The London sky is a dappled gray. Susan is carrying her brolly as she hurries downtown.
“You can only live the life you live in.”
A conversation with Edmund rattles around her head. They had talked about life after Cair Paravel, before Peter, Lucy and even Edmund stopped talking to Susan about it.
Lucy's reality was one of magic, one of fauns appearing next to lampposts in the snow. Edmund's reality involves gritting teeth and forgiveness. Peter, noble and old beyond his years, even before Narnia, had a reality that balanced between Lucy and Edmund. It was only Susan, it seemed, that could not live in two places at once, only Susan that remembered the way her heart was warm, and how it broke, and how hard it was to rebuild.
Susan’s reality is what is in front of her – England, secondary school, living in a world at war without her parents. Deep down, Susan knows Narnia exists, remembers with a sharp pain the horror of battle, of almost being married, of watching Aslan die at the stone table.
But Susan, bright as she is beautiful, also remembers Aslan saying she would not be able to return to Narnia. Even if she wanted, even if it was her heart’s desire. Too Old. Too Old. So it was easier then, to push it all away. Easier to pretend it was a game. Easier to hide the pain behind cosmetics and silk stockings.
Lucy always believed. Sometimes Susan was jealous of Lucy’s freedom to simply love Aslan, to love Narnia, to just be and say what she thought. Even when Lucy returned that last time, being determined Too Old by Aslan himself and Susan held her as she sobbed, Lucy was not angry with Aslan. Lucy understood, Lucy always thought he would come back for her. Narnia was always real for Lucy, even in England. Peter, Edmund, Eustace, Caspian, the Professor and Polly and Jill - Lucy was always Lucy.
Susan has never really had that luxury, not even in Narnia, where she was to marry to better the country, not because of her own desires. But Lucy, Lucy could visit whomever without anyone getting suspicious. Lucy could be friends with the Talking Beasts and the Trees, could love without restraint or fear.
While she was not unhappy, Susan’s reality was never the same as the others. Susan the Gentle, the friend of all, because Susan alone fully realized the dangers of extremism, of being unyielding, was not forgiving of herself like Edmund. She did not sparkle like Lucy. She was meant to be gazed upon and adored, she was meant to be married, to sit beside someone else.
Narnia may have had four rulers at Cair Paravel, but it was a son of Adam who wielded the most power and the finest sword.
In England, in the years between, Susan snuck out on Sundays to go to Mass. She loved the beautiful words, the rituals, the sense of the sacred. Susan always needed a little help to find Aslan, and the church provided it.
But she grew tired of the men in charge. Tired of being told to view the world through their perspective, tired of sermons that mentioned how wives should listen to their husbands, that women were less than men, that all the world’s problems were because of Eve biting a single apple. She had seen Aslan die, hadn’t she? She had been the first to see him rise again. But that only made her a witness, passive in the action. And after going to America, seeing how they danced and worked and spoke aloud about everything, Susan remembered how people would listen to her in Narnia, and Susan became dissatisfied to say the least.
She spent Sunday mornings in bed.
Often she would pull out her mum’s King James bible and pour over the passages, looking for Narnia, for Aslan, for herself.
Her family died while she was looking.
Susan was in her room when the call came.
She rushes through the early fog.
It is easier to believe in fairy tales at eight rather than twelve. Of course, wanting things is different, and before leaving for the old Professor’s house in the country, back when Narnia didn’t exist to them, not even to Lucy, Susan had a huge row with her mother about taking her favorite doll with her.
“It’s time for you to grow up, Su,” Helen said. “You are almost of age, and no one wants to see a young lady dragging a tattered dolly around with her. What would people think?”
Susan blushed and turned away, knowing her mother was afraid for her, but angry all the same. This was the doll she clutched at night when the air raid alarms went off, the doll that she hid under her pillow when Lucy came to sneak into bed. It belonged to Susan, and Susan loved it.
But it was only a doll, and her father was fighting in the war, and London wasn’t safe for children any more. The morning the train left, Helen gathered Susan into her arms and held her tightly. “You look after them, you hear? And write often, if you can.”
“Of course, mum,” Susan replied, straightening her shoulders and smiling.
“That’s my good girl,” Helen said, patting Susan’s cheek. Helen gave Lucy a small hug and said, “Listen to Su and Peter now, won’t you? I don’t want to hear any bad reports from the Professor.”
Lucy started to cry. Susan took one of her hands, and Peter the other, and they followed Edmund on the train. As it pulled out of the station, Susan looked out the window for a glimpse of her mum, but she couldn’t see her anywhere.
After they arrived in the country, at the Professor’s, Susan began to unpack all their things. She folded the boys’ clothes properly and stored them in the dresser. She took Peter’s books and set them next to his bed, tried to fluff up Edmund’s pillow as best she could.
Then she went to the room she would be sharing with Lucy. Susan put Lucy’s things away first, tucking her small jerseys into the wardrobe. She folded Lucy’s favorite stuffed rabbit carefully, and put it next to her pillow. Susan’s suitcase was the only thing left in the room, and she swung it onto her mattress with little difficulty. Opening it, and feeling quite a bit guilty, Susan reached between her two favorite cardigans for the doll.
Her fingers came up empty.
Susan quickly overturned the case, dumping everything out. No doll emerged, no matter how Susan moved the pile of clothes around. Finally, she found a small note.
