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"The Hours" fanfic (with implied slashy goodness).

Title: The Tides
Fandom: The Hours (2003 movie)
Pairing: Laura Brown/Virginia Woolf
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: None
An AU take on what Laura Brown experiences when she goes to the hotel in the movie. Because I'd only seen the movie the once, I'd completely forgotten that she went to a posh hotel instead of the dingy motel I described. Again - AU.  Humor me

I wrote this story in 2003 but never posted it anywhere; it was inspired by the movie version of "The Hours"; I hadn't yet read Michael Cunningham's novel. When I wrote this I was just emerging from a writer's block of ten years; or more precisely, from a refusal to allow myself to write. The friend to whom I had dedicated this story has been long gone from my life and I'd forgotten it still existed on my harddrive; but Virginia Woolf came up in a conversation kikimay were having recently, and she expressed interest in reading this. Parts of it make me cringe but overall, I can live with it. (What's really freaks me out is how much of this reminds of Buffy, circa S6. *hugs Buffy and Laura*)


She’d been in this place before.  Contemplating the end, feeling herself drowning...

Yes, she’d come to this motel before, if not this exact room.  But it didn’t matter.  This one looked exactly like the last one, she was certain.  She imagined every room here must look the same, lined up within grey concrete-block walls in a neat row; all alike, just as the houses on Sunnyvale Road were - all alike.

There were the same curtains and bedspread, a once-cheerful shade of yellow faded by too much sunlight and too many washings.  The same heavy, ugly furniture, every piece of it bolted down, even the lamps.  Who’d want to take it?  The same black plastic ashtrays, the same nicotine stains on the ceiling.  She wondered if similar stains of another substance also graced the mattress.

And she knew, without looking, that the same palm-sized, green-covered copies of the New Testament rested in the nightstand drawers, offering salvation to no one.

The only thing that marked this room as distinct from any other, in fact, was her own presence there; her brown monogrammed suitcase on the thin carpet next to the door, patiently waiting to be unpacked.  Her shoes, summer espadrilles, lying on their sides by the bed where she had removed them.  Her own body laid out neatly on the bed, arms stiff at her sides, legs closed, as if afraid to claim any more space for herself there than necessary.

She caressed her well-worn copy of Mrs. Dalloway, the only object that held any meaning for her, laying it on her belly and feeling her breath rise and fall more distinctly because of the book’s slight weight.  Tenatively, she spread her arms over the width of the bed.  Would she feel that rush come over her again, feel the wave rise up to consume her, as she had before?  She had resisted it, then; would she let it complete it’s work, now?

Was she contemplating the ending, or the beginning?

“They are one and the same, my dear girl.  You don’t know that yet but soon, soon you will.”

Laura thought she should have been surprised by presence of the other woman, but wasn’t; and found that, in itself, oddly comforting.  The gentle voice was a further comfort, low and rich and tinged with cigarette smoke; every sound and syllable pronounced as distinctly as a jeweler cuts a diamond.  Still, she did not—could not—turn her head to face her unexpected companion.  It was enough right now just to breathe.  Feel the weight of the book on her belly, rising, falling, rising again…a miracle.  Just breathe.

She thought, perhaps, if she remained silent, the other woman might also.  That they could remain in deep silence until darkness settled itself in the room. Or until that tide came, yes, and when would it come?

“What do you want?”

“I don’t know. “  Would the water be cold, like it was the last time she’d nearly drown in it?  When you drown, Laura mused abstractly, is it the water in your lungs or the cold that kills?

“Of course you know.”  The woman’s voice was grave, but there was a hint of sly mockery to be found there, as if she were indulging a petulant child.  “Why else would you be here?  Why else would you leave your family?  Leave that strong, dependable husband, those beautiful babies, leave them behind for – what?  For what, Laura?”

Laura turned her head to her right, where the woman sat on the edge of the mattress. A long face, “patrician” Laura supposed it was called. Lively almond-shaped eyes splashed that darted about the room and defied sleepy-seeming lids.  Mousy hair, neither brown nor blond, pinned into an uncertain bun at the nape of her neck.  Shapeless, unfashionable tan cotton housedress of the sort Laura remembered her mother wearing, with orange ribbon trimming a square neckline; a fraying brown cardigan, though the weather seemed too warm to require it.  A teardrop-shaped pendant of angel coral on a long sterling chain was the one concession to any conception of feminine adornment.

