|The characters used in this story belong to the estate of C.S. Lewis. This is amateur fiction and not money is being made from it.|
Susan grew up, and when she got there she discovered with surprise that that isn't the end of things. You grow up, and you breathe a sigh of relief. And then you realise that nothing stops. Life continues to happen around you, and it is relentless, and it won't let you rest for a moment, not even long enough for you to hold a hand against your face and feel the small creases next to your eyes and mouth, that never used to be there.
Susan grew up, and carries on growing: older, wiser, more tired, less sure of things. But none of this happens any more to the others. Not to Peter, not to Edmund, not to Mother or Father, or Eustace. Not to Lucy. Lucy grew up, and stopped.
Susan has left them all behind. With every year that passes, every birthday, every small triumph, every morning cup of tea, every Christmas, every disappointing weekend and silent night and sunny afternoon, the gap widens. They are getting further and further away from her, and there is nothing she can do about that. She can hardly see them any more, they are so far away. Perhaps it was they who left her behind, after all.
The other week, Susan took a friend's little girl to the cinema, and they saw a film about twin sisters separated at birth. It made Susan cry, which was unusual, because the film was a comedy, and Susan doesn't cry very often. She felt obliged to invent a summer cold, and sat there, thankful for the darkness, snuffling into her handkerchief and feeling foolish. She felt a fool because had had a sister once, and had taken her for granted, and lost her again. And there would be no loving reunion. No making up for time wasted. She felt cheated and injured, and oh, such a fool. The friend's child laughed, and never noticed a thing.
Susan carries a number of secrets in the pockets of her heart. She keeps them buttoned close and tight in her deepest self, and rarely brings them out into the light. One is the person she became for a few brief, muddled years after The Accident (because there is only ever one Accident, and it's the one that changes everything for ever). If the students and ex-students she sometimes meets in the narrow Cambridge streets, the ones who will stop and chat out of respect for a professor's widow, could have seen her then... well. She smiles a little.
At that time, she supposes, she acquired a reputation. Men liked her. They liked her black hair and her curious, half-smiling mouth. And she liked them, or at least what they could give her. It had ended eventually, as many things do, in awkwardness and discomfort. She does not regret it, particularly. And perhaps the students would not be as surprised as all that.
But that Susan no longer exists. There have been several Susans along the way, and most are, if not dead, then at least deeply buried.
Another secret is a spring afternoon in the Pevensies' old Hampstead house. Susan was in her bedroom, getting ready to go out, and Lucy was sitting cross-legged on her bed, picking at the candlewick bedspread. There were the sounds of motor cars and birds and children flying kites on Parliament Hill coming in through the open window. It was a year? Two? Two and a half? A year or two after the American holiday. She was feeling cheerful and breezy, and Lucy was not, which was just typical of her at the time.
"You used to be such a cheerful child," she said, as she examined her profile in the dressing table mirror (hair up or down?), and immediately regretted it. She hadn't meant her tone to sound so strident and condescending. She bit her lip.
"Well, you're getting awfully grown-up, all of a sudden," said Lucy. She made it sound like a tragedy.
"I don't see that there's anything so terribly wrong with that."
"No," said Lucy. "I suppose not."
"You'll understand when you're older."
Susan felt that her good mood had flown, like a deflated balloon, out of the window on the spring breeze.
"Anyone would think," she said sharply, "that you didn't want to grow up at all."
"I don't see that wanting's got much to do with it," replied Lucy.
Oh dear. Susan and Lucy, fighting again. Soon there would be a slammed door, and tears. Lucy and Susan. Perhaps they'd never really understood one another at all.
Lucy's school was dark with oak and echoes. The corridors smelt of polish and the classrooms of pencil shavings and dust. The gym spoke eloquently of the insides of rubber-soled tennis shoes, while the air in the dorms was heavy with sweat and face powder.
The Games mistress, Miss Titchmarsh, smelt of carbolic soap and extreme good health, and in the damp, sub-tropical atmosphere of the changing rooms, she told the girls about growing up. When it happened to you, Lucy discovered, you were to go straight to Matron, who would provide you with the necessary equipment, and an aspirin.
Miss Bradley, who taught Biology, smelt strongly of violets, and faintly of pickled things in jars. In Miss Bradley's lesson, Lucy learnt about the reproductive habits of mice, directly from the insides of the mice themselves. She put up her hand and asked to be excused.
