Alice’s Heart is Broken

Alice in The Looking Glass.

I was so looking forward to that evening. We had been apart for three months when he met me at the airport, a few days before Christmas. It was cold and windy . Always dark and ill lit; we used to call the arrivals hall The Rabbit Hole. Like Alice, whenever I landed I felt I was entering into another world. The corrugated iron roofs over the airport arrivals shed were rattling in tune to English channel weather; It was dark and draughty but with all that it  seemed somehow  milder than the angry climate  I had just left behind in Northern Ireland.,

And there he was. My own White Rabbit. My middle of the night phone call lover. My plans for the future creature.

“I’ve booked The Looking Glass for Wednesday night.” He had to shout to be heard over the rattling. I smiled shyly; it was a new restaurant, I’d never been but heard it was expensive.

This would be our Christmas treat and I needed a whole afternoon of preparation. White Rabbit was at work during the day but I had his sports car, I’d meet him at the restaurant and he would drive us home.

It was cramped and untidy in his warren of small rooms. Grubby didn’t really begin to describe it but I was looking forward to a different future.

All day, so busy, ‘Oh Dear, ‘Oh Dear I shall be late ‘I gasped, quite getting into the whole wonderland thing. Nails, hair, shower, make up, new blue floaty chiffon dress. I know the dress sounds unlikely now but at the back end of the seventies it really was the height of fashion.

Satisfying myself in his own looking glass I could see I had that Alice appearance. Long blond hair tucked behind my ears, neat, small, tidy rather than sexy. Oh goodness, might there be a Red Queen to challenge?

I had to check under the tree one last time. No sign of anything, not even the very smallest of jewellery boxes. A  flutter of excitement rose under the blue chiffon. Maybe it was so small (ring like?) that it would be presented to me at a romantic moment. Maybe tonight at dinner? Closing the door, battling the wind to reach the car and confidently starting the motor of the E-Type I drove fast and a mite carelessly along the seafront towards the elegant Looking Glass restaurant, dominating the esplanade, in the wealthy genteel town of St Helier.

Pulling into the car park a bit early I was surprised to see my love sitting in an unfamiliar car with a woman I had never met.  Everyone has their uses though. She, with a prominent nose and curly hair, reminded me of the Duchess with the baby. I wondered whether she sneezed a lot and dodged flying fire irons. Still it was good that she gave him a lift in this inhospitable weather, and now we had time for a pre-dinner drink, maybe in a snug at the bar. Just us.

Heavy rain fell in great gusts, whipping litter across the car park. The wind made the light fabric of my dress swirl around my knees as I clambered out of the car. Clicking open my flimsy umbrella, I stumbled towards the magnificent double glass doors of the restaurant at the side of the hotel.

Shivering, I waited in the foyer, giving the bleary eyed doorman my umbrella. Did he remind me of the Dormouse?

White Rabbit was only a few minutes after me and without referring to his pocketwatch-in-waistcoat prodded my back, moving us to go straight in.

I felt like Alice stepping into another land although this was not at all the same as the rabbit-hole -airport. Momentarily dazzled by the bright lights from overhead chandeliers, I blinked at the splendour of the dining room. Walls covered by mirrors from gold carpeted floor to embossed ceiling.Very chic. Smart little tables were scattered across the room like springtime daffodils.

We followed a narrow hipped waiter as he presented our table with a flourish ,as though he had just found it, or caught it at sea and hauled it back especially for us.

‘Enjoy your evening Madam, Sir.’

Looking at the candle which flickered in the table’s center, I heard my inner Alice voice scold.

’It might end you know, in my going out altogether.Like a candle. I wonder what I should be like then?’

Pulling out my chair ostentatiously I heard the waiter’s voice.’Can I help you Madam?’

‘Curiouser and curiouser’, I remarked once the waiter had fussed out of earshot.


‘I can still manage to sit down unaided.’

‘Anyway, why were you in the car with the Duchess?’

‘Are you mad, who’s the Duchess?’

‘Just a large ugly character in Alice in Wonderland. She had a baby. Does that woman have a baby?’

‘No. Nothing to do with you anyway.’

‘Well, maybe she plays croquet?’

‘Yes, she does actually, rather well in fact.’

I was surprised he knew so much about her and very glad that the tables were just far enough away from one another to assure an element of privacy. I didn’t want anyone to hear me tonight, I was beginning to wonder whether I might become overwrought. The circular tables were graciously laid with an elegant sufficiency of silver, glassware( not really crystal, more cut glass, but still the image…), napkins, a candle and, of course, it being Christmas and all, a small vase of holly sprayed gold and accentuated by a few tiny red baubles.

‘Can I offer you a pre- dinner drink sir?’

This waiter looked even more bizarre than the one who had led us to our table. Flapping and flouncing around, I daren’t think what character he resembled, fish footman perhaps?

‘Two G&Ts please.’

Now we could move on to the main business of the menu.

I was longing to start our conversation, just to have him look at me and for us to celebrate being together. Here. Anywhere. After so long.

Menu first though. Stiff beige parchment accentuated by a red tassel led me to expect a smart meal. Gin and Tonics had arrived without my noticing and I was trying to decide between mussels or prawns ( in garlic and white wine or cocktail? Hmm cocktail maybe better, don’t want smelly breath at this stage), when I glanced up to find him looking at me more than he was looking at the menu. More heart flutter, this could be a good sign.

