Just some notes about the timeline I am using for the characters. I have constructed my own timeline for the characters ages/births which doesn't quite match C. S. Lewis's. I have made Edmund four years younger than Peter, as I have wanted to make Edmund very much the "little" brother and I thought a four-year age gap would accomplish that a bit better than three years. So the dates I have given for their births are:
Peter - January 1926
Susan - May 1927
Edmund - April 1930
Lucy - July 1931
This story takes place in June 1935, making Peter 9 years old, Susan 8, Edmund 5, and Lucy 3, almost 4.
It is raining and I am walking home from school by myself, feeling miserable. I have had a rotten day and getting wet just takes the biscuit.
I should have remembered my umbrella but I had to help with the little ones this morning. Lucy made a mess of her breakfast and Edmund has convinced himself that there are dragons in our garden. He cried and screamed, refused to go outside and hid under his bed. I let Susan help Mum with Lucy while I tried to coax him out. I told him there were no dragons. He insisted there were. I told him I'd kill those nasty dragons and he'd be safe. He said they were too big and scary. I finally managed to tempt him out by offering him some of my chocolate and by then Susan and I were in danger of being late for school. Mum rushed us all out of the house with nary a word about the weather.
School was horrid today. Instead of football, cricket or rugby in Games, we had cross country running instead, which everyone hates. In Arithmetic – one of my best subjects – the teacher told me to coach one of the slower pupils, a beastly boy who did nothing but insult me the whole time. In our Geography lesson I took part in a prank – and, worse luck, the teacher caught me in the act of filling the inkwells with custard, which got me three smacks on my backside. For lunch we had liver and dry, barely cooked cabbage. Each mouthful made me feel like I was going to be sick. I accidentally spilled my water over the headmaster and he shouted at me so fiercely that I started to cry in front of everyone. I couldn't even leave school at the usual time as it turned out to be my turn to help set out the chairs for tomorrow's assembly. I could see that Mum was a little vexed that I'd forgotten so I told her that she needn't go to the trouble of making another trip out to collect me when I'd finished. I could make my own way home. It wasn't far.
And now I am walking home and I am wet. Wet and miserable. Wet and miserable and cross.
Susan sees me coming from the window and lets me in. "You are silly," she tells me when she sees how wet I am. "You ought to have taken your raincoat and umbrella." I tell her that she should try dealing with Edmund's overly-energised imagination in the morning and see if she can remember proper weather precautions. She, I say, got the easy job of looking after Lucy. Which is true. Both kids are small and both can be awfully testing due to their ages, but even at the age of five, Edmund's mind is intense. Once he's decided that something is true, it can take a lot of arguing and persuading to convince him otherwise. He fixates on things, sometimes little, unimportant things. I worry about him. There are occasions when that boy is far too serious, especially for someone as small as he is. He goes into moods, into sulks. He insists he is "just thinking". I say he thinks too much. And they can't be happy thoughts. I've found him curled up in our room, crying quietly to himself, apparently over nothing. I run to him, put my arms around him and ask him what's the matter, but even he doesn't seem to know. "Things in my head," he says, pointing to his skull. "Things in my head."
The little ones come running downstairs to greet me. Since Edmund was about two it has been his custom to give Susan and myself a kiss when we return from school and this is something he has coached Lucy to do as well. Edmund starts laughing as he gets closer. "Peter's wet. Peter got caught in the rain," he chants. "Look, Lucy. Peter's ever so wet. Isn't that funny?" Lucy starts giggling herself. No one can make her laugh like Edmund.
In spite of myself, I smile. It's good to be at home with my brother and sisters, the horrible schoolday now languishing in the past. Our house is friendly and cosy as ever, filled with the smells of musty books and Mum's baking. A sugary, buttery aroma floats through from the kitchen. It looks like Mum is baking biscuits.
I bend down to receive my kisses from Edmund and Lucy and slide swiftly across the oak-panelled floor to the kitchen. Maybe Mum will give me a treat before supper. I noticed a bowl of toffees in the larder the other day. I hope Edmund hasn't helped himself to all of them. The boy is drawn to sweets like mosquitoes to blood.
Today has been unseasonably cold and entering the kitchen is like stepping into a benevolent fire. The heat from the stove has shrouded the room in sheets of warmth, the kind that weaves its way through your whole body and leaves you feeling safe and loved.
"Hello Mum," I say brightly. "What are you baking? It smells delicious."
"Oh my goodness, Peter, look how wet you are! Did you forget your umbrella? How careless of you." She isn't really cross but my smile slips a little. After my awful day, a criticism from my mother is the last thing I want to hear. I am the oldest. It's important that I show her I can be counted upon.
