The Better Part
Rain caressed the countryside as Lucy stood on the platform, waiting for her train.
"You want to come inside the station, pet?" the porter had asked her, but she had shaken her hatted head in polite negation.
"No, thank you," she answered, and held her case a little tighter. She watched him bob his own head in polite acknowledgement and shuffle back inside before she turned her attention to the wet landscape once again, and thought about the nature of her refusal.
Not so very long ago she might have said more; she would have not only smiled, she might also have gone on to tell him she was too excited to go back into the station (which smelled of damp and rubber and kerosene). Rather, she wanted to stand out under the awning, breathe the clean moist air, and wait with her neck craned at a painful angle just so she would catch the first glimpse of the train when it appeared; she wanted to watch it come round the bend and rejoice in its approach, knowing as she did that it was the train that would take her back to her brothers, her parents, and all the friends she didn't see while she was away at school.
All of this was as true now as it would have been just a few short months before, but today, she did not say it. She had begun as of late to be more guarded; she had learned that people didn't always want to know how glad you felt, or how excited you were about what was to come.
Lucy had learned about people.
Or, more accurately, Susan had told her about them in a fit of temper, and Lucy had been rooted to the ground with the sheer shock of it all.
"People," Susan had snapped, "don't always want to know how wonderful you think life is, Lucy!"
Susan had apologised later and said that she was sorry, she had been out of temper and she hadn't meant to snap, and Lucy had of course forgiven her. But neither sister had known of any way to erase Susan's words from Lucy's memory and so they had stayed, and Lucy had come very quickly to learn that they were the truth.
People, Lucy came to see, really did not want to hear about how wonderful life was; they seemed on the whole to prefer to view the world as rather a gloomy place, overall, and took a sort of greedy joy in their own few moments of personal triumph, appearing to think that these were actually intended to be rare and so should be clung to with a sort of stranglehold of desperation, because who knew when the next such time would be along?
Lucy, at seeing this, had suffered an agony of distress and had in fact been quite sick for some time, to the point that the Head had been very concerned about the change in Lucy Pevensie, called her in to her office and had a long, dull talk with her that culminated in Lucy being sent to the sanny, because the Head didn't know what else was to be done for her.
In the sanny Matron had poked and prodded Lucy most unpleasantly, at last drawing back to say that blest if she knew what was to be done for the girl. Lucy had said she didn't want anything done, really, thank you, she just wanted to be alone for a little while to think about people; that she thought it might do her a bit of good if she was only allowed the time to muddle a few things through. So Matron, very confused but actually quite obliging, as far as Matrons go, had kindly let her stay in bed for a whole day propped up with soft pillows and surrounded by books, just thinking about people. There had been toast and tea, and her sister and friends had been allowed to come visit her for a little while in the evening, so on the whole it was not actually a terrible experience and the next morning Lucy had felt equal to the task of getting up, getting dressed, and going about her business.
Matron, when asked by the Head, said she put it down to Growing Up, and that was the extent of it as far as they were concerned.
Lucy, however, continued to think about what Susan had said, and continued to see that Susan was right. People, she realised, not only didn't want to know how wonderful Lucy thought the world was; some of them actually didn't want to be happy— at least not Lucy's kind of happy.
There was that odious Gladys Tompkins, for one, who liked to talk about the things that made her miserable in much the same way that Lucy liked to talk about the things that made her glad. There were also Myrtle Underhill and Helen Baxter, who were always so anxious that everything be done in Exactly the Right Way that Lucy was certain they must be miserable simply from the strain of ensuring that everything was kept just so.
"For surely, if you have a rule for everything," she had thought, watching them loudly and pointedly fret over whether or not the hem of a schoolmate's skirt wanted letting out in order that it would adhere to school regulation, never mind that the girl was a scholarship student and had humbly accepted the skirt as a donation from an older pupil and that new skirts in general were tricky things to come by, what with all the rationing, "then I shouldn't imagine you'd have time to think of anything else but making sure you're not breaking any of them."
It had seemed to Lucy a deeply tragic way to live.
It had also seemed to Lucy that she had been much happier before she realised this was the way that most people —well, a whole lot more people than she had imagined, anyway— did live, and she wished very much that she could go back to not knowing it, if for none other than the very most selfish of reasons— that she had been so very much happier herself, not knowing the truth.
