Chapter 2: A Little Closer
It was Midsummer’s Day and Lyra sat on the wooden bench in the Botanic Garden, quietly remembering all the time she had spent with Will, all they had experienced together. If they had been destined to save worlds, why, after everything, had they been forced apart? But there had been a kind of choice. If she'd gone into his world or he’d come into hers, they'd be together now, living happily – If only for a short while. Unfortunately, she knew better.
For them, there was no elsewhere.
She remembered the angel Xaphania and her explanation of the Angels’ way of traveling between worlds – using the faculty of imagination. That was just making things up, wasn't it? It wasn't real. She laughed at the idea. If that was all it took, it hadn’t worked yet.
Pantalaimon, who had been silent beside her, put his paws on her forearm. "It's okay to wish for things, even if they can never happen."
"But it’s useless." She could feel the familiar pressure building in her chest. She touched the place on the bench beside her, where Will might be at this very moment.
"I know,” Pan said, "But we shouldn't forget. We should try to be happy with what we have here. We have to be all those good things the angel told us we should be. We have to try, or all this will have been for nothing.”
Lyra stroked her daemons red-brown fur. “I wish I could let him know that I’m here, that I’ll always be here."
At that moment, she remembered two things. The first was that in Will's Oxford, on her first trip, she had seen the initials SP carved on the wall of a building, the very same ones that her friend Simon Parslow had carved into that very same wall in her Oxford.
The second, was that she’d seen a cook’s daughter carve R+D into the trunk of a tree for the names Rachel + David. They’d been sweethearts. She remembered catching them kissing and promising not to tell their parents if they didn’t tell anyone she’d slipped through the back gate.
This last memory might have seemed insignificant before, but now it gave her an idea. She looked at Pan and knew at once he understood what she wanted. The pine martin took his claw and gently carved into the wood the initials "L+W".
Lyra blushed and giggled. It was foolish, really. But this bench was in both worlds, just like that wall. And if the initials SP could be seen in Will's Oxford, maybe…just maybe…
Lyra smiled. It struck her that she might just have outwitted the universe.
Will approached the bench: the same old wooden bench where he had kissed Lyra good-bye such a short time ago – only a few weeks. He had promised her that he would visit this spot every year. Since their separation, he’d visited every day. His eyes roamed the wooden panels and metal rails. He knew every imperfection, every distortion and whorl in the wood. But this time, something out of place caught his eye. He stared. He couldn’t remember how to breathe, or speak, or move. Carved into the wood were the initials "L+W".
It wasn’t possible.
Finally, he blinked and looked away. His heart beat frantically against his ribs. It was a trick of the light or a hallucination. He looked again. The letters were still there, cut resolutely into the wood, mocking him. Who could have done it? Maybe this was someone’s idea of a joke.
But no one knew. No one knew except for Mary, and she’d never seen the bench, nor would she ever do something so cruel.
Eventually he sat, watching the spot next to him, where Lyra might be in her world. He closed his eyes and wished with all his might, all his heart, that he could see her again. When he opened them he could have sworn, for an instant, a hazy figure was just visible in the half-light of dusk.
It was gone before he even blinked.