By David Hartley Mark
The White Rabbit leaned back, blinked his enormous pink eyes—
They really are very large, and red-rimmed; he doesn’t get much sleep, thought Alice—
reached into his waistcoat, which was hound’s-tooth plaid, black-and-white-patterned, with side-flapped pockets from which the buttons had, long ago, gone missing—and pulled out an enormous pocket-watch, bright-and-shiny—
Possibly the only thing about him that’s not gone to seed, thought Alice,
and caught herself up short:
Now, Alice my Girl, there’s no point in your thinking the worst about your clients—
At which point, to break herself of the habit of too much inner thought, she leaned forward, took hold of her ceramic table-lighter, the one she had gotten as a gift from Disraeli, and flicked it open; she touched the tip of it to her Players cigarette—
“I’m always late,” moaned the Rabbit, softly.
“Come again?” asked Alice, waving away the clouds of pungent smoke that billowed out the corners of her mouth.
“Late,” repeated the Rabbit, “always. Can’t help it. Can’t be helped.”
“Unless you want to help it,” said Alice, taking another pungent puff, “that is, really want to want to change.”
The Rabbit said nothing; he began to rock back-and-forth, back-and-forth, staring at the white-bright-face of the watch—it had big gold hands, too—moaning softly,
Late Late Late I’m always late—why? O woe woe woe….
“O be quiet, can’t you?” came another voice.
Alice fanned away the smoke—it was not only from her cigarette—
I really should quit, but there is always so much much tension in here; it does relax me, and Mr. de Quincey told me it was better than that Other Stuff, that Stuff that he smokes—
She realized that it was the Caterpillar and his hookah; he had set up his mushroom—that is, his traveling mushroom, the one he took on afternoons visits, where he would crawl around Wonderland, armed with his hookah and a small pocketful of cartes des visites; he would tap on whatsoever house he found himself near, and, when the door was opened, whether by flower, fish, fauna, or fellow creature, he would open with his tag line:
“You. Who are You?”
“I am Dr. Alice Liddell, Psy.D., student of both Drs. Freud and Jung,” said Alice, slowly but firmly, “I have my undergraduate degree in Philosophy from Oxford, from the Rev. Dodgson, and my doctorate from Dr. Freud, at the University of Berlin.”
The Caterpillar took the hookah-stem from his mouth, the corners of which were turned down, decisively, firmly, conclusively, inarguably. He shook his leonine head—that is, if a Gigantic Bug could be said to look Leonine. Puff, Puff, Puff. The air was growing opaque. It was becoming hard to breathe. Alice, doing her part (We all do Our Part; we’re British), stubbed out her cigarette; it was almost out, anyway.
“You,” he repeated, slowly, sonorously, “Who. Are. You?”
From the corner of her eye, Alice could see the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse taking their seats, to the left (never the Right) of the White Queen. Out in the corridor, she heard the Duchess sneezing, and the Baby—a pig, really—oinking. Alice groped in her reticule for another cigarette.
The air was grey-brown-black and impenetrable, like a London Fog on an overcast day, although the sunlight was brightly-lit in the room, and warm, and uncomfortably close.
“You. Who are you?” asked the Caterpillar, again.
“What time is it, Rabbit?” asked Alice of the White Rabbit, who appeared to have settled—he wasn’t mumbling quite so loudly, anymore.
“Time? What time?” murmured the Rabbit, subdued, “It’s—oh—it’s—I have it!—fourteen-forty o’clock.”
It was going to be a long session.