Writings: Alberta

They were in Lucy's room, sitting on the edge of her bed and looking at a picture on the opposite wall. It was the only picture in the house that they liked. Aunt Alberta didn't like it at all (that was why it was put away in a little back room upstairs), but she couldn't get rid of it because it had been a wedding present from someone she did not want to offend. --Voyage of the Dawn Treader


Alberta is at a party with her sister Helen, and their boyfriends Harold Scrubb and John Pevensie. Their host is a Professor who teacher John at college; Alberta has never attended any classes with him as the lecturer, but she's not fond of his way of talking down to her and calling the girls "my dear". During the party, Alberta nips off to tuck her coat into a wardrobe upstairs--it seems a bit of a walk just to set her jacket aside, but the Professor had asked her to take her coat there. Something in the way he asked made her suspicious, as though there were a prank she wasn't aware of going on in the background, but she went anyway.

She's forced to reach to the very back of the wardrobe to find an empty hanger, and then suddenly she is tripping and sprawling forward onto snow. Alberta looks around her in alarm but there is no way to get back out of wherever she is; no door in the air behind her. She is going mad, or has hit her head, or... something she previously thought was impossible has become impossibly present. Magic? She'd never believed in the stuff before, not even as a child, but the memory of Kirke's smirking smile nags at her. *He* knew this would happen. She doesn't know how he could have known such a thing, but he did. She's certain.

She moves slowly forward into the strange and inhospitable winter world before her. The land is silent and she's just beginning to think she's alone in this place--and starting to worry about how she will survive the severe cold for any length of time--when a sleigh pulls up and a strange woman bids her with ill-disguised anger to sit beside her. Not wishing to offend this imposing and dangerous personage, Alberta obediently sits on the sleigh bench with her as instructed. She's a little worried about how she will get back to the spot where she came in, but that's a problem for the future; she can't go much longer without warmth.

The Queen (for that is what she tells Alberta she is) turns gregarious during their ride, plying Alberta with dozens of questions that she fires off at a rapid clip, hiding her impatience under a veneer of sweet syrup that makes Alberta's teeth ache to hear--she is reminded of strained family gatherings at Christmastime, and distant aunts who demand hugs and smell like verbena and old lilac. Alberta answers the questions with wary tact, telling as little as she can about her sister and their two boyfriends. Several times she assures the queen that, yes, there are four of them. Her father isn't named Adam and her mother isn't named Eve, but she goes along with this without contradiction, sensing that the woman would be dangerous to cross.

When the Queen serves hot chocolate for them to drink, Alberta waits until she looks away before dumping the contents of her cup into the snow. She won't eat anything in this strange world until the alternative is dire. Who knows but that food here might be poison to her!

Once the food is gone, the Queen becomes more at ease, lazily issuing orders to Alberta with the easy command of one who is accustomed to being obeyed. She instructs the girl to "return right away" with the other three "Sons of Adam and Daughter of Eve", but to not tell them anything about the woman or her world. Alberta nodded her head a great deal and made noises of agreement, not because she wanted to ever see this blighted winter waste again but because she hoped this meant the woman had the power to return her home. When the sleigh stops by the edge of the forest again, Alberta scrambles off into the trees, hoping against hope that she can find her way back through that cursed wardrobe.

By some miracle, a door in the air awaits her in the depths of the woods, sitting smack in the middle of her path as though waiting for her return. She is just stepping through the shimmering apparition when a large fox hisses at her from a nearby bush. "Don't trust the Queen! She's starving us with eternal winter!" Alberta turns her head to him, mouth already opening to ask what he means, but her foot carries her forward and in the next moment she is tumbling out of the wardrobe and onto the floor of Kirke's ostentatiously large house.

Alberta sits awhile on the floor of the cold room which now seems so very warm in comparison to the world she fled. When Helen comes upstairs to ask what has taken her sister away from the party for so long, Alberta lies and says she needed a moment away from the men downstairs. Dreamy as Helen has always been, there are limits to her credulity; Alberta harbors no doubt that a magical world of snow would test her limits. As for the others, Harold was born without an imagination and John possesses a cruel penchant for teasing. And that damned Professor had already made several insulting jokes over dinner about "hysterical" feminists and the "madness" of being for equal treatment between the sexes. Alberta could half-believe he played this trick on her knowing no one would believe her and would think she'd lost her mind.

Well, she wasn't going to play his game. She wouldn't say a word.

Yet... the experience ate at her. Somewhere there were people who were starving because of tyranny. She couldn't help them, but she recognize their plight was not unusual in her own world. Alberta had already been drawn to feminism but now she felt called to further activism. Food scarcity was something she could try to fix--and she'd damn well fix it in her own world before gallivanting off in search of other worlds.

