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Fic: Valley of Shadows 2/2

joannarnia2



Her dreams the night before had been odd. She hadn’t had such a clear vision of Narnia in decades, but last night she’d been at Cair Paravel back in the old days, with Peter and Edmund and Lucy on the thrones next to hers. She was young now, the lack of pain exhilarating as she turned back and forth between her siblings. The crowd of courtiers was familiar, though it was mingled with a few faces that hadn’t been there the first time. Mr. Tumnus was at Lucy’s elbow and the Beavers were close by, but Reepicheep was standing close to Peter and talking with him in earnest, excited tones.

She took a deep breath, inhaling the smell of Narnia. There were dryads nearby, a whole host that had probably come from the nearby forest, and nereids from the sea just below them. It had been so long since she’d seen them.

The crowd below was stirring and parting, though no one was turning to see the cause of it, and Susan looked up with curiosity. A set of black panthers, part of Peter’s honor guard, stepped to the side and revealed young Joan Girardi.

It was unsettling to see that face in this setting and it almost jarred her out of her pleasant dream. Susan turned to Lucy and saw that her sister’s features had blurred a little, but she took a deep breath and relaxed and things became clear again. She turned back to look at Joan. The girl was dressed in the fashion of the court, though her hair was braided back tightly in a way she’d never seen and her underskirt was split like a traveling dress. More noteable was the sword the girl was wearing comfortably at her side. It wasn’t the kind of delicate, not entirely useful weapon typical of noblewomen. There was nothing flowery about the sword at all, in fact. It was a simple blade, designed like a longsword but cut down in size, it’s hilt and scabbard bare of decoration. It belonged there, somehow. Susan was suddenly, vividly reminded of her early musings about Joan and how well she’d fit in Narnia.

Aslan was at the girl’s side, speaking to her quietly, and Joan’s attention was on the Lion as he talked. She was listening intently to everything that was said, much like Lucy had done in their time in Narnia. When he finished talking she nodded and said something back, her hand resting on the hilt of her sword as she spoke. At Aslan’s nod, she turned and wound back through the crowded room until she was out of sight. Susan turned away from the girl’s back to discover that Aslan was looking at her with deep, sorrowful eyes. He opened his mouth and Susan woke up, the roar still echoing in her mind.

Her heart was pounding painfully in her chest as she sat up, gasping for breath. Her chest ached from the effort and Susan could swear she felt every individual vertebrae as she got out of bed. The cancer had metastasized everywhere according to her last doctor’s visit. She was lucky to be this functional at all, even if it was accompanied by pain all through her body. It was especially hard to be thankful for that with the fresh memory of being young and free of pain still lingering from her dream.

The house was dark as she made her way to the kitchen, but Susan knew the way well enough that she didn’t bother turning on the light. After that dream there was no way she’d be able to get back to sleep. As it was, she could still hear Aslan’s roar echoing in her ears as she moved through the room. Her hands were trembling as she filled the kettle and set it to boil. Tea was called for right now. She would stay up and write until she’d calmed down, and maybe take a nap later once Joan was here for the day.

It took half an hour to get everything ready. The cup rattled in its saucer as she carried the tray into the other room and settled down at her desk. It would be best to write down as much as she could while the impressions of Narnia were still fresh in her mind. She’d been having difficulty truly expressing how it had felt to be there, but hopefully after that dream she would be able to paint an adequate picture.

By the time she heard the lock on the door turning, her tea was long cold. She’d been writing since the wee hours of morning and was exhausted and achy and cold and a little hungry. Sending the latest chapters to the printer before she could change her mind, Susan turned to Joan, ready to ask for something a little more substantial than toast for the first time in a long time. The sight of her assistant made her blink in surprise. She could see, superimposed over her long full skirt and short-sleeved shirt, the dress and sword the girl had been wearing in her dream.

Joan smiled, the expression bright and easy, and tucked one long strand of brown hair back behind her ears. The loose hair made it easier to separate dream-Joan from the real thing, and Susan took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Good morning,” she said, her voice not as strong as she wished it could be under the forced brightness. “I’ve had a rather late night, I’m afraid.”

