What Alice found there

Alice took a trip down a hole, her experience was colourful and exciting and it was for the better.

Johan Eckert was a miner. His experience down a hole lacked the colour and fantasy of Wonderland, especially towards the end when my grandmother sat by his bed for weeks while he coughed up thirty years of dust.

Nothing stranger than fiction they say? Nothing crueler than life.

As my house burnt I raced in to grab two things. The dog who was whimpering amongst the fallen and rotting oranges in the furthest corner of the yard, and the box of photos I kept under the bed.

Ironic that a fireman would sit and watch his own house burn down isn’t it. I didn’t even grab the hose, just sat on the front lawn in silence, dog under one arm and a box of yesterdays under the other.

As the sirens grew louder then stopped in the street the full-time boys jumped out, paused one-by-one to give me a quizzical look, and then set about connecting the hoses and getting the wet stuff on the red stuff.

Just two things I grabbed.

So what reasons made me move to Sydney, I couldn’t quantify them so they went unspoken. Instead I just said ‘it was time’, the real reasons evading my family’s questions like the flames that continued to took my house despite best attempts.

Mum assumed she knew of a reason, not that I can blame her for the assumption. I had rung her to say hi and that Ally was moving in with someone else, and then broke down, crying in a staff kitchen while my toasted sandwich sat browning. In response mum held steadfastly to all she had taught her children and told me to go back to work, I would get over it.

And of the real reasons? As I said even I have trouble putting my finger on them, although there is little doubt in my mind they are related to my box of yesterdays. The dog shared a seat with the box as we drove off, drool making dark shapes on the lid as he panted from excitement.

‘That’s where the old drive-in used to be’, his ears spiking as I spoke.

‘That’s the shed Brownie and I sat on as we watched Footrot Flats. That’s where the sign was, Brownie changed ‘Footrot Flats’ to read ‘Rootlot Fats.’

I didn’t tell the dog about how two twelve year olds spent a night in jail, taken there by my father ‘as a lesson’. I didn’t think the dog would be interested in that part.

The last landmark on the way out of town (it would be the first if you’re coming back), was the old wooden bridge. Crossing that seemed to give me my first sense that something was changing. In the moment I assumed all change was for the better and as we cruised up the highway with the wind bending the dogs’ ears and drying his drool, I even considered emptying the box out the window, committing the yesterdays to a new future, maybe to be found and wondered over by a hot and dusty farmer or two kids on bikes.

But no, I couldn’t do that, not yet. And with that act of holding onto the past my newly conceived sense of optimism died in the first trimester, just like the daughter I shared with another for the briefest and happiest of yesterdays.

There are many questions with holes, but each has only two answers. Will you stay in or come out? Is it a way forward or a step back? Will you have a tea party or will the blackness ruin you from the inside?

I had entered the hole; I think the Mad Hatter needs company.

Of course there is some form of acknowledgment owing to Lewis Carroll here, not the least being the title.

What Alice found there

Michael Douglass

Alexandria, Australia

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