BY DOUG RICE
ALICE DOESN'T LIVE (T)HERE ANYMORE
"What happens when we lose the other side?"
In a subtle movement through those invisible spaces that separated here from there, Alice disappeared without a trace into an unnatural photograph. A spring downpour washed away the faint and schizophrenic footsteps of Alice's slightly curious departure. No one, not even Alice, knew where she had arrived. Her flight down into this little peep of the passageway is now only remembered inside tidy bedtime stories that fathers use against their daughters' desires. Stories told before night falls in order to keep them locked in childhood innocence. Safe and still. There, and there alone, Alice remains forlorn and sweet. Light forehead kisses like breath over a mirror from forgotten fathers. The helpless bodies of Alice's sisters and daughters tucked inside sheets, frozen beneath the weight of shabby blankets. Girls everywhere being told to sleep tight and to dream well. Princes will charm you with their kisses early in the morning.
But Alice feared that she would never again awaken. Before falling asleep, she worried that she would become stranded in red corridors with billowing white curtains. She suffered the joy of being photographed by her dreams of unborn, unbound daughters. Alice worried that all infant traveling that she did while sleeping would be captured and spoken over in the voices of strangers.
Alice lost herself.
In a blink.
She caught herself in a mirror looking, a child of tears suspended between doubts and dreaming.
A lonely girl, Alice's older sister, pressed her hand on the dark wall where the mirror used to be. Alice herself was no longer there; she had become absent and could only enter her sister's life through stolen photographs. Torn photographs of broken dolls, girls with black hair, twisted and matted, crippled girls with mouths that had been cut open in the belief of a promised land were scattered everywhere in Alice's memory. Her voice in the stillness became lost in the desert that arrives before looking. Her hand reached out from the taint of the missing looking-glass. At times the terror of her own reflection took over the real. There was no way out of that place, out of the present, because her trauma had cut into her body and lived there alive in marks on the inside of her skin. She no longer could look out away from her looking.
Alice had grown tired of eavesdropping. As a child she used to peep into her older sister's books, but her sister's books were always without a place for looking. Now Alice had slipped and become caught inside one of these nearly impossible books. A hopeless book without dialogue. Silent readers rubbed their fingers over her breathing. Bread crumb trails. Her words. Drawn and quartered photographs from the land of broken sins. Readers following and following their own needs to turn the page, to see Alice growing bigger and bigger and smaller and smaller. She never was one to remain still. With each touch she changed. Abrasions of her skin were torn from the material of her body as she slipped away into language. Still, she left shreds of paper, fallen leaves from Mimosa trees, for her sister to follow. To cling. "Come to me when I am not looking."
Alice grew exhausted by the stares of old men. Abandoned strangers in boats on the lake.
"In a small cottage, I posed and I became exposed," Alice told her sister. "I recall experiencing a mysterious thrill gazing up at my own shape emerging from a negative clipped to a string. Day after day, I watched myself in the dark room of his stories."
Alice wanted to escape truth and avoid guilt, so she sewed words beneath the hem of her dress, and she smiled and twisted her body into playful moments that broke the trust of those watching her. "I just wanted to be a happy girl that refused to be really frightened." Alice sought uncertainty. She wanted to transform her skin from the reflection of other's desires into her own speech. Alice tried to look the other way. Just outside the mirror she caught a glimpse of her sister reading a book that appeared and disappeared.
"This is the photograph you stole," she whispered to her older sister, "and you are the woman. I am."
Alice never believed.
Her older sister warned her. Slapped her wrists. On her lap she held books. Opened books with pages and pages of ink. Spilled desires. She rarely ever lifted her eyes. Alice stood beside her sister with her hand resting on her shoulder. She watched her sister wet the tip of her index finger and turn another page. Without looking away from her book, Alice's sister spoke.
"Be careful around the outside of mirrors, Alice."
"You may fall in."
Looking glass deceptions threatened to become flesh before the word. She told Alice stories of other tiny girls that had been cut to pieces by the broken glass. "You're living there as unfinished, as perishable as a flower inside your reflection." Alice wondered about her sister's own reflection. The one she saw in her sister's vanity.
Alice began dreaming after a fashion to be here before the eyes of her victims. To remain not yet a woman of her own. In the mirror, a girl once surprised Alice into looking away from her own body. Alice held this girl by her hand. She became invisible and unknown.
"When was the last time you recognized yourself?"
She invited them to look into her, to grow suspicious of their own desires. They loved to stare at her with their frenzied eyes. Her opened mouth. A kind of benediction. The moment before prayers. She wanted to trap each man, to force each one to look back at their own reflections. She wished to violate their eyes with her body. To be captured in the gaze by the purveyors of the plague. Each morning, she awaited the stares of these men with derelict desires. Men who arrested her on the taint of the mirror. A paused image that stuttered near the tremble of knowing. They told her lies. They did not know that Alice knew these were the lies of greedy men in despair. They told her that dirty knees were the sign of an innocent girl. She, because she knew what could not be said, shifted her weight from one hip to the other. Her mouth had edges. They took first one photograph then another. Photograph after photograph. She lived in this world of photographs without end.
"I can only see what I've already seen."
Like a photograph whose images continue to emerge.
In the basement Alice became an archive of still life portraits and reflections. Image after image fractured. No longer an outside. She longed to find her way to be on the inside. Away from the deprivation of looking. Here, Alice desired a witness. One that could escape to tell what she had seen. "Tell me one story," she pleaded, "that is not afraid of truth." These men became guilty with looking. Someone had written on her eyes with desires that did not belong to her. Alice feared she would be condemned to only ending up in a book. One without drawings. She tore her sister's books into pieces when her sister was not looking. Alice feared that her all her life would be trapped inside one of these silent books. She feared these deaf and dumb books would kill her daughters.
Alice was no longer there.
Alice remained silent. She existed simply as this incompletion of words. Wanted only to live on the inside before the making possible of forgetting. She carried with her too great a weight of untold stories. This weight of memories. Ghosts that haunted her. She could not name these ghosts from her past. Wanted only to speak one sentence to her sister. But her breathing hesitated. Not one single memory of her childhood could break free. She longed for her own echo. Desired a way to travel back into the taint of the mirror.
Alice wanted to stay on the inside of sleep. To be covered by the dead leaves of nearly lost memories. "Wake up, Alice dear!" Her sister's voice from a distance. Alice remained with her dreams. She whispered back to her sister from the inside of her long sleep and carried her sister, remembering her own child-life, with her to the place before sacrifice.