“Into the River”: A Tribute to Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf would’ve been 141 on January 25th; it is her birthday week.

And this year, I decided to share a short story I wrote as a tribute to Woolf. The initial draft of this historical fiction piece was created during a creative writing workshop course at Michigan. Among the various short stories I wrote during that year, this one, wherein I challenged myself to think like Woolf, holds a special place in my heart. It was not a coincidence that Woolf was the first historical figure that came to mind when I first read the prompt. Her complexity, both as a woman and as a writer, has always been a source of inspiration, and at times even discomfort. But to this day, she remains a writer whose writing continues to challenge and uplift me.

Writing this story required an extensive process of research and multiple revisions (yet it still doesn’t feel complete to me: what piece of writing is?) I also incorporated direct quotations from Woolf, which are presented in italics within the narrative.

Felix Natalis, Virginia Woolf.

Caution: Suicide

(but also love)

Into the River   

by Neriman Kuyucu        

          The one experience I shall never describe will be my death, I once told someone. It was perhaps my sister Vanessa, or Leonard my husband. I can’t seem to recall now, but I remember the profound sense of grief as my body, lifeless and damp, is waiting to be discovered on the River Ouse.

Two weeks ago, I sank quietly into the depths of the river, down into the blue. It’s been eerily serene since. Seagrasses sway gently in the sea breeze, their flowers inconspicuous. The small, shrill chirps of Mandarin ducks echo out of the woods. I catch sight of my wedding ring unbefitting now yet still glistening on my left hand, limp and floating–a mutiny of some sort against its gradual discolouration. My insistent gaze conjures up a faded image of my beloved, penniless Leonard looking as handsome as ever in his brown suspenders, his face etched with a faint smile and a look akin to hurt. Only then melancholy curls like rings of smoke around me; I feel a sense of entrapment so acute I can almost touch it. I won’t ever get the chance to tell him all about this, I think to myself again and again—this time, I won’t be able to recount my story, which remains a distant reality still. I had attempted to depict death before; only life came breaking in as usual. Now, I’m not sure what my ultimate failure to describe this perplexing sensation reveals about me as a writer: the comfort and agony of lapsing into silence. How my neurons went hot, as I was drawn into the piercingly cold water. Fully conscious. No need to gasp for air. How I felt the river consume my veins, rushing into my throat and lungs like a starving wild animal feeding on its prey. I felt it burn my airways, burn it so deeply that the need to breathe lost its vitality as the world went pitch black—

and suddenly bright again.

I then saw my mother, and my brother Toby playing the piano in our flat at 22 Hyde Park Gate. Sitting straight at the edge of the bench, his eyebrows furrowed. My father was gazing out the window, his quintessential melancholy deepened by the soft, haunting melody that drifted effortlessly from our favourite piano, its colour a burnished mahogany. They turned around and smiled benignly at me, as if I’d been more than a phantom, and that was enough. This is how I still see them as my body ascends to the surface slowly. As my body drifts off, I ask myself: What happens to them once my body is discovered? What happens to me

          “All she needs is some rest.” I heard a man in the hallway, his voice unfamiliar. The ivory wallpaper looked peculiar. I didn’t remember having a burgundy corduroy blanket; this wasn’t my bedroom.

          “I’ve prescribed a few tranquilizers, but…well, you keep them with you, won’t you? Don’t let her get hold of them,” he went on. No one responded for a few seconds. The first rays of the sun crept in through the soft glass window. Exhausted, I shut my heavy eyes. A sharp shooting pain went through my head. My arms felt too weak; my attempt to move and straighten myself in bed was unsuccessful.

          “Thank you, doctor,” I heard a familiar voice whisper. “This way, please.’’

It was Vanessa. They lapsed into silence again, and all I could hear was the stairs creaking. I followed her footsteps in my head as she climbed up the wooden stairs and turned the door handle slowly.

          “Good morning.” She stood peeking through a small crack. Her thin lips curled into a smile as my gaze met hers, and she walked towards the bed gently and sat by my side.

           “How are we feeling?” She asked cautiously. This was a new habit of hers, addressing me with a we, making us one, as if to share my burden.

          “I… don’t know what’s happening.” I scanned the room. The dark wooden closet, the silver mirror on the wall, Caravaggio’s Head of Medusa, which was my sister’s favourite painting: I was in her room. “Why am I here? Where…where is Leonard?” Words hung in the space between us; I wished to say more, but I couldn’t recognize my own voice.

