Alice stands facing the door, her hand quivering the key to the lock. The weighty shawl of barely acknowledged memories shifts uncomfortably across her shoulders. Were her white linen and lace wish-memories usurping the real events that occurred in this place?
Her mind tumbles, stumbles, hurtles backwards through blurred images, pitching and tilting through her own chequered history, until it finds a mere wisp of childhood. The little girl, clad in her red velvet dress adorned with a giant yellow ribbon around the waist, tied into a bow at the back, comes slowly into focus.
The girl’s face is stained with tears, nose leaking, fingers pink and tugging distractedly at the grass. She has returned from a birthday party. The others were cruel, pointing, jeering, beating her with barbed taunts. The girl feels the dagger-points of their cruelty jabbing between her ribs, slicing through her rice paper skin, tearing apart the flesh beneath. She feels the icy spears of accusations burrowing, venomous tendrils of guilt snaking their way across the chambers of her heart.
Alice wants to scoop her up, to comfort her, but she is paralysed, unable to lift her leaden feet, unable to translate her will into the movement of her limbs. Her eyes slide up and backwards beneath their lids, sweat beads beneath her nose, the skin of her throat prickles with anxiety. Every atom in her body begins its preparations to fight or flee.
The girl’s sobs intrude again and Alice shifts her gaze once more. She notices now, the girl has skinned knees and her soft red velvet dress, the dress she is so proud of, is ripped at the seam beneath the ribbon, as if tugged too hard by a mischievous puppy. She sees now, the fingernails bitten so low they’re barely visible, a sliver of shining enamel nearly consumed by the surrounding flesh. Alice looks at her own nails, their neat manicured perfection a stark contrast to the girl’s.
She remembers now, how they stood, crows lined up, cawing and screeching their disgust.
“Lolita!” they spat at her, and Alice-the-child did not understand.
“I’m Alice,” she thought in the naïve way of children.
Alice remembers the small hands, tugging and pulling at her red velvet dress with the giant yellow ribbon around the waist, tied into a bow at the back. She remembers the sound of the velvet tearing away from the ribbon, the scream of material protesting its separation.
She remembers looking through the fog of tears, searching all over for help, and seeing the line of mothers standing just far enough away to feel no obligation to intervene, mouths set in derisive sneers, cruelty in their eyes.
She turns the key, pushes open the door, fully expecting to be greeted by ghosts.
There is nothing but dark mustiness to welcome her home. She clears her throat, shakes her head, and remembers that she is not that girl any more.