The only thing madder than the Madhatter is the Madhatter’s daughter.
She sits bow-legged in reverse position on the expansive, expensive chair. Her long, auburn hair runs down the legs of her seat. Her eyes are always open, always wide. As though she is always surprised, always awake.
She watches the clock with a maddening look.
At 6:05, her lover will show up as he always does. So, she sits and waits, holding onto her breath as long as she can muster.
6:01, her father’s tea party is over. She wonders if he knows this yet. Perhaps she should warn him?
No. Best not to keep the lover waiting. She has spent far too much time telling her father the minutes passing an hour. She has learned that, although accepting time is a difficult choice, it is the lesser of two evils.
After all, she met her beau at 6:15. It was an accident, sure, because she was stranded in the woods with an aching toe from stepping incorrectly on a stone. So there she sat, rubbing her foot with a worrisome look. She missed her father’s tea time and it wasn’t her fault. At least, not on purpose. Maybe accidentally on purpose. Although there was nothing accidental at all about it. She is sure.
The clock struck 6:01 and the world did not shake. The ground did not crack and the heavens did not wail. She waited for it to. Her father promised it would. Told her that the reality taken for granted anyways is an illusion. And she likes to believe him still. Sometimes. When it makes sense.
But Beau worked in shoes. When he saw her aching toe, he could not help but stop to offer his aid. She looked up at 6:15 and fell into his eyes. Her love for him was immediate and it stretched beyond any sort of structure. His was slow to grow. Over time, he could see that she was in fact life’s greatest treasure. When he saw her eyes dance amongst the wildflowers,he realized he had fallen into rapture for her. He felt it was his moral duty to ground them both. Keep them rooted to something. Anything. For she wasn’t rooted to anything. Except perhaps him. He hoped.
He shook his head at the townspeoples’ warnings. “She isn’t anything like her father,” he would say decidedly. With an air of superiority. As though only he in the world could help her, could know her, save her. Not even her father knew how. That man is only interested in the illusion of warping time.
A delusion to control the uncontrollable. It isn’t possible.
After 6:00 is 6:01 and at 6:02, he steps on the very stones where he met his beautiful Claudette that fateful day. His injured peacock. So full of color that she is a constant fantasy in his eyes, a bird that changes from one minute to the next. At 6:03, he preambles up the split path to her castle on the hill. A castle overrun with hats. One path leads to the father’s frustratingly long tea parties. The other leads him up to her. His princess in the castle. Waiting to be saved. And he so badly yearned to be the knight. It’s 6:04, and he always takes one final glance when he reaches the top. He likes to see how high she’s brought him. If he grounds her, then she does the opposite. And at 6:05, he plans to push the door.
Unlike her witless father, Beau is married to time. That is, until he is married to Claudette. That is, if she will accept him.
He fingers the ring in his pocket and feels the weight press against his strong leg. Strong because of the steep climb to reach her. The Madhatter’s daughter, that is. After their marriage, she will be his wife. And all connection to madness will be forever lost.
He checks his pocket watch and sees that he has spent too long thinking about her. Now, it is 6:06. In a rush, he pushes the door open and tumbles into the castle. But there is no princess to save and the knight is a minute too late.
He looks up and down and all around. Behind the drapes and in the rooms. Under the canopy and into the trees. Sometimes, she likes to whisper to them. They are her friends, she says, and he’ll catch her laughing at their jokes. But she is nowhere to be found amongst the silent group. And he gets the feeling that they laugh now at him.
Despair fills his heart. It was only a minute. One minute and now, she is gone.
His heart starts to fall. A worried look that was always threatening to move into his person—it takes over now. This is how he will spend the rest of his time. For he is still married to it, and not her. The one person who could help him overcome it all and live as he had never done. He waits on the steps, holding his breath. But time moves on, taking him further away from her. It’s 6:15 and he knows he will never see her again.