"What is it, Lucy?"
"I'm feeling ill, Miss Bradley."
"Very well." She looked vaguely disappointed. Lucy was not normally a squeamish girl.
Marjorie Preston caught up with her after supper, and they walked together around the west side of the chapel and across the hockey pitch. Or rather, Lucy walked and Marjorie went with her. She hadn't exactly been invited.
"It' called 'menstruation'" said Marjorie. "That's its proper name. My sister told me ages ago. It means you can have babies." Marjorie's sister was going to marry a doctor.
"Seems like a pretty funny arrangement, if you ask me," said Lucy.
Marjorie's sister sent her pictures of famous names, which Marjorie invariably kept in between the pages of her Latin book. She was fishing one out of her satchel now. "Look," she said in tones of awe. "Don't you think he's divine? He's called Montgomery Clift. Pamela and I have fallen madly in love with him."
Lucy studied the photograph. It had been clipped from a magazine. It was grey and flat. It was beginning to curl up at the edges. It was a sad picture, she thought. Sad and dead. She wished someone would come and breathe life into it. The man in the picture would become warm and solid and golden-edged. She had an odd thought that things had stopped coming alive for her lately.
"I don't know," she said.
The rooks in the little copse at the edge of the field flew up suddenly, quarrelling, and she turned to look. The late September sky cast a dull light on everything. Beneath their feet the grass was churned half to mud by studded hockey boots. It was turning cold.
She handed the picture back to Marjorie.
"Sorry. I expect I'm too much of a kid to understand." She'd meant it as a light-hearted joke, but it came out instead bitter and hard.
"Nothing, ignore me. I'm going in now." She turned and headed back the way they'd come, without waiting for Marjorie to catch up.
"But Lucy! I don't understand..." Marjorie's injured tones carried after Lucy on the breeze.
"Why don't you ask Anne Featherstone?" she replied; and then she felt sorry, even though she'd only said it under her breath, and wished she hadn't said it at all.
"I don't see that wanting's got much to do with it," said Lucy.
"Oh, now you're just being silly."
Leave her alone, thought Susan to herself. She's just a kid. Why are you always so cross with her? Why does it always end up like this?
Well," burst out Lucy, "it's easy for you! You're you!"
"What on earth do you mean?"
"Because you're the pretty one. Everyone knows that. You're the beauty of the family. I'm just ... me. Lucy."
"Oh, Lu..." Oh, Lucy.
(And Susan, the older, wiser, grown-up Susan, thinks: why did nobody ever tell Lucy how beautiful she was? How could they have missed it? Because she was beautiful. There was nothing in the world more beautiful than Lucy smiling on a bright and windy day, with the sun on her face. And she thinks, I should have told her. But I never did.)
"You just don't make the most of yourself, that's all," Susan said. Warmed by a sudden rush of sisterly affection for Lucy, she sat down next to her on the bed and talked about hairstyles. Lucy even smiled, a little bit.
"When I was in America--" Susan began.
And Lucy said, interrupting her, "When I was in Narnia--"
And then things stopped for a while, or seemed to. Perhaps the clock did not really cease its ticking, and the whole of London go suddenly quiet. That's how Susan remembers it.
Lucy said, in voice so low Susan could hardly hear it, "Don't you even care any more?"
Susan thought she did, but it was hard to say. Things so often got confused and muddled. Sometimes, all the ordinary things -- clothes and hairstyles and boiled eggs for breakfast and going out to post a letter on a Saturday morning in February -- all those felt like the real things. They felt bright and comforting. They felt full-colour. She found it difficult to believe in another Susan, who once did other things, in a distant place and time. She liked being the ordinary Susan, doing the ordinary things. She couldn't help that.
"It's funny," said Lucy after a while, "how when you're here, Narnian things seem so far away and hard to get hold of. And when you're in Narnia, things from here hardly seem real at all. When I was in Narnia--" she stopped.
"Go on," said Susan.
He had been golden.
It was a ridiculous thing to say, and so Lucy never said it. Sentimental and girlish in the worst way. It was almost as bad as Marjorie and her short-lived crushes on singers and film-stars. Just to think the words in her head made her skin burn with embarrassment, but they were still true. So many things in Narnia were golden. Aslan. Of course Aslan. Always Aslan. The cups they drank from in Cair Paravel, and the heavy, ruby-set chessmen they played with on winter evenings. And then Caspian. The sunlight on his face as he turned toward her. His hair, his smile. Thinking about these things felt like worrying at a mouth ulcer with her tongue. The sharp sort of pain you secretly treasure.
