Alice Part 7

IX.

But no, they were flying to the other side of this strange world, where it was still daylight, and Alice could see the sea. They landed on a soft, sandy beach. Alice recognised the place from real life, though she knew they were still in the dream world.

“How do you know?” asked the Gryphon, as though he could hear her thoughts.

“Because there is me,” said Alice. And it was true; there, a little further off down the beach, was the child-version of Alice, staring at the waves.

“This beach holds a special place in your memory, doesn’t it?” said the Gryphon.

“It does,” said Alice. This was where she’d had her childhood holidays. This was the first place she’d seen the sea; she remembered seeing it on the car drive down: a big black line that broke the sky. A monstrous thing. And she remembered the beach: the tangled clumps of seaweed, the dead jellyfish, like shipwrecked space-beings. Her parents warned her not to touch them.

The beach looked different now: with combed golden sand, there was not a dead jellyfish in sight. The young Alice was watching the waves, as though entranced. A golden light seemed to faintly halo the scene.

Alice went and crouched down next to her.

“What are you looking for?” she asked gently.

“I’m waiting for my ship to arrive,” said young Alice.

Alice wondered whether she was playing a game. She noticed there were lots of colourful shells buried in the sand around their feet.

“Would you like to collect shells while we wait?”

Young Alice nodded. “Okay.”

A little further off, the Gryphon had curled up on the sand and gone to sleep. Alice wondered why he had brought her here. There were two brightly-coloured buckets sitting on the sand nearby and the two Alices used them to fill with shells. There were a lot of different shells, all different colours and shapes.

Alice felt like they were waiting for something more than a ship to arrive. She noticed, not far off, the start of a train track that ran alongside the sea into the horizon. She wondered whether a train would come soon? There was nowhere to buy tickets…

“Why are you sad?”

Alice looked at the child version of herself, who was watching her curiously.

“I’m not sad.”

“You are – I can tell.”

Alice had forgotten about child-intuition. She thought about what young Alice had said. She was a little lonely, maybe. She wasn’t really sad. She had things she wanted to do she never seemed to get around to doing. Maybe adult life wasn’t as she’d imagined it’d be when she was eight years old… which was nearly twenty years ago now.

“I’m not sad, Alice. I’m just –” What could she say to the child version of herself, who would one day grow up to be her?

“Did you write those stories you wanted to write?” asked young Alice.

“I wrote some of them down, yes.”

Young Alice brightened. “Does that mean you’re a famous writer?”

“Not exactly – I work in an office.”

Young Alice was puzzled. “Why do you do that?”

“I need to make money. I need to pay my bills.”

“Are you married?”

“No, Alice.”

“Do you have a house?”

“I have a little flat of my own. It’s okay.”

Alice felt she should add more. “I’m going to write more stories, though, Alice. And I’m going to get them published. And I’m going to travel. I’m going to go on adventures, and make lots of new friends.”

Young Alice shook her head. “You’re lying.”

Alice’s heart sank. “I’m not. I’m going to do those things.”

“I want to be happy when I grow up. Or I might as well stay being a child.”
Alice looked out towards the waves. It seemed an eternity before she noticed there was a ship on the horizon.

“Look!” she said, pointing.

Young Alice nodded soberly, as though she’d never doubted its coming. Then, in no time at all, the ship was at shore.

“I have to go now,” said young Alice.

“Why?” asked Alice.

“Because all things must come to an end.”

Alice nodded and hugged her younger self tightly.

“I won’t forget you.”

Young Alice nodded, and carried her bucket of shells onto the ship. When she was onboard, she waved at adult Alice as the ship bore her away over the horizon.

Alice kept waving until the ship was out of sight. Then she stared at the blue horizon.
She was broken from her reverie by the sound of a train arriving along the track by the sea, and a Dodo in a conductor’s hat was waving tickets and shouting. She looked for the Gryphon, but he was nowhere to be seen.

She heard little voices singing by the water’s edge. She turned and saw a small group of oysters walking eagerly towards the train, though she hardly knew how, as oysters don’t have legs. Still, walking they were, and singing sweetly in high-pitched voices:

““Will you walk a little faster?” said one oyster to another,

“The headmaster’s close behind us, and he’s threatened to tell Mother.”

See how eagerly the little oysters all do strain!

They are waiting on the shingle, and they want to board the train!
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you board the train?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you board the train?

You can really have no notion how delightful it will be,
When you board the train and look out of the window to the sea!
But you might think, “No way, no way!” and threaten to abstain,
And we will say, “Okay, okay, but you should board the train.”
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you board the train?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you board the train?

And you might ask, “What point is there, of going for the ride?”
So we shall say, “There is a tower, on the other side –
There’s a tower you will get to if you choose not to refrain,
So turn not pale, humanoid, but come and board the train.”
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you board the train?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you board the train?”

Well, Alice was convinced. She ran to the Dodo waving the tickets.

“Get your tickets for the White Tower! Last train!”

“I’d like a ticket please,” said Alice eagerly.

“There you go,” said the Dodo.

“Don’t I have to pay?” asked Alice.

“I’ll accept a few of those shells,” said the Dodo, nodding his head at the bucket Alice still carried.

Alice gave him the bucket of shells.

“Take them all.”

“For me?” asked the Dodo in astonishment. “Good heavens, I’ll be a rich man!”

Alice boarded the train after the oysters. It was rather crowded inside with various animals, even though she’d seen no-one else get on.

“Perhaps this ‘No-One Else’ is more popular than you think,” said a tiny voice by her ear. Instinctively Alice swatted at her ear, as the voice had sounded like the whine of a gnat.

“Hey!” said the voice, and then whined off.

The train started to move, very slowly. Alice looked out the window towards the sea.

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