She grows to forget (and to remember)
Summary: Susan's world shatters when her family dies. She's left with loneliness and the broken pieces of the arguments she had with her dead siblings. It seems the world wants to break her down, but she intends to rebuild herself from the pieces. (Like a true Queen should). Post-Last Battle.
Warnings: Death, obviously. There are no graphic depictions of it, though. Characterisation may be movie-based. What else? An unhealthy amount of prose between the meaty parts, I guess. It's not toxic though, I promise.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Literally. I am a university student with a minimum wage job. So all credit goes to C.S. Lewis, Disney, and anyone else who claims to own anything I have used.
Author's Note: So, in a recent fit of nostalgia, I reread and re-watched the Chronicles of Narnia (I also found out for the first time that there's fanfiction about this, so hurray!). So, because I have finals next week, I decided to abandon all the readings I still have to do and write this story instead. The Problem of Susan and how she is portrayed by both C.S. Lewis and the fandom have always irked me. So, like thousands before me, I have written a fix (of sorts). The end may come across as a bit abrupt, but I needed some hope for poor Susan. So apologies for that
Now onwards to the story: Enjoy!
She grows to forget (and to remember)
Snow falls deep that winter, turning the London streets to grey mush. Susan remembers how happily Lucy would prance through the falling flakes, how Peter would look on with a fond smile as Edmund tried make a snowball to lop at their youngest. She remembers, too, the shadow that would pass over Edmund's face when he thought no one was looking.
This year, instead, a shadow passes over her own.
There are many things her siblings never understood. They never saw the memories that played in Susan's mind as she told them Narnia was a fiction. They never saw how stuck they were in their past, in long-forgotten memories and unreachable places. And now they never will.
Susan pulls her coat more tightly around her body against the chilling wind. Her red scarf flies behind her like a beacon, the only colour in this grey city. It was a gift from Lucy, the Christmas before last. The colour is eerily familiar and it reminds Susan of the games she used to play with her siblings. The land they had conjured (ruled), had had this precise red in its coat of arms.
They had still believed the games; Peter, Edmund and Lucy. Even Eustace had eventually, leaving Susan alone in her disapproval. She scoffs at the thought that her siblings thought she was once a queen (to the radiant Southern sun, Queen Susan, the Gentle).
A queen is used to ruling, after all, and Susan can barely manage to rule her own heart, let alone a country.
There is only disappointment in Peter's blue eyes. Susan thinks she would rather have had his righteous anger. Would rather have had him punch her in the face (strike her down with Rhindon). Instead he just looks at her sadly, as if waiting for her to change her mind.
"Tell me you're joking, Su." he pleads. Susan just raises an eyebrow at him.
"Tell me you're joking." she refutes haughtily, "Aren't you a little old to believe in fairy tales? You're an adult for God's sake."
Peter sends a panicked look in Lucy's direction, and he girl just shrugs in defeat. There's a general shaking of heads as Susan turns away to put on the kettle.
"You can't honestly believe that we all that the same dream," Peter argues, "Do you really think that we would all have come up with the exact same memories?"
The kettle slams against the metal of the stove, water sloshing loudly within. While looking for the matches to light the stove, Susan is forced to walk past Peter. He doesn't let her. Instead he looks at her imploringly, waiting for her reaction (it's a look of Magnificence, strong and noble and right, it blows away any doubts one might have at his competence as King, at his young age and beardless face. Instead he is a great King, a High King). Susan shakes her head, breathing loudly through her nose.
"It was a game, Peter. Nothing more." she says fiercely, "It's not healthy to believe in such nonsense. And you're giving Edmund and Lucy all kinds of ideas, you know!"
"I came up with my ideas all by myself, thank you." Lucy exclaims indignantly as Edmund makes himself scarce with a muttered, "Leave me out of this, please."
For a moment, Susan thinks she sees tears in Peter's expressive eyes, but that must have been a trick of the light. Peter never cries (even if a King has much to cry about). She almost acquiesces, but then she sees his jaw-line harden and she knows this argument is far from over. With a push at Peter's chest she lets out an angry sigh.
"Do you want tea?" she sneers, "Because I'll need matches if you actually want the water to boil."
Peter lets her go, but something in the way he looks at her shifts, and as she turns away from her brother, she has the horrible feeling that something sacred has been irreparably broken.
Susan walks past a flower stand. The bouquets are aligned gracefully; stark patterns to fit the wintry weather. Red roses catch her eye. She used to love them, but now she can barely stand the sight of them. Ten of them had been delivered to her door by a secret admirer one day. Ten minutes later, a police officer had delivered the news of her family's deaths. There's nothing but the smell of blood in roses now.
Instead, Susan chooses white lilies. They're out of season, but as white as the snow around her should be. As white as the zinging numbness that encroaches her lonely little life. Edmund and Peter would have liked them. Lucy would have said they didn't have enough colour.
