They recline in bed.
“Where do you go when you disappear?” She asks her Cheshire Cat. He smiles at her, and smiles some more, and when he is gone his smile remains and forms his answer.
“Oh,” it says, “I think you know.”
They kill time in the back of a van.
“How are you getting on?” says the Cat.
“Yesterday I shrunk,” she tells him. “I was smaller than a field mouse.”
His teeth are a gleam in the dark. “Yesterday I ate a man alive,” he says. She executes her most grown-up scoff before answering.
“Of course you did. But when you are smaller than a field mouse, men don’t matter very much.”
He shakes his golden head. “Oh, no. It’s the field mice you must watch out for.” His mouth is very close to her ear, and his whiskers tickle her cheek. “Did they hurt you? With their whiplash tails and their grabbing hands? Did they bite away a piece of you?” A sandpaper tongue comes out to inspect her neck for damage.
“Never,” she says, and leans back to give him room. “I was so very small, and could run faster than them, and in-between their legs.”
“Yes, I thought you might.” His tail is coiled around her ankle.
She recalls the op meeting.
"The flamingos must be bent to your will," said the Hatter. "Use your teeth if necessary." Her Cat widened his lazy grin. "The hedgehogs should be no trouble. If one wanders off, shoot it. Each wicket must be achieved in perfect succession. Failure will almost certainly cost both of you your heads."
"You remind me of someone," said the Cat to the Hatter, but the Hatter ignored him thoroughly. The Cat cast her a meaningful glance, and she sniffed as if she did not understand.
"Furthermore," the Hatter continued, "You must collect a feather from the Queen's flamingo. I wish to add it to my personal collection." The Hatter looked her in the eye and said, "I'm building a boa, you know." She nodded politely.
They travel in a very fast car.
“I shouldn’t have let you drive,” she says.
His claws are wrapped around the steering wheel, sinking gently into the leather. “You said you didn’t care where you got to.”
“As long as I got somewhere. You’re not likely to get me anywhere.” She folds her arms sulkily.
“On the contrary,” as he takes a sharp turn, “Anywhere is the easiest place to find. See now,” one delicate paw pointing up ahead, “We’re nearly there.” There is a point of light on the horizon.
“Oh! But right now? I’m--” her fingers twist in her lap. “I’m not ready to go there now. I didn’t dress for Anywhere.”
He barrels on. “You know what they say: now or not until you’re dead and rotting in the ground, being eaten by maggots and field mice.”
“And cats?” She jokes in her nervousness.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Dead girls are no fun at all.”
“Not even the very pretty ones?”
“Not even those as pretty as you. They make no noise when you step on them. We’re almost there. Are you ready?”
“I suppose I have to be.” She looks down at herself, “Although I do wish I’d worn more practical shoes.”
She recalls an office party.
“He is quite mad, you know,” said the Cat.
“Yes, but I have appearances to keep up. I must talk with him at least once.” She heaved a very big sigh. “After all, I can’t just run away."
He smiled, wide and pointy, and the tip of his tail began to fade. “I’ll be waiting for you when you are done with him.” Just before his yellow eyes were gone, he winked.
“My dear girl!” The Hatter’s voice came from behind her, and she turned to greet him.
“Hello! I was just about to go looking for you.”
“And I’ve found you instead. Almost ironic.” His hand cupped her shoulder and she didn’t even squirm.
“Is it?” She tried to appear interested.
“No. Who were you talking to?” He pointed at the tips of the Cat’s ears, still hanging in the air behind her.
“Oh, nobody. He had to go.” The ears were gone with a little pop, but the Hatter continued to look at her as if he were thinking up a riddle. And indeed he was.
“I think you should trust him,” said the Hatter. “He knows which way is up and which is down.”
A Gryphon shuffled past with a glass of punch balanced on his stately head. “I think you should trust yourself,” he muttered. The Hatter sniffed at his retreating tail, then leaned in close to whisper.
“Between you and me,” he said to her, “I’m thinking of killing his family.”
“Oh?” She said.
He smiled without teeth. “But don’t let word slip. I want it to be a surprise.” She excused herself and never came back.
The journey is somewhat difficult.
