“My sister Susan,” answered Peter shortly and gravely, “is no longer a friend of Narnia.”
The others elaborated on his statement, defining Susan’s loss in terms of favored objects and silliness, disdain in their voices. Lucy, lost in the new world, and Edmund, hardened against Susan’s indifference, did not rise to defend their absent sister.
Peter also remained silent. Not out of pity or disdain or anger, but out of an abject sense of failure. He had always been a man of action, even when he was a boy. Quick to anger, yes, but also quick to resolution. Bright flares of temper that faded quickly. If he could just have it out, he could usually figure it out.
But Susan had grown apart slowly. He had noticed, during their last adventure in Narnia. But then Aslan had split the girls and the boys up, and a few days later, after the exile, a train had taken them even further apart. Susan had written him once during that term, even though Peter had sent hastily-scribbled missives weekly, written under the sheets with a flashlight after lights-out.
(A girlfriend, the other boys had teased him. He didn’t respond. Rescuing a queen and a sister was too important for teasing, and too sensitive to tell.)
Then there were the holidays - a blur of activities and noise and friends and relatives and Susan was always busy, too busy to talk to Peter. Lucy and Edmund were older now, and there was no early bedtime for them and a quiet hour of conversation for the two eldest afterward.
There was one time that holiday, when the four of them were together, but Susan left the room first, after a quarter-hour. Lucy was hurt and Edmund frowned, but only Peter saw the glimmer of tears as Susan walked out, head high, a queen even in exile.
Lucy promised to talk to her. But how could she, when that next term was Susan’s last at the same school with Lucy? Their schedules were completely different, only a small portion of the evening free, and that time taken by extracurriculars and studying.
In any case, Peter was the eldest. It was his job to lead and protect. It had always been, even before Narnia. Susan was his responsibility, not Lucy’s.
It wasn’t that night or the next when Peter finally cornered Susan and demanded the truth out of her. He tried to understand. He tried to hold his temper. But it’s one thing to be a king, and another to be a boy and a brother. At the end, he was yelling and she was crying. He apologized, and she promised to try and do better. She was just horribly, horribly hurt, and talking and thinking about Narnia with no way to go back was painful. She was thirteen and it was her first real loss. He was fourteen, and even fifteen extra years of experience in Narnia had not prepared him to manage a crisis of faith.
Kill a giant? Sure.
Manage a sister’s emotional devastation through scraps of paper and hurried conversations in a back hallway? Not so much.
They wrote diligently for a term, chatting about commonplaces, with a sentence or two that seemed banal and slightly out-of-place to an outsider, but made perfect sense to the eldest Pevensies.
Then Edmund, Lucy, and that bugger Eustace had sailed to the end of the world.
Susan listened politely to their stories, laughed in the right spots, but only Peter was tall enough to see the hurt and rejection and a small spark of anger in her eyes. Later, she had exploded at him. Susan, the gentle. Yelling. At him. Of all people, Eustace had gotten to go. Yes, he was much improved for the experience, but Eustace? Why did he get to go, while they could not return?
Eustace needed it, he said, trying to remain calm. He knew it wasn’t fair, he knew Aslan was right and had a plan, but…he wanted to sail the last seas and see the end of the world, too. Hurt and anger bubbled in his chest.
I need it too, Susan shouted at him, and stormed out.
Peter did not follow.
He was almost sixteen.
The letters stopped.
Later that year, Eustace and Jill rescued a Prince. Susan sat across the table and smiled, but it did not reach her eyes.
Afterword, she cornered Peter. He said we could find him in this world, she said. Eustace and Jill called him. He opened a door here. Let’s try that.
I don’t think that’s how it works, he had replied. She waved away his concern. They called to him because He was calling to them. He said He was here. It’s worth a try, she pleaded.
They didn’t quite lie to their parents and their siblings – Harry Bowlings was throwing a small birthday party, they just left right after the cake. They went to an empty cricket pitch – the only green patch within walking distance – and they called. Spoke. Shouted. Whispered.
In the end, they both sat on the grass. House lights twinkled through the sparse greenery. Cars coughed down the roads. A tabby cat slept on a bench nearby.
Let’s go home, said Susan dejectedly.
Peter sighed, and flopped onto his back. Let’s just watch the stars for a bit, he said. Look, the moon’s just rising over the rooftops.
There’s no point, said Susan. And you’re getting green stains on your shirt. How will we explain that? Let’s go.
Peter got up, and they left the park. On the way, Peter reached out to the almost-sleeping tabby, who had started to purr as soon as they were within earshot.
Don’t touch him, Susan snapped. He’s probably got fleas.
Peter withdrew his hand, hurt more than the simple comment warranted. The cat stopped purring, looked at Susan with dark eyes, then leapt off the bench and ran into the dark.
Peter turned to Susan, and she rolled her eyes at him. Don’t be ridiculous, she said. It’s only a cat. It doesn’t mean anything.
She never brought finding Aslan up again.
Six long years passed. Six years of unanswered letters and hushed shouting matches twice a year at holidays. Lucy was Valiant, but she was hurt by her sister’s curtness. Edmund was Just, but his arguments fell short against her indifference.
Peter was Magnificent, and he was failing.
There were flashes of hope. The first time they had all gotten together and met Miss Plummer, and heard about Jadis’s origins. When the girls had gone off together to the shops, and come back with an old tapestry they had found at a boot sale. It was faded burgundy with a border of greenery, and a golden lion in the middle, holding a sword and wearing a crown. The Professor hung it in his spare bedroom. When Edmund had gotten Susan a golden ring with a red stone for her eighteenth birthday. (Took me four weeks allowance, he grumbled to Peter. Peter promptly paid him half.)
But Susan was busy, always busy. She arrived late, and left early. Eventually, she started declining their invitations altogether. Later, she said.
Miss Plummer called her a social butterfly, in tones that were not a compliment. The Professor sighed, and said everyone deals with grief their own way. Give her time, he said. Later is good enough.
But then there was no time, and there was no later. Just another train, separating them again.
And Peter was back in Narnia, the real Narnia, and his sister was not standing beside him.
No longer a friend of Narnia.
He had tried. He had failed.
Not Magnificent at all.