Lucy is the one she misses most. She misses the bright eyes, the cheerful laughs. She misses having someone who looks up to her and comes to her when there is trouble. For Lucy is not just Susan's sister. She's her comfort, her confidant, her best friend. Or she was.
Now Lucy's eyes are filled with betrayal, with tears Susan knows she caused.
"I don't understand how you can just forget." Lucy says one day at tea, looking over the cup with big, teary eyes that make Susan want pull her sister in for a hug. She doesn't, though. Just like she doesn't ask what she has forgotten. She knows what Lucy means, after all.
"I didn't forget, Lu," Susan explains for what feels like the hundredth time, "I'm just the only one who realises we made it all up."
"Oh, how could you say that!" Lucy pouts, "How could you say that Aslan is something we made up!"
Susan merely shakes her head.
In all this time, Lucy has been the most steadfast in trying to convince Susan. While Edmund and Peter have long made themselves scarce and ignored the subject of their past in the country (of the beautiful walls of Cair Paravel as it rose over the glistening sea, Queen Lucy standing on the balustrade, looking at her domain in the blue-green waves), Lucy has been brave (Valiant) enough to bring it up anytime she visits Susan. And Susan lets her be. She's the youngest, after all. She'll learn.
With a skilful deflection, Susan asks Lucy about school, and they chat about that until it is time for Lucy to leave. She packs up her bags and wrings her way into her coat on the way to the door. It strikes Susan how tall her little sister has grown. They see eye to eye now, and under the childish smile there is beginning of a woman. She is so surprised by this that she does not realise what Lucy is doing when the girl grabs her hand. Lucy gives one, last-ditch attempt at convincing her elder sister.
"Once a King or Queen of Narnia, always a King or Queen of Narnia." Lucy tells her at the door, "One day, you'll realise that it's all true, and Aslan will be waiting for you. I just know it."
Susan smiles at the faith Lucy has in her (in Aslan). Faith has always been a great part of the youngest Pevensie, and though Susan hopes her sister will grow more realistic with age, she hopes the girl will never lose that unshakable faith.
"I hope that one day you will grow out of this game and see everything that this world, the real world, has to offer." Susan says as she lays a kiss on Lucy's cheek, "I will be there, then."
Susan doesn't know that the Fate will make her come back on that promise very soon.
A lion looks back from the gnarly figures in the iron gate. It seems to beckon Susan, drawing her into its yard of death. Its jaw is set in a silent roar, its strong paws heavy on the iron staffs it stands on. She smiles at it and feels instantly at home (she is assaulted by the memory of sweet-smelling fur and velvet paws that hold all the safety in the world). This is truly the place for her lost family, her family that so harshly held on to their fantasies.
The gate creaks as Susan pushes it back, a greeting to her in this lonely place. Snow falls from the gate, not into mush, but into softly scrunching snow beneath her feet. The path before her is guarded by naked trees, their spindly branches reaching into the frigid air. Every few feet, the path is lined by tall metal lanterns, casting eerie shadows in the winter gloom.
(Susan certainly does not think of King Edmund, Duke of Lantern Waste).
After his stay at the Scrubbs', Edmund comes to visit Susan. He sits on one of the chairs in her room, clearly uncomfortable, with a thoughtful frown on his face. He always was a thinker.
"We were in Narnia, Eustace, Lucy and I." he tells her softly, looking up to see the reaction in her face. But her face remains a mask (she had once played – been – Susan the Gentle, after all; the unreadable queen).
"I thought we'd covered this already, Edmund." Susan pleads, "I really don't want to have another row."
Edmund bites his lip and looks up, as if assessing her. His next question is so unexpected that Susan is almost taken aback.
"Do you go to church, Susan?" he asks, and Susan nods that yes, of course she does. She can't quite help the narrowing of her eyes, though, as she waits for what is to come.
Edmund sighs. "I'm not here to fight, Su. I'm here because I want you to know that I understand."
"You understand?" Susan asks and she can't quite keep the disdain from her voice.
"At least I think I do," Edmund adds with a frown (it brings back memories of Calormene ambassadors and court rooms with high ceilings where a King wore that same frown as he delivered justice), "Aslan said we couldn't come back, because we had learnt enough in Narnia. He also said that he was known under another name here, and that we are supposed to find it."
"You would believe an magical, talking lion?" Susan tries to deflect, she isn't quite ready to dissect what she was feeling, "An imaginary, magical, talking lion?"
The smile that Edmund shoots her is mirthless, sharp enough to cut steel.
"I think you've done it, Su. I think you've learnt what you could, and you're using it in this world. Maybe you've even found Aslan, in God or Jesus, or whatever you want to believe."
He understands, Susan thinks. He knows. Shrewd as he is, Edmund has figured out her reasoning (and why wouldn't he? The Just and the Gentle always knew what made the other tick) and it sounds so right that she almost believes. Almost. But Susan is not easily cowed. (A queen never is).
"I'm certainly living more than you and the others." Susan says in compromise, "But yes, maybe I did learn a few things from that game we used to play."
