The Black Queen Flies in Referendumland
t any rate, I’ll never go THERE again!” said Alice as she picked her way through the rough that lay all around the Grand Entrance Hall to the Castle of the Constitution and headed out toward the green. “It’s the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!”
Just as Alice said this, a tree sprang up right in front of her, stopping her short.
Alice thought she must have blanked out for an instant and changed directions, for she hadn’t noticed it before. “How curious!” — Not that a tree should pop up out of nowhere, but that it seemed to be the very same one that overhung the table at the Tea Party.
“Now, who would move a tree?” thought Alice, “And why would they move it? And so fast!” It almost seemed to be everywhere at once.
“Ubiqui-tree!” exclaimed Alice, proud of herself. “What a fun word!” She had made it up right on the spot.
A tree that was everywhere could be useful. No matter where you went, you would always have shade if you wanted it.
Having piqued her own curiosity, Alice tiptoed ’round the bole only to find a door in the back.
It must be the back, for there was moss on the bole, signifying North. The top of the door reached only to Alice’s shoulder, and there was a wooden plaque on it marked “Private”.
“Now, why would anyone put a door, let alone a back door, into a tree?” thought Alice. What possible use could there be for that?
Perhaps there was a stairwell inside, she mused, that led somewhere important.
Alice quite forgot her original intent of heading out to the golf course.
Now she noticed, for the first time, some fine print under the word “Private.” In small, carefully carved letters, it spelled out the following prohibition:
“You may not go in by a back door, if you may not go in by a front.”
How peculiar, thought Alice. There was no front door. So you could hardly be prohibited from going in by it.
The only fair conclusion Alice could draw was that where there was no front door, the interdiction lacked significance. At most, it might be another riddle. And, if not, then it was English again, but with no sense in it.
Alice quickly reached a decision. “Everything’s curious today,” she reasoned, a bit self-servingly. “I may as well go in at once.”
But, when she reached for the knob and turned it, Alice was nonetheless struck that it wasn’t locked.
“Now, why would anyone put a door in a tree, and a sign on the door marked “Private,” and then not bother to lock it? Indeed, there was not even a keyhole. It must be a riddle, after all.”
At this, Alice brightened with expectation, and stooping, she began to get her head in under the lintel.
“Where do you think YOU’RE going!” interrupted a stern female voice with a bit of a French Haitian accent in it.
Stunned, Alice whipped her head out, tapping herself on the noggin, only to see a tall Black Queen in a bell-bottomed pant-suit standing there, glaring imperiously at her.
She must be a Queen, for she was holding a champagne glass in one hand, and twirling a crown on a finger of the other.
“Oh, your Majesty!” cried Alice, alarmed. “You don’t want to drop that!”
The Queen immediately settled her champagne glass on the ground, while twirling the Crown so fast now, it began to look almost like a pinwheel.
“No! No!” cried Alice, “The Crown! Not the cocktail!”
“And who are you to be giving me political advice?” demanded the Black Queen.
“I wouldn’t normally give advice to a Queen,” said Alice, exculpatorily. “But in this particular case —” and Alice paused, for now the Crown had built up such momentum that a wind was rising around the two of them, stirring the leaves overhead; Alice would have to raise her voice to be heard.
As the treetop rustled and the wind rose, the sky in the distance darkened and an ominous twinkle corruscated off the horizon.
“Good grief,” said Alice, “that could be lightning,” and here they stood under a tree discussing Crowns and cocktails.
“Please, Your Majesty,” begged Alice, “Just put the Crown back on … a storm is coming.”
At that very instant, a gust of wind blew the Queen’s Crown off her finger.
Alice caught the Crown as she uttered her warning. But the Queen was oblivious. Invigorated by the wind, Her Royal Highness stretched both arms wide and ran off crying “Wheeeeeeeeeeee!”, as if she were flying.
It was apparent to Alice, who had a bit of skill in 3-dimensional space and geometric objects, that the Queen was tracing an ellipse through the brush that lay all around the outside margin to the Castle of the Constitution.
If Alice only stayed put, Her Royal Highness would soon arrive again where she had started. So, standing civilly, Crown in hand, Alice waited to return it.
“I’m very glad I happened to be in the way,” said Alice, extending the Crown in deference as the Black Queen nosed in for a landing. Then, reproving the Queen as gently as she could:
“A Crown is not a toy, Your Majesty. You ought to be more careful with it.”
As she said this, Alice helped the Black Queen put the Crown back on.
As if magically, the sky cleared and the sun came out, shedding a grand chessboard of light on the ground all through the leaves of Alice’s UbiquiTree.
