She squints slightly as she applies the final touches to my face, smoothing wrinkles, manufacturing magic with a sprinkled sparkle in just the right spot. Our foreheads kiss for a smattering of seconds: two identical bodies pitched to centre. Our symmetry is such we have no hope of hiding; for us this wonderland world is but a revolving stage and it continues to turn, wheels greased by tiny hands hammering stormy applause. Up to now, we have survived the cut, but nobody lives forever.
In bright-blue smocks, with hair of woven gold, we cut dashing figures: glitter still tacky on our cheekbones as we step into the daylight. Shielding my eyes from the glare, I march with purpose, refusing to submit to the tremble that xylophones up and down my left-hand side. She matches my pace. I feel the steel in her steps.
The theatre looms large, shimmering into view through early-morning mist. Nestled in the heart of the colossal concrete is a door: red as envy and polished to within an inch of its lacquered life. A final shared glance, a nod, a breath and a knock which rattles roughshod through our bones- moments later, we are inside.
Discordant sounds crackle along the corridor; the house of mirrors mocks us, warping our reflections, merging and beheading us in turn, wrong-footing us until we stumble upon the Mistress of Ceremony: satin-sheened in scarlet; hair twisted into raven curls which frame her plump and pampered face. She stands, motionless for a moment: appraises us, a moment which hangs in the air, almost visible, until she turns on her polished patent heel, and her voice rings out like steel pinging on glass—
Our glittered cheeks shimmer as we step into the spotlight. In front of us hungry pairs of eyes pinprick the darkness.
Twenty-four sweat-soaked minutes later, we click our heels together and quickstep to curtsey at the edge of the stage. The applause clatters in ripples around the cavernous space. And then, silence.
We hold our breath.
I don’t register that my eyes are closed until the ticking starts. Rotating wheels click into place one by one: twelve buttons; twelve votes between us and the permit that buys us another year, another turn of the wheel. My vision is blurry as the final figures loom, numbers too close to call. The final wheel ratchets round to a standstill. The fluttering dies.
Our eyes lock; I see my emotions reflected back at me- through the looking glass. After so many years, two-stepping through hoops, dancing in these red-hot heels, Alice is ready to lie down. Sometimes we don’t realise what we hope for until it comes gift-wrapped ready. We kneel, face the chopping block and sigh.
A dozen grins spread ear to ear as heads split into horrible halves of jaws and teeth and solicitous salivation. Still shimmering, we hold hands and tip forward into the crunching blackness.
Abi Hennig lives in Brighton, by the sea. In between teaching and writing mini stories, she enjoys losing gracefully at complicated board games and running slowly up hills. She tweets @abihennig.
Artwork: Brooke Shaden