Chapter 32: Wonderland
If you think about it, Alice’s artistic journey was like a magical Disney adventure. Except I didn’t need to go to Disneyland to see it, I could venture through Wonderland in Toronto.
When I got to Wood Street, I found another note.
Go to Shoppers Drug Mart.
What was this, a scavenger hunt? But I wasn’t complaining. At least not yet.
The music had stopped, but because I had a destination in mind I didn’t care. Wood Street was quite close to College Street and I knew that at the corner of Yonge and College there was a Shoppers Drug Mart so I ventured inside. I had no idea what I was looking for as the notes were quite vague but I knew that if Alice wanted me to find something in this drugstore, I would find it.
It didn’t take long and it was in front of a People magazine with an image of Mila Kunis on it (she sort of looked like Alice, but Alice was a bit taller): Still Alice by Lisa Genova. The book was bookmarked so I didn’t have to randomly flip through pages or throw the book across the store in search of answers. And the marker inside the book was an Alice in Wonderland bookmark, but the bookmark held an image of the Disney Alice, which made me automatically think of Rachel. But I quickly erased her from my thoughts. Instead, I opened up the book to the page that was bookmarked: page 201.
Afterward, the actors came out into the audience. Catherine beamed. John gave her flowers and a huge, emphatic hug.
I had expected a bunch of people to walk up to bow, but no one did. The customers kept shopping and the cashiers kept bagging. But I wondered if Alice would approach me. Guess what? She didn’t.
And there was no fancy note in Still Alice and I flipped through the whole thing. I even shook the book in front of some customers who gave me curious looks. Still nothing. I put the book back onto the shelf and walked out of the store. Now what?
My answer literally hit me. This tall man with a fair bit of black stubble hit me over the head with a book before dashing down Carlton Street. As I clutched my head, I picked up the book. I was about to chase the man because I was really desperate for answers. But the man was gone like Alice.
As I held the book in my hand, I wanted to smack myself. Clearly, that’s what the man with the stubble had been trying to do: knock some sense into me. In my hand was a copy of Alice Munro’s The Lives of Girls and Women.
Poignant, I thought. I opened up the book and on the inside flap was my favourite handwriting:
Write a short story.
So I did:
Art sat on the couch in his room and was about to put on his Bose headphones when he heard his mom call up to him from downstairs. He had just opened up the book Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro. He flipped to the inside flap of the front cover and reread the words he had seen earlier that day: write a short story. He still didn’t understand their significance. “Art! Dinner!” his mom called again. He placed the headphones on the couch beside the book and headed downstairs.
At the dinner table, Art slurped his pasta carbonara while his dad chattered about another day in the life of a mechanic.
“The sixth car came in today with a burned out headlight. I just don’t understand how people burn out one headlight and not the other. I’ve been seeing a lot of single headlight cars driving down the highway lately. Do you know how dangerous that is?”
Art just nodded as he twirled his pasta around his fork. He felt like a burned out headlight. Once he had been working, the light guiding his way, but now it was out; he couldn’t see and he couldn’t find his way back.
“How was school, dear?” Art’s mom asked him, completely ignoring her husband. Art’s dad didn’t seem to mind as he put another forkful of pasta into his mouth.
“Fine,” said Art. He looked outside and noticed how black the sky was. More dimming lights.
“How’s that Literature course you’re taking at U. of T.?”
“Fine,” Art said again.
“Have you made any new friends?” his mom persisted.
“No.” Art could swear he had just heard thunder.
“Well, Art, you have to try. I know Toronto’s not Kelowna but you’ve got to make the best of a bad situation. Hey, I’ve got a great idea. Why don’t you invite one of your Kelowna friends here?”
Truthfully, Art was lonely. He was lonely in this city but didn’t seem to be making an effort to change himself or his situation.
“Because they’re in B.C,” he said.
“Well, I’m sure they would be fine to come up for a weekend.”
“They live in B.C.,” Art said again.