There were no really private places in Lucy's school. Sometimes she felt as though she were shut up in a too-small box filled up to the brim with girls: their giggling and chatter and loud, boisterous presence. She wondered why she had never noticed this before. They made her head ache. Lately she had taken to locking herself in the end cubicle in the lavatories. Sometimes she took a book to read; sometimes she just sat and leant her head against the wall. Nobody bothered her in there and she stayed as long as she thought she safely could without being missed. On one side of her was cool plaster, on the other a partition of cheap wood, dark-stained. When she reached out and touched the wood, it felt warm. It almost felt alive. She closed her eyes and imagined the wooden panelling of a ship's cabin. She felt the gentle rise and fall, the swell and slap of the waves. She thought she could smell the salty sea-wind. She thought she heard a gull cry.
"Do you remember being grown-up?" asked Lucy earnestly. "I mean really grown-up? Do you remember being a queen and what that was actually like? Sometimes I'm so afraid that I'll forget."
"I remember," said Susan. But it was a faint and distant kind of remembering, like remembering a film you'd seen, or a wonderful book you'd once read.
"When I was in Narnia -- the last time -- Ed and I... well, we felt grown-up again, a lot of the time. And that was good, because it meant we could do all sorts of things, and help Caspian, and. And sometimes I looked at Ed and he seemed like a man, and then again sometimes he didn't. And that made me wonder how I seemed ... to other people. And being grown-up ... there are other things..." Lucy's voice died away.
"I don't understand," said Susan. But a part of her did, and does.
"It's hard," whispered Lucy. "Being grown-up, and not being."
When she was in Narnia -- the last time -- Lucy and Caspian had told each other stories. She had told him the story of the Sleeping Beauty, who'd come to grief on her birthday and slept for a hundred years, and woke up when a prince kissed her, and everything was changed. She told him about poor unfortunate people who ate and drank and danced with fairies, and returned to find that a lifetime had passed by in a night. She told him stories of stories, of the Brothers Grimm and the Thousand and One Nights. In return, he told her the stories his old Nurse had told him, about the Narnia in the days of the High King Peter. And Queen Lucy, he said with a smile. So fair was Lucy, it was told, that all the princes in those parts desired her to be their Queen, and they called her Queen Lucy the Valiant.
Lucy knew, of course, that he was mixing her up with Susan, who was beautiful and had black hair that fell down to her feet. But she didn't say anything. She only smiled back at him, and then they both looked away. They had been drinking good Narnian wine that evening, and the night was blowing in on a cool breeze.
"I wish I could see your world," said Caspian, not for the first time.
"It's different," said Lucy awkwardly. "I think I made it sound wrong. And I'm different when I'm there."
"I don't really think I'd mind," said Caspian, and touched her hand where it rested on the rail.
Lucy could think of nothing to say. The waves made lapping sounds against the sides of the little ship. The stars were coming out.
There are people who disapprove of Susan. They pity her, of course, but sometimes they feel that she is hardly deserving of their pity. She does not behave in the way someone in her position ought to behave. She is not appropriate. She is a little too jaunty for a woman like her. A childless woman. A widow. A brotherless, sisterless orphan. Her clothes are a little too bright, a little too fashionable. Her lips are too red and her hair too black. Her friends are slightly too frivolous, her parties a shade too merry for some people to be entirely comfortable with her. Women of her acquaintance will sometimes look at her sideways when they see her on the other side of the street.
Susan herself usually does not notice this sort thing, and when it is pointed out to her, she only laughs. Susan has become peculiarly selective about what she does and does not notice. Sometimes she will find herself mesmerised by a rainbow of oil on the surface of a puddle, or by the patterns made by black-branched trees against a winter sky. Other days she will stand for longs swathes of time in front of the full-length mirror in her bedroom, fascinated by her own face and body, the shapes her flesh and muscles make under the skin. She is changing all the time. Even when Susan stops, she thinks, the changes will not.
She likes to go outside on bright days full of wind and water, when the trees on the common sail high in the sky, wild and billowing. She lets her hair fly free and stands with her hands in the pockets of her coat, full of a fierce and painful joy at the wide world. Once she saw seven wild swans flying eastwards, high up above her. She smiled, and thought of Lucy, and wondered where they were going.