This is the final diary entry written by Beth, the protagonist of my novel ‘Violet’. It was influenced by accounts of near-death experiences. Rather than dwelling on the physical trials of dying it focuses on recapitulating life – the marvellous, sad, varied, inspiring social experience.
Beth’s diary begins by recalling her first meeting with her lover James in a West End restaurant – where he held her hand across the table. After that she remembers running her seaside café and walking beneath cliffs with James to the cave called ‘The Chapel’ with its Jesus fish-sign.
The passage is balanced between memory and experience, the actual and the imaginary. To write it was a juggling act. It had to be metaphorical enough to take the reader through into the other world but simple enough to allow the experience to speak for itself.
Love. At last I know what’s included in that word. Love’s the martyr in glass, the patient, the child in darkness and the angel at the shoulder. You can walk with love through forests, seeing fungi and ivy or wild flowers shooting. Love’s everywhere, in the bird tracks on sand, moonlight over grass and the portrait on the wall. Love’s in the leaves and below earth, in the bulb and the fruit in sunlight. It’s there in dirt and worms and bluebottles, circling. It’s also in the sea, spread all over. On beach slopes and coastlines and tide runs and wave tops, and deep beneath the surface. And the love I have for James is all this and more. So it’s decided. We’ve talked it through. The story’s ours. So we’re back to the beginning, as lovers, first sight and meeting, reliving our first date. As we entered the restaurant I noticed how it had changed. Not a lot, but in detail: the lighting red and tablecloths green; the art, leaf-pattern and ethnic. I spoke to the waiter. His face had aged and his movements had slowed, but he remembered our last visit. We talked anniversaries and James held up his ring. We laughed. The L-word was used. We were in the warmth, enjoying life, inside the bubble. After ordering, we gazed about. “It seems small now,” James said. Nodding, I smiled. I knew what he meant. When you revisit a place you’ve had in mind for a while it always seems different. You see it as a stranger. The perspective’s changed. And you wonder if you’re seeing it from outside or in. Of course I couldn’t eat much, but we shared and James helped me out. I hoped he’d have it all but didn’t like to say. I wanted him to be happy. After the meal James reached over. “You remember?” he asked, taking my hand. I nodded. The warmth of his flesh, doubled on mine, was a relief. “Thank you,” I said. “And, yes, I do.” The last two words took me back to smiling faces, and signing the register. I’d been so lucky. But inside I was cold.
We returned to the café. Now it wasn’t mine. With my agreement, Sarah had taken over. We’d come to an arrangement, but the money didn’t matter. What was important was the life of the place, the flowers, the pictures, the customers’ faces. Because everything in the café had its own story. I’d bought it and filled it and arranged it, like a home. It all hung together, nothing was out of place. Only now I was a customer. What James had once called a ‘part of you’ was out there and separate, in other people’s hands. Going there was an event. Led by Sarah, the staff asked us about family, caught up on gossip, talked about news and friends, and offered anything we wanted. They didn’t say a word about health. I could see why. I suppose my wheelchair warned them. And my figure, of course. Even though I try not to look, I can see myself, reflected in the mirror. I look so old. I write this with the feeling that I’m in God’s hands. Somehow I’m there, in The Shorespot Café and at the same time I’m sleeping, crying, taking morphine, cuddling with James. And the writing finds me out. It has its own viewpoint, image by image, streaming in the head. I’m here, and I’m not, or so it seems. Everything is framed, like a film. I hear that song: so many different lives to live. It’s a matter of commitment. And of giving way, without fear, allowing what happens. Of course there are moments, especially at night, when the shadow takes over, times I feel the ghost, the at-my-back watcher. The stalker inside and the face in glass. Then I’m the victim, who isn’t of this world. At the café James and I talked. We listened. We smiled. Together we shared memories. I told him about fun times, jokes and games I’d played. One of them, with