‘Are you warm enough in that blue thing? It is December and you look like an advert for a summer picnic.’

Maybe not so good, and it drove me back to being Alice again, always too big or too small. I wished for a potion labelled “Drink Me.” In fact tiny, almost invisible, would be my choice.

‘Just thinking about the menu really, prawn cocktail and then I think Dover Sole. No dessert.’

‘Waiter, our order please,’ he snapped. ‘It’s been a long day. One mussels, one prawn cocktail, two Dover soles and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.”

Looking right and left without moving my head I could see gentle diners, all gently conversing, or gently enjoying overhearing other’s conversing. Well dressed, immaculately dressed actually but none of them in unseasonably light chiffon like me. It was awkward now, had my Alice in Wonderland joke gone wrong? Still, I persisted, it’s what I do.

‘Can you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?’

He got it straight off. That’s what I love, a good sense of humour, irony thrown in.

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.’

Before I could conjure up something clever and course changing, food arrived. Presented with a flourish that seemed to pronounce ‘my goodness, look, at this I’ve painted the white rose red. Clever me, you will be pleased.’

‘He was a fish footman wasn’t he?’ I chirped, wanting to keep up the theme.

He took a mouthful of wine, swirling and sniffing before sipping. Then ‘I’ve something we need to talk about.’

What was coming next? The long awaited proposal? I didn’t straighten my hair and put on my new hairband for nothing then.

Chewing a mouthful of soft fishy prawns I began to dig into the shredded lettuce, composing my features, give nothing away I told myself.

‘I think you like it where you are. You should stay in Northern Ireland. Good idea.’

My tongue had difficulty moving to form words. ‘No I don’t, not really. Anyway, I’m coming back here.’

I pushed away the remains of the soggy pink prawn cocktail. This was a bad dream, I’d wake up soon.

Instantly, like wonderland magic, a waitress appeared and whisked the plates away. She was less dramatic in her exit than the waiter had been in his arrival flourish. Maybe it was the reminder that women and dirty dishes would never command the cache of a flourishing fish- footman waiter.

I had to say something and wonderland- inspired trivia was all I could manage.

‘The Cook threw irons at the Duchess and the baby became a pig.’

There was quite an awkward pause at our table as the flourishing waiter returned and I was conscious that other gently conversing diners were still gently conversing, but now some were quietly laughing, sideways  glancing in our direction.

I spun the stem of my wineglass between my palms and looked up, He didn’t meet my enquiry but concentrated on sipping, no sniffing or swirling this time, as the Dover Soles were presented.

Poor things, they looked surprised. Untouched and rapidly cooling, mine lay before me. One visible eye looked up in surprise. A floundered fish, steeped in butter sauce and accompanied by about four peas. What chef believes four peas makes a dinner?

That one eye staring out of the side of its head almost as though it hoped to flip off the plate and back to the grey sea. I reckon you’re supposed to think about them being reared and caught in a sunny sea. It makes you feel better about eating them, assuming Dover is a happy place.

‘Reeling and writhing at the bottom of the sea.’


‘Mock turtle I think. Must have lived like these strange creatures.’

The mock turtle-soles were neither reeling nor writhing but settled in a sea of melted butter and capers. My appetite began to come back, maybe the wine helped.

Cold crisp wine in a fancy glass, not crystal, just cut. Slipped down my constricted throat. Fruity liquid eased the pain a fraction. One more try with the heavy sliver cutlery and the skin of the sole was broken. My sole was broken, was his?

Looking across, his lay bare to the bone. Nearly finished, only the remains to tidy up.  I poked reluctantly under the skin and pulled out a fleshy piece, speared on the tines of my fork and wobbled it into my mouth.

A delicate faint flavour, triggered the memory of other celebratory events, – feasts, holidays and meals taken out of doors. No celebration this time, all fallen apart just likes the fish in front of me.

 I picked at the tiny green capers. That’s the word for it. Was this our caper? A bitter nugget of a fruit, more valued as a giver of flavour than a thing of substance. Yet once we were a thing of substance. Maybe no more.

I lay down the heavy eating irons.

‘You should stay there.’

I felt a shudder of despair cut across the table.

‘But what about us? I love you White Rabbit, I just want to be with you.’

‘I can’t be tied down. And I think you are completely mad. I don’t understand a word you say, all this “white rabbit” nonsense. I need to be free, you need to be free.’

By now tears were doing what tears do, and so was my nose. I pushed the poor sole away and bowed my head in my hands.

‘Please, take me home. Just like Alice, I must be mad to come here. I won’t stay and finish this.’

Elegantly groomed heads, which seemed to belong, turned discreetly in our direction. We were causing an unusual fracas in this wonderland restaurant. I was flushed and hot. Shame oozed out of every pore. Mortified. If only I could wake up like Alice and find it had all been a dream. Mortified. Now he was the Knave of Hearts.

And then I remembered what the original White Rabbit said.

‘ Don’t let him know she liked them best,

 For this must ever be

 A secret, kept from all the rest,

 Between yourself and me.’