Oddly enough, even as Lucy slowly came to terms with her discovery it did not occur to her to blame Susan for ripping the veil from her eyes, as it were. Susan, after all, had only been telling her the truth; as Susan had so often done before she had simply told Lucy something that Lucy hadn't known. It wasn't Susan's fault that Lucy didn't like knowing this particular thing, that Lucy disliked the expectation that, now that she knew this was the way things were, she would fall in line and behave herself accordingly . . . none of that was Susan's fault, really. Still, Lucy couldn't help but wish that, as she had also been in the past, Susan could have been here, this time, and helped her handle the fact that she didn't like what she now knew.
Once, not too long ago at all, Susan had been very good at being there for Lucy.
Now, however, Susan was doing a bit of Growing Up of her own and had decided to spend her holiday with a friend her own age, rather than come home with her sister, so Lucy stood alone on the platform, watching the rain drip down from the eaves trough above her head and trying hard not to think about how badly she wished Susan would be joining them this weekend. Susan had been invited, of course, but it wasn't the sort of invitation that held her interest lately, and even before Susan had voiced her plans to go home with her friend Ellen rather than come with Lucy, Lucy hadn't held out much hope that she would accept.
"Maybe," she had said to Peter over the telephone, as Peter shared the particulars of their plans to meet up with Lucy at a different junction station than they normally used, "if there was to be dancing . . ?"
"Maybe," Peter had said. "But I doubt it, Lucy. We can have dancing, though, if you like."
"Yes, let's do," Lucy had answered, but her voice had been small, her heart heavy, and Susan had, in the end, still said no. Now, watching the rain and breathing deep the sweet, moist smells of the world around her (as well as the not-so-sweet ones; she was in the country, after all) Lucy found she had to work to recapture her earlier feeling of buoyant gaiety at the thought of seeing, if not all her family, then at least a decent percentage of it.
And there was the train, at last, the engine coming round the corner at a ponderous, dignified pace, slowing to approach the station and prompting Lucy to hastily bend and collect the case she had set down at her side. She was the only person waiting, not only on the platform, but also for that particular train, and so she had barely even found a seat before the whistle blew and the train started off once again.
Lucy removed her hat, pillowed her head against the window, and fell asleep watching the world go by.
Lucy did not actually miss her stop at the new station, but it was a near thing; if the three small children across from her had not begun squabbling at top volume just as the train pulled in, she was almost certain she would have slept right through it. On the old route she would have had plenty of time for a nap, but on the new route (which was, Peter had taken great pains to clarify, one that Edmund had mapped out for them) it seemed she did not. Indeed, she had only just enough time to replace her hat, grab at her case and hurry down the corridor to the nearest door.
Stepping outside she found it was not raining here, at least not yet; grey clouds were gathering overhead, but so far the rain seemed prepared to hold off. She also noticed that unlike the old junction, which was quiet and remote and generally removed from everything, this one was set in a busy little town and was consequently well-populated, with many purposeful-looking people bustling to and fro. She hadn't much time to notice anything else, though, because somebody shouted her name and suddenly they were both there, her brothers, grinning and grabbing her and generally making what Susan, with quiet agony, would have called "a scene."
"Look at you, Lucy, you're tall! You're gangly!" Peter accused, and Lucy, who had indeed grown nearly an inch since she had seen them last, beamed in gratitude at his noticing.
"Bit skinny, though," Edmund decided, and got the broadside of Lucy's case thwacked against his arm for his tactlessness. "Ow! All right, don't pinch or anything, I only meant to say you could do with a bit of fattening— er—" at seeing Lucy's expression, "food. Let's get you some food, shall we?"
Lucy admitted she could do with something to eat, so the boys flanked her with an ease born of long practice, and with Edmund taking her case ("just in the off chance you felt like taking another swing at me") and Peter taking her arm, the pair of them steered her into a not-too-distant tearoom.
"Our train doesn't leave for another three hours, yet," Edmund explained as they found a rather too-small booth and got themselves squished in nicely, "so we've time for a bite. Then we can maybe walk around for a bit, if you like; you know, have the chance to stretch our legs before we leave."
"I thought there was a train that left in just twenty minutes," Lucy said, turning to face Edmund and accidentally catching Peter in the eye with the brim of her hat (it was a very small booth).
