The Temperature of Tea
“DID YOU HEAR ME!?! I don’t want to be a part of this dysfunctional family anymore!”
Alice flounced out of the room, the taffeta frills of her gown rustling and rippling with indignation. The door slammed as her dainty fingers shut it behind her roughly in order to add a physically loud exclamation mark at the end of her words.
The room ignored her. Everything which could be shaken had vibrated to the place where it now rested many door slams ago. The only acknowledgment of the act was the slight quiver of the steam rising from the hot tea in my champagne flute.
“Do you think that can be considered the last word we will ever hear from her?”
I shook my head doubtfully in silent answer to Rabbit’s query, but I knew that he would not hear my reply, he not looking at me, just as I was not looking at him, we were both gazing at the door. At least I was, and I had no intention of checking to see if he was too. It didn’t matter, and besides if I looked at him, he would look at me. His head was always synchronised with mine in those instances.
“Has she gone for good?”
“I can’t really say whether her going would be for good… what is good?”
I could sense Rabbit wince.
“Could you for once in your life just give me an answer consisting of yes or no!”
Rabbit’s cheeks flushed with anger. It’s a guess, as I refused to look, based on knowing how easily I irritated him with my everything.
“She’ll be back, once she realises that there is nothing beyond this room.” I said, more as a murmur than actual words spoken to another, but they were spoken so…
“What do you mean!?!”
I knew his whole body would be contorted into a question mark. Rabbit’s body always reflected the punctuation of his sentences, just as Alice punctuated hers with physical acts of dramatic flourish.
“There is an entire world of stuff and nonsense outside, I’ve seen it…” protested Rabbit, yet what was his protestation about, that there existed a world beyond this room or that Alice would be back. “It has people in it, doing things and talking and places, many places…”
Was that a touch of uncertainty I detected in the dots, pausing for a memory to confirm his belief. Or was it a pregnant pause to prepare his defensive deflection of personal anxiety.
“Are you mad? As in crazy not angry?”
Ah yes, the personal attack on another to protect the self from the self’s demons. A clumsy one at that. What a stupid question.
“If I was mad…” I said, indulging the long ears of my roommate with words to soothe and let him know his deflection had deflected, “…and that ‘if’ is a tenuous thread to which I cling and from which I dangle hoping it will break and drop me into certainty of madness, because madness in this place is useful, more so than sanity…” He would not understand that bit at all, it was for me and not him, conversations are best when they cater to all ears, not just the ones to which they are directed. “… Would I know it, and would I admit to it if I did. If I did admit to it, then I would not be mad, but exceedingly sane or so it is claimed that those who are mad do not know it and those who are sane do not know it and think they are mad.”
Rabbit harrumphed. He was satisfied with his victory of deflection. However he was not interested in the conversation which it had prompted, he did not find me a subject worth discussing, just one which was useful when he wanted to steer the subject away from wherever it had been which discomforted him. There was only one subject which he liked to ponder and chew.
“Will Alice come back?” He asked, his nose twitching as the thought of her back forever turned to him set his nerves on vibrate.
“There is nothing beyond this room for Alice,” I explained, knowing full well Rabbit would forget this as soon as he heard it, not immediately, but soon, so I added a bit which he would remember. “As to whether there is a world outside, I don’t know, I have never bothered to find out.”
Rabbit would think about this, I know he would, and tomorrow, or perhaps the day after that, he would return to it. I looked forward to that, another opportunity to have his lack of humour be mystified by my lack of seriousness. But what about now…
“So where is she?”
“She’s standing outside the door with her ear pressed against it listening to hear what we have to say about her.”
Rabbit made a move to get up, but the effort was too much for him.
“She’s there, opening the door will ruin her fun, the only reason for such a dramatic exit was to make this whole room hers, to fill every nook and cranny with a giant version of herself. If you took out your pocket knife and sliced the air with it, drops of Alice’s blood would appear on its blade.”
Rabbit contemplated experimenting to confirm or deny my version of reality. I could feel the soft fur of his lucky paw playing with the chain which attached the knife to his waistcoat.
“So she is here with us, and outside of the room too?”
“Oh yes, Alice never misses an opportunity to be everywhere,” I could sense her listening right now, “the only place where she does not reside is within herself.” That dig would annoy her because she would not understand it. Not understanding something made Alice feel stupid, she hated that, she was convinced of her cleverness anything which made her doubt her conviction became an enemy.
“Am I within myself?” Rabbit flustered himself, “I think I am, but am I?”
Oh dear, Rabbit, conversations about others are about others, why must everyone make them about themselves. There seemed no cure for the disease. Once again he had taken an impersonal thing personally and now he would need to deflect.
