I don't own Narnia or the Pevensies.
Edmund does not understand why she wears these shoes – their heels are near four inches, and he knows they hurt her. Every night, he wakes up in the small hours of the morning at the sound of the downstairs door, and he knows she has come home from whatever party it was this night. And every night, he can hear her limping up the stairs in the dark, and can picture her swollen feet, tender from the abuse of dancing for too many hours. The next morning, when she yawns at the breakfast table and avoids Peter's questions about the previous night, Edmund's eyes will flick beneath the table and notice her bruised toes, pinched too tight in those narrow pumps. He doesn't understand.
He knows she scrimped and saved to buy them, and this too mystifies him. The war is over, but England remains on her knees, attempting to sweep up the debris and despair it left behind. And so why Susan's first purchases after rationing ends are these shoes, of all things, is a little beyond Edmund. It's not even as if she needs the extra height – she's taller than most girls her age anyway. And it's not as if her figure could be improved much by a pair of shoes – though Edmund is no expert on womanly charms, he knows from the looks his own friends give his sister that she is plenty attractive the way it is. And so every night, when he stands at the top of the staircase to watch her slip her feet into torture for yet another evening, he frowns.
He remembers a sister who walked barefoot, mostly, and wonders where that girl has gone.
Peter does not understand why she puts on so much makeup. Her face is so pretty already; the powder and pencils and brushes only seem to cover that up. And it takes her so much time, too. He knows that when Susan goes into the bathroom on a Friday evening, they will not see her for at least a half hour, often more, and this hurts him a little bit, because now that he works a job as well as going to university, he barely has time to see her. He wishes a little that she would do her makeup when he wasn't around, since there isn't much time when he is.
Sometimes, when she emerges with her face done just so, he barely recognizes her at all. She will spray her hair into place so that it hangs stiff and straight to her shoulders, and powder out the freckles that she and Edmund share, and drench her lips in startling, crimson red, and when she comes out of the bathroom Peter will give a start and just barely catch himself before he can say, "what are you doing in my parents' house?". And after he has bitten these words back, he will force a smile onto his face and open his arms for her, but she never gives him a real embrace when she's like this, just a circle of her arms that breaks before he can feel at all close to her, and then she goes.
He remembers a sister who let the wind style hair and the sun color her face, mostly, and wonders where that girl has gone.
Lucy knows she is supposed to disapprove of her sister's dress, but she is too young and too compassionate for disapproval. Really, when Susan comes home from shopping with more slinky fabric and plunging necklines, all Lucy has is embarrassment and a vague sense of loss. When the ladies of the neighborhood cluck their tongues and exchange knowing looks, Lucy wants to rise up in her sister's defense, wants to say "no, you don't understand, it's not like that," but Lucy knows they wouldn't listen. She also knows that these women do not disapprove because they care about her sister, but because they are forever searching for something of which to disapprove, and Susan simply makes herself an easy target.
Lucy tries to remind herself that these dresses are not all that different from some that Susan wore in Narnia, but she cannot escape the qualifications that cling to that thought: There, Susan had been older; there, the men of the court had not stared in ways that make the hair on the back of Lucy's neck stand on end; there, Susan had seemed sure of herself in a way that made her dress a frank display of skin, not a bid for attention like it seems to be here in London. Lucy struggles to figure out why Susan does this, why she exposes herself so as if she were the same as all the other young women at these parties, when she is really so much older and wiser than them. Lucy loves Susan fiercely, but she does not understand her.
She remembers a sister who stood with a straight back and commanding eyes, who caved in to no one, and wonders where that girl has gone.
Susan adjusts her dress in the mirror, turning a critical eye on it with a frown. Something isn't right. She closes her eyes, and pulls a picture to the fore of her mind: foreign silk in fantastic colors, a laced bodice, a sweeping, layered hem; a gown from a dream of a dream. When she opens her eyes again, the mirror disappoints them. Though she likes how the black fabric contrasts with her pale skin, how the design accents the curves of her breasts and hips, the coolness of the texture as it skims down her thighs, it is not what she envisioned. It is not the dress of her dream-memories. But it will still catch eyes, she tells herself, and reaches for the powder.
