It was a friday when I first went to meet her. I had been hearing whispers of the woman who’d returned from under since before I could remember. She lived at the edge of the woods, at the rocky outcrop that overlooked the sea. She kept to herself, but you could spot her in the market buying figs and greens, just like every other townsman. Most did not bother her, or even pay her any mind, spare a simple “good morning Alice”. I never understood how they could do that — to not have the slightest curiosity about a woman who’d been down the rabbit hole. The stories and the wildly varied versions of them were endless, most considered it nothing but a fairytale… as did I. But there was something about her that sung to me. She looked like any other old woman would look, the years looked the same on her as they did for anyone, but her presence was a siren song. I could not turn away.
I had had a run-in with her once when I was 12, after a particularly hellish day in middle school. It was one of those days, you know. The kind where it feels like it’s just too excruciating to be alive—so it’s either suicide or ice cream. Having chosen the latter, because I was never one for the former, I sat on the stone wall of the bluff, full-up and waiting for the whip of the wind to quiet the wanting. The wanting to rip right out of my skin. It was at that moment that she happened by, out walking her dog as she did every evening. Most days she would just smile or nod, but she must have seen the fire inside me, so she stopped with a pail of water.
“Proper wild out there today, isn’t it?” she said, nodding her eyes toward the sea.
“yes” I said, gulping back the well of tears I feared would break loose at any moment.
We sat in silence for a moment, watching the violent churning of the waters while the gusts made sails of our hair.
“Positively out of control, she is. She’ll toss a great ship right smashed on the rocks, and then softly lull a seabird to its mother” she gave me a knowing glance and paused, “you can catch her doing anything and everything, looking every sordid way a thing can look. But one thing you’ll never catch her doing... is apologizing for it. ”
She laughed, this sharp, warm, comforting laugh — the kind that jolts you out of a fog, and snaps your eyes wide open.
I turned my head and smiled, in a bit of a daze. I didn’t have the words for what that did to me. I didn’t even really recognize it at the time, it was like seeing a flash in the mirror — an image without any real definition, and yet, it’s you.
“We can call her what we want to, alright— but she won’t pay a pence for descriptions.” she gathered the leash on her palm and looked down at her friend, “isn’t that right Gingie?” I don’t know what kind of dog he was, but he looked like a fox and a hound had been lovers. His hair was soft and auburn, and he stood no higher than her knee, but his eyes were round and deep and kind, like the ones you fall in love with.
“Come on old boy, let’s leave this one to her reflection”, she held her hand steady to my back for just a moment, “you enjoy the show now, love.”
“Thank you” I nodded sheepishly. I felt like such an idiot not knowing what to say — the weight of what she said was still hitting me.
And it would be hitting me still, for years.
It was as if she had planted a seed. A dark seed that first cracks upon grounding, and then goes nearly dormant for 22 years; the root-work unfurling in the background, making a mess of everything, digging up and displacing the earth of you. And then finally one day a sprout pushes up, and it’s no longer something you can ignore.
The stories of her didn’t matter anymore. What she’d been, who she was, where she’d gone… it was irrelevant. It was obvious that her magic had nothing to do with history. Nothing to do with fairy tales, and nothing to do with “her”. She just seemed to make the magic that’s here, show itself as evident.
So I asked her if I might visit her weekly, so that I could ask her some questions. And at first, it was just an excuse to be near her, for I craved the calm spell that she seemed to put over me on that day we first met, so long ago. She agreed, but only with the stipulation that: “I don’t have any answers you don’t have, love. But we’ll shoot the breeze and eat biscuits, why not.”
And that is where it began: to have tea and biscuits on fridays,
with the infamous Alice herself. ♥
I have lovingly dubbed the record of these talks ‘Interviews from Underland’ because upon asking her what it was like to go under, she replied with a chuckle, “Well, the first thing you find out when you go under…” with a sly smile and a twinkle in her eye, “is that under is over, and over is under, and inside is outside, and outside is in.”
“Well, put that in your pipe and smoke it.” I replied.
We laughed, and laughed... we always laughed.
I hope you’ll enjoy these talks as much as I do. I will be adding bits and pieces over time. In order to make them short and sweet I have included only the questions and answers and left out the riot of cantankerous chit-chat that often led-up-to and followed. Well… I left in just enough of it to put your wise-woman fantasies to shame.
She would want it that way.