Not My Name
She had to go, to get out of there. But where? If she were a man, she might go to a pub. A pub where no one would know her, where she could drink and forget everything, for a while…
But no. A proper lady — and she was still a proper lady, regardless of anything else — never went to the pub. Her place was at home, with her family, with her man.
But Sarah had no one, not after that train accident. She had some school friends, of course, but she didn’t want to see any of them now. Especially not Janie. Janie would just say that Sarah should do whatever she could to hang on to Glenn: go back, apologize, promise to be a better wife, to take care of him no matter what…
Part of Sarah’s heart was screaming the same thing. She had been a terrible fiancée. It had to be true. Otherwise why would he have needed another woman?
She needed that part of her heart to shut up.
So she simply drove.
London was still recovering from the War, and while some areas had good paved roads, others — especially in the poorer areas — were still badly paved, pot-holed, and, in many places, puckered and churned by the German bombs. She drove aimlessly and angrily, running over the whole encounter in her mind, trying to think of something different she should have said, something different she could have done… And all she could see was that damned woman laughing. Laughing!
Every time she came to an intersection she recognized, she turned in some direction she’d never been before. It took only fifteen minutes or so for her to be completely lost, wandering through a weatherworn part of the city she’d never before visited.
And wouldn’t you know it, right then her tire blew out.
She sighed and pulled over. It was a windy, narrow old road, lined with shops, with a single pub (“The Royal Head”) on the corner. There wasn’t much room to get out of traffic; but then, there wasn’t much car traffic around here anyway. She was glad she’d insisted that Glenn teach her how to fix a flat herself. And it was good that it was still light out. She didn’t fancy being in this part of town in the dark by herself. As she opened the boot and rummaged around for the tire changing things, she could feel eyes from the pub and the shops taking notice of her.
Someone was going to offer to help in just a moment. She didn’t want help, she didn’t want to talk to anybody. She just wanted to fix this stupid, stupid tire and get on her way to… Anywhere. Anywhere else.
Here was the jack. And here was the spare inner tire. And the tire iron…
And here they came: three men, detaching themselves from doorways and walls on either side of the road, walking casually towards her, watching her and the other men carefully, like three tigers trying to gauge which of them was most likely to eat a prized wounded calf.
Janie, of course, would have played the situation perfectly. She would have pretended to be a helpless woman, so very grateful for whatever help these big strong men could provide, and yes of course she’d love to see them again sometime, and she’d give them a false name and number and drive away.
But Sarah couldn’t do that. Part of it was that she detested lying, and that included pretending to be helpless, pretending to be grateful, pretending to want anyone around at all. But mostly she just didn’t want to deal with people right now. Least of all strange men.
But they came anyway.
“Here, little lady,” said the first, who had come from the pub. He was tall, gaunt, and bearded, wearing a worn-out coat and carrying a bottle. He smelled a bit of alcohol. “You want to let a man take care of that for you.”
“I’ve got it, thanks,” said Sarah. He didn’t respond, or appear to hear her. She wrestled the jack under the car.
“Leave her alone, Nick,” said the second man. He was shorter, rounder, older, and dressed in slacks and suspenders. A shopkeeper. “She don’t want no help from the likes of you. Besides, you hain’t never changed a tire in your damn life. I’ll help you out there, girl.”
“Don’t need help,” Sarah said. She said it a little louder this time, but still sweetly, she thought. She was working the jack, and it was a new one and worked pretty well. The car was up off the ground now.
It was time for the third man to speak, but he didn’t. He was even shorter and rounder than the second man, but not as old. He was completely bald, wearing all black clothing. Was he some kind of priest? He was just standing a few feet away, tapping his fingers together and sort of rocking back and forth, as if he were terribly nervous.
“You hain’t never changed a tire neither, Fred,” said Nick. He raised his voice and stepped towards Fred, shaking his bottle. “You try and change that tire, you’ll likely mess it all up. I seen it done plenty of times on the telly.”
“My son-in-law’s got a car, he showed me how it was done,” insisted Fred. “Back off. You’re drunk.” He gave the taller man a shove.
Sarah now had the busted tire off and leaning against the car. It was heavier than she remembered, and it was hard to maneuver its bulk without getting grease on her dress.
Nick was stepping back, mumbling to himself. Fred, satisfied that he’d cowed his rival, turned back to Sarah.
