says; and sometimes, that's exactly what's nessecary in order to know if you love someone.
Here is exactly what it says:
My Dear Alice;
I have never stopped loving you.
Although you have left us here, we never forget. We here in Wonderland will never forget. Especially not me. You may have left us, but we still know you will return one day. You will return and lead us once again. You will return and lead ME once again. Someday.
Your granddaughter visited me one night. I thought she was you. I told her your story, and she returned with me to Wonderland. Isabel is a wonderful leader, but she is not you. Someday, you will come back, and you can rule with her, alongside her. Then Wonderland will finally be at peace. Someday.
Sixty years, I have waited. Sixty years since you departed this world and our own. You will never return here, but I know you will return to Wonderland someday. Someday. How do I know this?
For sixty years, I have come to your grave and mourned for your loss. I never stopped loving you, Alice. Never. I remembered what you told me, that last night in Wonderland. You said, "Hatter, have you ever thought about roses?" "You mean like when you painted the roses red, Highness?" I joked. You did not laugh. "No," you responded with a purse of your lips. "No, I mean how plastic roses will live forever, while the real roses die. Why is that?" "Well... I suppose because it's artificial," I responded. "They have never experienced life, so they will never experience death. They are a mere imitation of life. Real roses are too beautiful for this world to comprehend for long." "That's so sad," you answered. "The world is such a cruel place." "Not this world," I pointed out. "You can still stay here, and be queen of Wonderland!" You laughed, and I asked why. Then you said something that will never leave me for as long as I may live:
"Well, Hatter, if I remain here, then I live forever. You said it yourself- real roses are too beautiful for this world to comprehend for long. Well, this is my rose, Hatter. And this is too beautiful to stand for too long. This is not where I belong, Hatter." You then pulled out a plastic rose from your pocket and gave it to me. "Hatter, I'm sorry I must leave you, but as long as this rose lives, that is how long I will love you."
Alice, the rose is still with me. As long as this rose lives, that is how long I will love YOU. I will return here as long as I have to and as many times as I have to to bring you back to me, even if it means staying here for a thousand years. I will never leave you, Alice, even if you had to leave me.
You were my rose, Alice, but you didn't have to leave forever; because as the seasons come and go, don't roses grow back?
They know not his story, they know not his name, but with this message, they will learn what they need to know. The villagers will continue to give him space and silence, but now it will be out of respect rather than fear. But it doesn't matter to The Hatter. He doesn't care about the villagers- he never did. He only cared about his rose.
And as long as the plastic rose will survive, he will have hope that his true rose will be returned to him.