Alice: Ten Years Later – A Culinary Reverie
By: Sam Vaknin
“Ten year anniversaries are nothing to sneeze at”, thought Alice as she surveyed the kitchen. Sure enough, someone sneezed vociferously and insistently just to her left.
“Have I been thinking aloud?” enquired Alice, alarmed.
“No more than usual,” answered the cook, “and the soup decidedly begs for more pepper, you know.”
Exasperated, Alice rolled her eyes (a gesture she mastered only recently and was very proud of): “This time, I came armed with the recipe, Cook,” she admonished her sternly, “Here, read for yourself: not a trace of pepper to be had throughout the proceedings!”
“Impossible!” declared Cook and eyed her suspiciously. She snatched the tattered page, perused it awhile and then read it aloud, triumphantly:
Disconcerted by this decisive rebuttal of her new-found bravado, Alice settled on a three-legged stool which stood smack in the geometric navel of the kitchen.
“When will everyone be here?” she mused to no one in particular.
“Precisely when they will arrive!” bellowed Cook and hauled the sooty cauldron onto the fire – “The Cat’s grin has been here since the morning!”
“Is there anything else on the menu?” enquired Alice “I am mighty hungry and don’t think I can quell it with a mere dollop! And the pepper is bound to make everyone so thirsty, not to mention sneeze-prone!”
Cook grunted absentmindedly: “March Hare promised to bring some wine. And to drag in Dormouse, if he is not asleep, of course.”
“Dormouse is always asleep” sighed Alice “and March Hare doesn’t know the first difference between wine and tea!”
“Wine, tea” snorted Cook as she hurried around in a haze of pepper “It’s all the same to me. It should be all the same to you, you know, makes life considerably simpler!”
“Things can go awfully wrong if you don’t call them by their proper names” insisted Alice “Consider this recipe for chicken in wine. It wouldn’t be the same with tea, I grant you!”
Cook eyed her pityingly: “It wouldn’t be the same with a different chicken, too, but we don’t make a fuss about it now, do we?” Still, she grabbed the torn piece of newspaper and read it avidly, smacking her thick and peppered lips as she went along:
“Sounds delicious!” she concluded “Although I dare say that Chicken might have an entirely different view on the matter if chickens were capable of having views, that is!”
Alice shuffled her feet restlessly.
“Is the Hatter coming?” she asked wistfully – “And Rabbit? Oh, I remember those days so fondly!”
“I am sure those days remember you in the very same manner, dear” mumbled Cook as she rushed from one end of the impossibly long counter to the other for no proper reason.
A knock on the door disrupted Alice’s reverie.
“Where is the footman?” asked Alice “Shouldn’t he be here to answer the door? Isn’t this what makes him the footman?”
“Oh, he is no longer in our employ, ever since the Duchess lost her head, you know. Now, I have to do everything around here by my busy, sorry self and that includes opening the door. Luckily, I have to do so only when someone knocks on it.” She trudged towards the entrance and Alice thought to herself, hopefully not aloud: “How advanced in age she had become! ‘Tis so sad!”
But the years have done little to effect the ponderous trio that burst upon the kitchen: they all looked as though it were just yesterday. The Hatter dropped a brownish packet on the counter and spread his arms to encompass Alice in a hearty hug. “My dear!” he exclaimed “But, you haven’t changed a bit! Are you on better terms with Time?”
“I am afraid not!” admitted Alice “I find it ... him ... inexorable.”
“As uncivil as ever! “ cried the Hatter with evident delight “I so love it when things stand still, don’t you?”
“And how is your watch?” Alice made polite chitchat.
“Who wants to know?” demanded the Hatter
“Why, I do, since I am the one who asked the question!” countered Alice indignantly.
“Here we go again!” It was the March Hare who just entered, dragging by his tiny feet the slumbering Dormouse “You are at it exactly as you were ten years ago!”
He dropped the Dormouse onto the dusty floor unceremoniously and waved his ears at Alice: “I brought the best butter with me ...”
“With breadcrumbs, I presume” grumbled the Hatter, removing his watch from harm’s way.
“And a recipe for butter and breadcrumbs to go with it!” concluded the Hare unperturbed. With conspicuous pride, he handed a tiny piece of parchment to Alice.
