Alice invited herself to the Mad Hatter’s tea party by bribing two grave diggers with suspiciously large front teeth to dig a rabbit hole in the earth and then fell straight in. She wasn’t worried about being late; you can never be late to a tea party that never truly ends. It took her almost no time at all to reorient herself and locate the whereabouts of the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse. She simply followed the scent of sugar and madness. The long table, with all its empty cushioned chairs—just as she remembered it—was now covered in a pink and white checkered table cloth.
“We remembered how much you like pink, Alice.” The Mad Hatter said.
“You’re late!” cried the March Hare.
The dormouse was sleeping in his teapot, and Alice sat down. She stuck her tongue out at the March Hare, who took it as a compliment and blew her a kiss. Alice caught it and dropped it in her teacup. It turned into a lump of sugar that then quickly dissolved. She felt braver this time, being back in Wonderland. She wasn’t afraid of their madness anymore. She wasn’t confused or offended by it. In fact, she felt like a part of her had been slowly dying without it.
When Alice announced she’d be staying in Wonderland for a while, The White Rabbit offered her a spare room in his house as long as she promised not to grow big and wreck the whole thing again. Some days Alice didn’t get out of bed. Other days Alice spent her mornings befriending balloons with funny faces and funny voices, sent by the Mad Hatter as an invitation to tea. She spent evenings smoking hookah with the caterpillar, wondering how on earth he wasn’t confused about who he was as he kept changing from a caterpillar to a butterfly, and then back again. She suspected it was something in the tobacco, but then wondered why it hadn’t changed her at all. She even spent an afternoon helping Winnie the Pooh convince the bees that he really was, in fact, just a little black raincloud, until the Mad Hatter gingerly pointed out that “this is the wrong story, Alice! It doesn’t belong here! Go on and put it back where you found it!” And on very late nights, when Alice was much too troubled to sleep, she’d climb a tree and sit with the Cheshire Cat, and together they’d stare at the moon. She’d swing her legs back and forth aimlessly, happily—the way she did as a child when she was still much too small to touch the floor when sitting, her head empty of thoughts and full of wonder—until the moon, who was always staring back, started to complain of dizziness and asked if she would please stop.
One day in particular, Alice found herself witnessing the battle of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, until she grew so bored with the whole thing that she found herself drawing a sheep for The Little Prince, who wasn’t at all interested in taking bets on who would win. He did, however, ask Alice if she thought his rose needed painting. Alice told him that it didn’t. That it was a lovely rose. The loveliest rose in the world. But she said this quietly so the Queen wouldn’t hear, because in Wonderland the Queen’s roses were the best roses. But then the Mad Hatter—this time not so gingerly and with a glint of warning in his eyes—pointed out that this story also did not belong here, and to put it back where she found it. Alice apologized and quickly turned her undivided attention back to the battle, which in the end nobody won.
So time went on. Alice drank her tea, took long walks in the Tulgey Wood, and celebrated many, many unbirthdays. But one day, while Alice was feeling particularly bored and in need of a different sort of adventure, she found herself admiring Dorothy’s ruby slippers, and asked if she could try them on. Just to see if they’d fit and sparkle as much on her feet. And then she found herself romping with Max and the Wild Things through the great maze, getting lost and found again and again. But it wasn’t until she went flying with Peter Pan one night across the skies of Wonderland, while drawing additional stars into the sky with Harold’s purple crayon, that The Mad Hatter stepped forward from the shadows and told Alice that she must leave.
”But why?” Alice asked.
“You are destroying Wonderland. You cannot bring wild things into a mad world. You cannot bring other stories into Wonderland without slowly erasing our story. You are putting everyone here in danger, and—I’m afraid—are going mad.”
“But we’re all mad here!” Alice protested. “And I don’t want to leave.”
The Mad Hatter shook his head. “You must; it’s time. Your madness is not our madness. Your madness will kill us all.” He paused. “And,” he added, plucking the purple crayon from her hand, “Wonderland has enough stars.”
Alice frowned and looked around her. She loved Wonderland. It was her favorite place in the whole world, but she didn’t want to be the cause of its demise. She didn’t want to be the reason why Wonderland might no longer exist. She loved everything and everyone here. And it was for this very reason that Alice drank her last cup of tea, curtsied goodbye to the Queen of Hearts—and the flowers who had grown to really admire her petals—, buttered her last watch, and left Wonderland.
“You’ll be back, Alice,” promised The Cheshire Cat who had suddenly appeared, curled up in a ball, on top of the Mad Hatter’s hat. “You’ll be back when you’re ready.”