It is never polite to go out-of doors without a hat. One’s hat should remain on one’s head no matter the extremity. Even if the rest of one’s clothing should happen to be removed by some improbable whim of the weather, such as a particularly dexterous gale with a penchant for buttons, one must be sure to hold one’s hat fixedly on one’s head.
The hatter is a poor man. He has no hats of his own. Those he keeps on his head or in his house are merely inventory, soon to be shuffled away when a purchaser is found.
“Tea Time” is a retelling of sorts, about the Hatter and the Hare from Alice in Wonderland, and their endless tea time. Alice in Wonderland is one of those stories that always gets in my head and stays there. My parents are fans. I have an annotated copy from just after my father was born, filled with pencil notes, which my parents gave me while I was writing this story. When he was in college, my father colored a black light poster of Alice on the chess grounds, which still hangs in their kitchen.
As a child, I watched many televised Alice retellings. I’ve always been fond of retellings because of the way different people — and different actors — choose to reinterpret a text; there’s so much living, interesting variance. I had Alice Blue Dress, Alice Disney, Alice Orange Dress (it was a bit of a revelation to realize she didn’t have to be in blue!). Carol Channing was in one of them as the White Queen. My favorite these days as an adult is a Broadway production from 1983 featuring Nathan Lane as a rat who is almost drowned by Alice’s tears. It’s a somber, adult version of the tale, which begins with Alice smoking as she stares into her dressing room mirror, somber if not dead-eyed.
Alice is a story that translates well from young to old, innocent to mature. Unlike The Wizard of Oz (which I also like quite a bit) in which Dorothy is repeatedly described in blushing, innocent, girlish terms, Alice is unsentimentally portrayed. She’s an interesting but flawed heroine, not sugar and spice. I have a particular love for child characters who are written as sharp and strange, the way real children are, rather than the rosy cherubs we adults want them to be.
Rereading Alice in Wonderland as an adult also shows how sharp and intelligent the prose is! There’s a reason the story works on a lot of levels, and that’s because it was written that way. There’s the adventure, but there’s also strange meditations on the nature of reality and growing up, and it hasn’t lost any of its edge since it was written.
“Tea Time” isn’t about Alice — she shows up a couple times in the background as an annoyance to the Hatter and Hare. Instead, it’s about the two of them, and how characters might navigate a surreal, inconsistent world. I started writing something absurd because I love absurdity, but it eventually tracked into a meditation about love and time.
Q: Why is a raven like a writing desk?
A: Because they both have quills.
Q: Why is a vain woman like a hatter?
A: Because they both love their hare.
Q: Why is tea time like eternity?
A: One begins with tea and the other ends with it.
You can read the story for free online, or listen to the podcast narrated by Stefan Rudnicki (available on the same page).
CW: Rated R, lots of Victorian slang about sex.