I don't own Narnia or the Pevensies.
We've all been here.
Susan shivers in black, blue eyes searching the worn wood for magic. She has not been here in six years, not since the crown was ripped from her forehead and the royal robes stripped from her frame. They were purple, she recalls, then chastises herself – they were never real, and so could not have been purple.
Time passes, and a frozen sigh escapes her painted lips, frosting in the chilled air, hanging about her pretty face. She is porcelain pale behind the black veil, and just as fragile; she looks as though the slightest breeze might topple her beautiful body to the bare floor, but all is still and silent save the beating of her fluttering heart. She cannot explain why this place, of all of them, brings the most acute pain. It is only a spare room. She scarcely remembers it.
Slowly, her eyes trace the floor, across the brown, coarse boards, towards the windows. There was a bluebottle, she recalls dimly. A dead one, on the sill. But it was years and years ago, and she could be wrong, as she knows she has been wrong about many things. It doesn't matter anymore.
Her eyes move to the outside world, still and snow-covered, beautiful and dead. Vaguely, she remembers a sunnier day, and the crack of a bat, and the shatter of stained glass. Footsteps echo in her memories, running footsteps, the footsteps of four children fleeing, and for an instant she can hear her sister's laughter ringing in her ears before it is hushed by her mind. Stop, it orders. No sense thinking about it.
And she is right; there isn't sense in thinking about it. But Lucy didn't always make sense, either, and so Susan lets herself think of her sister's laugh a little longer, of her smile and the way her cheeks would flush with color when she spoke. She closes her eyes and pictures her, paints her in her mind, sees her cherubic face and her golden braids and her bright eyes and the cordial at her hip. But there never was any cordial.
We all know it's fiction.
Susan shivers in black, blue eyes opening again as she lets the memory of her sister fall from her mind. No sense in thinking of it. Not anymore. She turns back to the window, to the scraggling trees reaching skyward, gnarled arms uplifted in a plea for warmth, for light, for hope. What a morbid imagination, her mind says, and she frowns.
Slowly, she turns back to the room, to the white-draped wardrobe. She takes a step, and her delicate hand lifts briefly, as if it lacks the heart to complete the motion, but she gathers her courage and reaches out to touch the material, and her hand glides into it until it is lost in the
virgin white. Hesitantly, slender fingers curling in the soft curtain, she thinks of winter, of spun sugar and Edmund's pale, freckled cheeks, of thrown snowballs and biting cold and deep, deep loneliness. It was their curse, she remembers. To be lonely together, to be dark complements to their sunny brother and sister.
The sheet is dry and cool against her bare hand. Though her wool coat is warm, she feels a chill pass through her palm, traveling up her arm, raising bumps on her skin, and coming to curl softly against her heart. She shivers again, not lonely, but alone.
When she takes her hand away, it feels as though she has been cut off from something, though she doesn't know what, and so she quickly buries it in the folds of the shroud again. Foolishness, her mind says. Reluctantly, she retracts her hand a second time and places it in the lined pocket of her coat. She closes her eyes, and she can picture her younger brother standing the same way, stiffly, hands in his own pockets, dark-eyed and solemn as always. Sometimes it was hard to believe a boy so serious could believe in the fantasies of his littlest sister, the wildest dreamer of the four, but he always had, with a stiff-jawed graveness that almost made Susan doubt her own rational mind.
We all know what's real.
Susan shivers in black, blue eyes sweeping up across the white curtain again. She stands for another moment, uncomfortably, and then there is a catch in her breath abruptly, and she squeezes her eyes shut, thrusts her hand forward, gets a fist full of fabric, and yanks.
When it comes billowing down around her, the slipping clouds lapping airily at the mourning black of her clothes, she shudders involuntarily and takes another step forward. Her heel clops quietly on the wooden floor, then is muffled as the light pile of fabric hushes it in snowy softness. Out of the muted purity of the curtain looms warm, vibrant, beautiful wood, carved into shapes that shouldn't be so familiar to her. Again, her hand stretches out, fingertips shaking before they are stilled against the wardrobe door, and she lets out the breath she didn't know she was holding.
It is unlike anything she has felt before, and precisely like everything she always wanted to feel again. There is no "again," her mind reminds her disapprovingly. But she can't deny the familiarity of this wood, of these markings. The intricate wooden caricatures speak of something she shouldn't have forgotten, something important, but elusive. Feelings rise and fall with the path of her fingers, but slip away as soon as they come. She knows this wood. That's because you've seen it before, insists her mind. But it's more than just that.