She holds the pencil steady, outlining her full lips in ruby red, and when she is satisfied, she twists the lipstick out of its tube and carefully fills between the lines. Her practiced hand guides each stroke as she defines her cupid's bow in color. The irony of this thought does not escape her, though she perceives it but dimly through the clouded lens of her discarded past, and she beats back a smile that would have left a smear of red at the corner of her mouth. When she is done, she sets down the tube and admires her handiwork in the mirror – smoky eyes, pale cheeks, a plump, alluring mouth. By the end of the evening, she knows much of it will be smeared, but that is the price she pays for being desired. And she so needs to feel desired, even if it is by stiff, awkward men and not the chivalrous courtiers of her faded recollections.
She sets her things to the side of the sink, in a neat row; she knows how much it irritates Edmund to have to move everything, and though she and her younger brother are not as close as they once were, she does not wish to start a fight. The lipstick and the powder she tucks into her purse so she can freshen up later, if the need arises. After a final check in the mirror, she unlocks the door and slips out, hoping not to attract any attention. With any luck, she will be able to leave without encountering the disappointed eyes of her siblings.
"Susan," says Lucy's voice suddenly. Susan looks down in surprise; her sister is sitting just outside the bathroom door, as if she has been waiting there. Biting her tongue to force back a grimace, she forces her painted lips into a smile.
"Hello, Lucy," said says with false ease. "What is it?"
Lucy gets to her feet clumsily, and Susan can't help but notice the frayed edges of her dress, the childishness of her ankle-length socks. Her own legs feel sleek and smooth in the nylons her mother bought her for her birthday last month.
"I wanted to talk to you about something," Lucy says. Her hands twist nervously in her skirt.
"Walk with me," says Susan. She can talk and get her things together at the same time. Behind her, Lucy frowns, but follows her sister downstairs anyway, one hand gliding down the banister to finally rest on the wooden knob at its end. She opens her mouth a few times, then shuts it indecisively; Susan casts her a glance and opens the closet to get out her shoes.
"We…Peter and Edmund and I, and…and the others," Lucy finally begins nervously. Susan feels a knot twist sourly in her stomach. She knows she is not part of the 'others.'
"Yes?" she prompts, though her mouth has gone tight around the edges.
"Well…we…it's…" Lucy sighs. She looks over at her sister with pleading eyes, but Susan is not looking. She is fitting her feet carefully into her pumps. "Tomorrow we're going to try and get back. They need us. We're all meeting at the station tomorrow. I know you…you don't like to talk about that anymore, but I was wondering if…if you…"
"If I'd come with you?" Susan interrupts, standing up. With the extra height of her shoes, she towers above her little sister, imperious and imposing. Like a queen, Lucy thinks, but not the kind of queen she remembers. Though she can guess the answer to her invitation by the tone of her sister's voice, she nods.
"Yes," she says softly.
The brief silence stretches painfully until Susan reaches for her purse.
"I'm sorry, Lu," she says. She masks her sincerity with false sweetness; she does not want her sister to think she has a chance of convincing her to come, because Susan is afraid to be convinced. She has spent so very long replacing what she lost, filling the hollowness in her breast with women's envy and men's attentions; she cannot bear to face again the echo of her empty heartbeat and the ashes of so much false hope.
"I know," Lucy replies. She does not cry, but Susan knows she will later, when Peter is there to hold her.
"I need to go," Susan says, quickly looking elsewhere. She needs to get away from this hanging question, heavy in the air, before she can change her mind, before she can open herself again to the stabbing sorrow she has worked so hard to paint over. She does not possess Peter's stoic heart, or Edmund's resolute penitence, or Lucy's simple faith; she has only an unrelenting hunger for something she no longer believes, something she can no longer believe, no matter how much she tries to for their sakes.
"I know," Lucy repeats to her sister's back as Susan opens the door. Then, just before she is gone, in a very small voice, "You look lovely, Su."
Susan takes a last look at her sister.
"Thank you, Lu," she murmurs. She turns away before Lucy can see her shameful blush. Then she shuts the door.
The smoke rises above the building-tops, dark and foreboding as the deliberate smudges around her eyes. Thick white brick-dust pales the ground like powder on smooth cheeks as workers load the bodies into shapeless bags one by one. They shut the back of the ambulance with a click like the sound of heels on the dance floor. Blood runs the color of her carefully painted mouth.
She stands in the wreckage of the station and weeps until the mascara runs down her cheeks in grotesque black tears.
Lucy still thinks she is beautiful.