Laura suddenly became too-aware of the tightness of her own green organdie dress, the scratchiness of her petticoat, the discomfort of her girdle.  She felt distinctly overdressed; but, what was the proper ensemble in which to abandon one’s family?

“Not the sort of the advice to be found in latest issue of The Ladies Companion, I take it?”  The tone of mockery was front and center now.  The woman sucked the end of a hand-rolled cigarette, and blew a long stream of grey smoke through a tiny opening in unpainted lips.

“How did you know –“

The woman shrugged and waved her hand dismissively.  “I know you, very well.  I know you, Laura Brown.”


“How could it be otherwise?” Long, slender fingers reached out and stroked the worn cloth cover of Mrs. Dalloway, still resting on Laura’s stomach.  Stroked it back and forth, lightly, and Laura felt the touch in every inch of her own skin.  She trembled. “I know you because you know me; you’ve held me in your heart for a long time.  Held me closer, perhaps than your own husband or children.  Closer than you’ve held yourself.  That’s the problem, isn’t it?”

Laura shook her head; her lips mouthed silent syllables for a long time before words finally came forth.  “I-I don’t want to feel like this anymore.”

“And what are you feeling, exactly?”
“Like I’m on the edge of something...“

“Too vague, dear. Try to be more precise.”  The woman would not let Laura go easily, oh no.

“Like I’m on the edge of some…chasm…“

“Better.”  Another stream of grey smoke shot out and then dissipated over Laura’s still-prone body.

“…a yawning chasm…“

“ ‘Yawning chasm’?  That’s much more poetic, yes.  ‘Yawning chasm.’  The right words make all the difference, don’t they?”  The woman exchanged her cigarette from left hand to right as she settled herself on the mattress next to Laura, supporting herself on her left elbow.  “But, we’re going off the page again, aren’t we?  Please, do continue.”

Laura looked at her companion.  This strange, demanding woman lying next to her felt warm, radiant, and yet a thousand miles away all at once.  As though she were keeping herself in check, while asking Laura to reveal everything.  Was this woman safe, should she send her away? “I don’t know...“ Laura hedged a little.

“ ‘Yawning chasm’, remember?”

No point not to go on.  Nothing else to do.  “It feels like I’m frozen there, on that edge – stuck – I can’t back away, but I can’t jump in either.”

There followed the first sustained moment of silence since the other woman had arrived there.  “You do know that you still haven’t answered my question, dear girl.  She brought her lips very close to Laura’s ear, curled and pink like a conch shell.  “What do you want, Laura Brown?  What do you want?”

“I – I – “  Tears rolled down her cheeks; it occurred to Laura that her eyes were becoming puffy, that her make-up would be streaked, that she must look rather ridiculous.  Couldn’t they just be quiet for a while, couldn’t they just lie there and wait for the cold?

“I shan’t leave you until you do say it.”  She sat up again, took Laura’s hand in her own, and kissed it tenderly.  Laura was surprised by the depth of affection she felt in this woman – and for this woman.  “You know what you want, Laura; you need only name it.  That’s why the words are so important.  But it takes great courage, naming our destinies, giving voice to our desires.”

“I…it...it’s too frightening.”  Laura felt the tide begin to rush upon her in an ice-cold stab.  Here it was, finally – she welcomed it, she struggled against it – couldn’t the other woman feel it too?  She became aware of the soft hand still wrapped around her own, that gave a little velvet squeeze, and she focused on that.  Focused on two hands, together.  “How do I keep from drowning?”

“You don’t.”  Any hint of mockery was gone from that low voice.  Laura’s companion looked down at her with an expression that was almost maternal.  Really loving, the way Laura herself had tried to look for her children.  Were they ever really fooled?  “We all must die at one time or another.  We spend our entire lives rushing towards death, from the very instant we are born.  So then, we might as well live in whatever time we’re given, yes?”  A gentle, wizened smile curled the woman’s lips; she seemed very ancient, indeed.  “Live fully, Laura.  It will be so much better than this shadowy half-life that you’ve condemned yourself to.  I promise you.”

