And All Our Yesterdays
"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
- Macbeth, Act V Scene V
"Long ago, if my memory serves, life was a feast where every heart was open, where every wine flowed." – Rimbaud, A Season in Hell
As brother and sister you thrive in competition and jealously guarded experiences. When Lucy was still a baby and Edmund had to stay inside, you would go play in the dirt and climb the little trees in the garden and Susan would determinedly follow, no matter how much you ignored her or told her to go away and play with her dolls. Susan would try to follow you up the cherry tree and to dig a deeper hole and hold her breath longer, sustaining tears in her muddied dress which made her cry, getting bumps and scrapes and bruises, which didn't, only when she fell out of the tree and cut her head and you screamed for your parents and went running inside. When she tired of your sport she would bully you into playing house, which you only resisted nominally after you had run around a while.
Things never did change much over the years: when your father leaves you try hardest to leave off bickering and be role models for Edmund and Lucy, unconsciously putting on the statures of your parents for Lucy and working together simply because you know that divided you will fall. Still, every day you find yourselves bickering over whose plan is better, whose fault that was, who is being helpful and who is just getting in the way, and it's all right in the end because you just want to make sure the other won't screw things up too badly, you just want to know she'll be okay.
The least you deserve after so much worry is to be there and see each other grow up, and even though you know you can't catch every moment of fear and wonder, you want to, jealously. From your first day of school when she threw a fit to come with, and afterward she told you proudly about the birds' nest she found and showed you, watching you sidelong to see your envy, to her first day of school when she came back to tell you about the girl who pulled her hair, you wanted it. To be a part of every climbed tree and bruise and lap around the yard, every first day at school, every fight lost and every friend won – to simply be there would be a victory.
You know the paradoxical desire to at once hinder and guide, the first time you find their father's alcohol cabinet and know what it is, and you show her and take a sip of something burning before coughing it up and telling her never to touch it, when you introduce her to Simon and tell her later about how he steals cigarettes from the pharmacy and you once saw him yelling at his mother so stay away, when you warn that boy in your grade away from her when you see him stare and smirk at her one day walking to school. You'll admit to holding the belief that by being there you can protect her from the world, but at the same time make her worldly. You get some cigarettes one day and share them with her behind the gymnasium after school; you've already tried your first and coughed and spluttered but you want to be there for hers, let her know what she can do and show her, too.
Siblings know each others' secrets and can hate each other for it. Sometimes she acts like she's trying to forget, and whenever she sees you she angers. You remember, and you think this is why she's angry but later you figure it out: she's reminded by how you grow up, because she saw it once in another country: the firming of the arms, broadening shoulders and lengthening legs, soft down on your calves and (yet to come but you both knew what it would look and feel like when it did) on your face.
You remember, too, how her breasts will fill out and her hips will widen and she won't have such bony knees in a little while. But you're still young so when it's time to get up on a Saturday and she comes in your room in a dressing gown and tickles your side to get out of bed, you tickle her right back, aiming for the subtle concavity of her waist at the bottom of her ribs, feeling the buds of her breasts press against your arm as she falls on your bed and you're both rolling around trying to end up on top and feeling and knowing exactly how these bodies are changing and are going to change.
There's nothing you can do about it, but at least you know, and that small part in her transformation from girl to woman is almost too much for you, makes you stop and think before reaching for her ribcage again because thinking about it hurts and it's too easy to look and see the womanly curves that will be there. When you try to avoid touching her too much the bitterness of this makes you angry too and it makes you sick, so you give up and reach for her waist again one day when she is looking over your shoulder, admonishing you for your messy penmanship, and she can't help but break her frown and laugh and fend you off to reach back, fingers poised, to attack your stomach.
She, too, knows even though she is younger. She knows her power as a woman does, though she is still a girl to all appearances. It isn't at first clear, but in the way she averts her eyes as she shows a little leg, bends over the table with collar a little too unbuttoned while offering a sharp jibe – Homework is hard, sure, gets you as dirty as cricket I must say – and huffing off, holding herself proud and tall. Playfully wrestling you to the ground and standing over you in a skirt and tights, or trying on makeup just to ask your opinion. She looks pretty but you don't want to tell her because you know once she knows she won't need to come to you anymore to hear it.
