The Journal


Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf in a Deckchair, 1912

Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf in a Deckchair, 1912

My morning stroll was perfectly timed – hardly anyone was about, and it was quiet enough in the early dawn to hear the waves crash upon the shore, tickling my ears and calling out promises of infinity. The sand was creeping into my black leather boots and clinging to the hem of my sensible black day dress. It was too early to be hot, so I was able to stroll at a pleasantly slow pace, contemplating the emptiness of a sunrisen beach, not needing my parasol. Life has been incredibly rushed of late, and I was so grateful for my morning silences.

As I walked, I kept an eye to the rising sun and an ear on my earthly surroundings. Lost in this sensical time, I almost tripped on the young lady reading in her lawn chair. I attempted a shoddy, hasty apology and started to hurry off before registering her lack of reaction. She should have moved at some point, given how I had almost fallen into her lap! Instead, she sat still, hands crossed over her small book, her face shaded by her large hat; a figure of composed reflection.

Startled out of my reverie, I thought to check the time. The sun seemed to be rising prodigiously slowly today, the light unchanging and the breeze constant and mild. No more people were strolling the shore than had been earlier. Everything seemed… still. Frozen. Much like the young lady in the chair.

She was sat so still that I felt almost invited to observe her more closely. Her clothes were slightly out of date with old-fashioned fabrics that sat heavy and starched.The kind that seem dusty even when they are not. She wore red boots, and a cravat-like red necktie – hopelessly dated. Even under my intense scrutiny she had not moved. I was struck suddenly by the thought that she might be ill or asleep. I saw that she was breathing deeply and evenly, and so knew that she was alive.

Without thinking, I knelt down before her, and looked up into her face. Once I saw what lay shaded beneath her large hat, I wished that I had never walked on the beach or felt compassion nor even curiosity for a stranger. I tried to look away. To shatter the peace I had felt until that moment.

Her face was as blank as an empty page. Dearest, I cannot express the strangeness. To look upon a face and not see one there.  Her features had been erased completely, leaving a terrifying blankness. Darling, I came all over cold, despite the mildness of the day. How could such a thing have happened? As I searched for clues, I managed to tear my eyes from the emptiness, and I looked to the small book in her lap.

It was not a novella as I had previously thought, but a journal. Small and leather-bound. Looking away from her face had calmed me somewhat, and to look upon her book was more relaxing still. I felt my racing heart begin to slow. Drawn to look closer by some unseen force, I noticed the first word on the page. “Dearest… ”

Infinitely calmer now, I moved to sit in the chair next to hers. As I sat, I thought I noticed her hand begin to move, slowly, as though unaccustomed to the motion. I reached into my handbag and took out my own pen and journal. Opening to a fresh page, I began to write. In this entire day, the sun had not risen, nor the breeze changed path. As my heart slowed, so too did the waves around me.

I sat and started to write to you, Dearest…

(NB: A piece of writing from workshop…returned to and fleshed out a bit)

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