“Virginia –“ She didn’t know how she suddenly knew her companion’s name, whispered it as if she’d always known it.  She didn’t know how.  She didn’t care.

Virginia laid herself down fully on the mattress next to Laura – the springs made no sound when she moved.  She brushed the book off Laura’s belly and let it fall between them; her long fingers reached for the fastenings of Laura’s dress. “Believe me.” She paused, head cocked a little, and Laura understood she was waiting for permission to procede.

“I want to live.  Truly.”  She breathed out the words, then gulped them back in again like the drowing take in water.  What was this feeling washing over her?  Laura didn’t know what to name it.  She only knew that tears continue to stream down her cheeks.  And, that sure hands were parting the front of her dress, loosening her girdle.

“Silly contraptions” a voice laughed lightly – and Laura could breathe.  She could breathe.

She impulsively turned on her side and intertwined her fingers into Virginia’s hair, already somewhat messy, and ran her hands down to unlock the bun found at the nape of the neck.

Virginia smiled, but Laura thought she saw – what, exactly, did she see in those hooded, darting eyes?  So hard to tell – a thousand shades of meaning seemed to reside in them, shades Laura had no name for.  She wanted to know every one of those shades.  She wanted to abide in those eyes for a long, long time.

“I want to live.”

“Of course you do.”  Virginia’s low, velvet laughter wrapped itself around Laura’s shoulders.  “What else is there to want?”

Laura remained there for – for how many hours, she did not count, although she knew from the light that fell on the walls through drawn shades that the sun set, and the sun rose again.  She abided there, lovingly traced her fingers down the spine of Mrs. Dalloway.  She believed her.  And she embraced life.
Oh, beautiful.
I don't have much words, especially when I read something that impresses me and I'm not so good at expressing my thoughts in English, but I really loved this fic. It's so perfect. I love the beginning, the descriptions of the room, the smells and the colours - I really adore descriptive narrative, it's slow and makes everything more realistic. And I like how you managed to put together the shadow of Virginia and Laura, who is struggling to embrace life. I really like the language and the punctuation too. I'm starting to learn who it works in English and I really like the rythm in this story.
I loved The Hours and I think it's difficult to write a fanfic about something so beautiful and also complete, but you did it.
Thank you hon! *hugs* Surely there was something you didn't like, though? Constructive criticism is good for me. I really hoped you'd enjoy it though, as you'd asked to read it. I was surprised by how much I still liked it - some of Virginia's dialogue literally came to me in dreams, word for word, so I feel more like a channel than a creator - I just happened to be there, except it's not as passive as that.

The last two sentences make me cringe, quite honestly. But Ido love the sentence "she abided there, lovingly traced her fingers down the spine of Mrs Dalloway." Which refers to the spine of the book, of course but also suggests the human spine, so I love the way that dual-imagery fits. And it's appropriate - and I swear I had not looked at or thought about this story in ten years - because this story is about about inspiration, in finding the will to go on where ever you may. And that is a creative act; life is a creative act because we are all writing our own stories. Laura may never write a book like Virginia Woolf did, but she dares to rewrite the existing "script" of "housewife, devoted wife and mother". Just as Virginia fashioned an unconventional life for herself; she and her husband published her books, and those of other authors, so she was outside of the constraints of the publishing houses or academia. She was beholden to no one, she was married and loved her husband but also had lovers (male and female).

Which brings me back to Buffy, rewriting the script of "slayerhood", utilizing her ingenuity and creativity (in a slayers hands anything can be a weapon).And we could say very much the same thing about the other Scoobies as well, to varying degrees. (Riley might be an exception, for instance.) So clearly there is something about these themes, embodied in these characters - always specifically women, I can't help that - that still speak to me.
I can't find anything I don't like. I really love the whole story for many reasons: because you challenge yourself with a movie that I found already "complete", because it speaks to sense impressions - especially the first part, because it feels right emotionally. Personally, when all these elements are right, I'm completely satisfied.
But you know what? Since I was writing BtVS fanfics at the time I associated Buffy to Clarissa (Meryl Streep's character) rather than Laura. I mean, there's this incredible continuity between all three women and Laura was "the depressed one", but I felt so much for Clarissa too and for her struggle to take care of everyone.
Personally, when all these elements are right, I'm completely satisfied.

