The sun is up, and it’s so bright today that even my Rose Dragon’s big wings can’t shut it out. Her wings are just like rose petals: soft, red, silky, and very, very pretty. I open my eyes and I kiss my dragon’s wing. That’s how she knows I’m awake. She folds her wing up and looks down at me with her great big eyes, which are green and glittery just like her scales. “Good morning, darling,” she says, and kisses me back.
The Rose Dragon is my mother. I used to have a human mother, and a human father, too. But they died. Another car was going too fast and hit their car too hard, and they died. I don’t like to think about it, because I cry whenever I do. I think about how I wish that they had never gone out that night, because then the fast car wouldn’t have hit their car, and they wouldn’t have died. But it’s too late now. I love my Rose Dragon, but I love my mother and father too. I miss them.
There are no cars here in Wonderland, and I’m glad, because cars scare me. Wonderland is where I met the Rose Dragon, and now I live here. When I was really little, like five years old, I fell in a big hole in the ground while I was playing outside. The Rose Dragon caught me, and I was crying, so she kissed me and patted me and told me that I would be all right. When I stopped crying, I hugged her and I told her that she was a very kind dragon. That’s how we met.
The Rose Dragon introduced me to Wonderland on that day, and it really is a wonderful land. There are gardens with flowers as big as mountains and mushrooms as tall as trees. There are birds that talk and butterflies that sing and recite poetry. The Rose Dragon comes from a rose forest where all of the animals are rosy just like her. There’s a pretty white castle made of pearls, sitting in a garden full of white roses and white daisies and shiny white roads. Blanc, the queen of Wonderland, lives there. She’s our friend, and she lets us visit her castle whenever we want to.
Today I am going there to meet my friend Usagi for a game of croquet. I’ve never played croquet before, but Usagi is going to teach me. My dragon makes me some sweet flour pancakes for breakfast. We bathe in the pretty brook that runs through the rose forest. I dress myself and she combs my hair gently with her claws. Then I climb up on her back and I hold on tightly as we lift up into the sky.
Usagi is waiting for us in Queen Blanc’s great big yard. She looks at her pocketwatch, and I hope we’re not late, because Usagi cannot abide lateness. But when we land, she smiles at us and curtsies. “Good morning, dear Aliss,” she says to me. “Good morning, dear Rose Dragon,” she says to my dragon. “Good morning, dear Usagi,” I say. I curtsy too, and my dragon bows her head most respectfully.
Usagi hands me a funny looking hammer that’s almost as tall as I am. “What’s this silly hammer for?” I ask her. “It isn’t a hammer,” Usagi says. “It’s a croquet mallet.”
“So you hit croquets with it?” I ask her.
“I don’t think so,” she says. She shakes her head, and her big white bunny ears bounce all around. “I don’t have any croquets, only balls and hurdles. Do you play croquet with croquets?”
“You know I’ve never played croquet before!” I remind her.
“Well, then you just hit the balls through the hurdles with the mallet,” says Usagi. She demonstrates, but instead of hitting the little red ball, she only gives it a light little push. “You’re doing it wrong, Usagi!” I tell her.
“No, I’m not!” Usagi says. “This is how you’re supposed to play!”
“You told me you’re supposed to hit the balls with the mallet,” I say. “You didn’t hit it, you just pushed it.”
“Oh! Well, forgive me,” says Usagi. “This is the way I’ve always played, and I’m accustomed to it. Maybe it’s because I’ve only played with balls and not croquets. Do you think that you can show me the right way?”
“I only know what you told me, Usagi,” I tell her, “but I can certainly try.” I walk up to a little yellow ball. I swing the mallet with all my might and give the ball a mighty hit.
It flies through the air and strikes a hurdle so hard that the hurdle falls right to the ground!
“Oh! I did it! Did you see that, dragon? I hit it so hard that I knocked the hurdle down! Did you see that?” I squeal and bounce and dance and laugh in celebration of my victory!
“I saw,” says the dragon, and she nuzzles my face. “Good girl.” Usagi pats me on my head. “Aliss,” she says, “I’ve played croquet for a long, long time and I have never seen anybody play as beautifully or as interestingly as you.”
“You flatter me, Miss,” I say as I take my bow.
Queen Blanc has invited us to tea today. It isn’t really tea, because I don’t like tea. It’s hot chocolate. Usagi likes tea and she drinks it all the time with her pinky sticking up. She said that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re drinking tea with a queen. But Queen Blanc doesn’t mind when I forget.
The Rose Dragon doesn’t like tea either. She likes water, like roses. At tea, Queen Blanc fills up a little pond full of nice clean water for my dragon, right next to the tea table. She pulls out a chair for me and a chair for Usagi, and we curtsy before we sit down, like dutiful guests should.
We have to wait for Queen Blanc to take her first sip of tea before we can start; the Rose Dragon says that it’s good manners and it’s respectful. She sips her tea and smiles at us over the glass, letting us know that it’s okay for us to eat and drink now. But just as I’m about to sip my chocolate, a little bread-and-butter-fly lands on my glass, and I’m so startled that I nearly drop it! I watch the little thing move its golden wings back and forth, back and forth. Then it takes off, and I jump up to run after it, but I quickly catch myself. I turn to Queen Blanc, nod my head, and say, “Excuse me, your majesty.”
“Go on ahead,” says Queen Blanc with a smile, so I take off after that bread-and-butter-fly, following wherever its buttery wings take it. It lands on a big white rose and I stop and watch it flap, then it takes off again and I run after it. It leads me through hedges of red and white roses, past the yard where Usagi and I played our game of croquet, and around to the front of the castle. The guards are standing all in a row, with their heads held up high, and I am careful not to run into any of them. I follow the bread-and-butter-fly all the way to the castle gate, where it lands and flaps its golden wings some more. I stand up on my tippy-toes and reach out to catch it, but just as I’m about to close my hand over it, it flies away and over the gate. I am not allowed to go outside the gate without anyone knowing.