At first you think it's just England that makes you feel so wrong, that all your thoughts and actions are made in displacement, as though with every motion or word you are gesturing as though in reference to another life in another country that stands firm where this one is new and strange and impermanent. You realize, though, that these memories you have are only memories, and a magical land leaves no magical trace but in fact feels even less real once you are gone, except for how you cling to everything you can remember, everything you think you remember, even what is dreamlike now and you hope was not only a dream.
So while you don't do your homework you instead write pages and pages in a small book, go on long walks looking for what you won't say, and get in fights to resurrect something you once felt but instead end up walking away feeling emptier and even worse, even more wrong.
You've seen her look on her own bruises after a day of climbing trees, the wonder on her face as she examines them, the pride that overwhelms the wince when she prods the blue and yellow smudges. She wears bruises like badges, so you know that when you wrestle with her, on rarer and rarer occasion, you can be closer and harder than anyone else would dare, because you've been there for every year of her physical being and you've intimately known each others' every injury. She was there for you when you fought the Giant and she wrapped your head and set a splint for your arm until Lucy could get there, and you were sick at her feet but she looked as brave as ever.
Edmund just shakes his head when you show up with the cuts and bruises and Susan glares and lectures so unlike your mother while standing there dabbing near your eye with a cotton ball soaked in hydrogen peroxide and snapping at you and grimacing when you wince but you never flinch away.
You didn't need all this blush and lipstick in Narnia, Lucy says to her standing on tiptoe as she peers into Susan's top bureau drawer, rattling the metal tubes and small glass jars as she reads the names of the colors. Susan looks at her, hand thrust out with a just-mended cardigan for her sister to take and tear again, and makes a breathy scoffing sound. We're too old for those games, Lucy. Besides, I'm sickly pale after this winter.
You can hear them from the next room and you can remember how rosy her cheeks were from laughing and being in the sun all day. But it's as though you're remembering another person, another lifetime. This Susan looks fragile to the point of brittleness, still growing into her bony wrists and shoulders and knees. It scares you to know how she'll grow up and it scares you to think that you could be wrong, it could all happen differently in a new world and you won't know each other anymore because at twenty Susan may not be rosy and laughing, wear dresses with necklines that show off her collarbone, go barefoot, have calloused hands from archery, wear her hair down. You'll see her one day and you won't know her, having slipped back into the wrong memory. Her sunken caked cheeks or painted, the lines of worry on her once-clear brow, her hands red and cracked and dry from boiling water and dishes and scrubbing and bleaching, her strained feet in heels will cease to look normal and English and you'll think, My sister rides horses and dances with fauns and sings with merpeople, my sister radiates the light and heat of the southern desert, I know how to love my sister and this is not my sister.
And then you'll feel the scratch of a wool sweater again on your neck and look down to see the legs that are just legs and don't know how to ride horses or dance, the feet stuffed into shoes that pinch, and you'll feel a faint weakness in your arms and a hoarseness in your voice that always comes when you think about the man you could have been, the man you were, the weak boy you are now who remembers the years as a Sisyphusian struggle and not a feast where every wine flowed.
You used to be people that loved each other simply and without thinking and now you can hardly stand to look at each other, so afraid you won't look away.
She comes home one day furious, nursing her hand, and smelling strongly of perfume. It's as strong as chemicals and makes Peter think of the chlorophyll they use on the frogs in biology to knock them out before dissection. There's a red mark on her arm like an Indian burn, and Peter feels hot rage flare up in him. How dare they, how dare anyone, she is a Queen, she is my sister and I will not tolerate. He tries to keep his anger from his face, and sits her down at the kitchen table, wraps a sweater (the one she keeps in the drawer with a lavender sachet) around her shoulders. She doesn't seem to notice his gestures of comfort, just sits and stares straight ahead breathing wetly.