Again, grazie! That pleases me greatly to hear.

Since I was writing BtVS fanfics at the time I associated Buffy to Clarissa (Meryl Streep's character) rather than Laura.

Interesting - and I see what you mean about taking care of everyone (To be really simplistic avout it, Clarissa has a daughter - Dawn; and her ex-lover who is dying - Spike; while her current lover really doesn't need "taking care of" except perhaps emotionally; all the love and time and energy Clarissa devotes to her ex-lover represents love and time and care she's not giving to her current lover. And I don't recall her name - shame on me, although I love Allison Hanney in the role - but I don't recall that she ever complains (much) in the book or the movie. In the movie esp she's rather quietly long-suffering. We can see that Laura also has to take care of others (her husband and son); unlike Buffy however, Laura leaves her family behind and our culture would judge her a monster for doing so (whereas it's quite common for husbands/fathers to do so), but I don't think the movie judges her? It's been a while since I've seen it. Virginia Woolf on the other hand is the reverse - people are taking care of her, to the point of smothering.

I was so electified by Nicole Kidman's performance, and by what the character of "Virginia" had to say to me, that I barely noticed the other two women to be honest. I think it was entirely to do with my emotional state, but it was one of two or three times I've watched a movie and realized that somehow I was not quite the same person at the end of it as I was at the beginning. (The Piano was the other and to a lesser extent, Sophie's Choice.) The Hours was more deeply personal for me than those other examples though (during the credits I buried my face in my hands and sobbed because I felt as though my heart was being split down the center with a rusty butter knife. Or a soup spoon - dragged slowly and painfully from top to bottom. And I couldn't understand why. My poor friend who went with me - I wonder if I freaked her out a bit.)

Meryl's performance was the least of the three, for me; it felt too "acted" (but other people have said the same of NK's as well. YMMV) I didn't connect with her at all. (And, the timid kiss between her and Janney? Eh. They should have watched Willow and Tara's two kisses beforehand.)

Laura I appreciated more in hindsight, but I didn't really connect with her until I read the novel. Then she became my main focus and interest, but in part because we learn a bit more about her there. She was a WW2 war bride from Italy, dark and "foreign" compared to her WASP neighbors, in a strange land trying to fit in, and so her isolation was of a different order than the film. Although Laura's angst in the movie is far more "existential", unnameable; she isn't a foreigner, a "stranger in a strange land" but she feels like one anyway and can't put a name to it, can't understand why. I actually think on the balance I find that more interesting.

Both the book and the movie have things to recommend them although I find them both slightly overrated, too. I wouldn't have thought the book rated a Pulitzer Prize. The parallels to the novel "Mrs Dalloway" that are implicit in the film are explicit in the book; the first chapter is rewritten in imitation of Woolf, which I found annoying because I read Mrs Dalloway before The Hours, and the technique came off as highbrow fanfiction. Whereas the chapters dealing with Laura are much more heartfelt, IMO.

BTW & OT - I'm trying to figure out why your icons, when they show up on my LJ, have both your screen-names and mine underneath them. I'd never noticed that elsewhere.
BTW & OT - I'm trying to figure out why your icons, when they show up on my LJ, have both your screen-names and mine underneath them. I'd never noticed that elsewhere.

Huh? I only see my name. I really don't know what to say.

When I watched the movie - something like 5 years ago - I was at the start of my existential crysis and I remembered that I felt connected with all the three protagonists but on different levels. I connected to Virginia because she was the artist. In the movie she was handling her mental issues by being over-protected by her family (Strangerly her situation is similar to my current situation) but at the time I was much more similar to Laura, I was trying to suppress all my feelings and being a dutyful person. Anyway I felt more clarity in Virginia's thoughts because I'm naturally a thinker - not so much the doer - and I always try to analyze things. In the movie Virginia is the one who thinks about all these lives and creates the convergences and maybe that's what a true artist does. I'm fascinated by this process and, you know, being a thinker I'm always trying to connect and analyze things.