"Let me help you, Mum," I offer.
"Oh, that's all right, dear. The biscuits are almost finished." So I was right. She is baking biscuits. "But I am going to need to pop out to pick up some milk and cheese. Will you do me a favour and watch over the others while I'm gone? I shan't be long."
Of course I can watch over the others. I'm Good Peter. Helpful Peter. Trustworthy Peter.
"Yes, Mum. I'll see they're all right.
Mum pats my cheek. "You're so responsible, Peter. I knew I could rely on you."
Soon I am alone with my siblings. With Mum out and Dad not yet back from work, I have become the adult. I tell Susan as much but she scoffs. "You're just a child like the rest of us. But since you think you're so adult you can help me with the sums Miss Delaney set me to do. They're frightfully difficult."
But helping with sums reminds me of my Arithmetic lesson earlier, in which I was taunted by that nasty boy. I don't want to help Susan, not now. Not today. I shake my head. "Another time, Susan."
She scowls. "But I want to get them out of the way now."
"Well you'll have to wait."
"You always help me with my sums."
"Today I'm not."
"You're in a very selfish mood today, Peter Pevensie," she sniffs before she stalks away.
My mood has dropped a little. Selfish? I only wish I could be selfish for a change. I go out of my way to help Susan, Edmund and Lucy whenever I can. I read bedtime stories to the little ones. I comfort Edmund when he has nightmares. I wipe away tears. I assist Mum and Dad around the house. Yes, Susan helps out as well and she does her part in caring for the younger two, but I'm the one with the most to do. I'm Responsible Peter.
I draw myself up and say proudly, "I am Perfect Peter." But with no other audience than myself, the words seem meaningless.
I go into our front room. The sofa and armchairs are quite old but I like them that way. They feel soft and familiar and you can sink into them in a way you're afraid to do with brand new furniture because you worry that too aggressive a contact will damage them.
I like the green and brown chequered pattern on our furniture. It reminds of spring walks through the woods, when the leaves are just being born and the soil feels so rich and alive you can almost hear it speaking. Forests make me think of good, earthy, homely food, like buttered toast and crumpets. Or those biscuits that Mum is baking.
I put the wireless on and settle into listening to an adventure show. Just as I am beginning to properly relax, Edmund comes in, climbs onto the sofa and starts to fiddle with the knobs.
"Ed. Don't do that. I'm trying to listen."
He ignores me.
"Ed! Stop that please."
He turns. "Why?"
"Because I want to listen to the programme. And because I say so."
There are times when Edmund accepts my commands without question and times when he doesn't. Which was this going to be?
"You're not the boss," he tells me cockily and returns to playing with the knobs. I grab his shoulders and pull him away. "Edmund! If you can't behave, then leave the room."
Edmund leans over and snatches at one of the knobs. I pull him back again and the knob comes off in his hand. We are silent for a minute, each mentally blaming the other.
"That was your fault," he says.
"No, it's your fault," I snap back. "I told you to leave the wireless alone." I cross and disappointed with myself that I've allowed Edmund to break something while on my watch.
"But there's a magic powder inside it which will kill the dragons…"
"Oh, do be quiet, Edmund. Go and play with Lucy." Normally I'm patient with my brother's wild flights of fancy but my mood is worsening. I just want some peace. Edmund leaves and as he does so he sticks his tongue out at me.
I flop back into the sofa, fed up. Why me? Why does it always have to be me in charge, me overseeing things, me making sure the others are all right? Susan was correct. I am just a child still. Nine years old is not such a great age.
"I am Perfect Peter," I say quietly. But this is a lie. I'm not perfect. I do my best to be well-behaved, I help my parents, I look after my siblings…but I also play pranks on other pupils at school. Harmless, light-hearted fun, but pranks all the same. I've taken chocolate from the tin when we've been told not to. I've called other pupils names. I've called my siblings names. I've thrown mud over my friends for a joke. Normal nine-year-old boy stuff. Because, after all, I am just a nine-year-old boy.
My peace doesn't last for long. Minutes later, Lucy comes into the room, running as fast as her little legs will let her. She is tearful, but more out of anger than genuine distress. "Peter! Edmund won't let me play with Wilfred!"
Wilfred is Edmund's teddy bear. He's mightily possessive about most of his belongings but especially Wilfred. Getting him to share will be no easy task.
The boy himself follows Lucy inside. "Don't listen to her. I did share for a while."
"Let Lucy play with Wilfred, Ed."
"I have! I let her play with him for ten minutes! But he's mine and now I'm having him back!"