I can't believe how awful these boys are; how can they say such things – she chokes out. They've been catcalling and whistling, some older boys, one of them grabbed her arm and they said something about how she looks at them and they can see it and they get it, her pretty face, nice legs. Susan flushes and her eyes are gleaming with furious indignation.
Who did this to you?
I told you, just some stupid awful boys...
Which ones? What did they look like? Do you know their names?
Peter, they were just standing on the corner outside your school, I don't know, and it's nothing anyway –
Who hurt you?
Don't. Don't worry about it. I got him. She shows him her hand, red on the palm and the knuckles beginning to swell, and she smiles grimly and bursts into tears and you hold her and hush her and sway like the sea.
She comes into your room that night when your light is already out and says, Peter, you had better not get into a fight because of me, I already took care of him
They just need a talking to
Peter you're going to get yourself hurt worse, there were three of them
Don't you think I remember how to fight?
That's not the point, that's not the point at all you idiot
They need to know they can't say anything like that about you, ever... You reach over to cup her face in your hand. She glares at you, teary-eyed full lips pressed together trembling.
You're going to get badly hurt and it's not going to fix anything
You're a Queen, Su, and they don't know how to treat you like one
Don't be silly, I'm a girl, just like anyone else
You take her shoulders and say Look at me. You're nothing like anyone else; you're fifty times more beautiful than the other girls and you'll grow up to be a woman with every man fighting and lying for your hand and seducing you and I'm your brother, you say holding her with your nose and mouth in her hair, I have to do something about it while I'm young and impetuous and have that to blame it on.
She's still and quiet except for her loud ragged breathing and you can feel a few hot tears on your neck. You're squeezing each other too close and you can feel her body against yours and you know you should let go, should be bothered and let go now, but you can't because she's got her hands moving on your back and up to your shoulders, curled like claws but with soft fingertips, and you pull back finally with your hands cupping her jaw and lifting her face to see her eyes, tell her It'll be all right, even though you haven't been sure of that since Aslan was in Narnia.
You lift her face and her gaze is lowered so you duck your head and then you're kissing her, or she's kissing you, nothing half way or timid or youthful, full on the mouth like kissing a woman who has been courted by many men and knows exactly how hard to press and how much to move her mouth, and part of your brain is floundering speechless but the other part knows you don't need words now, you remember the motions and the intoxicated feeling of your body as it fills with heat and you slide gently but firmly against her like you've done it a hundred times, it's so familiar.
Her hands grasp your neck and shoulders hard now, and she's pushing you down, back down on the bed, her body still pressed against you like she's afraid to lose an inch of contact, like she's clinging to more than just her brother. Her eyes are screwed shut and you arch under her body and pull at her nightgown helplessly. She has already undone the few buttons on your shirt and pushed it off before you could notice, and now she sits up to lift off her nightgown, and you close your eyes and open them again, open them hard as she touches and looks at herself briefly, touches and looks at you.
The preciousness of that glimpse, to be privy to that moment, that utterly unselfconscious expression on her face as she is not aware of anything but her own pure violent sensation, that violation of causing that defenseless state of drowned senses, that eroticism of the power it gives you. And yes still precious, because she could have no lover more caring, no lover more knowing, no lover who could know how hard to pull her hair or how strong her body really is despite its thin wrists, ankles, waist. She carries years in her still, like you do, but you can't escape being so young and breathlessly elbows and knees.
You call her Queen Susan again as she lays there next to you, hair spread and looped on the pillow, chaste again in her nightgown. She frowns for a second, and reminds you that royalty always ends up intermarrying to preserve the bloodline. It sounds obscene in any context – to preserve the bloodline. It's profane, and you say so: We're not King and Queen of England. We're Kings and Queens of Narnia and we'll always be and we don't need any bloodline. I think they'd understand, there. It's different. We're different, you think but you can't bring yourself to say.
She just shakes her head and wraps an arm across your chest, burrowing into your body.