The March Hare had woken up at dawn. It was now on the brink of dusk, and a warm wind danced through the tree branches and over the twinkling lights he had placed among them. He hopped back and admired his work: a high tea set for sixteen. He had labored over every detail by getting the best butter, clotted cream, and loose tea. The porcelain tea set was a family heirloom, and it went perfectly with the tea sandwiches, scones, and petit fours he had made just the day before.
The Hatter was in charge of the guest list, of whom he expected to arrive at any moment. Today, they were celebrating their Unbirthday. Their birthdays this year were both uneventful and disappointing, no thanks to the Queen outlawing all birthday celebrations. However, she hadn’t outlawed unbirthdays, and the March Hare wasn’t one to shy away from celebrations. He was irrationally excited about the party, but he always got this way about hosting. It was a thrill to orchestrate the food, the drink, and the decorations. It was almost an intoxicating high, but without the hangover. The only thing he wasn’t able to control this time was the seating chart. He had argued with the Hatter ten times over, but the Hatter had insisted on being in charge of the guest list and surprising him with it. The March Hare had only one hesitation, and it was a large one: the Hatter had become more and more unreliable of late, and he did not trust him to follow through with any menial task, let alone a grandiose one. The March Hare suspected alcoholism was at play.
As chance would have it, the Hatter swaggered through the garden’s flower-ensconced archway. He wore a green top hat, a green velvet suit, and a smart burgundy necktie. The edges of his blonde hair were tinged with orange, which was a new development. No one walked before or behind him. His sole companion was the Dormouse, who he cradled like an infant. And just like a newborn, the Dormouse was fast asleep.
“Hatter! Explain yourself.” The March Hare was crestfallen, but he did not want to overreact too soon–perhaps the rest of the guests would be coming in five minute’s time.
“For-give me, my dear friend!” He hiccuped, as a drunk would. “I neglected to attain all of our guests, but I do have our beloved Dormouse!” The Hatter looked around conspiratorially and lifted his hand, speaking out of one side of his mouth. “He drank too much sleeping potion last night, I believe. Or ate too many mushrooms. His family couldn’t give me a conclusive answer to his excessive sleepiness.”
The Dormouse raised his head and yawned. “I did no such thing,” he said, and quickly went back to sleep.
“But are the rest of the guests coming?”
“They might be. Yes, yes, they might. I believe our chances are as great as the Cheshire Cat arriving.”
“So either extremely likely or not likely at all?”
The Hatter strode past the March Hare, ignoring him and his words completely, and plopped himself down at a place setting without invitation. He dumped the Dormouse into an empty teacup and reached for a tea kettle still brewing the loose black tea.
At these turn of events, the March Hare clutched his chest. The lack of decorum was maddening. He hopped over, hoping his presence would avoid some of the inevitable damage. “That is my family’s fine porcelain, thank you very much.” He yanked the Dormouse out of the teacup and plopped him on the seat between him and the Hatter, not unkindly.
The March Hare watched with horror as the Hatter splashed tea into his cup, down into the saucer, and onto his antique lace tablecloth. He plopped in two sugars with his bare fingers and stirred them in with his teaspoon using a circling motion, clanging the sides. The March Hare clutched the top of his long brown ears and folded them down to put a damper on the sound.
The Hatter blew on his steaming cup and took a slurp. His hand was cupped through the handle, pinky up.
Still holding his ears, the March Hare said a little too loudly, “For goodness sake, hold the handle and put your pinky down! This isn’t tea with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum!”
Glancing up with a surprise, the Hatter tutted. “Oh no, dear friend, did I hurt your ears?”
“Did you–did you–” stuttered the March Hare. Releasing his ears, he gained courage and rage and continued, “Did you hurt my ears? Why yes, yes you did. It is six and twelve to stir your tea, not clockwise or counter clockwise or any other way. Which you rightly know, or used to know. And not only did you hurt my ears, but you hurt my soul. You clearly did not invite everyone like you said you did, and you either think this whole thing is one big joke, or you are so obviously oblivious. You are not the friend I thought I had, Hatter.” The March Hare thumped his back leg and sagged against his seat, not caring about his own decorum anymore. He took a flask out of his jacket pocket and took a long swig, wincing as it stung the back of his throat. There was no point.
The Hatter set his tea cup down jerkily. “Oh no, it’s not that. Never that. My head just isn’t clear anymore.” He closed his eyes and sighed heavily, a sound weighted in exhaustion. “Everything is fuzzy. And everything tastes like metal, even this beautiful tea you bought.” He straightened his green top hat and drew his eyebrows close together.
The March Hare had to admit that the Hatter was never one to be cruel, just silly and aimless. After all, he did seem to be different lately–in the past month, really. Anxious, irritable, and forgetful. He stoppered his flask and put it back in his jacket, thoughtful.
“Say, Hatter, when did you get your new hat again?” The Hatter changed his hat out seasonally and was never one to shy away from fun fabrics and bright patterns.
The Hatter slathered cream on a piece of scone and took a bite. He took out his watch as if somehow assessing it. “About five weeks ago. Why?” he said, crumbs flying.
The March Hare ducked his head to avoid the trajectile of one of those crumbs. “And where did you say you got it from again?”
“The Mad Hatter. He has a fine collection of hats, and he’s finally letting people buy them. Why, I have a riddle for you–”
He told the riddle to deaf ears: the Dormouse was still fast asleep, and the March Hare was deep in thought. That he acquired it from the Mad Hatter did not surprise the March Hare, but it did sadden him. He poured himself a cup of tea and helped himself to a cucumber tea sandwich.
“Why do you look so sad, March Hare? I don’t know the answer to my riddle, either.”
“It’s not that. It’s the hat.”
“Oh, don’t bother yourself about that. I’m sure he still has some for sale. We could cut out two holes for your ears.”
“It’s not that, either. I’m afraid that hat is making you sick, Hatter.”
“And why do you say that?
“Well, do you think it’s normal to only taste metal and to always be confused? You’re becoming like the Mad Hatter himself.”
“And what’s wrong with that?”
“I miss my friend.”
“No need for the dramatics, March Hare. I am right here.” He took another bite of the scone, not bothering to fully close his mouth. “There’s nothing wrong with any of this.”
“Except that I believe there are now two Mad Hatters in our land.”
The Hatter either did not hear this or ignored it. The March Hare did not press the issue, planning on asking for the Dormouse’s advice once he fully recovered. The minutes stretched; night had officially fallen. Fairy lights danced through the breeze while the sounds of sipping tea, Hatter’s chewing, and Dormouse’s snoring filled the air.
The March Hare had decided to give up entirely on his Unbirthday celebration and was now halfway through his flask when a small blonde girl with a blue ribbon in her hair and a matching blue dress walked into the lit-up glen. In the dim lighting, she looked like she had walked straight out of a fairy tale.
“Why, Hatter, it looks like we have a guest,” he said, his words slurring.
If he could not beat the madness, he might as well join it.