Today, Lise Quintana and Kevin Sharp explore “Rabbit” by Sanam Amin, submitted for Issue #10, Alice in Wonderland.
It was a dream with loud noises and laughter, a strange wedding, constant chatter.
“White tigers,” said a scornful voice. “As if no one would know better.”
“Hand-painted, all of them!” It was a beaming maternal face. She gestured at her sari. So it was a holud, not the wedding yet.
The bride burst into tears. I couldn’t see her face. There seemed to be a lot of gold glittering about.
Someone was murmuring something I didn’t pay close attention to…
“It is always dangerous to get up before you have finished dreaming. Just at that moment, when the dream is still vivid but you recall the everyday activities that will soon follow – get up, brush your teeth, make the coffee – that’s when you slip through the cracks.”
But there’s office to go to. And it’s not far but the traffic will take half an hour. Coffee would help. I fell asleep too late. I’ll be tired all day.
I lumbered to my feet, still unable to manage more than peer blearily through one eye. So sleepy. No electricity meant I’d have to fumble around the kitchen anyway. Flip electric kettle switch. Coffee cup. Teaspoon. Teaspoon slips and clatters across the room.
I’m walking across and somehow the teaspoon is at the mirror, on the floor. I’m still walking to the teaspoon. Now I’m kneeling down to pick it up. Only when I get up I see someone watching me with malevolent, predatory eyes.
I stand back up, clutching my spoon, still not quite awake. Something was wrong with the perspective of the room.
She spoke, finally. “Well, don’t dawdle all day.” Turning, she stepped into the kitchen doorway behind her. Wait, wasn’t the kitchen door behind me? I turned, and only saw the mirror. I had both eyes open by now. I felt awake, and this was all very wrong.
I put the spoon in my pocket and entered the other kitchen – not mine. It was familiar, but different.
And it had her in it.
She made me feel helpless, threatened. It was a feeling the exact opposite of the familiar, safe comfort that home unconsciously gives.
“Clean these.” Utensils, not the same as mine. A curved knife. Small ladles. Flat broad pieces of wood that widened at one end and narrowed at the other.
I tried to tell her I didn’t understand, but I couldn’t. I decided to walk out of her kitchen, but instead I picked up the cutlery and began rinsing them in a bowl of water.
There was something very, very wrong.
I couldn’t do anything against her will. I tried splashing the water, but my hands remained motionless.
The water looked clear but felt black and viscous.
I tried to scream, but my lips remained clamped together. The effort made me clammy and sweaty.
I had to keep doing things. Following her and her orders.
I don’t know how much time passed. I didn’t see anyone else except fleeting, ghostly neighbours with pointed, sharp teeth.
Gradually, I was introduced to the misty garden. After a little while, all my work seemed to be there.
I am forgetting things, I told myself. Real things: a job? Coffee? Blankets? Electricity?
It was so hazy and confused.
The ideas that were formed in full clarity were digging, sowing seeds, pulling out weeds, fertilizing the soil. Plants grew slowly. Flower buds timidly appeared, pale as moonlight.
She began sending me with bowls of red liquid to water the plants with, and slowly the flowers became the softest of pinks, then deep pink, and finally bright crimson. I didn’t understand what was happening. But just as gradually, I began seeing through the mist.
It wasn’t really fog; it was people, many people rushing around the garden. The figures grew sharper to my eyes every day. There was a nice man in blue, always in a rush. There was also a beautiful young man with splendid golden hair. And sometimes there was a young girl with her hair in braids. She would go to, if they were there, the three women far across.
One day, she decided to come to the edge of the garden. “I can see you better now. Are you here to see the Three?”
I couldn’t say anything. I dug. The weeds kept appearing, soft green leaves curving open.
“No?” She seemed worried, and soon she disappeared again. The beautiful young man smiled, a little cruelly, and looked directly at me. His eyes were stars and his shoulders bent. He too faded from my view. I rubbed my eyes. My vision was becoming weak.
It could have been the next day, the next month, I couldn’t tell. But the young man came to speak to me, his golden hair falling over his forehead and shoulders.
“People keep focusing on one act of interference,” he said, looking amused. “But really, I think one instance of defiance ought not to be blown out of proportion. Consequences, you know, can’t all be attributed to the original sin – but of course, that phrase doesn’t refer to me. Funny what popular culture can do.”
It was a great hardship, but finally I pried my jaws apart and croaked one syllable. The first word of so long. “What?”
“I’m telling you that I’ll interfere,” he said, smiling.
It was a brilliant smile, like a piece of solidified sunshine.
“You don’t know what happened, but you’re a bit like one of the stitches that got dropped from the hags’ knitting. Of course, now that you’re a dropped stitch you’re hanging around here, and your yarn will never finish.”
The little girl was back. Today her hair was in a high ponytail. Her big eyes were serious as she tugged at the young man’s jacket sleeve, or toga, I couldn’t really tell. “Mister Lou, like you said, she’s a dropped stitch. We should tell the ladies.”
“Where would be the fun in that, Ayoku?”One slender, perfectly tapered finger traced her chin as he looked at me as I continued mixing fertilizer. “Besides, Ceres is making her nurture her little garden till her daughter comes along. Old fool still can’t accept that her pretty spring flower actually wants to live goth. I don’t see why she should pick up a lost stitch. And I don’t see why we shouldn’t steal it from her.”
“Mister Lou,” Ayoku said, looking exasperated. “The ladies still ought to have her back.”