It was a few years later when Professor Kirke gave her that damned painting. She'd had to invite him to the wedding; Harold loved the man because John loved him. Whatever Harold's other virtues were, he'd sadly never shrugged off the vice of believing whatever John believed--at least whenever John was around to tell him. Alberta could see why her sister loved the charismatic Pevensie boy, but she couldn't help but wish he didn't have quite so much sway over her own husband. When the Professor gave them the framed picture, Harold declared then and there that he loved it and wouldn't part with it for the world. Alberta hadn't liked the way Kirke looked at her for her reaction--there was something predatory in the smirking gleam of his smile, and possibly a seed of doubt? or a question he could not voice?--but she gave him the vacuous grin that she'd perfected for her tyrant of a father, and a stalemate had ensued.

Later, she'd stashed the painting in their guest bedroom and occasionally allowed herself to look at the thing. It wasn't anything like the magical world she'd visited; that had been a place of snow and ice and black dormant trees whereas this was a blue-green sea with a little purple ship sailing towards the viewer. But something in the glint of the wooden frame reminded her of that cursed wardrobe, and if she stayed in the room for too long she got a chilly shiver that made her pause. Harold wouldn't hear of throwing the thing out, but after Eustace was born she kept the guest room locked up tight.

They'd only had one child, of course. Food conservation and responsible population numbers started at home. She'd taught Eustace from day one the importance of thinking carefully about one's ecological footprint on the earth, about food storage, and about the children in other countries who had less to eat than he did. In order to bring the lessons home to him, she used object lessons--he'd been particularly interested in cataloging which insects were edible and which were not. He liked to catch them in his free time, pin them on cards, and look them up in books. He'd mark each card carefully and keep them as reminders of how much easier it was for him to eat than for some of the other children on earth.

When Harold recommended that Eustace spend a summer with the Pevensies, Alberta hadn't objected. She and Harold could have a second honeymoon, and it was nice to relax now that the war was over. But Eustace came back with funny dinner stories of his cousins and the strange magical country they believed they'd been to while they stayed with Professor Kirke during the Blitz. Alberta felt a lump in the pit of her stomach. She'd asked Eustace, casually, for more details but all he could tell her was that they all seemed keen to go back. Later he recalled that the oldest girl, Susan, had been a little subdued about the adventure. Eustace had taken that to mean that she was the cleverest of the group, to be so disinterested in fantasy.

Alberta was conflicted. She called up her sister and invited the children to come stay with them next holiday. After all, Helen and John had taken such good care of Eustace during his visit. No, she didn't mind that there were four of them. But then Helen had changed the plan by announcing that Peter would be staying with Professor Kirke for the summer while Susan went to America with them. It would be easier on Alberta, she said, only having the two youngest to care for. Alberta had bit her lip, and known there was nothing she could say that wouldn't sound unbelievable. She just had to hope that the older two would be all right.

When Lucy and Edmund arrived, Alberta studied them closely. They seemed healthy and happy, a little obnoxious about the vegetarian dishes placed on the table, but nothing unusual for children who had been raised in a different atmosphere. Eustace didn't seem to like them at all, and Alberta was privately relieved he kept his distance. Too late, she remembered the painting in the closed-up guest room--she'd spent ten years deliberately not thinking about it, trying to avoid the feelings of guilt and despair the memory evoked, only to remember it after her niece was already installed in the room. She could have kicked herself for her carelessness.

When she tried to take it down--"you don't want this garish old thing in your room, do you?"--the girl had strenuously objected, coming close to tears. Alberta's misgivings were as wide as the English channel, but she didn't want to traumatize the girl further without good reason. And of course she didn't know for sure the painting was malignant, just that it had been a gift from a man who may or may not have sent her into a strange magical world without warning or consent. She wished she could *know*.

Maybe it was all a coincidence that the little girl claimed to have found a magical world in Kirke's house. That was what little children did, didn't they? Well, not her Eustace; but other children made up stories, right? Maybe it was a coincidence that the child said she wanted to return to that strange place. Maybe those feelings had nothing to do with the painting she liked, and she merely liked it because of the color. Or... or something. Alberta tried to rationalize the situation to herself, to believe she was over-reacting.

The only sensible thing to do was to leave the painting where Lucy liked it and monitor the situation closely. Eustace wouldn't get caught up in anything; he didn't like Lucy or the picture, for which Alberta was grateful. If the little girl disappeared--the idea seemed mad, but IF--then Alberta would track down the Professor and wring a straight answer out of him before Lucy had a chance to miss dinner. Alberta wasn't going to stand for any more nonsense from him. Not a peep.


In Narnia, Jadis watched the direction the young woman walked and grimly decided she would need to install a permanent spy in the region. There had been a community of fauns in the forest once, and she thought she had one in her collection. He would know how to survive in the cold woods, and fauns were notoriously too meek to consider things like rebellion. Yes, a faun would do nicely.


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