Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Another evening in the rabbit hole

Last evening when Alice climbed down the rabbit hole, she just missed her train. She was coming down the steps when she looked up to see the train at the station, ran around a bulky bear who was shuffling along oblivious to the soon to be gone train, and cleared the last three steps in a delightful almost-maybe-dangerous jump to get onto the platform, only to have the doors shut right in front of her face.

As a disappointed and dejected Alice watched the train pull away, she tried to alleviate the impending boredom of the approximately three minute wait for the next train by staring at the creatures around her. The bear had now shuffled its way to the platform and seemed to be looking at her from the corner of its eye, a faintly perceptible smile of what could only be ridicule stamped on the corners of its lips. Alice wanted to contemptuously wrinkle her nose at him, but fought the desire. She had read a random internet article about the harmful effects of stress earlier that day and scrutinized what must surely be the first sign of fine lines that would lead to wrinkles on her forehead later that very day, so she hurriedly pushed aside the desire to glare and attempted a blank stare instead. Taking a deep breath she looked to her right, where three flamingos stood in single file, facing the the wall with the station name etched on it, looking blankly (they must have thought about wrinkles too) into the mid-distance. The only indication of a potential for thought and feeling were headphones creeping out of inner recesses of their furry jackets and into their ears. Alice stared at these immaculately groomed stiletto heeled statues for a minute, admiring their features and feathers while not one of them showed any sign of noticing. She was certain that creatures could often sense it when they were being watched, even from out of their direct range of vision, but the flamingos in this country rarely ruffled a feather, as if expecting and welcoming the attention but being too regal to acknowledge it. Or perhaps it was because Alice was shorter than most of them and a foreigner to boot - particularly high heeled boots- so even if they did notice her, her strange behavior was exactly the sort of thing to be expected given her strange clothing and stranger skin. Meanwhile, already dangerously close to boredom as well as the intoxicating light drowsiness that creeps into an evening after a day of hard work, Alice paced back and forth on the platform a little. Just when she had almost given up hope of ever leaving this quiet, nearly deserted and somewhat chilly platform, she saw the lights of what must surely be hope, signaling a train in their wake.

And what a train it was! Instead of the usual gray-blue fare, this one was orange and had black stripes, simultaneously a tiger and a fire. Alice, never one to shirk from adventure, slipped into the raging maw and looked around herself in wonder. While the composed faces around her were the same as always, this could not make Alice overlook the novelty of this train. The seats on one side of the train had been banished by an invisible hand, with some standing space there instead. The lighting was like that of a state of the art museum and there was indeed art on the wall in focus- and what a state it was in! Framed into beautifully gilded borders, but nonetheless attempting to jump out and expand, there was a row of still lifes and landscapes suspended on an unassuming bark blue wall. The names of the artists rang no bells and the dates were within the last 10 years, but what these paintings lacked in age and name recognition, they made up for in composition. Alice delightfully made her way across the row, all the while trying her best to maintain her balance and not topple over in the speeding, rocking train. As she came to the end of the line, unwilling to be satisfied just yet, Alice hoped that the next wagon would continue the magic, and as soon as the train reached a stop, she jumped out and hopped into the next wagon. And there were more!

What followed was a game of hopscotch as Alice tried to both give each painting at least a fraction of the time it deserved, but be able to see all the paintings in a wagon and be ready to hop onto the next as soon as the train made a stop. Not knowing how many wagons the train had and what masterpieces might be in the next box, she had no choice but to ration her time, pulling and pushing internal forces that told her to linger as well as to hurry, in a staccato scurry from wagon to wagon. All animate beings around her were a blur- she noticed a few in passing only when they were standing in front of a painting she wanted to see. Noticing the look on her face, they all moved aside more or less promptly.

Only when she knew she had reached the last wagon was Alice able to relax, taking her time to really see what was before her. While the flowers had been pretty and the play of light or the motion of waves on water or fields beautiful, only here was she able to see sights truly mesmerizing. Each painting was a scene from the city that was hers and yet not hers, its buildings, squares, cathedrals, rivers and bridges. One painting in particular, of evening falling on a familiar yet strange cathedral that looked neither of one religion nor of another, with plain steeples capped by bulbous domes with geometric rainbow colored designs, drew her to itself. As she continued looking, one of the blue towers with golden stars turned into a hat and a long-haired wizard showed up to fill it.

She asked the only question she could think to ask in such a situation:
"What is your favorite color?"
"I like any," he replied.
As if this was the cue for the end of their conversation, he kissed the back of her hand without breaking eye-contact, bowed, and disappeared. Alice noticed that he had left something behind- a page with the outline of a rainbow colored lion, the sort of thing a five-year old or a famous impressionist might have made. Picking up her memento, she looked up and out the glass doors as she felt the train slowing down again. The dark tunnel gave way to a bright and blurry platform that came into focus as the train lost speed. Seeing the station that she knew must be hers, Alice climbed out when the doors slid open. She got off the train, climbed up a staircase, through the swinging doors that marked entries and exits between the upper and nether worlds, out the rabbit hole and into her regular, mundane world. The feeling of light intoxication spurred by the evening lingered.

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