      “He was here with you all night. He is sleeping now.”

She gave a deep sigh and held my hand. Thoughts began to race in my head as we sat there. In silence. And I listened to the glass bells out on the balcony, singing and swaying in the breeze.

I remembered it was two days ago when Leonard and I had returned home from the concert in the city. I could remember my screams, my endless talking, poor Leonard sitting in his armchair staring at me, eyes alarmed. And the handful of Veronal pills I had swallowed—to end all this.

          “I’d like to go home.” I peeked at my sister’s pale face, her red-rimmed eyes veiled by deep dark circles; she’d almost dozed off.

          “Leonard will take you home in the afternoon.”

She opened her mouth to say something else, but only a sigh emerged. “Was it the voices again, Virginia?” she asked in a gentle tone, “Are they coming back?”

I nodded.

          “Please, don’t do this again…please.”

I closed my eyes. I wish, oh, I wish, I thought. I wish I could help it.

Leonard believed it was manic depression, for he too battled its suffocating claws from time to time; everyone else thought it was merely a byproduct of artistry. The strangeness was an artist’s little helper, and we needed it to create, my Bloomsbury friends thought. “We are all crazy!” they would often bark. I didn’t know if they were right or wrong. All I knew was I couldn’t sleep. The voices telling me to do wild things didn’t stop. Sometimes they came in the form of dark figures; at others, in the form of my half-brother George in which case I’d feel thirteen again and he would crawl into my bed in the middle of the night.

  “I will kill you if you tell anybody,” he would hiss. I couldn’t have told anybody anyway; no one would have believed me. It was my half-brother who was a teacher: a decent gentleman, well-respected in our social circle.

  “I will kill you if you tell anybody.” It had been his shrill, sinister voice that echoed in my head back then, shooing away sleep, but the voices merged nonchalantly with dark shapeless eel-like figures, becoming more menacing as I got older. I could feel his grin on the shadows that were visible through the slit under the door at night, their hold unwavering and ghastly. I screamed. I cried. I wrote. I begged them to stop. I prayed desperately to God for help, in case He existed, but they remained a quotidian detail in my otherwise pleasant life. Soon enough, though, their darkness created a distance between me and my sister, my husband, as well as my friends, one that no bridge could fix. Never trust a letter of mine, I wrote them, not to exaggerate that is written after a night lying awake looking at a bottle of chloral and saying, “no, no, no, you shall not take it.” It was odd how sleeplessness had the power to frighten me. Indeed, one feared the void and the darkness when one was weak.

          “My dearest friends!” Bell roared, “thank you all for making this dinner special!”

It had been a usual evening at West Central 1, Bloomsbury, London. Rain pattering against the windows, in sync with the ring of chatter and laughter inside. We’d gathered for dinner as we did every Sunday.

          “Thank you, Bell,” Grant said, raising his wine glass, “to the Bells!”

The clatter of delicate china plates and the lively chatter filled the dining room frequented by all the members of the Bloomsbury. That night, however, Vanessa had refused the dinner invitation after a heated argument with Bell the past weekend over a painting of hers. She and Bell married years ago, but they weren’t together then, nor were they officially separated. None of us was astonished that Bell wasn’t disturbed by my sister’s absence for dinner that Sunday; he’d invited us over to discuss his idea of writing a personal recollection of his friends, us, the rest of the Bloomsbury. “It is going to be marvelous!’’ he repeated throughout the evening with his typical vanity, but we all knew it would.

           “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” Grant said with a huge grin on his handsome face.

          “Very well said,” Forster nodded at me, a playful glint in his eyes. He had been having a passionate discussion with Leonard about one of Clive’s paintings that decorated the wall.

I smiled. “Oh, Grant, I love when you quote me.”

Grant ran his fingers through his thick black hair. “Do you think it is the Veronal that makes you write splendidly?” He winked at Leonard.

          “Of course, they help, I’ll try it too while working on my next painting,” Bell said.

           “If you are an artist, you need to be a little crazy,” Forster’s smile was directed at me.

          “How crazy, though? That is the question.” Duncan stared at me from behind his thick black rimmed glasses, his eyes tinged with curiosity.

I put down my fork and pulled my chair closer to the table. “Sometimes,” I began, “sometimes, when I cannot write, I am nothing, and it scares me to death. We as writers need words to keep us alive just like you painters need your brush to breathe, Grant.”