“It’s time to grow up, dear. It happens to all of us at one time or another.” Her mother’s handwriting blurred as Susan felt the tears start to rise.
At that moment, Lucy came tearing into the room, talking excitedly about this wardrobe she’d discovered, where it was snowing, right this minute. Susan snapped at her, said she didn’t have time for such nonsense, and began to fold her clothes. Lucy went crying to Peter, and Susan selfishly thought, Let her.
Narnia was always difficult for Susan. She wanted to believe, so much that she was afraid. It was easier to let those fears run her life, because the world she lived in, her own reality, had a different set of rules and practices than Narnia. In England, especially in wartime, no one believed in magic. And watching her country rebuild after the air raids, listening to King George the Sixth on the radio - it was hard not to think about the reality in front of her.
Everyone had their reasons for keeping Narnia alive. For Lucy, it was Aslan. For Edmund, it was rebirth. For Peter, it was loyalty. But Susan? Susan had none of those things, and a whole world telling her grow up and stop playing games. That her reality was England, not Narnia, and Aslan himself had told her she would not return. She was both Too Old, and not old enough.
Closing it off was easier.
But they never did. Lucy, Peter, Edmund, the Professor and Polly, cousin Eustace and Jill - they believed right up until the end. Jill always looked at Susan with such distaste, and Susan never disliked her brother as much as when Peter lectured on loyalty. You're not the High King here, she would spit at him, watching his shoulders stiffen. It is so much easier for you, she thought. Susan hated how she envied them, envied their determined faith and steadfast beliefs.
Down the stairs, Susan looks around the room. She does not see High King Peter, or King Edmund the Just. There is just Peter, her older brother. The one she looked up to, the one she lost as a friend as the years passed. She closes her eyes and remembers strolling the grounds of Cair Paravel, rare Narnian flowers in bloom that first spring, and how they discussed the future as equals.
There is simply Edmund, her younger brother, middle child just like her. Susan recalls how Edmund always wanted attention in the early years, worsening when Lucy arrived, and how Susan had tried to make time for him. Something always seemed to get in the way. The way he was brave, and so very scared, when the White Witch had him. His tears at his disgust with himself, how he struggled and persevered.
And as Susan looks at Lucy’s body on the hard concrete in the morgue, small, little Lucy, she thinks of when they watched Aslan die together, the tears they shed, and how Lucy saw him again first. Lucy always saw him first.
She nods her recognition to the attendant, and leaves Lucy’s eyes open. “Take care of her,” Susan whispers to the lion she cannot see, and turns on her heel to leave.
There is a barrister assigned to her case. She is twenty-one and she has just lost her entire family. She now owns a house. She is a Pevensie, and the last.
Because she did not believe when her siblings did.
They are buried next to her parents in a church near a river. Susan chose the church because of the flowers and the trees. These trees did not walk with dyads inside them, but they were lovely nonetheless.
She tries to visit often, but laying flowers at the headstones of her brothers and sisters seems forced and awkward. Susan has taken to talking to them as if they were still alive, saying all the things she never said. She catches herself playing Remember When and a sob lodges in her throat.
Goodbye, she thinks. It is too hard to be here, and Susan does not like to lose control of herself.
She leans against a tree, trying to get breathe somewhat normally. When she finally looks back, to see her family for the last time, she sees a faun sitting on Lucy's headstone. He is wearing clothes, and looking directly at her.
“Do not look for the living among dead, Daughter of Eve," he says. Susan holds tightly to the tree. A horse is beside the faun, and it also says, "Do not look for the living among the dead."
Talking Beasts, in England! Susan's heart leaps. "What are you doing here?" she whispers fiercely. And hopefully.
But the faun and the horse begin to fade. "Wait!" Susan cries. "Please don't go. Please. They left me all alone, you see, and -" She is sobbing now, stumbling back toward the graves.
"Daughter of Eve," the horse says gently, "Do not look for the living among the dead."
They are gone.
Susan is alone in the silence, but feels the tiniest bit of hope. She looks at the river, takes a deep breath, and vows never to return.
Probate is granted on a sunny Tuesday in spring, and Susan walks from the Royal Courts of Justice down to the Thames, which slides sluggishly by.
She should be surprised, she thinks. To see him lying in the shade under the tree, the breeze lifting his mane. But somehow it seems inevitable that he should be here, in London, and there should no one here to see him.
“Do you love me, Susan?”
And she thinks about it, looks into his golden eyes and feels every part of her soul soar. All the heartbreak and the sorrow lift away.
“Yes, Aslan. You know that I do.”
“Stay with the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve.”
He stretched a giant paw towards her, and asked again. “Susan, once a Queen of Narnia, always a Queen of Narnia. Do you truly love me?”
She feels hot tears burn at her eyes, her heart is bursting in her chest.
“Yes, Aslan. Always.”
“Take care of my children.”
The great lion got to his feet, stepping towards her, his soft muzzle pressing to her cheek.
“Susan the Gentle, do you love me?”
Weeping openly, she thrust her hands into his mane, clinging to him as she whispered, “Aslan, you know all things. You know that I do.”
“Then it shall fall to you to ensure that Eve’s Daughters and Adam’s Sons know Narnia, and carry it close to their hearts. Follow me.”
Aslan smiled at her gently and turned, padding away from her down the bank of the river, and shimmered into the sunlight, disappearing from sight.