Over the years I have of course, had a great number of unusual and (to be quite frank) weird clients but not one sticks in the mind like she does. Mrs. Greeves was in her own league and whilst I know as well as anyone that patient confidentiality is paramount, I am an old man these days, she is doubtless long dead and well, it would be a shame for her tale to be unknown to posterity and so what harm does it do to recite it here?
Yes indeed, I remember well that day when she stepped into my office, her hair carefully-permed, her make-up immaculate and a look of measured breeding and refinement pervading her whole being. I was at once reminded of the Prime Minister and indeed there was much that she and the Iron Lady had in common. I can easily imagine them sharing tea and biscuits and complaining about the state of the lower classes. But I digress.
“Good morning doctor,” she said sharply.
“Good morning Mrs. Greeves.”
“I have come here, doctor, because I have a problem for you to solve. Whether you can solve it I very much doubt, but my friend says that you are able and so I shall give you a chance.”
Normally at this point I would go into my spiel about how counselling is there to help the client to help themselves and that it is not for the counsellor to solve the client’s problems, but something about her look told me that this was not the wisest route to take and so instead I stayed silent.
“Doctor, have you read these?”
She slammed a pile of slim paperbacks onto my desk. Somewhat surprised I picked up the top one. It was a well-known children’s novel about a lion, a witch and a wardrobe and a whole magical world that could be entered via the latter. I had read it – and enjoyed it – as a child but could not recall much of it. A cursory glance at the others revealed them to be by the same author and in the same series.
“As a child, I recall reading perhaps a couple of them, not all…”
“Then read them all please doctor, it will not take you long. However, if you do not have time to do so, I have marked the relevant passages and these you must read. The problem, you see, is these books!”
Over the following week I did in fact read the books, all seven of them. She was right, it didn’t take long. I started off intending just to read the passages that Mrs. Greeves had highlighted but the glimpses of the magical universe contained within caused me to regress into the happy days of my childhood and so I started again, from the very beginning, and did not stop until I had reached the end. At one point my daughter came up to me and asked what it was that I was doing and so I began to relate it all to her, in half-hourly sessions before she went to sleep every night. It was the most pleasant bit of research I have ever been asked to do for my work but at the end, whilst happy, I failed to see what any of that innocent and joy-filled world had to do with the prickly Mrs. Greeves.
“You have read the books I assume?”
I nodded to confirm that I had.
“And what was your impression?”
“They are nice… stories… for children…”
“They are the problem!” she corrected me.
“Could you explain for me exactly how they are the problem, Mrs. Greeves?”
She snorted; a look of utter contempt. “He got it wrong! It was not like that at all!”
“He… Mr. Lewis, he got it all wrong. Narnia was not as he described it at all.”
“You talk as if Narnia was a real place.”
A shadow flickered across her face. “Sorry doctor, I have misphrased that. The Narnia that my sister and I invented, that we played games about as children, it was not as he described it to be.”
“You are saying that Mr. Lewis stole your… invention…?”
“I am saying exactly that, doctor.”
“But that was many years ago Mrs. Greeves, and Mr. Lewis is now dead. Why does it hurt so much even after all these years?”
“Why?! Because I have been wronged most cruelly doctor, most cruelly indeed. That is why!”
“Could you explain in more detail please?”
She sighed as if it were all so obvious and I were a nincompoop. “‘She is interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations’; ‘Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.’ That isn’t why I didn’t return at all. He saw it all that way of course, but then he would; he saw everything in terms of God, Jesus and the Church. He took our wonderful world and all its history and creatures and turned it into some awful allegory of the Bible with Ed as Judas Iscariot and dear Caspian as a new Moses.”
For a moment there, the mask dropped and I fancied that I saw a glimpse of the truth. Or at least, what I wanted to be the truth.
“You still speak as if it were all real Mrs. Greeves…”
“Turns of phrase, that is all doctor.” The mask had returned.
I decided to try another tack. “‘Peter says that you are ‘no longer a friend of Narnia’.”
“No doctor, you are mistaken. In the book he puts those words into Peter’s mouth.” The mask stayed firmly in its place.
“Would your sister describe it all as make-believe now, Mrs. Greeves?”
All at once a spasm of pain shot across her face, followed by the faintest of smiles. “Do you know what doctor, she would probably describe it quite differently… if she could.”
“If she could…?”
Within a split second the mask returned. “I thought you said that you had read the books, doctor! Do you not remember that at the end of ‘The Last Battle’ there is a train crash in which all the children are killed?”
“All except Susan. She wasn’t there.”
There was a deathly silence and I knew at once that a blow had been struck at the root of her problem. That silence was deafening, intense and overwhelming. Silence is often the most powerful form of therapy.
“What gave him the right?” she asked at last, when that silence got too much to bear.
I did not answer. I could not.
“Who was he, the sanctimonious old fool, to judge like that? Ed, Peter and Lucy, as well as Polly, Digory, Jill and Eustace, they all got to go to Heaven, to the new and perfect Narnia. Only Susan got left behind. Why? Our Aslan would never have done that.” Then she remembered herself and where she was. “The Aslan in our childish games,” she corrected.
“Are you afraid of death, Mrs. Greeves?”
“Doctor, I am an old woman and as one gets nearer to death one fears her visitation all the more. When you reach my age you shall feel the same, believe me.”
“But what about Jesus and Heaven and the life-everlasting?”
“Like Aslan and Narnia, they are just stories. I am a scientist, doctor; I do not believe in God let alone any ridiculous notions of a life after death.”
“But did Lucy…?”
This time it was not pain but anger that crumpled her brow. She stood up and glared at me. “Doctor, I am sorry but as I suspected, this is all a waste of time. My friend said that you could perhaps help me to sleep a little better but instead you seem to be more interested in children’s games and the faith and delusions of my deceased younger sister. I am sorry to have taken up so much of your time but fear not, I shall take up no more. Good day, doctor!”
That afternoon I went to the Records Office and sure enough, Mrs. Susan Polly Greeves had been known as Miss Susan Polly Pevensie before her marriage in 1958. I had had in my office a real-life Queen of Narnia. It was a remarkable thought that she who had once sat proud in Cair Paravel, had now stormed out of my office in Tunbridge Wells.
I hoped of course, that she would return, so I could ask her all about the centaurs and the fawns, Mr. Tumulus and the White Witch and Caspian, but she did not, and as the years passed, thoughts of her faded away.
But then the other day, as I sat at home enjoying my retirement by watching the TV, a comment on a programme caught my eye. It was a documentary on the History Channel about the Lewisham Rail Crash on December 4th, 1957 when a train passed a red light in the fog and ran into the back of another. There were photos of the wreckage, of firemen and police officers and then a face appeared, much younger than the one I knew, but her nonetheless. “They were all in there, my two brothers and sister, all gone forever!” groaned a tear-stained Susan Polly Pevensie. It had been true after all! I rose from my armchair and walked over to the bookcase where my much-thumbed edition of ‘The Last Battle’ was sat. I took it out and opened it up. There, on the first page, before the title, were printed in black ink, the following words:
First published 1956
“By the Lion’s Mane!” I exclaimed to myself. Aslan had taken them all.
All except Susan.
Author’s note: With respect to both C.S. Lewis and Neil Gaiman.
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