"There is," Peter said, rubbing his eye and accepting Lucy's anxious apology, "but somebody," with a wealth of meaning, "spent about forty minutes last night poring over his maps, and he has assured me at great length that the one we will be taking is a better choice for our purposes."
"There are fewer stops, the route is more scenic and it's not as prone to delay," said Edmund, and had he been just a few years older you might even have said he sounded stuffy. Peter, for his part, said something that the other two pretended not to hear, although Edmund's foot may or may not have taken a quick swing at Peter's ankle under the table.
"Oh that's fine," Lucy said, directing her reassurance at Edmund, "I really don't mind just walking around for a while; it will be nice, actually, to just relax a bit. Especially after . . ." but she didn't finish what she had been about to say. The boys both looked at her with concerned curiosity, but before either could require an explanation a young woman in a dingy smock finally made her way to their booth and asked them what they would like. A hurried consultation between the three determined what the contents of their pockets would permit them to purchase, whereupon they placed their order and then sat back as best they could without poking one another in the stomach with their own elbows.
They mostly managed it.
When they were reasonably certain they didn't need to worry about winding anyone with a misplaced elbow, Peter looked at his littlest sister once more and asked her what she had been about to say.
"Did something happen?" he wanted to know. "Something at school, or . . . something?"
"No, no," Lucy shook her head, "nothing like that."
"Susan wrote you'd been sick," Edmund said, and both Peter and Lucy looked at him in equal surprise. Edmund, who could not possibly have mistaken their expressions, nevertheless forbore to behave as if he had said anything remotely astonishing.
"What?" he said. "Susan writes to me, sometimes."
"Well," said Peter, after an empty and confused silence, "were you sick, Lucy? Is that what you meant?"
"No, I— well I was sick, sort of, but not . . ." Lucy trailed off, screwing up her face in irritation. She had not meant to bring this up with them now; she hadn't meant to bring it up at all, really, but there they were, Peter so openly concerned and Edmund looking patient and expectant, as if he knew she wouldn't be able to resist telling them in the end if only he waited long enough, and before she could stop herself she found she was telling them everything. She explained about what Susan had said, and about how Lucy had realised she was right; how sad she had been to realise that Susan had been right, and the way it had driven her to such distraction that the Head had thought she must be sick.
"What did they say when you told them you weren't?" Peter wondered, and Edmund sighed.
"She didn't tell them, of course," he said. "How could she? What did you tell them, Lucy?"
"I can't even remember, really . . . but it was so silly of me, and it hardly matters now, anyway, does it? It was just such silliness, honestly, I . . . I was so silly."
"If you say 'silly' one more time . . ." Edmund began warningly, so Lucy fell silent a moment to gather her thoughts, and purge her vocabulary. When again she spoke, she did so with especial care.
"I don't think," she said with distinct finality, "that I want to discuss it, right now."
Peter appeared prepared to protest, but a look from Edmund seemed to change his mind, because he just nodded, said of course that was up to Lucy, and she must know that they were ready to listen as soon as she was ready to talk. Then he asked if she had heard from Mum lately, and did she know what the latest was from Uncle Harold and Aunt Alberta, for Mum had sounded so cross in her last letter that he was certain there must be something there worth knowing about, and wondered if Lucy might know what it was.
It was a noble gesture on the part of Peter, who really didn't care at all for family gossip, and Lucy was careful to curtail her explanation to relate only the minimum of information. She and Edmund, it seemed, were meant to go to Aunt Alberta's come next holiday and Aunt Alberta had expressed some displeasure over some aspect of the arrangement, so words had been exchanged on any number of topics, not the least of which were Daddy's choice of profession, the manner in which all four of the Pevensie children were being educated, and even Mummy's slip-up on offering Aunt Alberta some sherry to drink when last she had visited.
"Auntie took it as a personal slight against her dignity, said all sorts of horrid things to Mummy in that snooty way she has, and finished up by saying that Mummy was living in a bygone era and the sooner she climbed out and into the twentieth century way of thinking, the better we all would be," Lucy related, which explanation led to Edmund's choking very hard into his hand, and Peter's eyebrows contriving to rearrange themselves in a most acrobatic and improbable fashion.
"I see," he said, and Lucy, who saw that Peter didn't see in the least, smiled fondly at him and rested her head against his shoulder.
