“Wake up, Alice dear,” said her sister. “Why, what a long sleep you’ve had!”—Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
You are 5, or 7, or 8, and sick in bed. Your mother walks into your room with a plate of crackers or a glass of juice with a straw.
“How you feeling, Skwutch?” she says, sitting on the edge of the bed. She runs a hand over your unkempt hair and smiles. She gives you a hug; she is soft and round and warm under her lightweight turtleneck.
Kneeling to the floor, she pulls a mustard-yellow and cream-colored portable record player from its spot next to the bookshelf, opening the latch with a flick. Her ankles poke out from knit pants that are always a little too short.
She takes a record box from your nightstand — “Alice in Wonderland.” Six records rest inside, pen-and ink drawings on the jackets: Alice chasing the White Rabbit; The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party; the Queen’s croquet grounds. Mom removes Volume One and places it on the spindle of the record player. It begins to rotate, thirty-three and one-third times per minute. She lifts the plastic arm and gently places the needle at the record’s edge.
You are 5, or 7, or 8, and sick in bed. You hear the flute, bassoon and French horn of the musical interlude signaling the beginning of Volume One. Soon you will travel with Alice down the rabbit hole and meet once again the Caterpillar, Gryphon, and Mock Turtle. You already know what they will say. And you know that by the time the story is over, you will feel better.
You are 45, and Mom has died of cancer. For weeks after the funeral, you call your dad every day. You are surprised at how quickly he sets himself to the mundane tasks that need attending to after someone dies. Joint checking accounts. Retirement accounts. Taxes. He ticks them off his list day by methodical day.
Then he starts sorting through closets, drawers, and boxes. Some things he tosses — a bag of her old shoes and socks. Some things he displays — Japanese keepsakes from the year she spent overseas as a child; stained-glass ornaments that haven’t been hung up since three houses ago. Some things he offers to relatives — a set of dishes goes to your sister, and another goes to a cousin. Some things he donates to a thrift store or the church fundraiser — a stash of hotel and hospital toiletries from her bathroom cupboard; mismatched silver-plate pitchers and serving dishes. Some things he destroys — a box of her business cards takes him several days, as he cannot bear to feed more than a batch or two at a time to the grinding wheels of the shredder.
During one call he tells you he has taken a load of old record albums to the thrift store.
“You didn’t take the “Alice in Wonderland” records, did you?” you blurt out.
“Well, yes,” he replies. “I thought you made copies of those years ago.”
You are 23, just graduated from college and packing your things to move to your boyfriend’s house in the next state, where you and he will live for two years before marrying. You will bring two 90-minute cassettes on which you have recorded the six-volume set of Alice in Wonderland. It seems impossible that the entire set fits on less than three hours of tape. In your mind the story goes on for days. All those days when you were five, or seven, or eight and sick in bed with a bad cold, chicken pox, the stomach flu.
You do not listen to the recordings until ten years later. When you do, returning home from a road trip to Utah with your family, it does not seem right to be listening to them when you are well. The end of one record runs right into the musical interlude signaling the beginning of the next, and the story goes by too fast. All too soon you are listening to side two of Volume Six, which is your least favorite side. Alice opens her eyes to find that the deck-of-card soldiers are nothing more than dead leaves fluttering from a tree, and the Mock Turtle’s sobs only the lowing of distant cattle.
Louise Julig is a writer living in Southern California with her husband, daughter, two cats and a turtle. She and her older sister still spontaneously recite lines from Alice in Wonderland to each other and laugh.