All allure, these words, as you take the vial from the table touch the cold glass against your palm, as you rub the paper between your fingers, attached by string to cinnabar syrup, calligraphy carried to the auditory canal, softly pleasing pleading plumes of plum asking DRINK ME.
Such words, such cleverness. For you have always been attracted to the strange, to have broken so many oft-mentioned rules about the conduct of young ladies. And here it is, all written down swerved and yet clear the promise the call the sweeping short hot fuse of an offer and an opening, a wish and a wonder. A door, possible, a promise waiting, these inhuman molecules speaking.
It is your choice. To drink or not drink. For consent is welcomed. Even though, in truth, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson has put you in a difficult position, and one which makes your head ache a little as you consider how consent without alternative is different to that other thing. Holding the key, holding the way. To bright flower and fountains. To be out of the dark hall. All this is promised to you. If you will only.
And you must ask that it be remembered here that Charles is neither a macrophiliac nor a microphiliac but rather a man with a neurological condition affecting the sense of spatial perception. You must ask, following from this, that it is thus recognised that there is no suggestion of feeding any such aberrant desires.
That you are merely reflecting, quite benignly, on the lack of a question mark.
You know what happens next. This may be a new reader, but you’ve visited here so many times before. And frankly all this changing size is a bit of a chore. Drinks to shrink, and drinks to grow, and never to know which is one and which the other. And you have to wonder, if wondering is what it’s all about, you have to wonder if Wonderland is so wondrous, why amidst all the talking cats and dodos and dormice there isn’t a way to make the door bigger rather than the girl smaller.
It is at this point prudent to remind the new reader of a little known fact, a fact obscured. That after the drink, and the cake (for one must not neglect in all this talk of substances to be bottled the humble pleasures of the crumb) it is not you who makes herself small again, but rather the white rabbit with his quite forgotten fan, silken paper folded around a fleece down paw. A stranger object than drink or cake and yet to shrink you again without due notice or warning, without label or sign. To make you shrink altogether should you not let it slip absentmindedly from your fingers.
You would like to draw the reader’s attention to these little known facts. That more than a rabbit it is a waistcoat, and a pocket watch. A waistcoat and a pocket watch at war with a woman wearing her heart much bigger than her sleeve.
So while today is still the story. While today is still the story of a rabbit, and a rabbit hole, of a trip along the riverbank and a boat. While today is even still the story of a pocket watch and waistcoat. While it is always, will always be, the story of a blissful falling and a not being able to catch your breath tumbling and a turning, it is not that story. Which means, of course, and with some regret you have to admit, that it is no longer destined to end with roses, and queens, or a man in a velvet jacket and a rather splendid top hat (although that such incidents will no longer occur, of course, cannot be guaranteed).
It is with this feeling in the air, this something shift, this 2019 no more feeling, that you admit that maybe this time is the actual time. It is with this. With this reader. It is with this time and this reader that you put the vial back on the table. And you know that finally, in this time, it has to be said.
Fuck the dress, and the starched white apron, and the striped stockings. Fuck being Mr Tenniel’s blonde. Fuck being the first-edition purists’ brunette. Fuck Japanese Lolita Manga Pandora steampunk fighting zombies asylum. Fuck Alan Moore. Fuck World Book Day. Fuck Disney. Fuck your fantasy in the service of grammar, of satire, of teaching children the instruments in a symphony orchestra, and quantum physics. Fuck Royal Opera House, and Royal Ballet. Fuck celebrity chef jellified toffee, hot buttered toast, turkey, cherry pie, pineapple and custard, tinted pink. Fuck Feminist appropriations. Queer appropriations. Fuck pseudo-ironic performative reclamations. Fuck all of them because.
Because Fuck Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Because, when we are honest with ourselves, we all know.
1854. In the criminal register the word is capitalised and underlined. Girl. The name not even written there, but yet you know it. Matilda Bott, aged fourteen. It is not written and yet you know it and yet her real name is Ann Matilda Bott, a gift of a child, baptised on Christmas Day, one of seven, her father a groomsman. And maybe the change of name is just a misprint. Maybe it’s a transcription error, or an oversight. Maybe it’s not an omen, or a prediction, or an assumption, or a shame. Evidence by the child, her mother (unnamed), and a Huntingdon surgeon, Wooton Isaacson (named).
And in the final column a single word. Acquitted.
1834. Elizabeth Staly. Trial for a crime 12 December 1833, an assault. She is somewhere between seven and eight. And the accused, Cornelius Jennings, committed to six months in gaol. But there is, thank the Lord, from the Reverend (unnamed) a petition. Grounds for clemency. Thirty upstanding residents of Manchester and Salford signed (named).
It is, they argue, a malicious prosecution.
1820. Jane Hepzibaah Powell aged eight or nine, for no one is quite sure. A girl without parentage, exists only in the single record of an Overseer of the Poor.
Except for this one other record. Samuel Cooper, aged fifty-three, trialled for the assault of said infant with intent to commit a rape. Written next to the entry a solitary word. Ignoramus. Which you might be just a little comforted were it to mean what it means now, rather than what it means then:
We do not know.
Ignoramus. Not guilty.
You look to the door, to the bright flowers and the fountains. You look for Matilda, and Elizabeth, and Jane Hepzibaah. You look for all the others, too, the real girls, just like you are a real girl, honest with yourself, a real girl listening to the stories that become you in this story, wheeling over and over. Listening, always. You look over your shoulder for Charles. And before he can say another word you put your hands over your ears and say it’s me, Alice, I’m here.
And as your words echo up through the vaulted room, and as they slip, faint as whispers of pipe-smoke through the crack in the door, it is somehow that the vial falls to the floor and it is somehow that it is underneath your foot. A flash of white fur. A rhythmic finger-click of a pocket watch, growing faint. The glass crunches, the vermillion liquid seeps out across the tiles. It cracks and flows, and spills, and refuses to be contained.