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It starts harmlessly enough. An excuse for an aunt, an uncle, a party guest standing a little too close:

 

“It’s only a game we used to play.”

She says the same to her mother, her father, and it turns into a way to talk about kings and queens and that moment when they determined executions: just a game, just a game, back when we were children.

(It has been decades since any of them could possibly be called children, and Susan scrawls the truth of that in scarlet on her lips and black fabric on her thighs, and if the boys at the parties laugh at everything she says, well, if she closes her eyes then she can pretend that their petty admiration is directed at a Queen.)

She thinks it’s harmless still, that she’s holding on to everything, until Lucy asks her what she’s doing with the party boys and Susan doesn’t know how to explain, doesn’t know how to say that she can claim she’s Susan the Gentle again.

“Do you remember those games we used to play?” she starts, “with Narnia and Aslan?” It isn’t until Lucy slaps her that she remembers that there’s nobody in the other room listening, no need to pretend.

None of them ever mentions Narnia to her again, not until they ask her to come on that last trip by train, and she looks at them and looks at her hands and wonders when she started feeling like she doesn’t deserve to be a Queen.

“Go without me,” she says, “and I’ll meet you there.”

It starts out as a lie, but it turns into a promise as she stands lipsticked and prayerful by their graves.