There is a distinct sensation of falling upwards into the sun.
She recalls paying a visit.
The Queen of Hearts spoke to her through a glass wall. "You ought to have come sooner."
"I apologize, your Majesty," she replied, "I've been very busy. Yesterday I shrunk to-"
"Pish-posh," the Queen cut in. "Have you been to see the Mock Turtle?"
She crossed her arms and did not look Her Highness in the eyes. She wished the Cat was there. He could look at people and tell the truth all at the same time.
"Well, no," she said. "I've been very busy, and yesterday-"
"I don't much care for that one. Always flapping about. And Mock Turtle Soup is over-salty." The Queen sat down on her throne, which was made of metal and had springs in odd places.
"That looks uncomfortable."
"It would be to you," the Queen told her, "But I've grown up and grown old in this throne, and my bones have grown around the tricky places. Have you been to see my Cat?"
She scuffed a shoe. "He- I-" she began. "We work together. He has been telling me secrets." Her chin tilted into the small defiance.
"Yes, I thought he might. He tells them very well. Write them down." The Queen tapped a finger impatiently on the glass wall. "Why are you speaking to me? I have more important matters to attend to. There is a man who will come by to collect the hints I've dropped."
"I need a feather off your flamingo," she explained.
"For the Hatter's Hat ? He is always looking for another." The Queen rose and reached into the dimness underneath her throne. There was a brief scuffling and an insulted squawk before Her Highness stood with a long, pink feather in hand. "He is quite mad, you know," said the Queen as she slipped the feather through a slot in the glass.
"Everyone here is," she said. She took the prize and left with it bobbing in her hair.
They are very far away.
“I should be getting back soon,” she says without enthusiasm.
His elegant hand skates over the fur of the kitten in his lap. “We’ve only been here a day.”
“Two days. Or three? I don’t even know that. My focus is waning. I should be getting back.”
“I was thinking of cooking that trout for dinner. With green onions. And you can read your book, the one with glossy pictures.” He grins and his eyes are blue and relaxed. “The kitten has begun to purr,” he says. And so it has.
“Perhaps for just a little while longer.” She scratches the kitten behind its ears, and it continues to knead its small claws into his swimming trunks. He doesn't seem to mind.
“I think I’ll go for a swim. Join me?” He rises, taking the kitten in his arms.
“It is very bright here,” she says, and dips her foot in the swimming pool. It has been there all along. “Why look!” she exclaims. “We’re casting no shadows at all, and neither is anything else!” She points at the bottom of the pool and under their lawn chairs, where the light lives undisturbed.
His grin remains, and so does he. “This isn’t just Anywhere, you know,” he says, diving in. She thinks she gets the joke, but laughs a little longer to be sure. He notices and ducks his head underwater for a moment to spare her the embarrassment. Over the spot where his head had been, a drop of liquid falls from the sky and makes a circle, and then another and another. It is raining. He pops up face-first, eyes closed, mouth open, and tongue out. "I have missed this," he tells her. "Haven't you?" The sound of the rain on the surface of the pool shoots pins and needles from her feet where they touch the water, all the way up her legs. If she were to raise a hand in the air, her hair would surely follow with a crackle and a crinkle and a swish.
"I've always had rain." She pokes at her thighs to wake them up, and sets off fireworks instead. He shakes his head.
"Not like this. Why don't you taste it?"
Tilting her chin up and letting her mouth fall open, she finds herself proven wrong: if this is rain, then she has never had it before. The drops fizzle and pop on her tongue, and shimmy down her throat in a not-unpleasant way. "I'd always thought that rain was made of water," she says.
"Only when things need cleaning," he tells her. "Here it is always champagne."
When he slips underwater for a leisurely lap, a gray, furry body bobs to the surface below her feet. She points it out to him when he reappears.
“You’ve drowned the kitten.”
He swats it away so he can cling to the side of the pool. “It will be fine.”
“It isn’t really dead?” she asks, and he ducks his head under the water again. She thinks he may be avoiding the question. When he is back, she tries once more. “Where do kittens go when they die?”
“Oh,” he grins, wide and sharp, “I think you know.”