"It's so good to see you, Peter," she sighed, and Peter, red and pleased, though confused and a little embarrassed (though not very much embarrassed, for he was a good sort of brother) patted Lucy's hand, pushed her hat out of his face and said well, it was nice she thought so.
Then they talked of other things until their food arrived.
The walk the three took after they finished their meal was, Lucy thought, one of the nicest that they had ever had, at least in that world. Peter chatted with her about things that had happened at the boys' school and Lucy related a few careful stories about what had happened at hers, and when the stories at last ran out Edmund picked up the slack by inventing riddles that neither of them could guess, which led to Lucy saying she wished Susan could be there, because Susan was the only one who was ever any good at figuring the things out.
"She's really not coming home, then? At all?" Peter asked, and Lucy said no, it didn't seem like.
"I did ask her, though," she said. "And I told her about the dancing."
"Dancing?" Edmund looked horrified, but subsided quickly at a hard look from his brother. "Oh, yes, er— dancing. The— the dancing that we're— yes."
"We don't need to have it, Edmund; not now," Lucy assured him. "I only thought it might make her like to come home. I thought that perhaps if—" But what Lucy thought would never be told, because at that moment the grey skies opened up and the rain that Lucy had stood under back at the first station finally caught up with her. Everyone around them at once began running for cover and the three Pevensies were soon among them. They managed to find a well-protected overhang very close by the platform, and Peter, checking the station clock, gave a shout that their train was due in just over five minutes.
"I'll run and get our bags, Ed," he said, "if you'll stay here with Lucy; is that agreed?"
It was agreed, and Peter was enjoined to hurry, which he gave every appearance of doing as he sprinted off. Then Edmund and Lucy were left to stand alone with each other, and there was perfect silence between them for almost a minute before Lucy spoke.
"Susan writes to you?"
"Sometimes," Edmund said, and squirmed a little, because a drop of water had dripped from the ledge above them and gone right down the back of his jersey. Lucy, seeing him fidget, thought he was embarrassed, and was instantly contrite.
"I'm sorry, you don't need to talk about it if you don't—"
"No, it's not that, my neck's wet. I— no, Lucy, it's fine, it's— well, it's nothing, really. Just, she sent me a letter once, soon after we— we got back, you know? The first time. She asked if . . . how I was doing. She didn't say much, but I thought maybe she might . . . she might like it if I wrote her back. So I did. And then she wrote me back, and I wrote again, and . . . and that's it, really. That's all."
"Oh," Lucy considered this information. "Well . . . what do you talk about, then? About— about—" but she couldn't bring herself to say the name. It was too dear to speak aloud out there in the open, with the cold rain and people with umbrellas and wet, sulky scowls looming so close all around them. But Edmund understood.
"No. We don't. I tell her about my schoolwork and the things I'm reading, and she talks about her friends and how you are getting along. I don't think we're even very interested in what the other has to say, really, we— we just like knowing somebody will read what we've written."
"I would read what you wrote!" Lucy declared, and Edmund smiled a little at her earnest expression.
"Yes, silly, I know you would. But you'd actually care, and then you'd tell me things that I'd know I ought to care about too, and . . . and somehow it seems like a lot more work than I can manage, right now. Caring so much."
"Oh," said Lucy, and her face fell a bit. "Oh, well . . . well I see. That's all right, then."
Edmund looked at his sister's downcast expression and was conscious of hollow agony. Why was it that, even now, even when he would have rathered anything else in the world but that he hurt her, he still somehow managed to say exactly the right thing to wound her without even trying to?
"Lucy," he fumbled, "look, I was an idiot, I'm sorry, of course you can write me, I'd be happy to—"
"No, it's not that," Lucy said, and was mortified to realise she was quite probably going to cry. "It's not, Edmund, I do understand, I promise. You and Susan don't talk about things the way Peter and I do, you never have, and I— I understand; it's how you are. Except it's just that, when you said that, it made me think . . . it made me think of it again. Of people who really don't want to hear happy things, who don't want to," and Susan's words cut as deeply on remembering them as they had the first time she heard them, "hear how . . . how wonderful that I think life is, or how lovely I think the world really must be."
She looked up beseechingly at Edmund, who felt lost and cornered and who wanted to fix this, somehow, and as soon as possible, but who could think of nothing else but to reach out and put a very awkward hand on Lucy's shoulder.