“Arthur, seriously, I’m not deaf. I heard you the first time. I just think you need to make more of an effort. I know your old self will come back. You’ve just got to be patient.”
Art shrugged as he tried to eat his pasta in peace. The food tasted like plastic. Every time Art took another bite, he thought about his life. It was just like the noodles: cold and bland. Art stared at the pasta as he twirled it around his fork. He really wasn’t hungry.
“My old self never left me,” Art said once he had swallowed.
“I find that hard to believe when we can’t even have an adult conversation at the dinner table.”
Art dropped his fork. It clattered on his plate like a metal wrench hitting concrete. “What do you want to know?!”
“I want to know what’s going on in your head. You used to talk all the time at dinner about your stories and ideas. I know there’s something bugging you so what is it? Are you still thinking about that,” she fumbled for the name, “Alice Shirley girl?”
“Sterling,” Art corrected.
“Whatever. You need to move on from her. She’s in Kelowna and you’re here. I’m sure there are plenty of girls you would be interested in if you just looked around. But if you keep focusing on one person you’ll never be with, you’ll never open your eyes. I’m sure your father agrees.”
Art’s “father”, who at the moment was trying to avoid a conflict with his family, looked up from his food and nodded solemnly.
Art took a large gulp from his glass of water and stared down his dad. “I’m done.”
He pushed his chair from the table as it creaked from shear force and threw his napkin onto his plate.
“Well, clean up your dishes before you disappear into your room again.” Art reluctantly picked up the plate. “Honestly, I feel like I’m entertaining a prisoner in this house rather than a son.”
Art stopped and glared at his mom. “Maybe you should’ve never taken me out of Kelowna in the first place. I hate it here. I hate Toronto and all my friends don’t even live in the city anymore. You made the worst decision when you removed me from Kelowna. Maybe you should’ve left me in the hospital. At least I’d be there!”
“Maybe I should send you back if it’s so damn comfortable for you!”
“I’m done,” Art said again.
“Kony...” Art’s mom looked to her husband for support. Art’s dad kept his eyes on the stock of pasta he was twirling around his fork.
“Grace, just let him go.”
Art’s mom crossed her arms in frustration. “Fine. Go to your room. I know that’s where you want to go. Just clean up before you disappear.”
Art threw his plate in the sink. He didn’t even look back as the plate cracked in two against the metal pot.
His mom scoffed. “Art, come back here and clean this up!” Art headed up the stairs. “You can’t just break things and leave them behind!” But Art was already gone.
As Art slammed the door to his room, he could hear his parents beginning to argue. He lay back on his bed, grabbed the blue stress ball off his bureau, and threw it at the white ceiling. All he could see was blank space and nothing to fill it with. As the ball fell back into Art’s right hand, he thought of throwing it up again. Instead, he just stared at the ceiling. He blinked. Staring at the whiteness was hurting his eyes.
When he was young, he used to think of the burning whiteness as Heaven. And now, as he looked up, he realized the whiteness had a different significance: Kelowna. Kelowna was his Heaven and he knew he could never go back.
He stared at the blue stress ball and thought about what he had read on the inside cover of the book: “write a short story”.
Alice, thought Art. But he wasn’t thinking of Munro; he was thinking of Alice Sterling. He had no idea where she was now. After the incident, he had lost touch not only with her and his friends, but also with his old self. To his parents, Art’s old self was the version of himself before he went to Kelowna. To Art, his old self was the version he had left behind in Kelowna. But there was no point in thinking about Alice. She was gone.
He stared at the stress ball in his hand and grabbed a black Sharpie from the top of his bureau. With the permanent marker, he wrote: Alice. He placed the Sharpie back on the bureau and threw the ball back up to the ceiling. It fell down and hit him in the forehead. With a twinge of vexation, he threw the ball at the window and got up from his bed. Sitting down at his desk, he stared at the book still lying on his couch. He grabbed the blue pen off his desk, opened up his English binder, flipped to a blank page, and began writing.
Art sat on the couch in his room and was about to put on his Bose headphones when he heard his mom call up to him from downstairs.