          “True, true. If that makes us crazy, then to hell with it—we are!” Bell said, as Forster nodded.

          “But you know—” I opened my mouth to speak again.

To say what?

I’d forgotten what I was going to say.

          “But…you know…” I gave it another try, and it all came to me in that fleeting instant. “You know, if one is to deal with people on a large scale and say what one thinks, how can one avoid craziness and melancholy? I don’t admit to being hopeless at all, but the spectacle is a profoundly strange one; and as the current answers don’t do, one has to grope for new ones, and the process of discarding the old, when one is by no means certain what to put in their place, is a sad one.”

          “What do you—?” Bell asked, narrowing his eyes.

          “What I mean is, Bell, we need to look for new answers. All the time. But how can you find new solid answers if you don’t discard the old ones?”


I felt a chill slide down my neck as I pushed my chair back and it scraped against the floor. “You do know what I mean, my friends,” I stood up and brushed a strand of hair out of my eyes. “I…I enjoy almost everything. But I have some restless searcher in me. Why is there not a discovery in life? Something one can lay hands on and say, ‘This is it’? My depression is a harassed feeling. I’m looking: but that’s not it — that’s not it. What is it? And shall I die before I find it?”     

Leonard cleared his throat. “Darling, we will talk about that later. It’s Bell’s—”

          “Please, don’t say that!” My high pitch, piercing and unintentional, was unlike me.

The clatter and chatter came to an abrupt halt as my words evaporated, multiplied, and came rushing back to my ears. My steps quickened.  “I am haunted…I am haunted…” I murmured.

          “Virginia!” Leonard grabbed my arm, but I escaped him, the faces at the table slowly fading. It was only me and the words. Fast. The words I spoke—I saw them floating in the air. They came alive, and I kept speaking. Louder and faster. “I am haunted by… the two contradictions. Now, is life very solid or very shifting? This has gone on forever; goes down to the bottom of the world—this moment I stand on. Also it is transitory, flying, diaphanous. I shall pass like a cloud on the waves. Perhaps it may be that though we change, one flying after another, so quick, so quick, so quick, so quick, yet we are somehow successive and continuous, we human beings, and show the light through. But what is the light?’’ I took a deep breath.

The words were now dancing around me; they were tangible.

“Do you see these words too?”

           “I don’t know. I really don’t.” Leonard had been pacing up and down the room with his cigarette in his hand. We were back in our house in the city.

          “I’m sorry, Leonard. It made sense to speak…then. I don’t remember when I started to cry. Oh, I’m so sorry.”

He stopped pacing and looked at me with sorrow. Despair in his eyes, his dark wavy hair tousled as if he had just disembarked from a boat caught amid a storm. He knelt by the grey sofa which I would occupy for the remainder of the night, both of us petrified, afraid to move. The ashes of his cigarette fell to the mahogany parquet like snowflakes glistening in the night sky.

          “I know you are, darling,” he said after a while. “I, I simply don’t know what we will do.”

Leonard fell asleep beside me that night, while I stayed up. Sleep eluded me; it wasn’t even the voices this time. It was me and myself, Virginia, replaying what had occurred. How did it happen? How the bloody hell did it happen? I asked myself repeatedly. Perhaps, it was never the voices. Perhaps, it was me the whole time. Leonard slept peacefully now, the gentle heave of his chest underneath the heavy blanket ever so comforting. Strangely, though, I wished to be by myself at that moment. I’d had those moments before, moments laden with the impulse to not think of anyone so that I could actually think— well, not think, but be silent; be alone. All the doing and the being, expansive, glittering, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, into a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others, something that merely made sense to me, myself. The most significant thing was not to think very much about oneself, but I was thinking too much, and I no longer knew myself. I was a stranger to myself: myself, my bloody egoistic self.

          “Virginia? What are you saying?” Leonard asked me one afternoon, with a touch of exhaustion in his voice. Our favourite Schaller teacups, white with blue borde, and piles of notebooks were arranged on the glass coffee table in our flat in Mecklenburg Square. Our flat would soon be bombed by the Germans. I’d decided to take a break from the Bloomsbury meetings. Leonard was working on The War for Peace. We were discussing his second chapter.

          “Why, I’m talking to you, dear,” I said.

Tapping the teaspoon on the chipped rim of his cup, he shook his head in disbelief. His curly locks curtained into his chestnut brown eyes.

          “You were talking to me…until it became a jumble of strange words, my darling,” he said, weary, or alarmed, or both as usual.