“Buttered breadcrumbs recipe” – read Alice aloud – “Serve as garnish or on top of casseroles”
“Serves you right!” snapped the Hare – “Give me that!” and he lunged at the vellum and unfolded it, pronouncing its contents for all to hear:
“So, we have us a soup ...” counted Alice on her fingers
“With pepper to boot!” interjected the harried Cook, storming the kitchen from one extremity to another and back again.
“ ... and we got us the garnish ...”
“And good wine!” yelled the Hare, waving a huge kettle precariously close to Alice’s head.
“ ... and tea! Now all we need are some vegetables of sorts and a desert would be nice.” Alice reminisced: “I remember the mushroom I ate here on my last visit!”
“And so does the caterpillar!” – hurrumphed the Dormouse (inasmuch as Dormice hurrumph, of course) and went back to snooze.
“One should never consume another’s abode, you know, it is distinctly not civil” advised the Hare, addressing himself to no one in particular “The poor caterpillar and his hookah ended up homeless which is not how caterpillars suppose to end at all!”
“Is he coming to our anniversary reunion?” asked Alice breathlessly – “I should really like to see him again. We had the most enlightening conversations before I ate his home!”
“Oh, he is coming alright!” contributed the Dormouse “And bringing with him ...” But he lapsed into dozing and the sentence remained somewhat unfinished.
“Mushrooms? “ suggested Alice, but the somnolent Dormouse was not amenable to her proposal.
“I can’t think what else he can bring along, unless it is his hookah, which we are not wont to eat both because most hookahs are not edible and because it is the only possession he has left, the poor thing!” Alice said tearfully.
“The goose” said the Dormouse “He is bringing with him the goose from ‘You Are Old, Father William’ and some mushrooms to go with it. He felt he owed you at least that much after he has ravaged your recitation of the poem on your last encounter.”
“That was rude of him” smiled Alice “But I hold no grudge.”
“How can you hold something like a grudge? It has to parts to seize!” trumpeted the Hatter and plopped his hat jauntily. H
“I so wish Rabbit were here! I forgot how you all so love to argue whether it is called for or not!” she stamped her foot but then recalled her age and being an adult wished she hadn’t.
“Rabbit is always late” said Cook “He has got to gather up some orange marmalade. I am told that it is not an easy thing to do when all the jars on all the shelves are empty.”
“What can one do with a goose, some orange marmalade, and mushrooms?” wondered Alice. This query proved to be a costly error as each of the occupants of the now smoke-filled kitchen erupted with permutations of the three unfortunate ingredients which would have surely caused the goose considerable discomfort if not outright distress.
“Silence in the Kitchen!” cried a familiar voice from the entryway. Someone left the door ajar, probably March Hare.
“Rabbit!” – Alice rushed toward the familiar, plump, white figure, wrapped her hands around him and gave him a vigorous twirl.
Dazed, he surveyed the scene: “Is everyone here? Should I sound the trumpet? Shall we be late?” And, then, as though awaking from a stupor, he fumbled in his waistcoat-pocket, dropping to the ground a watch. Alice bent down, picked it up and handed it back to him, not before she saw how worn and patina-ridden it had become.
“Thank you, your majesty!” the Rabbit offered solemnly – “We can now proceed to cross-examine the goose.” And with this somewhat perplexing pronouncement, he handed to Alice a sheet of seemingly expensive creamy stationery.
“It’s a recipe!” – Alice waved the paper excitedly – “It’s what we have been lacking all along: a recipe for goose breast glazed with marmalade and garnished mushrooms!”
“Give me that!” blurted Cook “In the kitchen I am king and country, or, rather” she corrected herself sheepishly “queen and country”.
“Here you are!” yielded Alice “I have always taken a great interest in questions of eating and drinking, you know. I didn’t mean to overstep my boundaries – or yours.”
The last to arrive was the caterpillar. Alice couldn’t spot his alleged homelessness: he was as nattily attired as when she first met him and the hookah dangled from a ravishing leaf-belt that encircled his now sizable girth. He nodded in her direction coolly and all but ignored everyone present except Cook to whom he presented one goose resigned to its fate and a giant head of mushroom, drawn and quartered expertly.
“Madam,” he uttered languorously “the goose.” A caterpillar of few words he was and those he always chose with care.