“Next time,” exclaimed the Queen, as if surprised she had lost it, “you shall see me pin it on again, all by myself!”
“But, you must not lose the Crown, Your Majesty,” said Alice, softly. “It isn’t a plaything.”
Now, the Black Queen only looked at Alice in a helpless frightened sort of way, and began repeating something in a whisper to herself that sounded like “Par! Par! Par!”
So, Alice ventured: “Will Your Majesty play Golf today?”
“If there is lightning,” declared the Black Queen, still somewhat breathless from her flight in the rough.
“I certainly hope not,” said Alice, glancing at the horizon in search of a twinkle, and glad there was none. “Lightning is the last thing you want on the golf course!”
“And, what is the first?” countered the Black Queen.
“That’s not what I meant,” corrected Alice, “I meant, you don’t want lightning at all!”
“Then you must learn to say what you mean,” said the Queen.
“I mean what I say, said Alice; I mean, I didn’t —”
“Hup! Settled!” cried the Queen. “Lightning it is!”
Now, Alice felt unwilling to speak at all, so frightened she was of putting her foot in her mouth.
Best she remain silent, and gather her wits.
What’s more, she could have sworn she’d had the same conversation earlier that day, but the other way around. How did things get topsy-turvy in so short a time?
“Come, child,” said the Queen, “There’s no time to pout.”
“I’m not pouting, Your Majesty, I’m just hungry,” said Alice, attempting to redirect the conversation.
“Whenever I’m hungry, said the Queen, I have jam. Can you jam?”
“I’m not quite sure, Your Majesty,” said Alice. “Do you mean jam as in tarts, or jam as in session?”
“Gezundheit!” bellowed the Queen, and pulling a handkerchief from a Royal pocket she began dabbing at her eyes, which, unaccountably, were leaking large, round tears.
“Thank you, Your Majesty, but I didn’t sneeze.”
“You will,” sobbed the Queen.
“But why are you crying?” asked Alice.
“Queens don’t cry,” said the Black Queen curtly before shouting one staccato word: “PEPPER!”
However, there was not a hint of pepper in the air. The sky was balmy.
“That’s the effect of living backwards,” said the Queen.
“Living backwards!” said Alice in astonishment. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“You’re doing it now,” said the Queen. “Better get used to it. We Royals are.”
“What has being Royal got to do with it?” queried Alice.
“That’s the law of conquest,” said the Queen. “We invented it.”
“Conquest?” echoed Alice, “Didn’t that end in the Middle Ages …”
But, the Queen sailed on: “That’s the great advantage in Referendumland, memory works both ways.”
“I’m sure mine works only ONE way,” retorted Alice, who was beginning to feel as if the Black Queen were putting her on. “I can’t remember things before they happen.”
“You will,” said the Queen. “A smart girl like you has Royal potential.”
Alice thought that remark was at least a little encouraging, given its origin.
“What sort of things do you recall before they happen?” urged Alice.
At this, the Black Queen grabbed Alice by the wrist and began to run so fast, pulling her along, that their clothes flew back in the wind created by the two of them.
“I REMEMBER,” said the Queen, shouting into Alice’s left ear to be heard over the roar of the wind, “that THINGS which will happen NEXT WEEK are beginning to have their effects NOW.”
“For example,” shouted the Queen, “Take the Knave — he’s in prison now, being punished, but the Trial doesn’t begin till next Wednesday —
“You mean Jean Chrétien?” shouted Alice, perhaps a bit hopefully —
“— And of course, the crime comes last of all!”
To Alice’s relief, the Queen let go her wrist, and as the wind fell, the two of them sped to a halt on exactly the spot where they had begun. They had gotten nowhere at all!
“You mean secession?” said Alice, recovering her equilibrium. “But, suppose he never commits the crime?”
“That would be all the better, wouldn’t it?” said the Queen, who, to Alice’s consternation, removed the Crown from her forehead and once again spun it like a hoop on her index finger.
Alice felt there was no denying it. Things would be better without secession.
“But suppose he never commits the crime?” she repeated.
“Oh, he will,” said the Queen, “the effects are already happening.”
“And what are they?” asked Alice.
At this, the Black Queen sneezed and a curl came loose where the Crown had been.
“But what about the Unity Fund?” pleaded Alice, “and Plan B?”
“That’s the crime,” said the Queen, tossing her curl aside and peering intently at Alice.
“By the way,” said the Queen, “Have a bumper sticker.”
“Thanks? I think,” said Alice, accepting a long narrow strip of — oh no, not more cardboard, with the words “OPTION CANADA” painted on it.