How disappointing! Sighing, I go back to the tea table. The tea goes on as planned, without any more interruptions.
The Rose Dragon has promised that after tea I may visit the Butterfly, one of my very best friends in all of Wonderland. On our way to the Butterfly’s grove, we pass by a little conference of colorful birds, talking all at once about some dreadfully boring thing. These birds meet here every week to discuss what they call “a matter of utmost importance,” but the Rose Dragon and I can never make out just what is so important about it. They call themselves the Order of the Red Feather because each one of them has at least one red feather, though many of them have more than one.
“Hello, ladies,” I say, nodding my head to them, “hello, gentlemen.”
“Good afternoon, Aliss,” says the leader of the order, a scarlet macaw. “Good afternoon, Rose Dragon.”
“Good afternoon,” says the Rose Dragon. “Are there any interesting topics of discussion for today?” I know she is only asking this to be polite, for their topics of discussions are rarely very interesting.
“Indeed, there are,” says the scarlet macaw. “This afternoon, we are discussing the budding political alliance between the Lizotho lizards and the parrots of the Isla de Parrot (pronounced “par-ro”).”
“That’s very nice,” the Rose Dragon says quickly. “I bid that it goes well. Right now, I am taking little Aliss to visit her friend the Butterfly.”
“Oh, the Butterfly!” says a colorful lady-lorikeet. “What a character he is!”
“Yes, he is quite a character,” I say. “Goodbye, now, and enjoy your discussion.”
“Goodbye, Aliss, goodbye, Rose Dragon!” they all chirp as we walk away. They may be boring, but they are very nice birds.
The Rose Dragon lets me ride on her back on the way to the Butterfly’s grove. The Butterfly’s grove is filled with colorful flowers the size of houses and big, red mushrooms the size of trees. The Butterfly himself is taller than I am, though only slightly. He was a caterpillar when we met a long, long time ago, and when he became a butterfly his big bug eyes scared me at first. But now I think that they are beautiful, just like the rest of him.
“Hello, dear Butterfly!” I wrap my arms around him and kiss his pretty wings. He wraps his wings around me and nuzzles me with his long, curly nose, which he calls a “proboscis.” Then he flutters up on to the top of his favorite mushroom (the one he was born under and the one he transformed under). I do my best to climb up there with him, holding on to one of his long, gangly legs when I slip. Finally, I swing my legs over the mushroom cap and crawl over to where he is so daintily balancing on his legs. He folds his arms and asks, “What poetry do you have to recite for me today?”
Uh-oh! I don’t have any poetry to recite for him today. The Butterfly loves poetry, so on most days I make it a point to learn a new poem for him for our visits. But today it’s slipped my mind, so I try to remember one that the Rose Dragon likes to say to me before I fall asleep:
Hush now, my baby!
The night is beyond us
And the black waters sparkle so green.
The moon and the waters look down to find us
In the holes all inbetween.
Where pillow meets pillow, there is the soft pillow;
A weary wee flipper curls at the knees!
The storm will not wake you, the sharks will not ache you
As you sleep in the waves of the seas.”
The Butterfly listens quietly, looking very thoughtful with his head propped up on his arm. But when I finish, he says, “That isn’t right.”
“Oh, it isn’t?” I say. “I’m very sorry. I tried.”
“That is Kipling’s ‘Seal Lullabye,’ correct?” asks the Butterfly.
“I think that’s what it’s called,” I say.
“That isn’t how it goes,” says the Butterfly, shaking his head.
“I’m sorry,” I say again. “I really didn’t have a poem to recite today, so I tried to remember one. But I guess I couldn’t remember it very well.”
“You certainly could not,” says the Butterfly. “But I trust that you will have it memorized the next time you come to visit me.”
“Oh, I will!” I say, glad that he isn’t upset with me for messing it up. The Butterfly is very serious, and he can be very cold, but he is still a very dear friend.
And he is still quite a character!
“Aliss, it’s time to come down from there.”
I had hoped that the Rose Dragon would let me sleep in one of the rose trees tonight. “When will I get to sleep in a rose tree?” I ask as she lifts me down. “I think you’re much safer on the ground, my dear,” she says, giving me a kiss. “Now go wash up and get ready for bed now.”
From my bathing brook, I watch the pretty stars twinkling all over the night sky. The moon isn’t out yet, but when it does come out the rose trees will look just lovely in its light. I put on my nightgown and rush over to my dragon’s side, crawling under her rosy wing. She places a rose at my head and a rose on each side of me, so that the fragrance may give me sweet dreams tonight.
“Which poem would you like to hear tonight?” she asks me.
“Please tell me the seal one again,” I say, “so I can remember it for the Butterfly.”
As I listen to her gentle voice go on about sparkling green waters and the moon looking downward to find us, I wonder what we will get to do tomorrow. Maybe I will visit the dormouse, who lives in a hole taller than I am in the side of a house even taller than my dragon. Perhaps we’ll visit the seashore and play with the gold fish, whose scales are really gold. Or maybe we’ll stay in the rose garden and climb to the very tops of all of the rose trees, and I will finally get to sleep in one that night. There are always so many amazing adventures to have in Wonderland that I would never be able to have in my old home. I miss my old home, but I will never miss the boring afternoons.
“Asleep in the storm of the slow-swinging seas,” finishes the Rose Dragon.
“I love you,” I tell her as I snuggle under her soft, rosy wings.
“I love you too,” she says, and she nuzzles my face. “Goodnight, my Aliss.”