“Late nights can be hard,” she agreed. “I’ll take the tray into the kitchen and start a fresh pot of tea. What would you like for breakfast?”

“Poached eggs?” She hadn’t had much more than toast in a long time, but right now Susan was positively starving. Susan had missed food and the way everything had always seemed to taste better in Narnia.

Joan nodded thoughtfully. “I’ll get started on that once I have the kettle on for tea. You should know that if my mom didn’t like them I wouldn’t know how to cook a poached egg, though.”

Susan had time to reorder her thoughts and shake away the image of her assistant as a sword-wielding woman by the time Joan reappeared with a fresh pot of tea and two poached eggs. It was hard to push the thought away completely, probably because it had so suited the young woman, but Susan managed to tuck it and the girl’s closeness with Aslan into a corner of her mind and concentrate on the matter at hand. “I’ll probably want to lie down after I eat,” she said, sipping at her fragrant tea. “I had a burst of inspiration last night and got up to write, but that was probably a little more than an old lady should have been doing. I’ve written up this week’s grocery list and left it with some money on my desk. Would you mind taking care of that while I rest this morning?”

“Sure, no problem.” The girl stood up in preparation to do just that, and Susan reached out a hand to stop her.

“Stay for a little while,” she said, hoping the words didn’t sound desperate. “Have some tea with me. I could use the company.”

Joan grinned, the expression bringing Lucy to mind with an unexpected sharpness. It would seem that Joan was now linked with her memories of her siblings and Narnia. Susan would use it, like she used everything else. She watched as the girl poured a cup of tea and added more sugar than any proper Englishwoman would have allowed. “So why did you decide to get up and write? Usually when something like that happens to me, it’s because I’ve got a paper due the next day and I’ve been putting it off.”

“I had some odd dreams,” Susan said, carefully skirting around the topic of those dreams. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep right away, so I got up to write. What kind of classes will you be taking in the fall?”

Joan blinked, probably at the abrupt subject change. “Art History, Middle Eastern History and Politics, Elementary Latin, and Introduction to Psychology.”

Susan raised an eyebrow at the mention of a Latin course. “Why would you want to study Latin?”

“I’m thinking about going to law school once I graduate,” the girl said, her tone lowering to something a little more confidential despite the fact that they were the only two in the room. “I kind of fell in love with the idea when I was still in high school. My school doesn’t have a prelaw major, so I’m majoring in criminal justice and picking up a few recommended courses like Latin and the Middle East class as electives.”

The idea of someone like Joan wanting to be a lawyer seemed foreign to Susan. She wasn’t exactly sure where the image in her head of Joan with a sword would fit in a career choice, but lawyer hadn’t been the one that sprung to mind. “Really? What do you love about it?”

Joan smiled, evidently not picking up on the faint disbelief in Susan’s tone. “I want to go into prosecution,” she said. “I love the idea that the foundations of law are concrete, that when you do something wrong you will be punished for it.”

“But things aren’t so black and white in practice,” Susan pointed out.

“I know that,” Joan said. “But the law is there to help make it at least a little clear. Every single detail is there to protect people from being wronged on either side. My friend Grace joined mock trial to prove that the American justice system was a farce, but it isn’t. It’s been manipulated on both sides, but it’s still one of the best there is. That’s why I want to go into law. There is a right, and there is a wrong, and the justice system is there to make sure that no one confuses the two.”

The passion in her voice was surprising, though probably it shouldn’t have been. Joan was a very alive person, so of course she would choose a future profession that she loved whole-heartedly. “I’m glad you feel so strongly about it,” Susan said, because she was. “You should always love what you do.”

She ate her eggs quickly, before they went completely cold, wiped her mouth, and finished off her cup of tea. “I’ll think I’ll lie down for a while,” she said. She allowed Joan to help her back into her bedroom, closed her eyes as the room turned dark, and finally fell asleep.

xxx

Mrs. Walker was still asleep when Joan returned with the groceries, and Joan put them away like she normally did before sitting down to read the pages that had been written earlier that morning. Unfortunately they didn’t really follow the last chapter she’d read so she still didn’t know how the three of them managed to escape the witch and the wolves that followed them. She has skipped forward again, writing of what it was like to rule a kingdom full of individuals who weren’t human. The picture her words painted reminded Joan vividly of the dream she’d had the night before. The dream had been so bright and real that at the time she’d had a feeling it was one of the special ones, the ones He used to point out something that she wouldn’t understand if she was simply told.