“My dear girl,” he said, raising a monocle to his eye with one hand and holding out the other hand to her. “The ladies haven’t actually lost her. They’ve still got all the threads. Whatever we do, they’ll end up fixing the dropped stitch. It’s always has been, they’ll say. We…”
Everything went dark. There was no feeling. It was probably cold. But you couldn’t tell. “…shall just annoy dear Ceres and slip the ball of yarn back into the ladies’ hands. Or claws.”
My tongue moved so slowly, I could barely pronounce the words. “Lady claws?”
“Oh, it used to be claws at times. And they shared that ghastly eye. Do you know whose ugly eye that was, Ayoku?”
“Thor,” the girl replied. She sounded impatient, or irritated. “You can be in trouble again you know. Where did you put her?”
“I don’t have to put her anywhere,” he said grandly. “We are nowhere. So with no effort, I can tuck her into a different little nowhere, like tucking a card into an envelope. Now, shall we have some fun in Mistress Mary’s garden?”
“It isn’t Mistress Mary’s garden, Mister Lou, and you ought to be nice to her, she’s been upset about keeping the weather in order these days.”
“It isn’t really her job any more, since she does it so badly,” Lou said. There was a smell of paint. “Mary, mother, goddess, nature, it’s all the same. What aren’t you learning, Ayoku? We all take on different facets at different times. Electricity running through new appliances every day, I would say that’s a neat metaphor.”
“Are you really going to paint the roses?”
“We are following a motif, my dear, just like the ladies would – shall I give you a brush?”
I am the soft, thin petal. I feel the night air, and the sticky paint. My skin feels blocked and I can’t breathe.
I feel her coming back. She, so many mothers and she is old. Her hair was gold as ripe wheat.
“Did you really think, little devil, that the flowers were just for decoration? The lost string is tangled up in their roots.”
“My dear Ceres, I would not underestimate you.” He was smirking. I dimly saw him and Ayoku standing in the small garden, ruffled by the wind, both carrying paintbrushes. “This little exercise is, of course, for my little friend’s education.”
She raised her brows at him. “I won’t let you have her. She slipped into my corner. She’s mine.”
“I do not propose to have this dreary argument with you,” he said disdainfully, and continued painting the flowers white. “Ayoku, you explain it to her. Old mothers have their battles with senility too, despite immortality.”
“She’s from the ladies’ yarn,” said Ayoku in the tone of voice usually reserved for toddlers throwing tantrums. “Stitches can slip into any nook of the space-time continuum and no one can stop them from entering or exiting. So you can’t keep her here to help your garden grow. She’s only one pretty maid anyway.”
“Yes, well, the rest of them went with my daughter,” the earth mother grumbled. “But you don’t come from the three, child. You cannot take her from me.”
“Oh, but I can.” Suddenly Lou was not beautiful but terrifying. The glitter in his eye was hard, and his whole body was smooth white marble emanating heat. “And no one expects me to follow the rules.”
I was falling. Thrashing. And then I was in a marketplace, crowded and noisy, with this strange pair.
“I can speak again!” I suddenly felt the rush of air into my lungs, blood to my brain.
Alive, I thought. I’m alive.
“You weren’t dead, though,” said Ayoku.
“What happened to me?”
She and Lou exchanged looks. Close up, Lou was a perfectly formed beauty, with fine, delicate features, a soft mouth that curved into an endearing, impish smile. “How does one explain…in some ways, I would say you just got out of the wrong side of the bed.”
“You slipped and landed in a kind of an empty space,” Ayoku told me. “And the mother found you, so she just took you for her garden, and tried to grow you into it. It’s hard to explain.”
“No, I landed in her kitchen,” I tried to remember. “I was in my kitchen, then I somehow went across to her kitchen.”
“Ah, from one domicile to the other,” said Lou. “I suppose it’s the Hestia facet that actually caught you, then shifted you to the other mother facets. It’s difficult to say how the mothers will use you, it’s like a spider web with several assembly lines. Ayoku, my descriptive powers are scintillating today.”
“Milton giving you fine lines again, no doubt,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Can you describe something of yours, so we can find it in the market and buy a passage back?”
“I had a teaspoon,” I said stupidly.
“How marvellous and useless, my dear,” said Lou. “What we need to know is more like an indication of location, so we can hook you up with the right travel agent. I would still like the teaspoon, though.”
I took it out of my pocket and gave it to him. He examined it, and then it seemed to slip into his palm, or his robes. “How wonderfully ordinary,” Lou said, beaming. “Have you ever seen such a commonplace little artefact? And she walked across the mirror for it, too.”
“Mirror? Well, that narrows it down. A kitchen and a mirror…” Ayoku walked off to some stalls further off, next to a fishmonger.
“She’ll find it presently,” Lou said. “Now, in case you were planning on repeating this to people, I hope you remember that I was nice, and helpful, and I didn’t do it in exchange for anything. I did you a good turn, and not even like a mafia don who will want a favour back.”
“I don’t know what you did,” I was trying to figure out what languages were being spoken around me. German? Sanskrit? Italian?
“I suppose that’s better,” he mused as Ayoku returned with a lovely jewelled pin. She gave it to him and he took my hands in his. “And you mustn’t talk about how handsome I was…”
A small prick.
“…we’ll follow a fairytale motif this time. I do tend to be a romantic, Ayoku, just look at my personality in all great literary works…”
“And that,” I told my partner after I woke in the morning, and he grouchily made coffee, “is how I lost the teaspoon.”