About the Clarissa/Buffy: I was going to say that her dying lover is Angel not Spike. Spike is maybe her forgotten actual lover, but Angel is her "true love" and her great burden and someone totally self-absorbed and really charismatic (He was at the center of the stage even if the protagonist was Clarissa and he dies a very tragical and theatrical death)
Personally I loved Meryl Streep perfomance because of her ... I don't know, motherly appareance? She seemed really perfect for the role - so controlling and strong and fragile at the same time. Her final look of acceptation warms my heart, but I think that all the performances were incredibly good - even the male protagonists were really good - and Julianne Moore was so beautiful.
Everyone thinks that Nicole Kidman is attractive, but I'm sincerely much more impressed by Moore's beauty. Well, the gustibus!

I need to read the book. I didn't do it so far.
I've not seen The Hours, but found this a lovely read all the same. I love the precision of the detail, and the way it sets up what unfolds - the contrast between the careful observation and the breathless uncertainty, all that unspilt emotion, is so effective.

“Silly contraptions” a voice laughed lightly – and Laura could breathe. She could breathe.

Oh! The repeated line there is such a delightful touch. Three words that sum up everything - and told in a rhythm that exactly reflects that out-take of breath.
Anna, thank you so so much! You know how much I value your insights - and am not particularly eloquent about expressing it (because I want to jump around the room and squee like a teenage girl who just got a letter from her rock-star idol.)

But what you say about "precision of detail" is something I really admire in other writers very very much, and something I strive for, if rarely achieve. So that's a wondeful thing to hear, even if I feel that I can't take credit for it, that I was just a vessel for this story. That sounds awful (woman as empty vessel? Ugh) and it's difficult to overcome.

all that unspilt emotion, is so effective.

Oh yes. I love those moments -things left unsaid. in Mrs Dalloway, "He did not tell her he loved her,not in so many words. But...she understood" always makes me weep. I love First Date and the electricity in the air between Giles and Buffy, the unacknowledged ghosts; and even a silly show like Bones, every once in a while they get it right, a grace note:
***SPOILERS FOR BONES*** (because I don't know if you've watched it)
Temperance opening a present and we see her silent reaction but not the gift because the gift itself is not important; telling Seeley Booth she is pregnant and we see them smile at one another - no hugs or shouts or dramatics, just joy expressed in silence (DB and ED are really wonderful in this series, I wish the writing were up to the level of the performances more often.)

But we also know that silence really can equal death, and so knowing the difference is part of what we have to learn to navigate - when the silence allows pain and injustice to blossom.

You mentioned elsewhere that you hadn't seen the movie and rereading this with fresh eyes I still think it could work with either the movie or the book.

Three words that sum up everything - and told in a rhythm that exactly reflects that out-take of breath.

I almost deleted that repetition! I went back on forth on that (was it too on the nose?) so I'm glad that worked for you. And it wasn't until I read your comments here that I noticed the way I use a very similar phrase in my musings on Ted! "they can breathe again, for a time". Maybe it's to do with the fact that I'd re-read and posted this story so soon beforehand, but it's obviously an important metaphor for me.

For a brief period in high school and college I wrote poetry and I learned to love the rhythms, challenging myself to pare down, and use repetition, so a similar phrase at the end means something very different than it did at the beginning, or so that the end somehow changes our understanding of the opening. I find that same spare quality difficult to achieve in prose - note my lengthy replies - when I have unlimited space to fill (ie the blank page); on the other hand I'm quite good when I write up posts on the local food co-op's facebook page; "guerilla writing" I call it, and because of the limits I naturally dash in and out.

So I'm pleased with how this came out, obviously, and that it spoke to you. The Ted meta also turned out to be a lovely surprise in it's brevity and directness, but as with this story, I was motivated and inspired by deeply-felt emotions; I had a purpose in writing, in both instances, and I think that makes the difference. And in that meta I also use repetition of language for effect.