AFTER THE RABBIT
“We’re all mad here,” the Cheshire Cat tells Alice. The Mad Hatter. The March Hare. “I’m mad. You’re mad.”
The rabbit rushes by, checking his watch, disappears. You peer down the dark hole, hesitate. Look both ways, hesitate again, then take the plunge. Or maybe you slip and find yourself in mid-air. Either way you’re falling, feet first, no place to land. Stomach lurching, acid in your throat, falling, falling. No colors, no talking animals, no wonders, no adventures, no hallucinogens, just darkness and the realization you’ve made a mistake. Is this a dream? Some kind of waking delusion?
They give you rainbow-colored pills that make you larger and smaller. Mostly smaller. You sleep a lot. Time expands and contracts. Months feel like years feel like no time at all. Your shrink calls it an “episode,” your friends call it a “breakdown,” what you might call “madness” but have no words to describe.
Your friends take you to a psychic, who lays out Tarot cards on a maroon velvet tablecloth, rings flashing in the dim light. There’s a Fool on a quest, standing unaware on the edge of a precipice. A Hanged Man upside down, that’s supposed to be good, isn’t it, or maybe it’s the tumbling tower that’s supposed to be good. There’s a dark stranger, it could be the guy you’re dating, or the one you left. All you want to know is whether you’ll be okay. You’re pretty sure you won’t be. The psychic’s predictions are unclear.
“Who cares for you? You’re nothing but a pack of cards,” Alice says.
The sky is yellow. The Fool is a beautiful young man, beautiful young woman, anyone, you. The Fool travels light, her belongings wrapped in a scarf on a stick like a hobo’s, jauntily slung over her right shoulder, a white flower in her outstretched left hand. Her dog frolics beside her, the sun shines above her, there’s a snow-capped mountain range behind her. She’s inches from the edge of a high cliff. Yes, you’re the Fool who’s slipped off the precipice, leaving your husband and dog behind.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” Alice asks the Cheshire Cat, who answers, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” “I don’t much care where,” Alice says, “so long as I get somewhere.” The Cat tells her, “Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.”
The doctor leans back in his chair. He’s wearing a lavender sweater. The windowsill is lined with pink and white orchid plants, nursed back to health by his wife. “Have you been experiencing any paranoid thoughts? Suicidal ideation? Do you want to go to the hospital?”
In your dream you’re running, sweating, out of breath. You’ve lost your belongings, your friends, your husband, your dog, your boyfriend, the white flower. You’re fleeing a mad tea party where the Hatter posed a riddle with no answer. “You should say what you mean,” the March Hare told you, but you can’t find the words to say what you mean. You’re late, the White Rabbit’s late. It’s an important date, so important you can’t remember what it is. A dark figure looms ahead on the road. Is your appointment with him? Is it too late to change your mind?
Jacqueline Doyle’s new flash fiction chapbook The Missing Girl was just published by Black Lawrence Press. In 2017 Wigleaf nominated her microflash “Little Darling” for a Pushcart, and her flash “Zig Zag” won the flash/poetry contest at Midway Journal, judged by Michael Martone. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be found online at www.jacquelinedoyle.com and on twitter @doylejacq.