Sharing this short story I wrote a while ago, in honor of Woolf’s birthday today (January 25).
Virginia Woolf is dead. She reads it in the newspaper at lunchtime. It’s a rare sunny day and she’s sitting on the steps outside, enjoying her lunch, the newspaper borrowed from the offices spread out on the steps. She’s eating an apple when she reads it, and she pauses, juice running down her hand as she takes it in.
It saddens her to think that another life has been needlessly lost. That the brilliant woman who wrote those words that she had devoured before the war, before everything turned upside down, has gone and would write no more.
When she gets home, late that night, she slides the book from her bookcase. She runs her finger down the spine before settling down to read.
They’ve opened the doors to her house, so visitors can tramp around, see it all set up as she would have had it, see where she wrote her novels, walk in her footsteps around the garden, see her view, and the things that she treasured. You can even walk down to the river and see where she drowned.
There’s the shop too, selling shiny new copies of her works, mugs and tea towels, bars of chocolate and jars of jam, postcards, showing the house in spring, in summer. Reproduced copies of her portrait. Local produce. Guidebooks and National Trust memberships.
She clutches her guidebook as she steps through the garden gate, feeling as though she’s stepping into another world. She can sense the magic here. Feel it between her fingers and her toes.
She reads her last letter later. It’s printed in the newspapers and she devours it in a rather guilty way. There’s so much death and destruction around her as it is, it feels strange to read something so ordinary. Such an ordinary death, but so extraordinary.
She cuts the clipping out and keeps it tucked in her purse, taking it out at random moments to reread it. It’s oddly comforting, although it breaks her heart to read it. Somehow, it brings her closer to the woman though, closer in a way that she can’t explain. She doesn’t tell anyone else about her fascination – it wouldn’t help her.
It’s busy. The spring flowers are out and the garden is inviting. It’s unusually warm for the season and she relishes in the feeling of the sun on her face for the first time that year.
She pauses by the bust standing on the wall. Virginia’s eyes bore into hers. She plucks a leaf from the tree and stows it away in her pocket, almost guiltily, wanting just a piece of it to hold onto for a bit longer.
The war is over and she’s still alive. That’s a blessing in itself, she knows. She walks the old familiar streets, which look different now, but are the same.
She’s not the same. She doesn’t know if she ever will be. But they will heal – all of them. They’ll heal. They have no other choice.
She comes upon the park and finds a sheltered spot under a tree, where she sits down and pulls a tattered paperback book, the pages falling away now. A tatty piece of newspaper falls from between the pages, and she tucks it away again, before turning her attention to the opening words. The words have been a comfort, a mantra throughout the dark days, and although she doesn’t really need to, she begins to read again.
She walks down to the river bank. Listens to the gushing of the water gurgling past on the way to the sea. Sees the gentle curves of the downs, feels the grass soften beneath her feet. She feels the weight of the tatty, well-thumbed book in her bag next to her body and the weight of it is like a shield that she has carried for a long time. She picks a twig and drops it in the water. It falls with a soft plod and swirls away down the river. It vanishes quickly, disappearing without a trace.