‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
‘To talk of many things:
Of shoes – and ships – and sealing-wax –
Of cabbages – and kings –
And why the sea is boiling hot –
And whether pigs have wings.’
Lewis Carroll – Through the Looking-Glass
The final chapter of my second novel Death In Leamington is set as a party at which a lot of loose-ends get sorted out, some in unexpected ways. The party, given by Eddie for his wife Alice’s 40th birthday, turns out to be quite a surprise:
“‘For heaven’s sake, Eddie Peterson, can’t I trust you for a minute?’ Alice demanded loudly as she entered the kitchen. She turned down the volume on the CD player and surveyed the mess covering the kitchen table. Carrie and Eddie had been making jam tarts while dancing wildly round the kitchen to the latest release from a well-known Swedish pop duo. She wished Eddie would not encourage Carrie like this; she was growing up quickly enough as it was. Alice was however relieved that he, for once, was dressed reasonably smartly in a tweed Burberry jacket, twill shirt, rolled-up green cavalry trousers and Converse trainers and had remarkably thought to wear an apron over his best clothes while preparing the tarts. She wasn’t sure but she could swear that he was wearing eyeliner too. Carrie, on the other hand, was wearing a scruffy T-shirt and jeans and was almost completely covered in flour; there was pastry, jam and orange marmalade all over the table and more flour on the floor. There was also the distinct smell of burning sugar from the oven. Alice opened the oven door, cursed and then quickly opened a window to allow the smoke to escape.”
Alice is dressed in a little blue and white flowered dress that she’s found waiting for her, but she still has no idea what Eddie has planned for her 40th birthday party. As he leads her up the steps out of their basement flat onto the road, she imagines the restaurant that she hopes he’s booked for her and she’d seen ringed in the phone book the other evening.
“‘So where would you actually like to go?’ he asked, somewhat vaguely, staring up at the evening stars as if he had not quite made up his mind where to take her yet. The air was slightly chilled after the warm autumn day, so that their breath escaped into the darkness in quietly swirling coils of moisture. Alice was shivering slightly, either from excitement or from the change of temperature; the goose bumps raised on the skin of her forearm. The scent of late jasmine from the window boxes on Lady Mary’s windowsills above them was slightly intoxicating in the night air.
“‘I’ll go wherever you are planning to take me, handsome sir,’ she replied, enjoying the game but also getting slightly frustrated with his obvious tactics to confuse her. She suspected he knew exactly where he was taking her.
“‘Well then, if it’s really going to be up to me, then it has to be ‘second star to the right, and straight on ’til morning,’ he said, laughing.”
I got the idea for this scene from a play “Peter and Alice” based on a meeting between Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the woman who inspired Alice, and Peter Llewellyn Davies, one of the boys who inspired Peter Pan, at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition in 1932. The play sees enchantment and reality collide as this brief encounter lays bare the lives of these two characters. The play starred Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw.
But as it turns out, Eddie has other plans and instead of the hoped for restaurant, leads her instead into the main house above their flat, where a series of surprise guests are waiting for her.
“Alice was now very confused. This was not at all what she was expecting. The hall was strangely quiet, only disturbed by the patient ticking of a long case clock, but she was suddenly aware of a white fluffy shape pushing to get past her in the doorway. The white shape (actually a rabbit called Carrie) deposited a little glass box under the ornate Empire console table and ran off into the room at the end of the corridor. Alice, intrigued, stooped to pick the box up and opened it to find a small cake, on which the words EAT ME had been beautifully marked out in currants.”
My own version continues with various details and characters taken from both books including Captain Hook, Mr Smee and Tinkerbell and a very blue Caterpillar called Hugh:
“There was a big sign hung above the entrance – The Blue Caterpillar’s Hookah Palace.
In the corner of the gazebo, sitting on a cushion shaped like a mushroom, was a very blue-looking caterpillar, smoking the advertised hookah. He puffed three times and then took the pipe out of his mouth and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.
‘So, who are you, little girl?’
‘Alice,’ she said, flirting just a little bit with her hands and eyelashes.
‘Well come and sit beside me, little Alice,’ said the caterpillar, smoothing off the cushion for her to sit on. ‘May I offer you a drink?’ he asked, pouring her a huge glass of champagne.”
I hope this all makes sense, but if not I’m afraid you will have to read it to understand how the story finally unravels!