The four thrones described by the writer were familiar to her, enough so that she reached down to check for the sword she’d worn on her hip in the dream. The weapon was sadly absent and Joan sighed as she read on. Every description of Narnia struck a chord with her memories of the night before.

She finished the first printed chapter, catching only three typos and circling them in red, and went on to the next. There was some time elapsed between the two; somehow they’d all been gone and someone else was king of Narnia, but the rightful king was a young man who had gone into hiding with some of the Animals. Joan nearly dropped the stack of papers when she read the name, her mind going back to her sparring partner the night before and the courtly way he’d introduced himself as Caspian. Apparently the dream had been more real than she’d given it credit. She’d actually been in Narnia last night, visiting another world in her sleep. Was this what God had mentioned on the walk home, or was there something more coming?

Joan set the chapter aside and went to do some of the household chores. There was no way she’d be able to concentrate on it with that knowledge hanging over her head. Even while she moved through the house, cleaning up the kitchen and bathroom and sweeping the tile floors in preparation for mopping, she could almost feel the weight of the sword on her hip. It was one thing to be told that Narnia was real and that her current employer had once been there. Susan Pevensie had been a queen in Narnia, and Joan had seen it, and that made it solid and concrete. Other worlds existed: fact. Narnia was one of them: fact. Joan would probably travel to one of them someday: fact.

Sometimes, Joan’s job was totally, completely awesome.

Xxx

The three of them had startled Joan, though the girl looked a little apologetic about it. It was rare for a ghost to approach her that she hadn’t known in life. Most of the time, ghosts stuck to the places and the people that they were familiar with when they were alive. “Is my name on some sort of bulletin board in the afterlife?”

“No,” the girl said. “Aslan sent us.”

It took less than a second for Joan to remember that name. It hadn’t really come up in the chapters she’d read that morning. “Great,” she said. “I didn’t really need this kind of thing today. I’ve still got to work at the bookstore tonight.”

“You aren’t hallucinating,” the dark-haired teenager said. “You know him. He just goes by a different name here.”

“I know I’m not hallucinating,” she said automatically as she took another, closer look. “I hadn’t quite made that connection yet, but I know that much at least. I know that Narnia is real. You must be her brothers and sister. Peter, Edmund, and Lucy.” That knowledge helped a little. She did better when she knew who was talking to her. Now that she was looking at the three of them a little more closely, she could see the resemblance to the slightly older figures from her dream. “You know, most people call ahead, give a little warning before they drop in. Aren’t you supposed to be a little older?”

Lucy smiled, the expression bright, and Joan could see Mrs. Walker in that smile. “We know you’ve been spending a lot of time with Susan. We wanted to talk to you.”

“Are you actually going to talk to me, or are you going to say something mysterious and cryptic and disappear?” She hadn’t had much luck with finding straightforward ghosts. Even the ones she knew when they were alive had an annoying habit of saying something that she didn’t understand until later and running off with a smile. She was becoming sadly accustomed to the habit.

“We’re staying until the end,” Lucy said firmly. “Susan doesn’t have much longer here in this world and I want to be here for her when that changes.”

“You mean until she’s ready to go back to Narnia,” Joan said. “I think she’s getting close, actually. Hey, were you guys there last night when I had that dream?”

Peter nodded. “I saw you briefly. Aslan brought you into his kingdom for a short time.”

“I thought so.” She grabbed her wallet and keys and gestured to the door. “If you’re sticking with me tonight, I need to get going. You guys can figure out the logistics of following me to the bookstore.”

“We’re going to Susan, actually. It just seemed polite to let you know that we’d be around.”

“Message received,” Joan said. “I’m going to be late to work if I don’t get going, and I’d rather not get caught talking to myself.”

The dark-haired one, Edmund, rolled his eyes a little but there was a smile on his lips. “We’ll see you at Susan’s house. Unless I get bored and need something to read, of course.”

