a short story by ALUN WILLIAMS
It was a storybook beginning that lay before the court of the Brotherhood of Dead Authors and a charge that inferred an author had assaulted his book’s leading character.
Writers, famous yet deceased, jostled for position in the public gallery. An exotically dressed Byron gestured to a disinterested blonde who scribbled her name in her own book ‘The Bell Jar’ and handed it to a moustachioed Mark Twain. A red faced Dickens did his best to conceal himself from an enamoured Hans Anderson while a morose Baudelaire rolled Ginsberg a joint.
On the courtroom floor, Nietzsche, in his role as usher, called for order at which a laughing Hemingway shouted “Mine’s a mojito!” Nietzsche frowned and desperately tried to think of a retort but being philosophical announced that since he’d never drunk a mojito, it never existed.
“Be upstanding for the honourable…” he announced, “Truman Capote, Charlotte Bronte and Charles Bukowski.”
Capote entered wearing a tailored white wool suit, red shirt and mottled yellow tie. His trademark scarf wound around his neck like a sleeping serpent. Bukowski dressed in characteristic t-shirt and jeans, waved a gladiatorial two fingered salute while a small diminutive figure dressed in a crimson velvet crinoline took her seat silently, blushing, as Bukowski gave her a leery smile.
In the dock a slender individual appeared. He was tall with lank hair and piercing blue eyes. Capote leant forward and in a languid, girlish voice asked,
“You’re Lewis Carroll?”
The accused nodded.
“You stand at the court of the Brotherhood of Dead Authors accused of attempted murder at the beginning of your novel, ‘Alice in Wonderland’. How do you plead?”
Another man stood. He was in the latter years of middle age but looked older. Dressed in a crumpled white suit, a grey haired Atticus Finch addressed the bench.
“My client pleads not guilty.”
“Oh my,” Capote said. “You’re Atticus Finch, aren’t you? You’re a character not an author. I don’t think the court can allow this.”
“If I may…” Atticus continued, “…the rules state that no character can take part in the legislative process against an author or in support of one unless based on a real life persona. Arguably I am based on the father of Miss Harper Lee, whom I believe you knew, Mr Capote?”
“Well, I can’t deny it…” He pulled nervously at his scarf. “What do my fellow judges have to say about that?”
“I am not well versed in legalities but if what Mr Finch says is true and he seems a gentleman, I am obliged to agree. Mr Bukowski?”
“Fuck it. Let’s begin.”
“Very well,” Capote said drawing himself up in his chair. “Charles, the evidence.”
Bukowski picked up a browbeaten book and read out the opening lines. His gruff, slow downbeat voice grasped each syllable as if it were a low life bar floozy.
“… and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.
In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again”
He closed the book and looked at his fellow judges.
The gallery roared disapproval.
“Shut the fuck up!” bawled Bukowski. “Bring in the accuser.”
A diminutive, dark haired girl walked in and stood, arms folded before the bar.
“And you are…?” whispered Bronte.
“I am Alice Liddell and I accuse Mr Carroll of attempted murder. He pushed me into the rabbit hole,” Alice announced loudly.
“J’accuse!” cried a bearded figure in the gallery.
Capote looked up. “Monsieur Zola, please desist. He’s French. Prone to exaggerate.”
“They drink well,” Bukowski said.
“You drink, Mr Bukowski?” asked Bronte.
“Socially,” he replied.
“You have an interesting face,” she said. “Full of… well, words fail me.”
Capote coughed and addressed Carroll.
“If found guilty your book will be expunged from literary history. We’ve never had a case of a character accusing a writer of attempted murder. It’s a…”
“Dangerous precedent,” Bukowski growled. “For all of us. You want a lawyer?”
Alice stepped forward.
“No sir. I won’t require one. We were by the banks of a river. Mr Carroll pointed out the rabbit and we ran after it. It went into a burrow and… then he pushed me in after it. That’s when I fell into Wonderland. It was awful.”
“How traumatic for you, my dear,” Bronte said.
Finch walked over.
“Miss Liddell. Mr Carroll at the beginning of the book states that and I quote ‘down went Alice’… so inferring that you weren’t pushed. Is that the case?”
“It’s a lie!” screamed Alice, stamping her foot on the ground. “He pushed me. The burrow was deep and I could’ve died. That’s an end to it.”
“Surely it’s the beginning,” Finch argued. “The end comes later.”
“Nice,” Bukowski sighed. “I’m in a fucking madhouse. How big was this hole?”
“About this big,” Alice gestured.
“A foot, maybe. I couldn’t fit my pecker in there.”
“He used poetic licence.”
The courtroom erupted. Bukowski turned to Bronte.
“Miss Liddell,” said Bronte. “Did anyone witness this?”
“No, but I was brought up always to tell the truth. I never lie. On my honour.”
“Eloquently put, Miss Liddell,” Finch said, “but you have not always told the truth, have you? In chapter twelve you…”
“Mr Carroll put the words in my mouth!”
“I argue you jumped in voluntarily in order to encourage suspicion that my client would be suspected for your disappearance. The plan went awry when the story was published. Unexpectedly, you became a legend. You should be grateful.”
The gallery applauded.
“Noooooooo!” she squealed. ”It was attempted murder. The story should be a mystery not a children’s book!”
“Why’d he want you dead?” Bukowski enquired.
“Because he kissed my governess and I was going to tell papa.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Miss Bronte.
“Interesting…“ Bukowski murmured, “…sex and a motive, but not surely to murder.”
“Is this true?” piped up Capote.
“Yes. Alice saw me proffering a kiss and threatened to tell her father. She herself was truly enamoured with me and became extremely agitated. I wrote the tale when she fell into the hole, to placate her anger. She’s a precocious and jealous child.”
“I am not!” she screamed.
“The defence rests,” Atticus said, winking at Carroll.
The three judges conferred in silent whispers, then Bukowski stood up.
“Miss Liddell, your case is dismissed. The beginning stays as it is and that’s an end to it.”
She stamped her foot, pouted and stormed out amid cheers.
Bukowski turned to Bronte.
“Miss Bronte, I being a gentleman would like to offer you breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Capote shrilled.
Bronte looked at both.
“Gentlemen weary me so. What I need is a stiff whisky and an even stiffer man. Mr Bukowski, lead on.”
And for once, Truman Capote was lost for words.
© Alun Williams, 2018