Skip to content


Richard Peabody


I am the Dean, this is Mrs. Liddell.
She plays first, I, second fiddle.

                                     — Oxford Undergraduate Doggerel

Time to wake him. He looks so frail. And sadly, migraines have again twisted the soft features she cherishes into a diabolical death mask. Something worthy of math wizards and enchanted geometry. Lorina sighs, fiddles with his brown curls, and begins to gently massage his temples with her fingertips.

She knows the gossip. Knows that her own children make fun of his stutter. Though they love his silly stories and puzzles. Nobody in her circle interacts with him on anything but the most superficial level. Her husband believes he’s a ponce. Not a righteous man. Friends warn her to protect the children, insisting something is not right. Why else would a grown man spend so much time and energy playing dress up games? Taking those infernal photos?

He starts awake, gives a little cough, so that she pulls her hands up and away as his blue-gray eyes sparkle open. Lorina marvels that everybody could be so incredibly wrong about her young man, younger by six years, and yet so gentle, as though whatever turned British men

into brutes had passed over him, leaving a puzzling comedic genius whose survival tools were legitimately confusing. 

She sighs happily, bears down on his pale chest, lost in her frilly chemise, and wishes this pleasure could outlast her marriage. And thankful, so thankful, she figured him out in time to steal him away from Miss Prickett, the children’s governess. 


Alice can never remember which ear is his deaf one. 


The wildflowers in marshy Christ Church meadow are on display. Dodo’s partly chewing on an equation as he peers at the creamy-white Meadowsweet, the pink Ragged Robin, the lilac-blue flower heads of the Devil’s-bit Scabious, and clumps of Great Burnet with their raspberry-like deep red bottlebrush flowers. He recalls his boss, Henry Liddell, the Dean of Christ Church, waxing eloquent for the umpteenth time about “The Blue Death,” the cholera epidemic at the Westminster School in London. “They turned blue,” Henry said, “like a Mandrill’s bottom.”


Have you ever had an intelligent conversation with him? 

Whatever do you mean?

He prefers playing with children. It’s embarrassing. 

He is a very ambitious young man.

You wouldn’t guess that after meeting him.

You’re afraid he’s about to become the campus darling.

He writes fairy tale rubbish.

Children like fairy tales.


The Dodo leans toward the courtyard from his classroom windows, while tedious students scribble geometry solutions, and glimpses, as though wished into existence, little Alice all in white save for a baby blue ribbon in her hair, darting across the green like a billowing sail.


Dean Liddell enjoys being the big name on campus. The Dodo cannot abide the man but cares deeply for the Greek-English Dictionary that his elder has co-authored.  A most useful tool.  Doesn’t object to being on the receiving end of gossip and accusations, while keeping a low profile. The sickly shy Don with one droopy eye and a fixation on young girls, the photography, all of it. A sly ruse when you’re sleeping with the boss’s wife. 

+ + + 

Ina, Alice’s older sister, struggled to adjust to her mysteriously distant mother, who claimed to be reading, or studying chorales. She has always been strict, conservative, and religious. But why lie? What is she doing with her time? 


The Dodo walks when thinking through algebraic equations. A dreary gray day. All manner of gray—the weather both inside and out. Old feelings of sin and unworthiness have returned. He is simultaneously buoyant and wretched, much like he was when he abandoned the priesthood. He reaches into a vest pocket for his watch. Can’t be late for the mathematical logic lecture. But what is this?  His hand clutches an empty chain. Oh dear, oh dear.


Alice delights in being Dodo’s “Muse.”  Her sisters so jealous. “I want to be a Moo-se,” Edith said. Ina pursed her lips. She was the one after all who sat on his lap. Maybe Alice had it all wrong about which sister was truly Dodo’s “Muse.”


Dodo doesn’t notice the hedgehog skirting the bottom of the ivy-covered wall. 


Miss Prickett had been particularly prickly lately. She went inside to make tea and called the girls to follow, to quit their brushing and combing and tea party game. Alice called her an old cow. Not that she could hear, mind. 


Before Dodo set foot on the campus green, he was driven to protect younger boys

at school. Protect them from the bullying doled out to the smaller, erratic boys,

the friendless, shy, quiet boys, not skilled at sports of any kind. He’d protect them because 

nobody had protected him.  And the Dodo could throw a punch. A learned behavior. Not something any bully expected. The surprised look on their gawping faces a worthy prize.


Garden flowers too bright. Sun too hot. The walk from Christ Church to the Liddell courtyard too di-di-distant. 


Mary Prickett heard gossip, supposedly from the lips of Mrs. Liddell, that implied Mr. Dodgson’s child play was a ploy to court the governess. Herself. A tough pill to swallow when Mary knew that it was Lorina who had diverted his attentions away with the utmost haste.


Dodo is ranting and sabotaging the afternoon.

I don’t like men.

You are one.

They’re cruel, competitive, and bestial.

So, just you and your harem?

Make sense.

I know many women write to you.

Everybody writes to me.

The girls tell me your fan mail smells so dreamy . . . 

My fan mail?

You do realize that we are moving in a very tiny world.

Yes, but but but–

Off you go now,  to the Rossettis. Shoo, Shoo. 


A harem?  One way to avoid female attention is to get down on the floor and play children’s games. Women will certainly ignore you. Children never do.


“Look what I found.” Lorina waves her cupped hand to and fro, “between the sheets.” The missing pocket watch fixed in her palm.


As if her body was lit from within.


The rain drummed on the roof tiles as Dodo and Lorina basked in each other’s flesh.

Her darling was ticklish. She stretched both hands toward him and wiggled her fingers. 

He gasped and curled up. A steady downpour covered their laughter until a leak in the ceiling

sprayed over her like seltzer. Frantic, the lovers jumped to the floor. Dodo vainly trying to move her heavy walnut bed frame out of the water’s path.  Much too heavy. And even with Lorina’s aid the dark wood barely budged. “Fetch a bucket,” he said. Lorina swung the door open

and raced into the hallway in her glorious nakedness—


Ina stood in her path with eyes as large as teacups.


Richard Peabody, born in Washington, DC., raised in Bethesda, MD., and now living in Arlington, VA., is a poet, writer, editor, teacher, publisher. The author of a novella and three short story collections, he taught graduate fiction writing at Johns Hopkins University for 15 years. His Gargoyle Magazine (founded 1976) released issue 76 in August 2022. The magazine has since moved online. His most recent poetry volume, Guinness on the Quay, was published in Ireland (Salmon Poetry, 2019). The Richard Peabody Reader, a career-encompassing collection, was released in 2015 by Alan Squire Publishing.


To learn more about submitting your work to Boudin or applying to McNeese State University’s Creative Writing MFA program, please visit Submissions for details.

Follow us on Instagram and Facebook.


Posted in and tagged in , ,