“No talking to myself,” Joan reminded him, walking out of her bedroom and closing the door behind her. The ghosts didn’t follow.

xxx

She was never exactly sure where she stood with Mrs. Walker. The woman was always perfectly polite, even nice to her, but she held herself apart from Joan even as Joan helped her get dressed. It was hard to tell if this was a natural inclination, a product of her age and nationality, or a safety measure that the woman had cultivated to protect her heart. Now that Lucy was tagging along on Joan’s time with her sister Joan was starting to think it was the last one.

The Pevensie siblings were a little more distracting than Joan might have wished, but there wasn’t much she could do about that. Their running commentary as Joan helped with chores and such happened to be entertaining, at least, if hard to block out while she was editing Mrs. Walker’s book. Edmund in particular had a bad habit of standing behind her chair and reading over her shoulder, occasionally adding editorial snark about how certain events had actually happened. Later, when Mrs. Walker (it was much easier not to think of her as Susan, since she hadn’t received permission to use her first name in conversation, but she didn’t always succeed. Between reading the book, spending time with the woman’s ghostly siblings, and her dreams, Joan knew her a little too well for that) went to lay down for a nap Joan would talk to all three of them and get a much deeper understanding of the events the woman was describing.
She still hadn’t figured out how to reach out to her employer and make her see the truth. Even with the help of Peter, Edmund, and Lucy she ran into brick walls more often than not. Mrs. Walker was incredibly guarded most of the time and still closed off to any discussion about things that were real, and time was running short. The older woman was growing visibly weaker as the days went on. She needed help for almost everything now, help that Joan wasn’t necessarily qualified to give. Someday something was going to happen that Joan would be helpless to fix and all of her opportunities would vanish.

Two months into her job as Mrs. Walker’s assistant and three weeks since the ghosts of her siblings turned up, Lucy met her at the door. The teenaged girl turned ghost was nearly vibrating with excitement as Joan unlocked the door and stepped inside. “Susan knows I’m here,” the girl blurted out as Joan closed the door firmly behind her. “I pushed the hair out of her face and she looked straight at me!” She laughed, her eyes bright, and Joan couldn’t help but smile in response as she headed into the back bedroom.

Her smile vanished as soon as she crossed the threshold of the room. Mrs. Walker was sitting up in bed, visibly trembling under the heavy blankets. “I need to go to the doctor,” she said, her faded blue eyes wide and startled. “Something happened. I think I’m slipping off the edge, losing my mind.”

Joan didn’t stop to consider her next actions and their possible ramifications. Time was up. If she could sense Lucy, she was probably close to the end. “You’re not going crazy,” she said, coming close to the bed and seizing one ice-cold hand. “That was Lucy. She pushed the hair off of your face and you could feel it when it happened.”

The woman stared at her, the little color she had left draining out of her face. She looked more like a ghost than her dead siblings. “How do you know that? Why are you saying this to me?”

“She met me at the door this morning, incredibly excited about the whole thing,” Joan told her, keeping her tone matter-of-fact. “They’ve all three been here for the last couple of weeks, trying to reach you and talk to you. This is the first time you noticed them.”

The woman exhaled sharply. “Get out,” she ordered, and Joan stepped back from the bed in response to the harshness in her voice. “How dare you say such a thing? How dare you use my sister against me like that?”

“Susan.”

Joan turned to the door at the same time as Susan. The young man standing there was a familiar one to her, and his presence confirmed what she’d already realized: time was up. She wasn’t sure if Mrs. Walker was seeing the same thing, though. Her mouth tightened into a thin line.

“Who are you?” she asked, her tone less demanding than before. It lacked the strength she’d held onto when she’d spoken to Joan a moment earlier. “Why are you?”

The young man turned to Joan. “Please tell her who I am, Joan.”

Joan blinked. She’d gotten some outlandish requests from Him over the past three years, but never anything like this. He nodded at her and she screwed up her courage. “This is God,” she said simply.

“No,” Mrs. Walker replied. “No, this is some kind of scam that you two have worked out.” Her hands were clenched into fists.

