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The pictures are faded and worn, one of a sad and lovely young girl with dirty smudges on her dress and pinafore. The words Alice, seven years of age and fresh from the rabbit hole are handwritten on the back. The other picture is of Alice as an eighty-two-year-old woman.
I place them side by side. What was it Alison said? “Photographs tell a story. But people forget to read between the lines.”
She said the same thing when she traced my birthmark—insisting there was more to the story than people realized.
Peering more closely at the pictures, I search the young Alice’s face and body. There’s a shadow on her left elbow that seems to match the pigmented maze Alison and I share. I study the same spot on the elderly Alice, but there’s no birthmark.
“That’s it!” I point to the pictures. “There and there. Alice had a birthmark that matches mine and Alison’s when she was a kid, but she lost it as an old woman.”
Jeb holds both pictures up to the light. “Could be the photo was retouched.”
“Why would anyone do that?”
Jeb reaches for the energy bar on the seat beside me, tears the wrapping, and curls my fingers around it—unspoken insistence that I eat. “Are there any answers in the book?”
Chewing a bite of granola, I flip through page after page. I trace a finger over Alison’s blurred notes in the margins while Jeb holds the flashlight. “There might’ve been, if these were legible.” I reach the end, past the sketches and final pages, and am just about to put it away when Jeb tugs it out of my grasp.
If he hadn’t pointed it out, I wouldn’t have noticed the blank page bent in half and glued to form a pocket against the inside of the back cover. I dig out a folded piece of paper. It’s old, yellow, and wrinkled. The word Deathspeak is scribbled across the back, followed by a trail of crooked question marks, then a handwritten definition. Deathspeak: the language of the dying. One can only speak it to the one who was the cause of one’s ill fate. It is the final recompense, to appoint a task that the offender must either carry out or die himself.
Jeb and I look at each other. I unfold the paper so we can see what’s written inside. I know after the first sentence that it’s something I wish I’d never laid eyes on. Yet I can’t look away . . .
November 14, 1934: On the date of mental evaluation, Alice Liddell Hargreaves is an eighty-two-year-old woman of petite height who was brought in by concerned family members. According to relatives, her mental state began deteriorating months ago, when she awoke one morning with no recognition of her whereabouts and only a vague sense of her identity.
The psychologist conducting the interviews notes that the patient is preoccupied with inner thoughts, often brooding and overwhelmed by the size of the room. She occasionally crouches in a corner or perches on a chair when being interviewed. She is inattentive and vague, and has lively interactions with inanimate objects but detached human exchanges.
Patient is not oriented in physicality or place, with a marked impairment of time, inclined to melancholy dissertations over the loss of the seventy-five years she claims to have been locked in a birdcage in “Wonderland,” having been “seduced by a statue boy at the age of seven to dive into a rabbit hole.”
The examining psychologist attributes this to a grandiose delusion originating from a childhood given to vivid imaginings that were fed by the Liddell family’s close friend Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll. Patient has fallen back on these fantasies to account for her selective memory loss.
Inasmuch as the patient exhibits the following symptoms: (1) grandiose delusions and selective amnesia, (2) marked diminished interest or pleasure in social interactions unless socializing with bugs or plants, (3) absence of appetite; prefers only fruit and desserts and refuses to ingest nutrition unless drink is served in a thimble and food on a birdcage tray—she is diagnosed as suffering from Mania and Schizophrenia.
Recommended treatment: electroshock twice daily—natural voltage administered by applying an electric eel to the head. Supplement with psychiatric counsel until all delusional lapses are contained, memory is reinstated, and mood of the patient is elevated.
I shove the report at Jeb.
He watches me. “Are you okay?”
How do I answer that? My great-great-great-grandmother
tripped so far into her psychosis that she couldn’t remember her past or present. The thimble and birdcage-tray idiosyncrasies are too close to Alison’s teacup fetish. The consistency disturbs me.
Could something else be going on . . . not a delusion but a manipulation? Is that why Alison is so into the Alice charade? Whatever it is, it’s obvious that she’s headed for the same fate as my other ancestors.
“Do you see why I can’t let her go through with those treatments?” I point to the paper. “The date of Alice’s death. She died just two days after the report. The shock treatments must have killed her!”
I yank my dreadlocks out—ignoring the rip at the roots of my hair—and fling them into the ocean. I’m done fighting my resemblance to Alison. Since we’re teammates in this bizarre game, we might as well look the part.
Jeb pulls me off the seat to sit me beside him, but the boat rocks, and I end up falling into his lap. We both freeze. When I start to ease off his legs, he holds me there. My heart hammers; I can’t deny how amazing it feels to be so close to him. Ignoring the alarms going off inside me, I give in and press my cheek to the soft knit of his tank, my arms folded between us. He strokes my hair as I snuggle beneath his chin, legs curled in the fetal position.
“I’m scared,” I whisper. For more reasons than I can say. “You have every right to be,” he answers softly. “But we’re going to get back home. We’re going to tell your dad everything. With both of our accounts and this lab report, he has to believe.”
“No. This only proves that Alice was as crazy as he thinks Alison is. In the end, she didn’t even remember getting married and having a family. Even with the living evidence of children and grandchildren around her, she still didn’t remember.”