“You’re mad, Hatter!”
Ah, yes, how original! Once again accusing me of being the messenger for messages which you delivered to yourself.
“Everyone resides within themselves, if they did not, their bodies would die!” Rabbit added with a dash of pompous pride of intellectual reasoning.
I could sense that this conversation would go on for a while. Rabbit’s bottom was comfortable in the oversized chair by the fireplace, his cup of tea was lukewarm as he liked it and he had hardly taken more than three sips. He would mention Alice in a sec…
“Alice is very much within herself! She is one of the most within themselves people I have ever met!”
“That is because she has spilled out of herself all over everywhere and everyone else, so she is hard to miss or ignore.”
I could hear Rabbit’s beady red eyes swivelling in their sockets and turning to poke me. He was suspecting me of of all sorts of nefarious deeds, he always did when I confounded him. Yet it was simple really, why did it not make the sense which it made.
“People who reside within themselves make very little impression on others, they do not need to, they are…” I searched my cranium for the word which I knew it held, but seemed to be missing. It was a better word, but for want of a better word “… …” I guess even that is temporarily absent.
“It’s the drinking!” Rabbit seemed satisfied with some conclusion reached and grasped tightly. ‘She drinks too much, and those drinks mess with her mind!”
“And her body…”
“Yes, yes… that too…” Rabbit’s tea was stormy and drops were jumping out of the cup in fear for their life. “See! I am right! She has a drinking problem! Poor girl!”
Alice would be pleased. Not only were we talking about her as she wanted us to, but we had found an excuse for her behaviour, and we saw her as a victim. She would milk this later and use that milk to flavour her tea.
“I blame the March Hare! And the Red Queen! And…”
“But they are all gone, even the Cheshire Cat lost his smile, after his smile lost him.” As much as I loved Rabbit, mainly because he was the only one left, I truly did not like where this conversation was going, blame was not my cup of tea as it was never hot enough for me, always brewed too long ago. “Alice drove them all away when they disagreed with her reality.”
Rabbit fell silent, that sulky silence which was so incredibly loud. I had to distract him. Well, I didn’t have to, but I wanted to for my own sake.
“How many times has she done this before, I’ve lost count.”
I glanced at Rabbit, well, at his watch. It was supposed to keep count of Alice time. It had once been a small pocket watch, now it was the size of the face of a Grandfather clock. It no longer fit in its pocket and poor old Rabbit had to lug it around like an albatross.
“Oh, dear, oh, dear…”
“What is it, Rabbit?”
“I am afraid to say, but I forgot to wind the clock, and I’m not really sure when the last time I did such a thing occurred, it might be weeks or even years…”
He trailed off, this time so far that he disappeared into a world within a world and never returned. That was the last I saw of Rabbit.
“I have never heard such nonsense!”
“Rabbit, stop reading my mind, you know how rude it is, and it tickles!”
“But you thought about me, if you think about me then I have the right to read your thoughts!”
It was true, I suppose. My fault. I reached out and curled my fingers around the rim of my hat. Heavy old thing, too tight around the rim, cuts the oxygen to the brain and makes me quite light-headed, but back on the head it must go to shield my thoughts from prying eyes.
“Be like that!”
Huffy Rabbit, so precious about… I guess he’s spent too much time with Alice, or was he always so touchy. I don’t recall what life in this room was like before Alice, has she really been here that long? And how long is that long. Damn that Rabbit, his only task is to keep Alice time, and it’s the watch that does the time keeping for him, all he has to do is wind it up!
“You’re thinking about me, aren’t you?”
“Would you like me to take the hat off again and allow you to eavesdrop, you won’t enjoy what you hear.”
“Why? What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking that you have become a lot like Alice, and that the longer she spends outside of this room, the more like her you become…”
The door burst open and Alice sauntered in brushing dust of nothingness off her voluminous skirts.
“I hope the tea’s not cold, I hate cold tea!”
She pouted, or was it supposed to be a cute smile. I used to know her every expression and what it meant… I think I’m fading like a… what? Tip of my tongue, slipping away from it, down into my throat.
“Ugh! The tea IS cold!”
Alice threw the teapot against the mirror, it lodged itself there, china melting against glass becoming a surrealist sculpture. The Dormouse had fallen out many tantrums ago, lucky chap, the water from the tea washed him down through a hole in the floorboards. He did send me a postcard. Or did I send that to myself and pretend it was from Dormouse.
“I don’t want to be a part of this dysfunctional family anymore!”
Cold tea will do that to a person.
“DID YOU HEAR ME!?!”
“Yes, and this is the part where you storm out and slam the door…”
* The Temperature of Tea was inspired by the Weekly Writing Challenge: Dialogue.