The funeral is done now.
Alberta walked off alone quickly after the funeral, needing a moment away from condolences and being unable to stand next to her child’s grave. How was she supposed to stomach the thought of her child, her boy, her Eustace Clarence, laying in the ground, cold and gone forever? She had cried and raged and screamed herself hoarse when the news of train wreck had first been delivered and now for the first time she felt older than she was as she was left feeling hollow and rung out and brittle. Her eyes ached and her teeth hurt and her nails had left the deepest imprints in the palms of her hands from when she had clenched her hands together tightly, the first night, praying to God for all of this to be some horrid nightmare that she would wake from any moment. It wasn’t and she didn’t. She didn’t cry once during the procession. Not when her son’s face was revealed, looking as if he’d fallen asleep and would wake any moment now with a soft smile followed by a loud laugh. Not when she caught a glimpse of her Helen’s beautiful face next to her kind husband, Richard. Not even when she saw the caskets of her nephews and niece lined beside one another, Lucy’s being the smallest due to her size. She just couldn’t. Not after how much she had cried already.
Susan, on the other hand, couldn’t stop crying. She stood in between her Aunt and Uncle as if seeking some solace from someone she knew and someone who knew them, her parents, siblings, and dearest cousin. She had been in a state of shock since the news of her family had first been delivered. She went with her Aunt and Uncle to identify the bodies despite her Uncle strongly urging her not to come and see them as they had been found. She refused firmly, as had her Aunt, when Harold had turned to her to try and convince the both of them, together, one last time to stay home. Her Aunt and Uncle did not know that this was not the first time she would be identifying a body. She had done it countless times before, in another life a long time ago. Seeing them laying there, unmoving and lifeless had frozen something in her that had refused to thaw until today as she saw them again for the first since only to watch as their bodies disappeared one one by one into the cold dark ground. Her father. Her mother. Her brothers. Her sister. Her cousin. All gone in the blink of an eye. All dead, dead, dead—
The Poles had shown up for the Pevensie and Scrubb funerals just as she, Alberta, and Harold had for them. Jill, their lovely daughter -a child- Susan’s mind repeated again and again and again and- had been buried the day before. Despite having made plans to leave later in the very same evening, the Poles had still come for the funerals. Susan recalled that her Uncle had politely inquired of them where they were planning on going but she, for the life of her, couldn’t recall what they’d said in response. Everything was overrun with the sound of a buzzing that grew louder every time she happened to focus on one thought or conversation too long. Her Uncle escorted her back to the car once she was done where her Aunt waited for the both of them with pursed lips as if holding back a scream.
The car ride back to the Pevensie household was silent. Harold let out a deep shaky breath as he held one of Alberta’s hands in his own, steering with one hand. One would have thought Alberta did not notice her husband’s weariness if not for the tight grip she had on his hand the entire drive, providing comfort with her small touch. She stared straight through the windshield, her gaze never wavering but not seeing the traffic and people that walked around. It had started to rain and she glared fiercely at the heavens as if she would have scolded them if they had decided to tear open during the ceremony. Susan sat in the back behind her Aunt’s seat, tears still trailing down her reddened and wet cheeks every now and then. She rested her forehead against the cool glass staring lifelessly as everything slowly passed by in a blur.
When they arrived back at the Pevensie household, Susan was slow in getting out of the car, almost as if prolonging it would make it any easier to enter the quiet and lifeless house. Alberta and Harold made as if to step out of the car as well but Susan turned to them quickly and assured them that she was just going to be a moment. She just needed to grab a change or two of clothes and didn’t want to spend any more time in the house then she had to. It had been decided between her and her Aunt and Uncle that she would stay with them for as long as she needed. Taking a deep breath in, Susan slowly made her way to the front door after making sure her Aunt and Uncle stayed put. Her hand reached for the doorknob but she found herself hesitating to open it right away. Letting out a deep breath that sounded more like a choked off sob, she steeled herself and finally opened the door.
Her breath caught the moment she stepped in. Eyes were drawn straight to the family picture her mother had hung up over top of the little table in the entranceway. It was an image from the reunion between herself, Peter, and her parents with Edmund, Lucy, Eustace, Alberta and Harold from their return from America. Lucy had managed to drag a more solemn Eustace to stand right beside her, grinning in that over joyful way of hers like the sun breaking through on a cloudy day. Alberta and Harold stood on Eustace’s other side and a tad behind, smiling politely as etiquette required, with Alberta holding her husband’s arm loosely between her two hands. Edmund and Peter, the tallest of the children, stood behind the two youngest and bore wide grins no doubt thinking of the many adventures they were bursting to tell one another upon seeing each other again. Susan was on Lucy’s other side, smiling her soft beaming smile she reserved only for her loved ones with an arm wrapped loosely around her younger sister. Helen Pevensie stood a little bit behind her eldest daughter on her other side and was photographed smiling widely at being reunited with the rest of her family who she had missed dearly. Richard Pevensie’s arm, like Harold’s, had been held between his wife’s and he stood tall and proud with a small kind smile.