“Now then,” he said, and there was a gleam in his eye, “let me give you a hand there.”
“I’m fine, really,” she said. “Really.”
The third man still hung back, apparently frozen with nervousness or apprehension. Now Sarah saw, out of the corner of her eye, other men starting to emerge from the shops and shadows on the street.
“Nonsense,” said Fred. “A young lady like you shouldn’t be having to change a tire in the street like that. I’ll fix it right up for you. You’ve nought to fear from me, I’m a perfect gentleman.” And he gave her a wink.
A shudder ran through her, and she remembered a room, many years ago and very far away, decorated with rich furs and mahogany and gold filigree, and a bearded man dressed in a brilliant princely red uniform and tall black riding boots, who paced, and paced and paced, like a caged predator, alternately cajoling and threatening and shouting and whispering in her ear that yes, by the Great God Tasc, she would be his Queen —
She pushed the memory away, but it had lit a fire in her. This was not acceptable. It was not proper that men should just come and accost women on the street. After all, she’d already said, twice, clearly, that she didn’t want any help. What was so hard about this?
She stood up, picked up the tire iron, and glared at them. Somehow, standing there, a memory was triggered. She found herself lifting her chin and squaring her shoulders.
“You,” she said, and she leveled the tire iron at Fred. His eyes widened, and he took a step back. “You will cease this at once. Go back to your shop, or wherever you came from. And you.”
She swung the tire iron around to point at Nick, and, as if some bolt of power shot along the iron bar and struck him, he staggered backwards, dropping the bottle.
“You go home immediately. You are not fit to be on our streets.”
Nick nodded, his mouth moving in mute apology, and tripped over his feet as he tried to get away.
She swung the iron in a broad circle. “All of you,” she said, and she found that she remembered, now, how to pitch the voice and tense the diaphragm so that her words carried everywhere over the whole street, “thank you, but your assistance is not required. Return to your homes.”
And it worked. The men backed away, some slowly and some quickly. She found that this did not surprise her; her voice — her regal voice, the one she had carefully trained and cultivated for years — had never failed her. What was surprising was that she had remembered how to do it. For that matter, considering how hard she’d been trying to forget Sagaia for years now, it was surprising that she had remembered that she could do it at all.
But no: there was one man left. The short, round, nervous one, wearing all black. She turned to face him, iron upraised. He took a step back, and put his hands up, almost as if she were holding a gun.
“Please,” he said. “I’m sorry. But I must ask you a question.”
This was unexpected. “Well?” she said.
“Are you Susan Pevensie?”
She blinked, and felt a rush of emotion — indignant, that he would dare bring that up, here, now, violating her privacy; but also ashamed, because of everything that name meant. The conflicting emotions broke whatever spell of memory was on her, and she felt her knees begin to shake, and the tire iron suddenly seemed very heavy.
“No,” she said. She lowered the tire iron.
“Oh,” he said, seeming disappointed. He looked at his feet. “Well, then, I’ll just, I’ll just go then.”
“I mean,” she added, “that’s not my name. But how — why do you ask that?”
He looked confused, and shuffled his black shoes in the dust of the street. “That would take a bit of explaining,” he said. Then he looked up at her again, and cocked an eyebrow. “Unless you really are Susan Pevensie. Susan Pevensie who has a different name?”
She stared at him, wondering what he was playing at.
“You remind me,” she said at last, “a bit, of a friend of mine from a long time ago. A nice fellow, but tended to speak in riddles. Short, carried an umbrella. [Maybe it should be raining in this scene?] Never wore shoes.”
“Tumnus,” said the man, quietly.
“That wasn’t his name, either,” said Sarah. “It was Tomos.”
“Well,” said the man, “my name also isn’t Tumnus.” He grinned awkwardly. “It’s Keith. Look — I know you’re busy, obviously, and you don’t know me, but my wife and I have been on the lookout for you. We were told that we’d see you soon.”
“Me? Or any Daughter of Eve?” It came out a bit more sarcastically than she intended.
“You specifically,” he said. “And he said that if you had some trouble being convinced, then the name ‘Agrestis’ might mean something to you.”
“Agrestis,” she whispered, and dropped the tire iron.
Yes, that name meant something. It was the name of the one who… was not named Aslan.