          “I…I was talking to you then the birds came in. I was listening to the birds—” I began, not quite sure if he would believe me. He didn’t when I told him I did see King Edward VII swearing at me near the shrubbery at our summer house.

           “Yes? What about the birds?”

           “Yes, and…and, Leonard, they were speaking to me in Greek!”

A long silence ensued before I gathered the courage to ask him.

          “You don’t believe me, do you? I swear they were, darling. They still are!”

He heaved a sigh and turned his head toward the window, his hands slowly massaging his forehead. I waited for a response, but minutes passed without meaning. I reached out for the cigarette pack, lit a cigarette, my hands slightly trembling. I noticed his chapped lips moving but the birds were too loud.

          Leonard began to spend his days and nights writing, isolating himself within the confines of his study in Mecklenburg. I knocked on his door one early morning; I hadn’t slept a wink all night.


Slowly, I turned the doorknob, and the door creaked open.

          “Leonard, darling?”

He wasn’t there. A sharp smell of smoke and absinthe filled the room, making me queasy. The ashtray on the desk was full, and his black, glossy typewriter with half-empty papers hanging out of it waited for him in the middle of the crimson velvet Turkish rug. I went through the yellowish papers as the melodies of Beethoven’s String Quartet brought some colour to the study. I knew he’d already finished the first and second chapters, but in the last chapter he’d been working on for months, I saw only a few paragraphs.

          “Virginia?” His deep voice behind me startled me. I turned around with the papers still in my hand.

          “Why didn’t you tell me you couldn’t write?”

Sinking into the leather couch by his desk, he shrugged off his coat. He hadn’t shaved for days.

          “It’s me, isn’t it, Leonard? I can’t write myself, and I’m making things unbearable for you, too.”

He reached out for the whiskey bottle on the coffee table and poured himself a drink. “I am exhausted.”

          “I understand.”

           “No, you don’t.” His voice was calm. He rubbed his eyes and stared at the rug for a while. “It’s not you,” he murmured as he grabbed the paper and threw them against the wall, each page sliding down to the floor, lifeless and limp. “I can’t focus on this bloody book.”

           “Do you want to—” The right side of my head started to pound. “Do you want to go somewhere else and work?”

          “I cannot leave you.”

          “You certainly can. I need some time alone myself.’’ I had felt the urge to be by myself since I finished the manuscript for Between the Acts. I needed to concentrate on my revisions.

Leonard entertained the idea for a fleeting second. He must have decided against it at the moment since he stood up and held me in his arms. “No, we’ll stay here.”

          “We both can’t work here,” I went on quietly, “I don’t know what’s happening to us.” I was hoping for him to not hear me. The truth was I didn’t know what was happening to me.

Leonard drove me to Rodmell, Sussex the next day. Both he and Vanessa had thought fresh country air would lift my spirits, and that I could work on my revisions alone in our weekend house. After breakfast, he drove back to the city and promised he’d return in a few months.

          I was plunged into nothingness in Rodmell as I often did when I was alone. But this time, I fought against it. Even though I continued to be harassed by the voices, especially at night, a profound sense of empowerment engulfed me when the empty rooms reminded me of Leonard’s absence. In the mornings, I woke up to gloaming mist and the birds chirping in the poplar trees. The Spring warmth was inviting. I meandered along the riverbank framed by elm trees, their strength and resistance to decay ever so inspiring. At last, the Winter was put away, I realized during my strolls, folded up neatly in the wardrobe with other winters, ready to be brought out in a few months. I figured I enjoyed the Spring more than the Autumn now. One did, I suppose, as one got older. I spent hours studying leaf buds, twigs, and flower stems until I could no longer contain the desire to describe them, to write about them. My desk in the study was tall, and I wrote standing up. I often observed how the pen, when I raised it, trembled mid-air and then—

my hands acted of their own volition.

That was beauty, I thought. The desk was my canvas; I could step away from it for a better view of the world I had created with words. I was elated I was getting stronger, but it didn’t last long.

Another bomb was dropped again, this time on the bank of the river in 1941. I had been trying to concentrate in the study room when I heard the harrowing whistling that filled the air, and the deafening sound ensued. The floor lurched suddenly, the chandelier and the desk shaking violently.

Holding my breath to not disturb the calm as if my breathing would bring upon another raid, I jumped over the books sprawled across the floor, dashed out the back door into the garage, and frantically looked for the bottle of petrol Leonard and I had stored.