Sarah, was blind man’s buff. “We learned to serve without looking,” I said, and described how we’d gone about in blindfolds, before we opened up. I mentioned cards I’d made with customers’ faces. I told him about shore walks with Sarah and dancing in the waves. The Shorespot Café – I see it now, right behind my eyes, with James and me talking, like actors on a set. It’s there when I’m asleep and as I’m thinking. I’m able to watch and be there as well. In the moment and in the story. Spirit and flesh, in both worlds. I don’t know if I imagined it. In a way it doesn’t matter. What we dream is us, it shapes who we are. So I believe we left the café and walked, following the path to the seashore. We were in the sun, taking the air, hearing birdsong. James held my hand; he was smiling, naming flowers and it seemed I could walk. “It’s so calm,” he said when we reached the top. We were looking down to a beach between tall cliffs. The bay was bare and white. The tide was out and the rocks were glistening. I remembered our first descent by Lover’s Leap. “It was cold,” I said, eyeing the path. James seemed to understand. “Can you manage?” he asked. I nodded. I don’t know how, but I got down to that beach. I can’t be certain but I think, for most of the way, James carried me. I know I was light enough. When we reached the shoreline, I was relieved. James understood, he was my guide. He found me a hollow in a large flat rock and I sat looking out. “Thank you,” I said. The sea was quiet. It barely whispered as it pushed against stone. Somehow I felt the world was out there, waiting. “You’re comfortable?” he asked. I smiled. I was a child in his hands. “We went round there,” he said, pointing to the headland. I listened. With the cliffs echoing behind us, I couldn’t tell what was sea, and what was in my head. “We’ll go again,” I said. James nodded. At our feet the waves came and went. We were on the edge, looking out. It was calm and otherworldly.
I don’t think I went out to the headland. To walk out across rocks, even in sun with the help of James, was far beyond me. I don’t think so. But an image remains of seaweed in channels and deep green pools and stepping across boulders. If we did reach the point, he must have helped me. Otherwise the tide would have caught up. Looking back, I can see us out there. We’re small against the rocks. I see it as a painting. The sea is silver, the sky white, the headland is grey. Insect-like, we’re at the edge, turning the point. I see the gulls, they’re V-shaped, hanging in the sky. In my mind they’re calling: long, lonely, echoing calls. Out to sea is blank. All at once I feel the closeness of the waves. They seem to be inside, rising from within – James and me, lifted by the sea. Now we’ve turned the headland. And now, as James carries me across shingle, I realise why we’ve come here. We’re close-in to the cliffs, inside the shadow, and the cave is here. I recognise The Chapel. Entering together, the light goes grey. It is quiet. We’re sheltering in the body of God. James lowers me gently to rest beside water. The rock I’m sitting on is smooth. His arms are around me. A repeated drip spreads ripples, disturbing the pool. I see the Ichthys and the burnt-down candle. The rock beside us is an altar. We are praying. Now we’re kissing. James is inside me, kissing. Deep-tongued kisses, in the dark. I am ready.
- You can buy signed copies of ‘Violet’ in the UK here.
- You can buy ebook and paperback on Amazon UK here.
- Ebook and paperback are available on Amazon USA here.
The other two novels in the Lavender Blues trilogy are ‘Purple’ and ‘Blue’.
Signed copies of my trans memoir ‘Heaven’s Rage’ can be bought here.
Leslie, this text is so touching and so hauntingly beautiful. As I was reading, I recalled my own closeness to death some years ago. The first word in your last chapter is “love”. And that captured me totally, because if I would use one word to describe my experience on the boarder of life, it would be just “love”.
I will never forget my experience. It is very clear in my mind. And it guides me today. Thank you. I wish you a delightful summer!
I’m really glad to hear from you, Bente, and delighted you like ‘Violet’. It’s my best book – maybe you intend to buy it? I hope you didn’t miss your interview https://leslietate.com/2018/01/4483/ . Several people were quite inspired by it! 🙂 🙂 🙂
wow, I have tears in my eyes reading this. Touching and sad yet full of life. It is beautiful.
Thank you, Adele. That’s very kind.