The Eighth Friend of Narnia
What if Susan did, finally, grow up?
Afterwards – Susan thinks of the rest of her life as 'afterwards', even though she has a difficult time persuading her flatmates Kath and Peggy she doesn't mean after the train crash, and an impossible time trying to explain what she does mean – Susan goes to visit the graves. She hadn't, until now. Couldn't – no, Susan corrects herself – wouldn't.
But now she will, can, does. Kath and Peggy exchange a horrified glance that spells 'Morbid' in letters a foot high when she says where she's been. But it wasn't morbid, not at all. Her family aren't there, of course – but she knows where they are, and that she's going there too – and so it doesn't hurt to go to the graves.
"All by yourself?" Peggy questions in final protest, and Susan sighs. She wasn't by herself. What exactly does 'Always, to the end of the age' mean, if not that you're never by yourself? She found that page in Peter's book, apparently read so often that the book falls open there by itself – well, okay: it falls open there.
"Weren't you afraid?" Kath adds anxiously. 'You have listened to fears, child,' says the Voice in Susan's head, and she almost laughs in Kath's face. She wasn't afraid any more than alone. She was, if anything, glad – glad because the graves were a bit weed covered, as unvisited graves tend to get, and so she must go back and weed them. She was always the one to stay behind and look after things while the other three went off, hunting and adventuring and what-not. Now, it's still the same. She's glad.
She goes back to the graves, puts fresh flowers, pulls the weeds. Most of them, anyway. If there is no such thing as luck, then is it by chance that Lucy's grave is covered in speedwell that is, for the moment anyway, a sea of blue? There are a few dandelions, too, which Susan leaves. Just a few, big yellow pompoms between the boys' graves. They'll look messy in a week or so, but right now they remind her of Peter's hair and Edmund's laughter and, well, one or two other Golden things.
She goes back to the graves, this time in her new frock and, yes, nylons. Somehow, Susan feels it wasn't so much the nylons themselves, as herself, that was the problem her brothers and sister had with nylons. So now, well – she wears them, gives a small, half-laughing twirl along the row of gravestones: "What do you think?" What Kath and Peggy would think, talking to a row of graves, Susan doesn't care to think – but it's Mother and Father and Peter and Edmund and Lucy she's talking to right now, not her flatmates. Her family aren't here, she knows that. But in a way they are – and she needs that, at present, that physical link. When she's stronger – though Susan doubts she'll ever be as strong as Lucy – she won't, but right now, she does. Susan smiles. That's why it's been given to her.
She goes back to the graves, and the dandelions have finished now. Most of them are messy, but the few, biggest pompoms between the boys' graves have turned to perfect globes of feathery white. She picks them and she blows them, remembering Lucy very, very long ago, before the war, two sisters sitting on the lawn blowing dandelion clocks. The white fluff blows back and sticks all over her face, tickling and making her laugh. Laughter, and a white beard, and Susan remembers – remembers an old man with a white beard and a little brother pretending he wasn't laughing. That's when she realises: there are other graves, beside these. And she would like them all to know.
It takes a little while, to trace the Professor and Miss Plummer and Jill Pole, so she starts with Eustace's grave in Cambridge. It doesn't seem fair, really, that he should have had all that mouthful of names stuck on it, making him sound like the stuck-up prig he once was, not the decent kid who came back. The grave itself is horribly neat, rather like Harold and Alberta, and Susan is at a bit of a loss to know what to do. She rubs the top of the stone awkwardly, and the feel of the granite brings back memories: a cold Stone Table, and cold stone statues, and the tiny glimmer of colour spreading and spreading into full and glorious life. Light and Life and Resurrection – and Susan scavenges all up and down that neat, prim graveyard until she's found enough dandelions to make a huge, joyful bundle on Eustace's grave. It looks better then, so she leaves. It's only as she looks back for a last glance from the gate that she suddenly realises. Dent de leon. Eustace would understand her laughter.
The Professor is in the country, at the little old church halfway between the railway station and where the old Kirke mansion used to be. It's a very quiet place, with most of the gravestones so worn and weathered the names are almost gone, but going up the path, she gets a surprise. Right there, beside the path, is a new stone: Mary "Polly" Plummer. Why Miss Plummer should be buried here, Susan has no idea. The Plummers, as far as she had yet managed to trace them, were London folk – but the grave is here, right here; a Victorian birth date and the date of the train crash. Almost as if Aunt Polly had, in her kind and cheery way, chosen there exactly to be waiting for her. Aunt Polly, Susan realises after she's thought it, and she blinks for a minute or so before dividing the bundle of roses she's brought with her. The white ones she keeps; the pink ones and the feather from Susan's hat are for the pink-cheeked little girl who went too.
There are Kirkes by the dozen buried inside the church, but to her relief, the Professor hasn't been shut away in some white marble coldness. His grave is outside and Susan reads the inscription for Diggory Kirke carefully. It must have been put up by his old Oxford college, for they have chosen 'The children of the childless shall be more.' It is a little while before one of the youngest of his children can gather herself to leave the rest of the roses, and add a few pieces of green moss like fur from the church wall in grateful memory of some coats that were never taken out of a wardrobe.
The last one, the youngest one, and it is spring again and Lucy's grave is blue again with speedwell when Susan goes back on her weekly visit, this time with the glad news that she has located Jill's grave at last. Like Eustace's, it's neat; but this one's not too neat, nor is it lonely, for Jill is the second name on the stone, sharing the plot with an old Mrs Pole who must have been her grandmother. Susan traces the letters on the stone with a careful finger. She didn't know Jill very well, didn't know Granny Pole at all, but she imagines a human equivalent of Mrs Beaver welcoming the youngest English Narnian in. Then she puts down her flowers: daffodils because they are Lent lilies, and golden dandelions, and the big bundle of blue speedwell she picked that morning from Lucy.
All is well with the eight friends of Narnia.
Disclaimer: Nobody in this is mine. Ten of them belong to CS Lewis, Kath & Peggy I borrowed from my gran, and for Jill Pole's grandmother, please see the superb one-shot by Andi Horton, "New Clothes."