Germany began the first bombing raid against Britain when we were visiting Rodmell back in the Winter. We found out as Leonard was reading the newspaper by the fireplace.

          “What is it?” I asked as his forehead furrowed into an agonized frown.

He drew in a long breath and looked up at me from his newspaper. “Darling, it looks like the Nazis will win the war.”

          “Don’t say that, Leonard,” I said, struggling not to sound hesitant.

          “If that ever happens, I do not wish to live.” His eyes held a profound sorrow, so profound that I felt a knot forming in my throat. I could surmise what occupied his mind now as his gaze grew distant. He had lost a few family members who lived in Poland a year earlier during the Nazi invasion.

            “You know,” I said, “there is no point in my existence without you.”

            “We can find a way to escape perhaps?” I wasn’t sure if he heard me, or perhaps he simply dismissed my statement.

            “I don’t think they will get to England, dear,” I said. The reality of war hadn’t crept into our daily lives yet, but I was more certain than he was that the Nazis would arrive sooner than later. Nazi Germany had invaded much of Europe by then. We believed that they were about to conquer Southern England, and that Leonard and I were on Hitler’s blacklist.

          “But what if they do? What if they do?” He asked, staring into the rug intently like he was studying its intricate, repeating diamond design.

          “I know!” he looked up and turned to look at me, eyes wide open. “I’d rather die than be captured by those bastards.”

From that night on, we’d kept plenty of petrol in our garage. We had decided, if the Nazis won the war, we would poison ourselves with car exhaust. What was this thing called “life” anyway? We would die happily together if we had to.  

Now, I sat petrified on the cold, concrete floor in the garage waiting for the next raid. I couldn’t find the bloody petrol anyway. I had a feeling another bomb would be dropped any moment, and the Nazi soldiers would kick the garage door open. I waited for how long, I don’t recall. With every passing second, I grew agitated. I managed to get off the floor after a few attempts; my legs had refused to move a few minutes earlier. As I peeked my head out the door, there was only silence. A faint acrid smell. A Mandarin duck chirped like a bird, its comforting sound echoing into the vastness of the forest. Cautiously, I stepped outside, my knees still weak. Then I saw the small lake, formed by the bomb, at the edge of our garden. I fumbled for the lighter in the deep pockets of my dress, lit a cigarette, and exhaled.

That night, a shiver went right through me as I was drifting off to sleep. I struggled to open my eyes. Inside, it was chilly. I straightened up, sat in bed, and looked out the window, stars glimmering across the night sky. The sun hadn’t risen yet. Scanning the pitch-black room, I couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. I gave out a sigh of relief and was about to lie down right when I felt George’s hands slithering around my body. I grew uneasy at the thought of not being capable of controlling my body, which unrelentingly refused to move. Suddenly, George’s face, his gruesomely sly face, appeared in front of me, fading away in the darkness momentarily only to change and multiply into eel-like silhouettes—

then mayhem.

Voices whispering and murmuring, louder and quieter, rhythmic like a symphony, yet its concord of contradicting notes unpleasant. The dark figures were inching closer when I caught sight of the thirteen-year-old me, feeling the weight of her gaze across the room.

This was a first, but there I was, my figure tiny and delicate wrapped in my favourite nightgown my mother had bought for my birthday. I thought I was moving towards her, me, as the floor swayed under the bed, but she inched towards me, her, so close that I could see the faint blush of her cheekbones, and the green specks in her brown eyes. I wanted her to say something. She only stood there without moving, a lanky ghostly figure. Her full red lips parted, but it wasn’t her voice I heard. It was indecipherable; the more she spoke, the worse my head hurt. I screamed, certain that no one heard. Oh, how I detested the country sometimes. I missed Leonard terribly. I thought of his calming yet firm voice—

until I found myself sprawled on the floor, pages and pages of my manuscript piled around me. Sharp slivers of pain shot up from my neck all the way to the top of my skull; it hurt to blink. The sun beams were peeking through the early morning mist as if to assure me that the voices were gone. For now. My hand felt weak as I reached for one of the papers strewn at my feet; what I read made no sense. I sat on the floor and waited. I listened. Nothing came, nothing. No echo came when I spoke, no varied words: this was more truly death than the death of friends, than the death of youth. At last, life may have destroyed me, but this was my chance. I had suffered enough. So had Leonard. Oh, how I loved him! I saw him everywhere: in the stars, in the river, in the sky— he was everything that existed.

