I don't own Narnia or the Pevensies.
Her beau's kiss is light and chaste; a greeting, perhaps a salute. She smiles and takes his hand, and together they enter the ballroom. This party is more lovely than the last, but not as elegant as the time before. The refreshments are more exquisite, but the music is less lively. The company is more distinguished, but the conversation is less stimulating. With a glance around, Susan sweeps out onto the dance floor.
In a white-trimmed gown of green, she spins experimentally in his arms. She likes the flow of the material against her stockinged calves; it reminds her of a finer fabric she never has been able to find. Perhaps she only dreamt of it. Satisfied, they begin the dance in earnest, two radiant figures in the center, the sudden focus of many pairs of eyes. The violins pick up a mournful melody and she pulls him out further, her heels clicking on the wooden floor and his eyes locked on hers, enraptured.
"You look like a queen tonight," he breathes. She smiles mysteriously.
They sip champagne with the other guests, and make stimulating conversation. Everyone notices what a lovely couple they make, how fine a gentleman, how lovely a lady. And the way she carries herself, with her chin tilted up just a little, and her gaze direct and arresting; they all say to him, you're a lucky man, what a beauty. What a lady. As they navigate the hall, the conversation slides off her tongue like butterscotch, sweet with wit and intelligence. He calls her his queen and she is.
Late that night, they hold each other in front of her apartment, out in the dark.
"You'll be all right?" he wants to know, planting a worried kiss on her lips. She lives alone, and he always worries.
"Of course," she soothes. She strokes his cheek and her lips curl into a reassuring smile, the faraway streetlight glinting in her cold blue eyes. "Don't worry about me. Good night."
"Good night," he echoes, and steals another kiss before she can turn away. Then, she is suddenly gone from his arms, slipped away into the darkness. The door shuts in his face.
Inside the apartment, she flips a switch and after a pause, the light above the kitchen table hums on. She pulls the silk gloves from her hands and drapes them over the top of the chair, then reaches up to let down her hair. It spills across her bare shoulders, deep brown and shining in waves. When she reaches the bathroom, she unzips the dress and lets it fall to the floor. Moments later, she stands naked except the makeup on her face. This, she does not wash off yet. She only ever washes it off in the dark.
Next weekend, she will go to another party. She will work the week and pay the rent and see her beau every other day, probably. She will smile at him and they will decide where to go on the weekend, and when they go, everyone will wonder when they will get married. It doesn't really matter to her. And he will buy her a new dress and perhaps a new hat or a necklace, and she will thank him and look stunning in them, like she does in everything. She will convince herself that the feeling she gets when she dances in her new clothes is the best feeling in the world. She will measure it against the other joys she has known in life, and she will find that of the ones she remembers, it is the best. It is the best. It must be.
When she shuts off the light in her bedroom, so too does she shut off her mind. She does not think of the evening she just had, or of her beau, or of anything. Long ago, Susan has learned not to think when the lights are off. In complete darkness, she pulls back the covers and slides into bed, shifting onto her side so she cannot look at the ceiling. She does not think, but she does not sleep either, because she finds she can't. Her hair cushions her pale cheek. She blinks. She closes her eyes. Then she opens them again. It doesn't make much difference either way in the dark.
These are the thoughts Susan does not think when she lies in bed:
She wonders if her life is on hold. She is forever feeling as though she is waiting for something, but she doesn't know what. She is weary of pretending to be interested in the things that are supposed to hold a lady's interest but do not hold hers. She is proud of what she is, but wishes she were something else. She sometimes wonders if she has forgotten something important. She regrets shredding that telegram. She is sometimes tempted to leave everything behind and go and look for whatever it is she lost.
In comfortable darkness, Susan finally shuts her eyes and falls asleep. If she dreams, she doesn't remember any of it in the morning, which suits her just fine. She wakes up in the morning and gets out of bed and makes her breakfast and does her makeup and puts on her work clothes and goes to work and talks to her coworkers and eats lunch and finishes work and meets her beau and has dinner with him and sees a movie and comes home and takes off her makeup in the dark and goes to sleep again.
Until she finds a better way, Susan repeats it. She wears green; she feels grey. She dances without dancing, kisses without kissing, loves without loving, lives without living. In a cheap echo of something she doesn't know she misses, she lets him call her a queen and feels the meaning leaking out with each repetition. Someday, she promises herself, she'll figure out what's missing.
There is more than one way to turn a person to stone.