“Susan.” His voice was gentle but firm, the kind of thing Joan heard from her parents when she was being scolded for something she wasn’t supposed to do when she was a kid. Joan could feel her emotions reacting to that voice almost instinctively. “Daughter of Eve, you know who I am.”

“You aren’t here,” Susan said, nearly sobbing now. “You left me here alone. You took my family away from me!”

“I took them home,” he corrected, his hands going into the pocket s of his corduroy jacket. “It was time for them. If they’d remained here things would have been more difficult than they deserved. I allowed them into my kingdom instead.”

“You left me behind!”

“You weren’t ready. Peter and Edmund and Lucy all longed to come home. That wasn’t what you wanted, and I don’t want anyone who is unwilling. I left you in the world you desired, but now a part of you longs for Narnia again. Your brothers and sister have missed you, as have I. We’ve come to bring you home to my kingdom, Susan the Gentle, Queen of Narnia.”

Lucy was standing next to Joan on one side of the bed, Peter and Edmund on the other. “We’ve miss you, Su.” She smiled and gripped the old woman’s hand.

Susan gasped at the contact and looked to the side. “Lucy?”

Peter reached for her other hand and Edmund joined him, wrapping one pale, long-fingered hand around her wrist. Joan could see the moment when Susan let go and allowed the belief of what was happening. She stepped back from the bed. This was a family moment now. They deserved what privacy she could give.

The young man from the door stepped into her place beside Lucy, giving her a reassuring smile. “Susan Pevensie, daughter of Eve, do you believe in me?” His voice was still gentle as he looked down at her, but Joan could feel it in her chest.

Susan didn’t release the grip she had on her siblings hands to brush away the tears running down her face. “Yes, Aslan. I believe in you.”

“Are you ready to come with me to my Kingdom?” he continued.

“Yes,” she gasped out, nodding and looking from him to Peter, Edmund, and Lucy.

He smiled and touched her cheek. Joan blinked against the brightness filling the room and finally closed her eyes against it. When she opened them again, the young man was gone along with the three ghosts, and the body of Susan Pevensie Walker was lying back on her pillow, her eyes closed and a faint smile on her weathered face. Joan didn’t need to check her pulse to see that the woman was gone, but she did for formality’s safe.

She called for the ambulance when she was certain she could dial the number and then sat down on the porch outside to wait for them. She and Susan hadn’t talked about what to do when this eventually happened. Her book wasn’t finished, after all, and she had probably thought she’d had more time. There was a folder on the bedside table that had lain there for her entire employment, and that probably contained all of the information she would need. Susan hadn’t had any close family left; her husband had died years ago and she’d never had children, though she’d fostered and mentored at least a dozen that weren’t hers by blood over her lifetime. Joan’s assignment was technically over on both fronts, but she stubborn part of her refused to let go just yet. She wanted to see this through all the way to the end.

Once the ambulance arrived Joan led the paramedics and their rolling gurney through the house to Susan’s bedroom. Susan’s body was still and white against the cheerful printed sheets on the bed, her white hair tangled across the pillow. Joan reached for the folder and opened it up. Tucked just behind a yellowed birth certificate was a ‘Do not Resuscitate’ order. The paramedics read it through and then efficiently loaded the thin body onto the gurney, forgoing the body bag for a draped sheet and strapping it in securely.

Joan promised to meet them at the hospital with all of the necessary paperwork and watched as they drove away without a siren or lights. When they had turned the corner and were no longer visible, she called her mother and asked for a ride. There was no way she would be able to safely drive like this.

With nothing else to do but wait for her ride, Joan locked the front door, sat on the porch steps, rested her head on her folded arms, and cried until she was nearly sick.

She was still crying when her mother showed up, the sobs having thankfully dwindled into simple tears. It wasn’t that she was sad, exactly. Susan was finally where she wanted to be, in Narnia with her brothers and sister and ‘Aslan’ and needed no tears. The two of them had become something resembling friends over the last couple of months, though, and Joan would miss the older woman’s acerbic wit and gentle heart. She would miss Susan in general, to be honest, now that she was finally comfortable enough to call her by her first name.

When her mother arrived, Joan got into the car quietly, her fingers stiff on the seatbelt. Her mother waited until she got into the car and they were driving toward the hospital before asking what had happened, her voice full of gentle concern.