"Well," he swallowed, "well, I don't know that I've ever seen the world the way you do, Lucy, honestly, it's . . . it's a bit complicated, when I see it, but you always rather . . . impressed me, I suppose, because when you look at it, I think . . . I think you see it a better way."
"Better than it really is, you mean," Lucy mumbled, and Edmund wondered just how much of an acrobatic feat it really could be, to kick oneself; he resolved to try it the moment he found he was alone.
"No. No I don't mean that. I mean . . ." he groped clumsily, desperately for the right words. He wished he was Peter. He wished he was Susan. He wished he was anyone but himself, that he might find the perfect words, bolstering, gentle, reassuring and affirming, to put a smile back on the face of the sister who was so much brighter, sweeter and truer than anything the ugly world in which they lived could possibly offer; the sister who made the world a brighter place simply for being in it.
"I mean," he said at last, "that the way you see the world is . . . it's the way that most people can only see the world when they look at you. When people see how— how wonderful things are to you, when they see the way that you look at things, how you love everyone and are just so— so happy, it becomes— I think that even just for a moment, they start to see things that way, too. Because of you, and what you see."
Lucy blinked at Edmund in innocent incredulity. Those were not very Edmund things of him to say, and yet . . . yet he had said them. To her. For her. She blinked a moment longer, and then started to smile. Edmund flushed crimson.
"At least," he muttered, and dug his toe at the pavement, "that's . . . how it is for me."
Lucy's hugs were rather like being attacked by pure energy. They tore your breath away, bowled you a little backward and then, just when you thought that you were going to have to push her away, you realised you couldn't bear to because you were being warmed from the inside out. Edmund, his neck wet and his feet cold, stood helpless on the pavement in the grip of his little sister and let her warm him thusly. When at last she released him he could see Peter making his way back toward them at a good clip, a suitcase held in each hand, and Edmund certainly wasn't about to let his brother know he'd tried to have a heart-to-heart with their little sister; Peter would either laugh or look proud of him, and right now Edmund was pretty sure he could stand neither of those things.
"Look, Lucy," he said rapidly, keeping one eye on Peter and the narrowing gap between them, "Susan . . . she's got one way of looking at things, is all. She sees things like most other people see them. That's fine. It's . . . it's fine. But you look at them the other way. The way almost nobody does. You see the best of things in the worst of people. You aren't scared to be happy just— just in general, and you make other people happy because they know you see the best in them. And I think that's a way that a lot more people should try to be, it's just that almost no one ever does."
Then Peter had reached them, and there was nothing left that Edmund could think of to say that wouldn't embarrass himself, so he just nodded a little awkwardly to Lucy, took his bag from Peter and Lucy's bag from her, and hastily strode out ahead of them toward the edge of the platform to watch for the incoming train.
"Did I miss something?" Peter wondered, waiting for Lucy to turn up the collar of her coat under the brim of her hat before they started off in Edmund's wake. Lucy shook her head.
"No," she said, slipping a confiding little hand into that of her eldest brother, "it's nothing, really. Edmund just wanted to make sure that I knew I'd made a good choice, and . . . and I think he wanted to be sure that I didn't let anyone take it away."
Then she stood a little taller, held her head a little higher, and with Peter at her side Lucy walked with great confidence to join Edmund at the edge of the platform.
She smiled the whole way.
A.N.: Many thanks for the origins of this story are owed to Katie. Not only is she a fantastic Best Friend in the general sense but she also gave me seven one-line story prompts, and on reading them I wondered just how many of them I could connect to Narnia. With a bit of encouragement from Katie I soon realised that all of them, in fact, were just begging to be made into Narnia fic, so I will be posting a story written from each prompt in between posting each new chapter of Kingdoms Come; it's a nice exercise in productivity, I think.
Now, as a woefully inadequate (though deeply heartfelt) "thank you" gesture to Katie, I'd like to urge everyone to take a peek at her own Narnia fic. "Courage and Invisible Scars" was posted here a little while ago, and although I may be badly biased I still think that not enough people have taken the time to appreciate it! It's a spectacularly well-done fic.
Lastly, Narnia is now and always the creation of CS Lewis. I do not even begrudge him the honour, because he has done far more beautiful things with it than I ever could.