Who was I fooling?

I wasn’t going to be able to write anymore; nor was I going to be able to stop these bloody voices.

No, I wasn’t going to be alright.

I got up and walked towards the washroom, unhurried. The whimsical mirror hung on the wall showed a pair of pale eyes, purplish dark circles, flimsy hair—this wasn’t me. I washed my face, combed my hair and made a loose bun at the nape of my neck.

Now, this was better.

Feeling a new kind of rejuvenation, I flew down the stairs. I put on my long grey overcoat, grabbed a fountain pen, the ink, and a piece of paper.

I began to write—


My heart was pounding fast inside my chest; my hands were shaking. It felt like the time when my first book was published. I couldn’t contain the sudden rush of adrenaline.

 I feel certain that I am going mad again. I wrote.

I drew in a breath and continued:  

I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.


Feeling a sense of pride and anticipation, I folded the letter, placed it on the mantle and left the house for the river.

It was time.

It felt right.

No more fear of death, no more voices.

How would it feel to be liberated and to liberate Leonard too?

Outside, the sun was tucked away behind the clouds, and it became unseasonably chilly. I continued to stride. As my gaze held onto the newly emerged flowers of the elm trees along the river, I stumbled upon an irregularly shaped rock and almost fell down. I watched my hand reach for it, feeling its rough edges, grim color, a storm grey, surprisingly smooth surface. I placed the stone in my pocket carefully. I approached the riverbank and wondered why I hadn’t noticed all these rocks before as I filled my pockets with them, slowly dragging my coat down. I felt heavy yet lighter than I ever was as I stepped into the cold water. I didn’t remember what I wrote in The Waves as I was walking into the river with my steps slow and unhurried, that there is no freedom in life, and certainly there is none in death.

But I remember it now.

I understand it well now, as my lifeless gaze scans the rescue team running towards the river.

Am I ready to face what may come? I don’t know; I never have.

I wait. Nothing happens. Time passes without meaning. Nothing changes.

I see the crowd and the heads of reporters peeking through the crowd. For how long have they known? How is it that I can see them? Nothing makes sense. It’s only when I see Leonard that I understand that’s what my eyes have been seeking; all else fades away. He stands there by the river, with his head between his hands. Is he crying? I have never seen him cry. My heart sinks. I feel the urge to run to his arms, to tell him that I am here, that I haven’t left, that I love him too much to leave, but my body refuses to move, yet again. “I’m sorry,” I’d like to say, “I’m ready to go back home.” I want to tell him how horrifying, yet tranquil the last two weeks have been, but I can’t move my lips. I can’t even hear myself; words have left me. It all goes black, and I find myself back at 22 Hyde Park Gate again.

      “Mum? Dad?” I call out. She keeps playing the piano; he keeps gazing out of the window.

      “I’m scared,” I whisper, as tears roll down on my face. “Toby?” He stands by the piano and hums the notes. No one says a word. They don’t even smile.

Then, I see him.


The fears and uncertainties, darkness, and the voices vanish slowly as he inches closer, a half-smile flickering across his lovely face. I cannot wait to tell him. I know he will understand—

That I feel a thousand capacities spring up in me. I am arch, gay, languid, melancholy by turns. I am rooted, but I flow;

please, flow with me, I say.

I know he will.

6 thoughts on ““Into the River”: A Tribute to Virginia Woolf

    1. Thank you, Susan! Ah, yes, you know, “Blonde” and “Black Water” have been on my reading list for such a long time–I want to read them this year. I find that I enjoy writing these stories so I can learn so much from Joyce Carol Oates.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oates’ short story “Where are you going? Where have you been?” made me curious to read more from her. That story and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” rented space in my brain forever. I think your story has as well! I keep thinking of the “whys” of Virginia’s decision and I understand her so much better.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That makes me happy to hear and means a lot to me. Truly. Reading Virginia Woolf’s novels, diary entries, and letters has helped me understand her better over the years. And it certainly served as the foundation for “Into the River,” but I feel like once I was able to immerse myself in the character’s head, I was primarily guided by my instincts and intuition. I’ve been (reading and) thinking a lot about historical fiction lately, and I think that research, instincts, and intuition allow for a truly authentic portrayal (I suppose that is true for each character).

        Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” had a deep impact on me as well. I used to teach it in my literature classes, and every single semester my understanding of the character would get richer. It would be interesting to re-write a 21st century version of it.


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