"I see how you use the same masks you used to wear as Queen. Sweet and silly and gentle. I'm sure everyone will startle at your ferocity if they ever get on you bad side. With or without bow and arrow, you'll manage to give them quite a fright!" Edmund laughs.
Susan scowls, turning to look out the window. She's tired of this conversation, and she can see the same in Edmund's face as his smile slips.
"I will no longer argue this with you. Maybe someday I'll be where you are now; I'll reach acceptance and find what I need in this world. Maybe someday I'll live my life and grow." Edmund implores, "But Susan… If you truly go down this path, do not forget to do that. Do not forget to grow."
With a last step forward, Edmund takes Susan's face in her hands. She looks at his wise eyes (the eyes of a man, a King) and he drops a small kiss to her forehead. He moves away and at the door, he turns back once, with a twinkle in those same, wise eyes. He runs a hand over his lips, then grins.
"You've got a blotchy spot," Edmund points to his own forehead, in the middle where he just kissed Susan, "Right there."
She looks at the mirror in front of her and spots a mark in her powder that is bigger than any lips she as ever seen. Almost as if the kisser had purposefully moved his lips around to ruin her makeup…
"Edmund!" she yells, but Edmund's feet are already echoing down the stairs.
Susan shakes her head fondly. Silly boy.
The dead are silent as she walks among them. Everything is quiet under a soft blanket of snow. There are statues, at some graves. Dancing angels and prancing lions that look so alive that they make Susan shiver from something other than cold (she shivers when she looks upon the White Witch, her magical staff swinging to and fro as she turns people to stone).
The path to her family is one that Susan can walk in her sleep. She knows every turn, every hobble. She has memorised every name on the graves she passes, counted every year those unfortunate people could have had. A turn left, then right. Then straight on between Mr. and Mrs. Thomas (December 1st 1941 and December 2nd 1941, what a love to die together).
The names turn familiar now, scrawled into stones she never wished to see. Pole, Srubb.
The doorbell goes. Susan's life shatters in an instant. The words after "I regret to inform you there has been an accident." are lost to her. She already knows what is to come.
"Who?" she asks, then cold-heartedly, "How many?"
How many are gone? How many does she have left? The man's feet shuffle and he looks to the ground. It's a slap in the face, a cold shower in the morning, a punch that drives all the air from her lungs (like at that battle where she fell from the tower and broke three ribs). There is a shortage of air, a ringing of ears. A realisation.
"All of them?" she whispers, and she clutches her heart as if she can hold the breaking shards together with her hands.
The grave nod is enough to send Susan's knees buckling, her air coming out in short rasps. All the can think is no. No, no, no. They did not survive this war (all those wars) to die from a stupid, faulty train. It's unfair. It's wrong.
"I'm afraid you'll have to come down to the station, ma'am." The officer says apologetically, "We need someone to identify the bodies."
Susan nods, swallows to regain her composure, then stands up numbly to say, "Of course. Yes. I'll go get my coat."
She does. She slings her scarf around her neck in the futile hope it will render Lucy alive. Then she starts off to the morgue. It's the worst journey she can ever remember taking. She finds herself praying to the heavens that they found the wrong family. That somehow everyone is still alive. Still available to make up with. That somehow, she is not alone.
(It is only years later that Susan wonders if she should have prayed to Aslan, instead.)
The graves are especially grey in the white winter snow. It's almost as if the stone reflects the darkening sky in anticipation of rain. The names are scrawled chronologically by age; Peter Pevensie, Edmund Pevensie and Lucy Pevensie. (The Magnificent, the Just and the Valiant). Susan's name should be between her brothers, but it will be scrawled beneath the names when she finally goes. Or, perhaps, she'll get a grave of her own.
Maybe someday I'll live my life and grow, Edmund's voice echoes in her head, and she drops to her knees to lay the lilies on the ground. Someday never came, and her siblings are stuck in their youthful bodies, in their fantasy (Narnia) filled minds. Forever.
Susan will never stop being angry at God, or Fate, or (Aslan) whatever deity decided to cut the lives of her siblings short. What right did they have to withhold the opportunity to live? What right did anyone have to deny them the opportunity to simply be and grow?
The wind grows stronger as Susan stands and straightens the wrinkles in her dress. She holds back her tears with every ounce of her self-restraint, as she turns to walk from the grave. Do not forget to grow, wise young (old) Edmund had said. She holds on to the words, lets them singe her heart. Then she lets the tears go, satisfied in the knowledge that she is capable of holding them back.
Susan will live. She will laugh, love and cry. She will dress beautifully because she can. She will learn and become something because she wants to. She will remember her siblings and all their little quirks. She will turn ill and old. She will do everything she can possibly fit in her life.
But the one thing she will not do, is wait for some Lion to appear and take her to a place she does not want to remember. To a place from which she was banned. It is him, instead, who will have to wait.
After all, there is so much left to do in this world and she is not yet ready for the other. So, Susan lives and learns to be happy.
And she grows.