The Last Picnic
The Last Picnic
Mister Dodgson’s brow was moist.
And it seemed to quiver each time he sighed or forced the coagulation of words at his throat. For it was clear to Alice, who walked aside him, that he was trying to impart something formal as they walked back up the manicured path toward Christ Minister, but all he could do, Alice noticed, was tremor. For when Mister Dodgson finally did speak, his voice, which sounded as though dried-up carrion had lodged itself within, was quite grave.
“I love you… Alice” he said, stopping near a spray of Lily of the Valleys, which seemed to blush at the words.
Alice was taken aback, for Mister Dodgson was much older than she, and could not possibly comprehend the effect of his own language. Yet she always thought herself that rare breed possessing world-weary eyes and a sensibility much advanced for girls her age; one who, through books of an historical nature, acquainted herself with precise regalements describing the fateful wives of King Henry VIII and their untoward outcomes, and therefore could not be so easily dissuaded by anything poor Mister Dodgson might say. And though it was uncharacteristic of him to lavish such words uponher, she tried to reason his untimely though piteous display of mawkishness.
Before that afternoon, she had only known Mister Dodgson to be seized by torrents of sympathy over other, seemingly un-concerning things, if not all together repentant over the most inconsequential details to which only he seemed to regard, such as a maiden flower he had accidentally crushed under foot, which he then placed, with gingerly devotion, into the leaves of his trusty book (for he always had a book at hand), and then seemed to toil about in something nearing genuine remorse over the severing of it from its grassy bed. On one occasion, in midsummer, when he had invited Alice, as well as Lorina and Edith, along for a rowboat ride about the Isis, Alice was keen to the surge of emotion just under the ripple of Mister Dodgson’s voice when he discovered that the book he had given Edith, the youngest of the three sisters, had taken a spill overboard. Upon watching it sail open-faced away from the boat, Mister Dodgson christened the book “Ophelia” and, Alice suspected, in order to disguise his tenuous nature, spun a wonderful tale of how Ophelia’s ghost would waken from her marshy grave whenever Edith entered a dark library. And though Edith was a lover of books, as was Alice, she forbade herself from ever stepping foot into the dark vaults at the Christ Church library after that. So potent were Mister Dodgson’s tales…
Though Alice would have to agree that her fondest memory of Mister Dodgson happened only earlier in the year. He had been particularly animated that day, and, Alice recalled, was overthrown by a bout of suppressed elation at the fortuitous discovery of a dragonfly’s corpse, which sat, petrified through and through by the elements of nature upon the tip of a whitethorn shrub with its wings, fragile as an ancient leaf, perpetually out splayed at its sides. He held it, she remembered, with the most delicate of hands, against the tawny July light, and told a long and tragic tale of how the creature had once been the Prince of Whitethorn Land; and whose birthright it had been to slay the local dragon once and for all, for only then could this gallant Prince make claim to the seat at his father’s throne. But when the Prince, that one lithe of frame and fair of skin, failed in his appointed mission to slay the beast, take his seat on the throne and provide an heir by finding a bride, he was, in no un-gruesome terms, banished from the land from whence he was born and condemned to live out the rest of his days un-betrothed within the dishonorable anatomy of a dragonfly as a means to remind him of his unheeded duty to the people of Whitethorn Land. When the tale came to end, Mister Dodgson thought it best they have a funeral for the insect Prince and, after wrapping it in a lily pad fished out from the Christ Church pond, buried it with all the ceremony deserving of a make-believe Prince. Though, she realized, the tale bespoke no apparent sense of moral, it, like all of Mister Dodgson’s tales and queer gestures, bore a poetic sense of doom for which she knew and liked him best.
Was it not for that melancholic nature which moved Mister Dodgson to stammer out those four words just moments previous? she wondered as they wound their way back up the lane from their spot beneath the willow at the pond like so many afternoons before. It was, she decided, looking toward the backside of the menacing Christ Church façade just ahead; it was the reason he became so stirred to emotional articulation, and for that peerless and noble regard for all things small, delicate and worthy of capturing in a poem or a book as he did that July when they buried the dragonfly Prince under a patch of grass in the gardener’s cul-de-sac of bridewort and spear thistle. Yes, he is noble and peerless, she thought as she stopped before him, alighted her bright and ever-watching eyes upon his and said,
“And I love you, Mister Dodgson.”
For there had been a long silence between them since he had spoken that precipitous sentiment. And the lack of words seemed to throw some diaphanous butterfly net over them as though they two were the only two of their known species who had been caught by the larger, darker force that were his words. And, despite the sea of difference in their age, she felt she knew him well enough to surmise that he would carry the weight of what he had spoken until it pained him to do so, that is until Alice could somehow alleviate his torment in her own way. Thus she had; and for a moment, that peculiar sense of ceremony Mister Dodgson was so well at crafting darted hither and thither about them as though the net had been lifted, as if the moment had been so thick and tangible that it congealed itself into a small, winged thing—a dragonfly Prince of sorts, newly risen from its lily pad grave, and come to make claim to the crown of Whitethorn Land.
“Thank you, Alice,” said Mister Dodgson, as they stood under the Christ Church façade, which seemed to be eavesdropping on their awkward farewell.
“It was a lovely picnic. Have a good evening Mister Dodgson.”
But as true as Alice had been in her sentiment about their outing, she was glad that it was behind her, and thought it best that she find some plausible excuse to decline his invitation in the future.
That evening, she lay upon her bed as though she were cast adrift some windblown heath, feeling the Night’s tide crush over her, where she pondered the events of that afternoon as she always did in the shadow-dance of her room. And as she gazed ahead, into the canopy of her four-poster, she thought something quiet queer as though it had not been she who had thought it: ‘A three-worded phrase with my name attached to it. “I love you, Alice.” How little those words do for a flower that will wilt and wither with time…’
Then, in a breath, she turned over onto her side and seeped far into the watery chasm of sleep where all the world of secrecy and bewilderment awaited her.
When not slaying Dragons, Falconhead uses Dragon’s blood to write poetry, short stories and plays. His work has appeared in Emerge Literary Journal, Antiphon, Naugatuck River Review, FictionWeek Literary Review, Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine, Wilde Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Thick Jam, Poetica Magazine, Camas: The Nature of The West, Thin Air Magazine, Glitterwolf, Whistling Fire, Two Hawks Quarterly, Rock & Sling, Adanna Literary Journal, Deltona Howl, and Green Wind Press’s “Words Fly Away” Anthology, among others, and is forthcoming in several other publications.