Here – a little carven elm tree, and she can imagine cool shade and a picnic lunch with laughing company of all ages, sizes and shapes. And over here – a stallion, and she can hear the whinnies of a full stable. Over there, an apple, and fields of plenty, and there, a knight, noble and chaste. Fantasies, her mind says derisively. But she has stopped already, fingertips frozen on the back of
the armored knight. He kneels before an unknown figure, head bowed in humility, swordtip down as he assumes his reverent stance.
Peter never wore armor like this (did he?), but Susan can so easily picture his steady hands bearing that sword, his broad shoulders made broader with steel plate, his bearing as quiet and modest as this knight's is. With or without armor, he was always their stoic, vigilant protector, their rock of good faith in troubled times, willing to be resented by his siblings if it kept his family safe. And it seems to her to make such perfect sense, that he should wear that mail and bear the title of knight, almost to the point where she thinks it was once true. Impossible, says her mind.
We've all been here, in front of the closed doors, imagining what could lie inside; we have all put our hands to the handle and closed our eyes, pretending we believe there's something magical within. And we've all faced bitter disappointment when this time is no different from all the others.
We all know this moment. It belongs to every one of us.
Susan shivers in black, blue eyes looking through the door as if she can see what is behind it. Her hand finds the handle hesitantly. Don't be stupid, says her mind. There's nothing there but whatever the Professor left in.
But her desire is desperate, and she has to know.
No prayers cross her thoughts, not consciously, and she tries to pretend she isn't hoping for anything, because her heart is too full of unfulfilled hope to fit any more in. Fumbling, breath quickening, she undoes the latch, grasps the handle in a trembling hand and pulls. The door is heavy. The air is still.
Slowly, agonizingly, the wood swings out with a quiet creak, and the door stands open. The light from the windows spills in eagerly, and it is easy to make out the soft, serene shapes of hanging coats. She puts her hand inside; the fur is cool, supple, softly bristled. The air inside smells of musty mothballs and years of dust. Susan, suddenly struck by a feeling of sacredness, quickly slips off her shoes before she steps up inside with a growing urgency rising in her chest.
She wants to be calm about this, but the hands that push the first few coats aside are shaking with an anxious excitement, a half-hope that she still refuses to recognize. Her breath comes more quickly. Her eyes peer almost fearfully towards the back of the wardrobe. Her stocking-clad feet slide silently on the wood, mothballs skittering aside. Her mind growls at her. Stop this foolishness, it snaps. Be reasonable.
There is no reason with which to justify this. Susan thrusts aside the coats, almost gritting her teeth as she fights her way to the back, to home, closing her eyes with a pained smile and waiting for her hands to find the forest that she needs to be there. Slipping on the sanded wood, she lets out a small cry and tumbles to her knees with sharp pain shooting up through her leg. The furs close in around her as she falls.
It hurts, but not as much as the smooth, solid wood against her shoulder. She has found the back of the wardrobe.
Her eyes open shakily, struggling to see in the dark. Her trembling hands reach up to run across the glossy wood, disbelieving. But really, she has known it all along. She cannot return. Silent, painful sobs crack from her throat, her body shaking violently as she pounds one fist, then the other against the closed gateway, her efforts fruitless. Her tears slip from tightly squeezed eyelids, mascara running down her cheeks to mix with the blush on her pretty face. Her frame lurches with each suppressed sob of despair.
She wants to scream, but it isn't dignified. She wants to wail and shriek and throw herself against the back of the wardrobe, but she can't, it wouldn't be proper. She wants to stand up and cry out the names of her beloved siblings, and ask why they had to be taken away, and why she had to be left behind, but her body will not respond, and all she can to is curl into herself and sob until her tears run dry and her face is a mess. Only then does she find the strength to drag herself out of the wardrobe and back into the empty, still, winter-lit room.
See? says her mind. It wasn't real.
She ignores it, and slips on her shoes before wiping the last of her ruined makeup off with her handkerchief and straightening out. She looks one last time at the wardrobe, then reaches out and closes the door gently. It clicks, and the latch falls into place.
She walks to the door.
Susan sits neatly in black, blue eyes watching the estate grow smaller and smaller through the window of train that is carrying her away. She will not come back again.
Two lives, she thinks. What a remarkable gift.
Perhaps someday, she will again dress in purple and bear a crown upon her forehead. It is not for her to know. But for today, she has but one person to be and one life to live.
To wish for more would be unreasonable.