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One thing was certain, Mum was not going to be impressed.
Alice already had an uneasy suspicion that the maths test mightn’t have gone too well, but 48%! That was actually bad and the worst mark she’d been given for any subject in years.
“Well, I suppose I don’t have to mention it unless Mum asks,” thought Alice.
But Mum was sure to ask. Mum always asked. [private]
Everything was more difficult now that Dad wasn’t there to help and at the moment she missed him a lot. But nobody was allowed to see that, not even Mum.
Alice had decided that she was going to get a place at university and ride on a bicycle to her lectures. She would need one with a basket at the front to put her sandwiches and books in and a loud bell to scare the tourists if they dawdled on the zebra crossing. Alice had definite plans for the future but this was now and for now she would have to walk.
Alice always chose the same route home from school in summer, cutting through the park to join the high street from the gates at the north end. This was considered the less desirable stretch where a lot of the old businesses had closed down and a clutch of charity shops had opened up in their place.
Alice liked to browse these for old books and treasure on the days that she had enough time and money to spend. She loved stories and to imagine the journeys these objects had been on before they came to meet with her.
The first shop she went in was in aid of a heart attack charity and most of the space was given over to old clothes. As a result, there was a rather musty smell when you opened the door. Alice just quickly scanned the rails in this one in case she saw something special or vintage. She wasn’t as bothered about fashion as most of the other girls at school but some of the designer labels could be re-sold on e-mart for a profit and that would help towards the bills at home. It seemed nothing interesting had come in since her last visit, so she thanked the assistant for letting her look around and continued on her way.
The next shop was more mixed and for one pound Alice bought an old book about an explorer who travelled all the way to Africa to look for a river. It had a striking cover showing a large sail boat moored off some exotic coast. “Maybe it’s Zanzibar?” thought Alice. She didn’t know much about Zanzibar except that it was in Africa and had her favourite sounding name of any country.
The shop Alice visited last was the Peacehaven hospice shop.
This was the shop Alice liked best. The window was cluttered with an array of objects, arranged seemingly without thought to their suitability to be sat next to each other. A brightly coloured abstract painting that looked as if it might be titled Portrait of a Headache had been placed next to a crumpled top hat, there were piles of LP records and CDs, a few board games, a stack of floral tiles, a set of dumbbells and today amongst these misprized possessions, hidden away at the back and glinting at Alice, stood a beautiful, dusty old mirror.
Graham the shop manager knew Alice by name and always greeted her arrival in the same theatrical manner.
“Welcome, curious Alice. Come to look for curios?”
“Yes I am. I mean I hope I’m welcome and yes I am looking for curios. The mirror in the window, how much is it please?”
“Ah, madam has impeccable taste but is mistaken for that is not merely a mirror, that is an antique looking glass.”
“But what’s the difference, apart from obviously the name?” asked Alice.
“Well, a mirror is just a shiny thing that reflects the ghastliness of the modern world. A looking glass on the other hand is for looking in. For looking at yourself within. And as to price, it’s fifteen English pounds which is cheap to those who can afford it and expensive to those that can’t. I’ve only just put it in there. It came from a very grand house.”
Alice had nearly twenty pounds saved up in her bike fund so she could just about afford it, however as it didn’t seem cheap to her maybe she couldn’t afford it after all?
But she did want it.
Alice had always wanted a full length mirror so she could see her shoes and her top at the same time and not only that, this one was special. It had an ornate gold frame with a pattern made of crosses and triangles carved into it. University was a long way off and although she didn’t really think she’d meant to, Alice heard herself say out loud, “Graham I want to buy it but it’s a bit too big to carry. Is there any possible way you could deliver it home for me?”
Graham looked at Alice a while before conceding, “I think that could be arranged. I’ve brought the car in with me today and we close in ten minutes so let’s say you pay me, write your new address on this receipt and I’ll meet you there in twenty minutes.”
As Alice hurried home her thoughts raced with her. “How did I just blurt that out? ‘Graham I want to buy it, but it’s a bit too big…’ and it’s a bit too, 75% of all the money I have in the world!” Her maths was good enough to know that sum.
Graham had been around to Alice’s old house to collect some of Dad’s things but the new flat was much smaller and she hoped that he wouldn’t comment on it. Alice wasn’t ashamed of her surroundings though. Dad had always taught her that she was as good as anyone, even the Queen, and that if she worked hard and was polite to people there was nothing and nobody that could stop her.
Graham helped Alice stand the looking glass up against the wall in the living room before he left. Now her heart beat a little faster as she tore the brown wrapping paper carefully away. The golden frame beneath the paper was even more impressive than she had remembered it and as well as the unusual pattern, carved at its base were the initials D.E.D.I.(1)
“How mysterious,” thought Alice. “I wonder what that stands for?”
As she leaned the looking glass away from the wall to free the last piece of wrapping from underneath, she noticed a small label stuck to the back of the frame. It had the number 63 printed in one corner and an inscription that read:
Purchased for Stella Matutina from the Dodgson sale of 1898. Thought to have once been the property of Bishop Berkeley. (2)
“Purchased for Stella Matutina…” Alice repeated the words to herself aloud. “Stel-la Ma-tu-ti-na. What a lovely name. It sounds almost musical.”
Alice thought about her own name, Liddell. It seemed a bit dull by comparison. “Maybe when I go to university I’ll tell people it’s pronounced Lidd-elle and that I own a looking glass that once belonged to a Bishop.”
The Bishop jogged Alice’s memory. Lionel had sent her a new move in their chess game, Bishop captures Rook on g1, and she had still to make her own move in response.
They had met at the chess club run at her previous school and kept in touch by playing correspondence chess via the internet. Alice had gone to the club on the days Mum was going to be late home from work and was one of the few girls that played there. Some of the other girls thought Alice a bit of a geek for going but she wasn’t bothered. They all just dressed the same way and did the same boring things together.
“Bishop captures Rook. Hmm, I wonder why he’s done that?”(3)
She decided to leave her reply for later as she was feeling quite tired and didn’t want to rush and make a mistake.
As Alice turned away from the computer she noticed something else about her new looking glass. The mirror surface had begun to shimmer a strange shade of blue.
“That’s odd,” thought Alice. “There’s only white light bulbs in here so maybe that colour is coming from outside?”
But outside was getting darker and yet the looking glass was getting brighter.
Alice took a few steps forward and looked at herself fully within its frame for the very first time. Her reflection stared back at her quizzically. She had the feeling something weird was happening, but what exactly was it?
As Alice edged closer, it seemed the room in the mirror was beginning to cloud with mist whilst the air around her remained completely clear.
“That’s probably just condensation on the glass from my breath,” she told herself.
Alice gingerly stretched out her right arm to touch the frosted surface but to her astonishment felt her hand pass right through the wall and into the space beyond. The room was colder on the other side of the glass and Alice could feel the hairs on her arm begin to stand up. [/private]
‘Looking Glass House’ is taken from the opening chapter of Jake Fior’s forthcoming book, Alice Through the Looking Glass.