For as long as Lucy can remember, Susan has wanted to be old.
It’s different than the way Peter always was older than his years. Lucy thinks that maybe Peter was just born old, but Susan just wanted to be old, to be seen as an adult and treated like an adult. When Lucy was younger, Susan was always mothering her. “Wash your hands before supper, Lucy!” “Make sure you clean the dishes!” “Oh, Lu, look at you! Did you take a roll in the mud?”
And it was never just Lucy, either, she knows, though she used to think so. No, Susan mothered everyone, Edmund and even Peter, and Peter’s older than Susan. And now that Lucy’s grown, Susan still treats her like a little child who needs to be looked after. Susan just says it a bit differently than she used to, less mild scolding and more… well, Lucy doesn’t quite know how to describe it.
Susan will talk with her girlfriends for hours, and she’ll be laughing still so Lucy will ask her why. Then Susan just smiles (one of her patronizing smiles, the smiles that Lucy hates) and shakes her head, like Lucy wouldn’t understand. She’s always so interested in boys and parties and clothes, and she thinks Lucy childish for still being so dreamy- painting and writing poetry and sitting in trees for hours, watching the stars at night and the sunrise in the morning (“When are you ever going to grow up, Lu!”). Susan used to be good at swimming and archery, but she hasn’t touched a bow in years and the only time she dips a toe in the water is when she visits the sea with her friends, and Lucy can just picture her squealing in pretend terror when a boy splashes water in her hair.
Susan’s still trying to be older than she really is. She gushes over dresses with Mother, and begs to be allowed to the fancy balls the adults go to. Usually she goes (and Lucy still hasn’t forgotten the time Susan got to go to America, even if Lucy herself had gone somewhere much more wonderful instead). Mother has a special soft spot in her heart for Susan, the pretty one whose schoolwork steadily declined as the years went by and who has delicate tastes. The quiet, soft, gentle, graceful one. Susan will be a beautiful society lady, unlike Lucy.
Sometimes, when Lucy thinks about it, that hurts.
So she tries not to. Think about it, that is. Whenever Lucy is feeling petty or just disappointed, she returns to that special place in her mind and remembers bygone days. Bygone days when she was a queen in Narnia, when she went to feasts held in her honor and rode to battle on a Talking Horse and sailed far across the endless seas. Where her closest friend (save the great Lion, of course) was not a human at all but a Faun, where she could talk to the trees and receive lessons in star-gazing from Centaurs.
Those were amazing days, when she ruled in Narnia with Peter and Susan and Edmund, and when she helped Prince Caspian to the throne and journeyed with him on the Dawn Treader to the edge of the world.
Yes… Susan, too. Susan was a queen in Narnia, just as Lucy was. Susan with her good eye and steady hand who wept at the thought of taking another creature’s life. Susan’s archery was merely for sport- she let the boys take care of the fighting. And Lucy, too, with her own bow and quiver, a dagger strapped round her ankle and the precious bottle of cordial around her neck, close to her heart. They always said Lucy was as good as a man- or a boy, at least. Susan was content to stay at home in Cair Paravel (worrying, of course, always worrying), a vision in the exceptional Narnian gowns. She had so many suitors, from lands far and wide, princes and lords and all manner of royalty, and she dealt with them all so well- in her quiet way, with an easy smile and mellifluous words, always kind and never leading them on, ever the proper hostess. Lucy thinks that she never could have handled it half so well, but then, she also thinks that Susan was a much better queen than Lucy herself ever was.
But Susan also used to run with Lucy in the dew-covered grass, pinning flowers in their hair. Lucy remembers weeping with her sister over Aslan’s beautiful, cold body and rejoicing together when he came alive again. She remembers the feeling of being carried on his back, sweeping over miles of Narnian fields with Aslan’s soft golden fur between their fingers. She thinks of the two of them splashing in the Eastern Ocean and laying out underneath the apple trees, giggling over that handsome prince or that silly lady. To Lucy, the images and the feelings evoked remain as clear as they ever were, even if sometimes it feels like a dream (she knows it isn’t).
But not Susan. Ever since her last visit, Susan started to drift. She’d smile indulgently and demur whenever someone brought up their adventures. She’d listen little and talk even less, growing bored and then irritated at the mere mention of the old “fairy tales” they’d invented. And now she laughs, and Lucy is sure that is the worst. She laughs at their clever imaginations and their old games, and she pretends it all means nothing to her (Lucy says she pretends because how could it truly mean nothing? How could one speak with Aslan and truly believe it was nothing?).
Lucy knows that it makes Peter angry. He knows what she will say, yet it seems he can not let go of the hope that one day she’ll say something different. He’s just been to see her, and Lucy can hear him cursing under his breath. But then he notices his youngest sister, and his lips twitch upwards. Peter always has a smile for Lucy. Though he is in a hurry, as he seems always to be, he stops to rumple her hair and ask how her day is. Peter always has time for Lucy.
It bothers her, this distance that is growing between the four of them. This gaping wide chasm that splits Susan from Peter, Edmund, and Lucy. They were never that way before. Lucy fears that one day the gap will be too wide to breach ever again, that Susan will float away on the wisps of the dream she’s made herself believe. Sometimes she notices a look in Susan’s eyes, and she thinks Susan even hates them a little- for their closeness still and their shared stories and reminiscences. When Lucy sees that, she just calls to mind the fact that really, it’s only Susan’s fault. They wanted to still include her, didn’t they? There wasn’t anything else they could have done. At least, that’s what Lucy tells herself to shake the feeling of guilt (because maybe there was something she should have said, should have done after it was Susan’s last time).
Lucy still believes that Aslan will call to them once again, that they will return again to Narnia to be kings and queen (queens?) once more- once a queen in Narnia, always a queen a Narnia, as Lucy sometimes whispers to herself in the dark of night. But she fears it is too late for Susan, and that Susan will be left behind. Lucy does not know what will happen, then.
So Lucy tries not to be jealous of Susan. She tries not to think of how Susan has always been the beauty of the family, with her waves of thick dark hair and her pale skin and her big brown eyes. Lucy will stare in front of the mirror sometimes and think she’s pretty, too, isn’t she? Doesn’t she have lovely golden hair and expressive eyes and a nice smile? It’s not her fault that everyone looks at Susan and forgets that Lucy’s in the room. But it’s not Susan’s fault, either.
She tries not to think of the special gifts Susan always got, trips and invitations and expensive dresses. Lucy wouldn’t want those, anyway, would she? She tries to remember that she’s always gotten good grades at school and that her teachers always said she was marvelously talented with a boundless imagination. She thinks that people have often told her how light-hearted she is, how she seems to know just the right thing to say to turn a frown to a smile. A girl oughtn’t always to be soft-spoken, should she? Mother and Father never meant to make Lucy feel left out when they did things for Susan.
And there is one thing that Lucy will always have, that makes up for everything else. Because Susan forgot, Susan decided she didn’t want it. Susan gave up the most important gift she would ever be given.
But Lucy didn’t. Lucy will forever treasure the gift that shines in her heart and in her mind, the memory and the promise that makes each day a little bit easier. Lucy thinks that, deep inside, Susan must realize the awful mistake she made.
Then she thinks- it doesn’t matter what Susan thinks or doesn’t think, what Susan has or used to have or will have. Because this has nothing to do with Susan, and everything to do with Lucy.
Lucy will always remember.