A Thousand Deaths
by Amy

She is the only one in her family who is still alive, and a part of her is stubbornly proud of this. Her sister was the dreamer; her brothers the wise and the strong. But even as a child she was known as the practical one, concerned of things on this plane instead of those in the land of make-believe. They used to say she was obstinate, but Susan knew better. Leave the flights of fancy to Lucy; even as a child, she was ready to live in the adult world her sister never even dreamed of.

She is the only one alive and they have all left her here, and she waits for them to come and rescue her, but she knows they never will.

The aides like her, she knows, because they think she's crazy, but benevolently so. She talks about Hell a lot, perhaps, but everyone here has their quirks, and hers could be much worse. At least she is still regal, in some ways; her posture is firm, her eyes still wide and bright with knowledge, her cheeks red as the fresh apples she can remember eating as a child. The aides bring makeup to her, knowing it pleases her, dark kohl to line her eyes and cheap lipsticks which make chapped elderly lips look like a teenager's.

They all know her history, murmur about it as tragic when they think she's not listening. Orphaned before she turned twenty-one, brothers and sister and cousin and friends gone as well. Even the Professor, who had offered housing to any of the family as needed, dead that same day. "This type of tragedy..." people would murmur, their voices trailing off. Or, "You would have thought the worst was over after the war."

She had shattered then, pieces of her mind as scattered as the ashes of her family. She had spent the past- how many years was it? A lot, certainly- trying to find them, trying to find herself. She feels lost wherever she is; too many parts of her whole have been missing for her to see anything outside of the shell she's been hiding in for as long as she can remember now. Everything occurs in one of two shades of time. Before and After. Before, when she knew who she was. And After, now that everything she has known is gone, and even she is aware that she must sound mad, babbling about her history to anyone who will listen.

They like her, here, because she is friendly, even approachable. Most of the patients throw things, or throw fits, but although she believes she is condemned and has no reason for restraint, she does neither. She goes to great pains to never lose her temper; the aides like her when she bats her lashes and smiles sweetly. And in turn they offer her fragments of her shattered dignity, rescued amidst the dirty sheets and shocking nakedness of her peers; surrounded by shame, she maintains a pure glow that even this place cannot touch. And this is important to her. Somehow, this makes her feel better and worse at the same time, reminding her of the redemption that is always just out of reach.

They play cards with her, and ask for tales of her youth, and she tells each story with the passion and conviction of the young girl who had been there. She tells of a youth spent in England, and then in America; she tells of parents and two brothers and a sister and a cousin and a Professor. She tells of a rat who lost his tail in a violent battle and a prince who believed in dwarves and badgers and a tiny crystal vial which could heal any wound with a single drop. She tells of marriage proposals and unicorn horns, and foreign, far-off lands where none of the animals know how to talk. She tells of a lion, his mane composed of sunlight and earth and his breath which could bring life to those who would have passed on.

The other patients here talk about their childhoods across Europe, or share yellowing photographs of their children and grandchildren, but she has nothing but memories and dreams. The stories have been bottled up for so long that they sometimes bubble over. So she tells them to the aides, who try to hide their laughter and fail. They see her as a harmless inpatient, not the first gentle lunatic and not the last either, and yet she knows for certain, no matter what they say, that she could split an arrow in an apple on a windy day even after all these years.

For she is Susan, High Queen of Narnia. And no matter what they say, she knows, without a doubt, that she has been shut out of her Kingdom. And thus, without question, without recourse, without hope, she knows that she is in Hell.

Her raves, when she has them, do not echo through the halls like everyone else's seem to. They stay silent and whispered into her pillow. She's had a hard life, the aides whisper to each other, and they think of everyone else's deaths and forgive her ramblings of the brimstone surrounding her at any moment.

Someone asked her, once, which loss hurt the most. Was it Lucy, her sweet younger sister? Edmund, who was clever? Peter, who was the leader? They do not ask her about Mr. Tumnus, about Reepicheep, about Caspian. About Aslan. Perhaps, she realizes now, that was for the best. "Myself," she had answered, and was surprised at how true it was.

They wrote it off to the delusions of the old and feeble.

But Susan knows better.

She always has.


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