“You haven’t changed a bit” Alice ventured. He sized her up sleepily and said: “I didn’t have a bit to start with, so obviously I haven’t changed it.”
Alice felt vertiginous. It was like falling through the rabbit-hole and back in time. Her mother called it déjà-vu. The caterpillar had a way of twisting her words so – but she couldn’t find anything to rebut him with: his logic was always so impeccable!
The Rabbit cleared his furry throat and announced officiously:
“We are gathered here ...”
“I this kitchen” insisted Cook
“In this kitchen” repeated Rabbit dutifully “to celebrate ten years since we first set eyes on Alice. She dropped into our world and into our hearts unbidden, like a dream, and she left us disconsolate. We missed you, Alice. Welcome back!”
“Hear, hear” said a voice from above, which was a bit incongruous: only the cat’s mouth appeared hitherto, but not his ears.
“Do make haste of it, Cheshire cat” begged Alice impatiently “We can’t all be treated to a lesson in feline anatomy! Time is running short.”
“What a curious expression” said cat, materializing in full precariously, just above her head.
“When I first laid eyes on you” – proceeded Cook seamlessly – “I thought to myself: ‘what a lost little thingie she is! That’s why I misled the king in his very own court when he asked me about the making of tarts! No way would I have allowed that murderous queen ...”
Rabbit flapped his ears in shock: “Hush, hush, she might hear you!” He forgot that the Queen had passed away the year after Alice left them. For Rabbit, it was as though time indeed stood still.
Alice bowed slightly: “Thank you, Cook! So, Dormouse was right was he? Tarts are made of treacle?”
“Of course they are!” sniffed the Dormouse derisively and rolled over.
“Treacle tarts are my specialty even if I say so!” beamed Cook “I supply the royal household to this very day, like my mother before me and her mother before her. At least I think so.” She furrowed her brow, contemplating this genealogical conundrum.
“And me!” bellowed Dormouse in between snores “She supplies me as ...” But he was fast asleep.
“I think we have the makings of a fine party here” declared the Hatter and the March Hare in rare unison “After all, we do have soup, a main dish of goose, chicken in wine, mushroom garnish, buttered breadcrumbs, and treacle tart! Let the cooking begin!”
And so it did.
Basking in the glow of tallow candles, sated and inebriated, Alice and her olden friends relaxed around the elongated dining table and watched the fire flicker in the copper plated hearth.
“This was a party to remember” whispered Hatter.
“It was well worth waiting ten years for” concurred Rabbit.
Caterpillar unhooked his hookah and used a kindle to resuscitate it.
“Who are you?” he asked, his eyelids drooping, engulfed by the aromatic vapours.
“I am Alice” – Alice answered and the caterpillar smiled benignly and avuncularly.
“What do you mean by that? Explain yourself!” he urged her softly.
“I am Alice” she repeated “I study art. I love to travel and make new friends and help people. I have my own garden where I grow both flowers and vegetables. I enjoy sunsets, immersed in the palette of colours, silence all around. Sometimes I sit still and contemplate the days I passed here, among you and I realize I haven’t changed as much as I thought I would. I still love to eat and drink and when I am bored I daydream. I still love with my sister and read books with pictures, you see”.
“Yes, I see” sighed the caterpillar pensively “And can you remember things now?”
“Oh, much better” promised Alice and recited the entire “You are Old, Father William” flawlessly.
“That is quite right, it’s right from beginning to end” said the caterpillar and everyone smiled at Alice tenderly, even the Dormouse who woke up for the express purpose of doing so.
“Are you content now?” asked the caterpillar, puffing away on his embering hookah. Rabbit and Cook looked up expectantly as did the Hatter.
When she didn’t respond, the caterpillar stretched himself and looked straight into her eyes: “You don’t need a mushroom now, dear Alice” His voice was soothing and she just nodded, wiping happy tears from her eyes. In secret, so did everyone else in the room, even the caterpillar who pretended that hookah smoke was the culpable source of his sudden irritation.
“You can let us go, love” said Cook.
“You can bid farewell” pitched in the Hare.
“We are in your memories, we are you, forever mad, forever partying” added the Hare.
“We are your childhood” concluded the caterpillar “You can outgrow yourself, but never us.”
“It’s time for treacle tart” sniffed Cook and everyone cheered thrice and sat around Alice and extended their paws with empty plates for more. And so did she.