Vincent’s Last Painting
He seems frozen, like he’s be trapped within a single frame, standing still before his easel, in the middle of this field. His eyes seem fixed on something far beyond his field of vision, cutting through the space in front of him, through the material world, piercing deeply into another realm. He is so motionless. Does he breath? I’m going to take a chance.
“Excuse me. I’ve been watching you for a while, just sitting here, looking so intent. I really hate to bother you, but since you haven’t touched the canvas for this hour since I noticed you, I thought I’d speak. I would leave you alone, but I’m learning that everyone I meet here, along the river is important. Either I have something for them, or they have something for me.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter. I’m finished. There’s nothing more that I can do. It’s the end of the road. I have marched along, in this procession far enough. I’ve walked in this parade along this river; trying to eke out an existence on this tough ground. Just trying to survive until some soldier or lawyer or other dark-suited bird comes diving down to pick the flesh from our bones.
Now days, in the asylum it doesn’t feel much like a procession. It isn’t holy and we’re not going anywhere. They walk us in circles in the yard; we get our exercise in the afternoon, just like we get our gruel in the morning and our digitalis at night.
Everything is dry, brittle, desiccated. Nothing much remains of the summer crop; just what the crows have left; the husks, the shocks, gravel and graves, bones and ruins.” Vanity of vanities. The windows are darkened and the daughters of music are brought low, man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets, the golden bowl be broken, the dust returns to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.
“Have you been painting long? Is painting your livelihood or just a hobby?”
“Ah, so you are my tormentor! I’ve been expecting you. I come here day after day, waiting for you to arrive. And now, here you are at last. Very well, I submit to your interrogation. I will stand before your inquisition. Truly, I have no defense against your accusations, but I will try.
I have been not been painting long, but all my life. For everything before I took up the brush was my charade; a pretense for the benefit of others. My father hoped that I would be a minister of the gospel. I tried but found the demands of Christ to brutal to bare. I found that the morsels of the church to scant and weak to feed the profound hunger of humanity. I tried my hand in the market, but found I nothing to sell. I discovered myself an infidel, lacking the necessary faith to move my wears. But these nine years I have lived, painting each day, clawing at these canvases, digging at it with my brush like miner for gold, and feeling the pain of being alive. Is it my livelihood? Hardly. It is my death; my undoing. This hapless, hopeless art of mine is cutting asunder my body from my soul. It has brought me to this place where I must endure you’re recriminations. It is not my livelihood, but it is no hobby. It is more serious than any disease and more real than any of the delusions of my mates in the asylum.”
“I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean it that way. I only meant to make conversation. I’m not your accuser or your tormentor and anything at all like that. I’m a pilgrim, walking along the banks of this River of Lost Souls in Purgatory. This is my penitential sojourn through this realm, between hell and heaven. We are brothers, I am sure. Will you stay here much longer? May I walk with you a ways?”