A shuddering sob tore through Susan as she stumbled away, one hand pressing against her lips and the other held against her stomach as if to stop the relentless pain. Everywhere she turned all she saw and heard were the ghosts of her family. Reaching the staircase, Susan took a moment to try and compose herself as she gripped the railing tightly, knowing that going up the stairs would be infinitely worse.
Alberta grew restless as she waited for her niece in the car outside with her husband’s hand held tightly between her own. Susan may have assured them both that she would be quick but Alberta was beginning to realize, funeral or no funeral, that sending the grieving young girl on her own into the Pevensie house had been a mistake on her and Harold’s part. Taking a deep breath and steeling herself for what she was about to do, Alberta patted her husband’s hand with a quiet murmured “Five minutes,” before she proceeded to step out of the car.
Walking into the house was like having someone reach a hand inside her chest and grip her heart in an unforgiving and unrelenting grip. A strangled noise escaped without her permission when her eyes landed on the family photograph. Her eyes watered as she saw the happy faces of the dead staring back at her. Her sister, brother-in-law, nephews, niece, and her beautiful baby boy. Everywhere she looked all she could do was feel her heart break over and over again as the evidence of the lost piled higher and higher leaving a choked feeling in the air. There was the sitting room armchair that Helen’s dear Richard favoured, resting against the wall. There was Helen’s favourite mystery novel’s laying innocently open with an old teacup on the small table in the kitchen as if she’d come back in the room any moment now and pick up where she had left off.
Going up the stairs in search of her niece was even harder, Alberta found. Her feet shuffled quietly and her little breathy huffs were the only sound in the quiet aching house. Reaching the top of the stairs, Alberta paused for a moment in hopes that she would be able to hear any sound to indicate where Susan had gone but her only answer was the ringing quiet. She bypassed Helen and Richard’s room as well as Peter and Edmund’s without pause, unable to glance in them for fear of not being able to keep what little control she had over her emotions in the sad house.
Alberta stopped upon reaching Susan and Lucy’s room, a hand gripping hard on the doorknob in fear of what she would find. Her lungs felt like they were on fire as she drew in a deep breath bracing herself before she finally drew herself up and opened the door with a quiet “Susan, my dear. Are you in here?”
Alberta found that whatever control she had over her emotions disappeared in an instance upon catching sight of her niece’s scrunched up form sitting, surrounded by jackets and shirts pulled off hangars, in the small wardrobe on Lucy’s side of the room.
Susan’s watery eyes dragged slowly up from her spot on the wardrobe’s bottom to her Aunt’s heartbroken form standing in the doorway and all she could do was blink listlessly as if she couldn’t comprehend just who stood in front of her. She had her father’s favourite jacket draped over her shoulders and one of her mother’s many colourful and bright scarves wrapped loosely around neck. Alberta swallowed hard as she saw what Susan clutched in her small shaking hands. One of Peter’s shirts lay in her lap while one of Edmund’s tiny horse figurines was clutched tightly in her left hand. And in her right hand, Susan gripped just as tightly and just as fiercely to a small bear that Alberta had seen so often in Lucy’s hands.
Alberta, without conscious thought on her part, found herself across the room in an instance, on her knees in front of her niece’s sluggish form in the dark wardrobe. Her hands lifted, reaching towards Susan and pulling the young girl to herself until Susan was practically falling out of the wardrobe and onto Alberta’s strong form. While Alberta found herself, for the first time in her life, floundering for something to say, Susan’s quiet voice broke the silence that pervaded.
“Aunt A-Alberta,” Susan whispered through small broken sobs and Alberta clutched her niece to herself a bit tighter bracing herself, “I-I don’t u-understand.”
“Don’t understand what, my dear?” Alberta asked just as quietly as she ran her hand over Susan’s head in comfort.
“I d-don’t unders-stand,” Susan repeated “W-why would H-he take them f-from us? Why? Why w-would He-” but whatever else Susan was trying to say got lost as heart wrenching sobs seemed to rip out of her without her consent. The breath left Alberta’s lungs in a rush and the composure she had worked so hard to keep throughout the funeral finally broke and all she could do was clutch her young niece hard to her chest as her own tears finally won the battle and fell.
“I don’t know, my dear. I don’t know,” Alberta replied as she held tight to her young niece in her arms and heard Harold’s muffled sobs from outside the door where he stood, letting Alberta and Susan have their moment.
(Later, Susan would somehow find the strength to get up and grab a few clothes holding onto her Aunt’s hand tightly in one her own the entire time. Later her Uncle’s arm would wrap loosely over her shoulder as he guided both of the grieving women out of the ghost filled house to the small car that stood waiting outside. Many sleepless nights would go by in the Scrubb household and Alberta would often find herself with her niece’s company in the dead of the night as the ache for those lost became unbearable. It wouldn’t be until some years later that Susan would laugh at a joke Harold told before her and Alberta would lose all composure and break into heady laughter that soon turned into heartbreaking sobs because they never in their wildest of dreams would have thought that they would ever feel anything but overwhelming grief. More years would go by and on one of those few nights, fewer in between one another, when the grief overcame her again, Susan would take a deep breath, turning towards where her Aunt and Uncle sat, and ask “Would you like to hear about the time when Peter, Edmund, Lucy, and I stumbled through a wardrobe?” — but that’s a story for some other day.)