The events of the morning (Joan looked at the clock in the dashboard of her mother’s car and was surprised to realize it had only been an hour since she arrived) were impossible to describe in a way that would be believed. Joan didn’t even try. She rested her head against the back of the seat and turned her face towards her mother. “Mrs. Walker died this morning,” she said, sharing at least the truth that would be understood. “I couldn’t wake her up when I tried, and I couldn’t find a pulse. She had a DNR order and the paramedics just loaded her up and took her away.”

“Oh honey.” Her mother’s face crumpled sympathetically and she reached out to touch Joan’s face. “I’m sorry. I know you two were getting close.”

Joan nodded and didn’t say anything further. They drove to the hospital with only the faint music from the radio to break the silence. She had the folder clutched in her hands, reluctant to loosen her grip and allow for the possibility of losing it. She hadn’t looked further into it but didn’t doubt that everything she would need for the next few days rested inside.

She’d been to this hospital several times in the past few years, sometimes for herself but more often for friends and family. Kevin had been in and out of here a few times to get checked out for possible injury. Judith had died in this hospital, and that memory hurt a little. She’d definitely never been down to the morgue, though. Her mother stayed with her but didn’t say anything, letting Joan take the lead in the situation.

It was less complicated than she’d thought. Sometime during al of this her mother had called her dad and he was the police officer waiting for her when she got downstairs. Instead of a next of kin number, there was just a listing for a lawyer in the folder. Joan copied it down so that she could call the person for her own comfort, but her father would be making the official notification call. Once Joan presented the folder of paperwork she was free to leave, but she stayed for one last look at the body. Susan looked quiet and peaceful despite the harshness of her surroundings. Joan Girardi bowed her head to Susan the Gentle, Queen of Narnia, and then she walked out the door.

xxx

The estate lawyer was fairly nice, if a little nervous. Joan had a hard time imagining anyone working through law school just to do this for the rest of his or her life, but the world needed that kind of lawyer too, she guessed. He thanked her for her call and promised to let her know when the funeral would be. There wouldn’t be more than a graveside service, according to Susan’s wishes.

She called in to the bookstore and told Sammy she wouldn’t be in that night. After the events of the day it would be incredibly pointless to ask her to pay attention to stocking shelves or the cash register or customers. She thought about going to see Grace or calling Adam, her two friends being the best distractions from these kinds of things, but in the end Joan spent her afternoon wandering aimlessly through the park. She kept hoping she would run into God sometime, maybe as a little girl playing on the playground or that insufferable teenage boy, or possibly the old lady that had comforted her when Judith had died and Adam had cheated on her. Nothing like that happened, though, and she just kept walking in circles around the edge of the tame little city park until the sun started to set and her stomach growled.

Her mother was waiting on the couch for her when she came in through the front door. Joan walked past her without much more than a mumbled greeting and a wave. She needed water and food. She hadn’t really had either one all day.

Helen Girardi slipped in behind her as she constructed a sandwich, having followed her into the kitchen. “You want to talk about it?”

She took a bite, mostly so her mouth would be too full to speak, and shook her head. Maybe tomorrow or the next day she’d be willing to talk, but for now she had nothing else to say. It wasn’t hard to be happy for Susan, finally home and safe in Narnia with Peter and Edmund and Lucy, but Joan would miss her. “Did Mr. Abbott call about the funeral?”

“No. It’s probably too soon to know the specifics. Are you going to be okay?”

“I knew going in that she was going to die,” Joan told her mother. “I’ll miss her, but I’ll be all right.” She took another bite of the sandwich in her hand, as if to prove it, and choked a little on the bread. Right, water. She needed water.

There was a Brita pitcher in the fridge that her mom kept filled, and Joan stepped around the woman for it. She pulled a glass out of the cabinet, filled it, and drank it down completely without pausing. A deep breath, poured another glass, gulped it in five swallows. Possibly she had been more thirsty than she realized.

“Joan.”

“Don’t,” she said, working to keep her voice even with her face turned away. Susan was young and happy and in Narnia. She had to hold onto that.

