Love in the Shadowlands
a brief interlude in the lives of two Daughters of Eve
for Ronnie and for Joanne
Hastings, Southwest England, 1959...
Susan was just putting key to lock on her front door when she noticed her neighbor Mrs. Wallace off to her right.
“Are you busy Friday?” the kind woman shouted and smiled at Susan as she stood on the landing of her front steps. Susan winced; hoping the red glow in her face reflected the chilly wind instead of her embarrassment.
“Actually…” she paused as several inner voices tried to get her attention.
“We’re off to London for a few days,” Susan blurted out. She immediately regretted her words and added.
“Alice wanted to go up. To honor her mother’s memory.” True enough, even if her explanation was incomplete.
“My nephew Roger is here for the weekend and I thought you...Susan... might be available for dinner?” Mrs. Wallace was nice enough, but even after several failed attempts at matchmaking, she still persisted.
“Sorry. We’ve only got a few days before schedules muck up plans. It’s sort of an anniversary. Sorry.” Susan smiled back even as she opened the front door. Stepping inside, she stood in front of the mirror by the doorway.
“Mrs. Wallace catch you?” a voice called from the kitchen.
“She’s been after me all day asking what your plans are. I told her we were going to London.” Alice walked down the hall and stepped up to Susan, pulling her into a tentative hug.
“I didn’t tell her…Just that it was a family thing.” Susan shrugged.
“I don’t know what upsets me more. The date or having to lie to the world about us.” She turned and fell further into Alice and sobbed. Alice stroked her hair.
“Shhhh…. We’re here… our own realm. No wickedness can enter….No shame can hurt. You and me? Safe in here.” Susan raised her head, only to shake ‘no’ before burying her face in Alice’s shoulder as she resumed her sobs.
“I can’t even see where it happened, Al…” Susan stood on the platform; long since either rebuilt or replaced.
“I should have been here,” she said with a gasp as she turned around slowly in a circle; her left arm stretched out in a broad gesture. Alice went to speak, but thought better and let Susan continue.
“How must I have disappointed them all… Every one of them…” Her voice trailed off, leaving her last words to waft away in a sudden breeze.
“I thought my mother would hate me,” Alice said as she reached out to grab Susan’s hand, urging her over to a bench in front of the station. A woman sitting on the next bench over looked up from her paperback to smile before returning her attention to her reading. Even at mid-morning, there were only a few others waiting for the next train to arrive.
“You still don’t get it.. I betrayed Edmund…Lucy…Peter…I turned my back on Narnia…on Aslan…my family.”
“I do get it….” Alice sighed. She grabbed Susan’s hand again, squeezing it.
“MY mother wrote me the kindest note. Told me my name… Let me finally know it was okay to be who I am. But when she was alive, she never even breathed a word. Without saying as much, her last words to me before she left the day she went missing? ‘I’m sorry.’”
“I don’t understand? Susan said as she stared intently into Alice’s eyes.
“Until the day you hugged me before I left Narnia, even with my own mother’s love, I never felt like I belonged. And there were so many days after she went missing that I cried and cried, ‘Oh, God. Why did you take her? I should have been…’” Alice put her hand to her mouth, as if she had no right to continue. Susan’s eyes seemed to plead otherwise.
“You…we had every right to survive. You did nothing wrong. You weren’t here because you were exactly where you were supposed to be. I survived because I was supposed to survive.” Alice blinked back tears as it still felt that Susan was unable to apprehend the grace both had been given, even after all these years.
“But why, Alice? Why was I supposed to survive? I’ve almost been a burden to you. I certainly don’t deserve you.” Alice bit her lip in frustration, looking for the words that would soothe. But soothing wasn’t what was required. Alice went to speak, but she felt something soft rubbing against her leg. She leaned over just a bit and began to laugh softly at the sight.
“What’s so funny, Al?” Susan sounded more than a bit hurt. Alice’s laughter faded into that sound that mixes joy and sadness and wonder. She reached down and in the next moment placed what she had discovered between them.
“Wha?” was all Susan could mange before she succumbed to the attention of a very old if affectionate grey tabby tomcat. He rubbed up against her arm and purred loudly as his claws dug only just a wee bit under her coat and onto her knee.
“Why were you spared? Why were you saved” Alice managed to say haltingly as her own cries and laughs seemed to change into a satisfied coo. And the cat, as if readily prompted by Alice’s words, nudged Susan’s hand back over to Alice. His purr grew louder when Alice grabbed Susan’s hand. I suppose it was a safe thing that the train had already come and gone, leaving them alone on the platform? But even if the station had been teeming with passengers, Alice would have proceeded.
“You…we were saved for us…for each other.” Alice leaned closer and kissed Susan exactly like no women in 1959 would ever do in public; and exactly anyone who is emboldened by the safety of magic and love might do. Nevertheless, Alice pulled away slightly and looked around. She breathed a sigh of relief, echoed by Susan. It was only then that they noticed the cat had vanished….
Later that evening…
The two had just settled in at a nice bed and breakfast just outside London. The owner was referred to them by a friend of a friend who knew the place was safe for girls like Susan and Alice. Susan was sitting at an antique vanity brushing her hair. Alice was sitting in bed reading a copy of The Rescuers; ironic and childlike all at the same time,
“Sue? Luv? Do me a favor?” Alice waved and Susan nodded in anticipation.
“Yes?” She put down her comb and walked to the bed, repeating,
“Yes?” Alice looked up and laughed softly before pulling Susan into a more than mere favor-like embrace.
“Let me show you why just why you were saved.” Susan tried a little bit to resist before leaning across Alice to hit the light switch. What little light that was left came from a street lamp that illumed the two as they nestled together for what would finally be the rest of many safe nights.
And down on the street, equally illumed by that same lamp was a very content looking grey tabby tomcat who seemed to nod before simply fading away.
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