"Lucy, go and play with your own toys." My voice is dull, listless. I'm not in the mood to deal with another sibling fight.
"BUT I WANT WILFRED!" Lucy shrieks.
"YOU'RE NOT HAVING HIM!" Edmund yells back.
"QUIET, both of you!" I turn on my special Do-as-you're-told glare. "Mum left me in charge and I don't want to see any squabbling. Play together nicely or I shall smack you both."
Lucy pouts. "You're no help."
"He thinks he's our boss," Edmund tells her. "Let's stick out our tongues at the boss, Lucy. That will be fun." He blows a large raspberry at me and Lucy, giggling, follows suit, their quarrel quite forgotten.
Susan appears. "What's all the noise?" she demands grumpily.
"Su. Take these two off my hands, would you?"
She takes each of them by the hand. "Come on, let's go upstairs and have some fun. We'll leave Peter out of it. He's very boring today, isn't he?"
Once more I'm left alone. Now I am feeling quite angry. Susan doesn't understand what it is to be the oldest, to always be the one looking out for everyone else, to always be the one having to set a good example. Edmund and Lucy look up to me especially and I'm pleased about that – it makes me feel really proud – but it does get so exhausting, having to be GOOD all the time. Having to show the others how to be good.
I'm Good Peter. Helpful Peter. Trustworthy Peter.
And yet, truly, I'm not good all of the time. I've got my mischievous side. When Edmund was three, I shut him in the cupboard for a joke. He pounded and yelled but I wouldn't let him out. Then, when I went to let him out, the door somehow got stuck. Edmund had to stay in there for three hours until Dad came home and was able to prise the door open. I got the biggest smacking of my life that night.
Another time, I put toy spiders in Susan's bed for fun. She gave a shrill scream. Then several minutes later she came running into the room I share with Edmund and flung the spiders at me as hard as she could. "I suppose you think you're clever!" she shouted as I collapsed with laughter.
Helpful Peter. Trustworthy Peter.
I'm TIRED of always being helpful, trustworthy Peter. I want to relax. I want to let myself go. I want to do something NAUGHTY.
I enter the kitchen again, remembering my mother's words. WHY, Mum? Why must you leave ME to look after everyone when I'm only a nine-year-old boy? Why should I be expected to be the best just because I'm the eldest? I'll show her. I'll show them all that "Perfect" Peter is NOT perfect at all. I don't even WANT to be Perfect Peter. Or Helpful Peter. Or Trustworthy Peter. I just want to be…Peter. Just Peter.
I open the oven and, using a glove, slide out a tray of twenty golden brown biscuits, just about done. Tiny slabs of chocolate are embedded inside them. They smell delicious.
I thrust one into my mouth, gobbling greedily. They are warm and sweet and crumble perfectly on my tongue. I stuff another into my mouth, then a third and a fourth. The fifth I eat more slowly, savouring each crumb. I reach for a sixth…
No. I won't eat any more. But I know what I WILL do with the rest of these biscuits.
I tip them onto the floor and stomp on them, one by one, enjoying the crumbly mess I am making. I've had my share of biscuits. Mum meant us all to have some, I know, but the others will have to go without this time. I am in a naughty mood. I am crushing those biscuits, spreading the crumbs far and wide. I am a naughty boy.
I've finished with the biscuits. But the kitchen isn't messy enough for my liking. What else can I do? Then I remember the tin of treacle in the larder. I fetch it out and tip it across the floor, taking delight in the gooey, sticky trail sweeping across the tiles like a river, mixing with the crumbs.
What else is there? I take some eggs from the larder – one, two, three, four – and crack them each against the floor. The gloppy white and the yellow yolk slop into the sticky slime I've already created. It's like I'm making my own gunge.
I can't stop. I pull out a packet of flour, sprinkle that everywhere. Now it looks as though it has snowed in our kitchen. Plums. I add them to the mess. A jug of orange juice. I tip that all over the floor. This feels good. This feels more than good. I feel free!
Edmund comes into the room, sees me pouring the last of the juice. He stares at me, open-mouthed. He's never seen me put a foot wrong before. He must be wondering what kind of devil has possessed his older brother. I tell him to go away and leave me to it. He obeys.
I stand there surveying my handiwork. I am pleased with myself. I've put in a lot of effort. It's going to take ages for all this to be cleaned up. The treacle is going to be particularly troublesome. I chuckle. Good Peter. Helpful Peter. Trustworthy Peter.
"You're always so responsible, Peter. I knew I could rely on you."
I don't WANT to be so responsible, Mum! I'm just a little boy!
And then the kitchen door opens again and my mother is there.