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Image: Arthur Rackham, 1907

I imagined when Alice fell down the rabbit-hole she fell elegantly. A gentle drop, floating down toward the unknown.

Down,

down,

down.

She had time to think as she fell slowly and wonder what would happen next. She wondered how many miles she fell and if she was getting near the centre of the earth. Indeed, she wondered if she would fall through the earth.

Down,

down,

down.

In a dream-like state she wondered if anyone would miss her while she descended towards the centre of the earth, elegantly falling and floating.

Down,

down,

down.

She had time to think nonsense. Do cats eat bats? she wondered. Do cats eat bats?

?

I thought about Alice today as I remembered when I fell down a hole. I wondered how she managed to fall so elegantly.

I was in Battambang, Cambodia. It’s a crumbling old French provincial town, lined by the murky Sangker River. It is smaller and less congested than its sister city Phnom Penh and the children have bigger, whiter smiles.

Like Alice, I was in awe of its beauty and wanted to follow its magic. Husband and I had drinks at the two-storey Riverside Balcony Bar. The bar sits on the banks of the murky river that snakes its way through the city, and bubbles and slurps quietly. It’s nice being close to the water. Watching it flow quickly through the city is soothing. It didn’t need to be blue. We sat and drank, played a game of cards, ate pizza, listened to the crickets chirping, breathed the humid air and watched the water move.

Some take a taxi back to their hotel. We walked. Like Alice, I’m curious.

‘What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?’

I wanted my pictures to speak of the city that I saw for myself, walking through it. We walked back along the murky, moving river. I felt almost dream-like, like Alice. It was dark and there was little lighting along the river but I could hear the water flow. The moonlight was bright and the trees made shadows on the path we walked on. It was hard to see the dips and cracks in the poorly maintained path. I saw a big dark shadow in front of me. Husband was in front so I thought it was okay and I stomped my heavy trekking boot down on the shadow. I felt that if I stomped my foot down with confidence, the path will be more secure and real.

And I fell.

Down,

down,

down.

Except there was no white rabbit to follow. I immediately panicked and wondered how deep the hole was. My hands flew out in front of me to grab something. What had I got myself into? I wanted to protect my face so I turned to try land on my back. It ended as quickly as it begun.

Thud. I didn’t float.

Down, down, down, thud.

No time to wonder how many miles I’d fallen. Two metres all up. I didn’t wonder if cats ate bats. I didn’t have time to wonder at all.

Husband stopped in front of me. I cried out some sort of incoherent word. I wanted to cry like a five-year would cry when they fall over and scrape their knee. Silence and then a loud and sudden cry. I remained in the hole in shock.

This wasn’t how Alice experienced it. I wasn’t in England, tripping over grassy hills covered in English wildflowers. I didn’t fall elegantly. My shoulder burned where I fell on it. I tried to move and it was agony. I thought I’d broken my arm or shoulder. I wanted my mother there, stroking my hair and singing ‘you are my sunshine’ like she used to when I had a fever.

Ex-army husband went into soldier mode. ‘Get yourself up, check your vitals.’

I still wanted to cry and couldn’t move. I felt the burning on my palms that comes from scraping them on gravel and I knew there was blood. I gasped in the humid air like a winded five-year old.

‘I think I broke something.’

‘You’d know if you broke something. You’d be screaming.’

Husband helped me out of the hole, still in soldier mode.

‘Check yourself out. Just cuts and bruises, I’m sure. You’re fine.’

And I thought, Alice didn’t have to do this. She landed in a heap of sticks and dry leaves, and the fall was over. She was not a bit hurt, and she jumped up on to her feet in a moment: she looked up, but it was all dark overhead. I looked up and it was dark but I was a bit hurt.

And I didn’t float. I just fell.

I should have read Alice in Wonderland before the trip. ‘Come, there’s no use in crying like that! I advise you to leave off this minute!’ she would have told me. It just sounds better coming from her (rather than husband).

© running with the beagle 2010

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