“When you’re ready to talk, I’ll be there,” her mother promised, resting her palm on Joan’s cheek. Then she retreated back to the living room.

The lawyer called back the next morning, informing her that the funeral would be in three days, at ten in the morning. There would be a very small gathering afterward where Joan would be welcome. Joan thanked him, hung up, and tried to figure out what she was going to do with her time for the next three days.

She ended up burying her attention in her books, studying up for the next semester when she wasn’t working at the bookstore. She even forced her way through the art history text, stubbornly taking notes and highlighting passages like she could end up liking it through force of will. Susan’s unfinished book was still on her mind while she worked. Joan hadn’t been back to Mrs. Walker’s small house since her death and she didn’t know if the woman had written any thing else before she died. She’d done that sometimes, so it was possible, but Susan had been so weak at the end that she doubted it.

The morning of the funeral was a typical summer day, bright and already a little warm by the time Joan got out of her car at the cemetery. There were the usual ghosts wandering around, most of them still too timid to approach her. Joan glanced at them in passing, because not acknowledging them could occasionally make them angry and because it was kind of rude to do otherwise, nodding before she headed towards the small gathering of people.

There was a priest there, not the one her mom was friend’s with, but it was clear that he’d never really met Susan and the words he said were basic and cautious, most of them routine. They did the thing were everyone dropped a handful of dirt on top of the casket and it was over. Joan followed the rest of the people, all of them strangers and most of them talking with the same crisp accent as Susan as they walked away. She turned back once, hoping to get one last glimpse of Queen Susan the Gentle, but there was nothing there.

The gathering was small enough that it could have been held in a coffee shop, only twelve or so of them including Joan and the lawyer, but it was held in the private room of a fairly nice restaurant. The other ten were all people she had mentored at some point in time, and they shared stories about Susan Walker and all they had learned from her. Joan chimed in a time or two, but obviously she didn’t have as many stories as the others. Mostly she listened as they filled in some of the cracks from the book.

Mr. Abbott stood up once they’d all made some sort of show at eating their food and called for attention. “Mrs. Walker asked me to make sure a few things were taken care of once she passed. I’m sure most of you know that she had already given away the bulk of her assets to charities while she was still alive and the rest of that will follow suit. She did parcel out most of her belongings, if you will accompany me to the house later on.”

Joan thought of those neatly packed boxes, all of them labeled with post-it notes for their final destination. Now that she could put individual faces to those boxes it seemed a little creepy. The others were all standing up now, no doubt preparing to go to the house, and Joan sighed and followed them out.

It had been aired out and cleaned since she’d been here and Joan wasn’t sure if she was insulted or relieved that the lawyer hadn’t asked her to take care of it. She knew the furniture would all be collected by Goodwill once they were done and the house put up for sale.

She didn’t go into the bedroom.

The boxes slowly disappeared, heading into car trunks and backseats. Joan watched them go until only she and Mr. Abbott were left in a sparse living room. “I know I don’t have a box,” she said.

“Mrs. Walker wanted you to have her computer and her books, including the ones she was writing at the time,” he said. “You can feel free to do whatever you want with that, but if you try to publish it let me know. I also wanted to offer my thanks for looking out for her. I thought she was crazy when she uprooted from London and came here, and I worried when she hired a teenage girl to help her out. But you were good for her. I could tell from our conversations that you helped make her last two months much easier than they could have been.” He shook her hand, helped her load up the books, and Joan drove back home.

She read the whole of Susan’s book from start to finish that day, lying on her stomach with the laptop in front of her. She let the dreams she’d had fill in some of the gaps and the gathering from earlier in the day fill in the others. Once she’d gone all the way through the book she went back to the sections on Narnia and re-read them. It wasn’t quite finished, but it was close and she had a pretty clear picture of what had happened. It was dark when she finished reading, closed up the laptop, and turned out the light to sleep. As she drifted off, Joan thought she heard the faint roar of a lion.


Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
butterflykiki
Jul. 18th, 2012 07:29 am (UTC)
Love this! *hugs Joan* Susan slowly getting closer to the end of her life, and trying to be ready for it, and seeing Aslan again... it makes a lot of sense. I love that she wrote it all out as a book, and Joan finished it.
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