Alice examined the cardboard backwards and forwards: “CANADA OPTION” — “OPTION CANADA.” Either way, Alice found the epithet gloomy.
“But, Canada’s not an option,” insisted Alice (for some odd reason at that moment thinking of stock mergers and acquisitions). Canada’s a NATION.”
“Tell it to Chrétien,” said the Queen, it’s his campaign.
“I will,” said Alice, who was just beginning to say: “When will they release him? —” when the Queen began screaming so loud Alice had to leave off her sentence to cover her ears.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHfffffffff with his head !” cried the Queen.
“But, why are you screaming now?” asked Alice, uncupping her hands to hear the answer.
As if ignoring Alice, but coincidentally answering at the same time, the Queen snapped a definitive “Too late! The sentence has been executed; and the verdict is coming in.”
“Oh, dear,” thought Alice, fearing the worst. “What could that mean?” And then, aloud to the Queen:
“There’s a mistake, Your Majesty. The verdict comes after the trial, and the sentence after that.”
“Not here,” said the Black Queen matter-of-factly: “First the verdict, then the trial. That way we know what to expect, don’t we?”
“The execution?” said Alice, lifting her eyebrows.
“Ah! You’re starting to remember!” said the Queen.
“No, I’m not!” pleaded Alice, “Besides, I refuse to think backwards, there’s no future in it.”
“But there’s a great deal of legal certainty,” said the Queen. “It lends order and stability, whether your memory works backwards and forwards, or just one way. “The Fourth Branch will tell you that.” (Alice looked up and up into the forest canopy; but which one could it be?)
On this, the Black Queen scooped the wayward curl from her ear to the Royal forehead and clipped the Crown over it, like a barrette.
Alice breathed a little more easily.
And just as she did, Constitutional Cat appeared and vanished over the Queen’s left shoulder, trailing a sneer in the air. Alice hoped the Queen herself was not about to disappear.
“Predictability has much to recommend it,” assured the Queen, “its normative value while running headlong to Dissolution cannot be overestimated –.”
At this, a chill siphoned through the leaves, and the Great Checkerboard of Light through the forest canopy shifted for an instant to and fro.
“But, how do you explain the Secession Reference?” objected Alice to the Queen.
“Can’t explain,” said the Queen. “The democratic vote is every other day: today isn’t any OTHER day. Ask me any OTHER day, and I’ll explain it then.”
“I don’t understand,” said Alice. “If you can’t explain TODAY, but you could explain TOMORROW, which is any OTHER day, when tomorrow comes, it’s today again, so you can never explain!”
“Exactly!” said the Queen, admiring Alice’s acumen. “You catch on fast, for a commoner.”
More rudeness in Referendumland: Alice didn’t like the place at all.
Moreover, as Alice recalled, this Queen, herself, had once been a commoner. “How short one’s memory served once one became Royal,” she thought; then, aloud:
“No, I don’t catch on at all, it’s dreadfully confusing.”
“Your Majesty, you must explain!” pressed Alice, insurgent —
— “Speak when you’re spoken to!” The Black Queen sharply interrupted.
“But if everybody obeyed that rule,” said Alice, who was always ready for a little argument, “and if you only spoke when you were spoken to, and the other person always waited for you to begin, you see nobody would ever say anything, so that —”
“Ridiculous!” cried the Queen, but her voice emitted a perceptively frightened bleat!
“Be-e-ehh ! Be-e-ehh !” cried the Black Queen, frantically shaking one leg of her pantsuit, whose bell bottom had caught upon a prickly thistle …
Alice immediately curtseyed as the convenient method of attending to the royal obstruction.
As Alice reached out to free the hem of the Royal Pantsuit, the Black Queen cried in relief, “Oh, much better!”, but her voice rose to a squeak as the Queen in a frenzy reiterated ….
“Much be-etter ! Be-etter ! Be-e-e-etter ! Be-e-ehh ! Be-eh-eh-ehh-e-ehh ! —”
The last word ended in a long bleat, so like a sheep that Alice quite started, for the sound accentuated the shock. There in the pants’ hem stood not the perfectly well expected Queenly ankle in a coordinated black leather pump, but a sheep’s foot! A large ungulate hoof!
“Your Majesty?” cried Alice in alarm.
As Alice formed the question and all at once looked up the Black Queen was already gone, dissolved in a shimmer. And the Crown, for a fleeting instant, appeared upon the forehead of a large white sheep that flowed and materialized beneath it …. and then the Crown, too, was gone — vanished like a mirage, as the whole scene shifted…
– 30 –
UPDATED: 7 August 2018.