“But, Alice,” George said with a tremulous lilt to his voice. “All I see is my reflection.”
Alice smiled gently, touching her hand to the small of his back. “Just relax and wait a moment. Trust me.”
George tried to do as he was told, taking a deep breath and looking again into the square framed mirror on the floor of the parlour. Alice had prepared him for something magical and all he saw was his tired face looking back at him.
At that very moment something moved over his shoulder. It wasn’t Alice. He watched the space again and drew back as a small animal popped its furry head up and … grinned.
“You see?” Alice said, laughing gently. “There he is.”
George leaned forward again. “There who is? A rabbit?”
“Not just any rabbit, George. The White Rabbit.” She leaned over his other shoulder so that her reflection appeared. “He wants you to follow him.”
“But how do I do that?” George asked, watching the rabbit hop away in the distance.
“You have to believe,” she said, taking his hand.
Suddenly, the mirror widened and they tumbled forward, falling through it and the floor and the world.
“What is happening, Alice?” George exclaimed as gravity seemed to pull at every part of him and he marvelled that he hadn’t bruised his head on the parlour floor. In fact, the parlour floor had disappeared.
“You’re coming with me this time, George! There’s someone I want you to meet. He’s absolutely divine and he throws the best tea parties!” She said excitedly as they continued to fall. “Some say he’s completely mad but, honestly, George, compared to some people in our house he seems refreshingly uncomplicated.”
“Really?” George said, intrigued and just wishing they could arrive wherever they were going. His stomach was beginning to turn.
As if on cue, they landed together with a thump on something soft. When George opened his eyes, both he and Alice lay on a carpet of bright green grass, looking up at a queer man in a very tall black top hat.
“I say, lovely to see you, Alice! Nice of you to drop in for tea,” said the man.
Alice giggled and sat up, dusting off her dress. “It’s wonderful to see you again!”
The dapper gentleman doffed his hat and gave George a most attractive smile. “I see you’ve brought a friend.”
Alice nodded. “Yes. This is George. I thought the two of you might get along.”
George sat up and brushed a twig out of his hair, offering the tall man his hand to shake. “Pleased to meet you, Sir.”
The handsome gentleman took George’s hand and pulled him to a standing position. Now George could see that the man was only a little taller than him in actuality, the hat he wore adding several inches. With his other hand he doffed it, and bent to one knee before George.
“And I, dear George, am delighted to meet you. People call me “mad” because of some of my pastimes, but I hope we can share them together. Alice understands me, and I know she would bring me a companion who thinks likewise.”
George stared at the man, wondering what he meant, when Alice said, “Hatter, I know that George is perfect for you. He struggles in our world and I thought he would like to be in a place where people may think him mad, but they will let him alone.”
The man that Alice called “Hatter” replaced his top hat, stood, and gestured to a table set up nearby, full of delicacies and several pots of tea. “Won’t you sit down?”
George followed Alice to a chair and sat, suddenly realizing that his companions at the table were various small animals dressed in their best Sunday clothes, including the dapper White Rabbit, who waved and winked at him.
He leaned close to whisper into Alice’s ear. “But the other guests aren’t human.”
She gave him a confused smile. “Well, don’t hold that against them.”
Hatter cleared his throat. “Ladies and Gentlemen, rabbits and foxes, toads and mice, and all the other creatures who have honoured me with their presence today. I’d like you to welcome my good friends, Alice and George. Alice I’ve known for ages and George I hope to know very well soon enough.”
The animals cheered and George smiled at the invitation in Hatter’s beautiful grey eyes. Could it be that Hatter was “mad” in the same way as George? That is, did the feelings that rose inside George at Hatter’s intimate look rise in Hatter also? Could it be that here, in this wonderful place, they could be true companions the way George never could be with anyone of his choosing back home? Not unless he wanted to risk imprisonment or ridicule at the very least?
Suddenly overcome with unfamiliar self-confidence, George took hold of his teacup, which steamed with the hot amber liquid, and raised it to Hatter with a smile. “Cheers, Hatter. May we come to know each other well and explore our “madness” in every sense of the word.”
The animals cheered as they drank and Alice’s tinkling laughter drifted away on the breeze.