Hawk and Gogh.
a novel by Barbara Sparhawk, copyright 2014
I’m still through all the night in my gray aviator’s jacket kept on to off the cold, my faded orange tee and blue jeans, my yellow work boots and striped socks and I need a bath. My body is exhausted from wanting sleep, relief, needing understanding. It is as if I am contorted by all my life come up in me tyrannical, and it is massive lethal poisons swallowed, and the antidote’s recipe is in these hands in front of me on a bright white piece of shining paper in a language I cannot read.
Impossibly, the door bell rings.
I race down my staircase. Combat ready I open my front door into a silent 3 AM Brooklyn street. Van Gogh is there, is certainly there. He looks a bit disoriented. Or normal. Considering. Or as abnormal as I’ve been made accustomed from his self-portraits. I impulsively reach for the reassurance of my door jamb and feel my house. The night makes for gray air and blue shadow; there’s not much light around us but it is him. And I am me.
“Hello,” he says, clearing his throat. “I was drawn here by the smell of turpentine.” He inhales deeply, “And varnish. And tobacco,” (the fragrances of my very existence) and takes off his straw fedora and scratches at his hair which relaxes him. Not me. First all the blood left me and now I am blush hot to my toes which curl into the floorboards.
His hair is longer than in paintings, carrot colored, bristly wild. I’m impressed that he’s a muscular kind of guy because I had the idea he was unsteady. We’re both about 5 foot 8 and I’m looking without a tilt into blue green eyes though color has barely registered in me for hours.
I bring him upstairs for the discussion of art. I am so wanting to feel less desperate. I don’t want to hurt anymore.
“Here” I say but it’s laden with question. Was it “Here?” Was it out loud? I cannot actually speak. I invite him by hand-gesture to sit…..there, in my sturdy wooden chair I love with its fat hand-carved legs and the yellow I painted it….then I back away.
Vincent is on the far side of the room from me and skoots the chair in front of a portrait I’d painted a few years before and am proud of, and he sits to study it. He rocks back, looking. His coat stays on. It’s early spring, the carriage house is never warm. That’s the way I drew him. Cold dawn. In profile. Just like this. Just like this.
He acts as if the meeting is natural. I start to worry if I can handle my own hallucinations. I’m thinking, If he’s here now, I let him in the front door downstairs. I don’t want him to get up and leave. Feed him. I ask if he’s hungry, he nods without turning. Can I do this? I’m totally deficit in the hostess thing and the cupboard’s bare.
I look back. He’s still there. He opens a bottle of wine (which was not there before) and fills a glass for him and then for me (which were not there before) and sets the one on the floor, nudged toward me. I feel some sense of pleasure beginning to rise inside me. I did this. Right thing to do. This is so cool.
I turn around to my sort of kitchen on the other side of the room to scratch up nothing from nowhere. But wait. What happened. There appears to be a lot of food in my house, highly irregular. Treat kind of stuff that comes with a good waitressing night and the next day off, though I had neither.
I walk the few steps for the wine, and back up. In my own kitchen are big tall brown bags filling the countertop with, you know, extras. Which is chiefly to say not Spaghetti-0’s and Twinkies so it’s highly ironic. No. An altered state. Cream cheese, fresh rolls, pound of butter, marmalade.
I pull these things out of the bags like somebody’s in the bottom pushing them up at me into my shaking hands. All this stuff. Ground beef and steaks marked so in pencil on wrapped up butcher’s paper. Onions, mushrooms. Full carton of eggs. Two Napoleons in a baker’s box. I push my finger right through the paper-thin pastry and icing, chocolate and cream and it is real. It is real. Then more. Brit Cotswold and a Bleu from Denmark, a squat, darkly amber-colored weighty bottle of cognac from France. Big black olives in a little tub, bacon, huge tomatoes, squash. Half & half. Ice cream sandwiches in the freezer. Well there’s no question I have the day off.
Vincent is not talking, he stands up, his eyes take in the surroundings until they settle on me with a look anyone likely to wear if called for an unexpected appointment. Mr Spock‘s on his face to search the logic of it.
He looks more Nordic than Dutch to me but my references to the Dutch are solidly via Rembrandt. His thinking turns his mouth edges down, giving me the fleeting happy certainty that nobody would bother a man who looks this dangerous which is the best look for walking Brooklyn‘s boulevards. It is broken by the first Van Gogh smile I ever witness as I beckon him to the feast at hand. I cook our meal. I fill our plates. I have been so edged into the void, so furied. Food is a sudden, welcome declaration of life that helps explain.
I imagined Van Gogh intense. He is. He walks back over to his chair and I am warm just now from every blossoming minute since he showed up and I know it. He faces the other way so I risk a once-over. He’s got on a dark goldish-green, rumpled but comfy corduroy jacket over a dark blue cotton work shirt, kind of orange-tan sort of canvas trousers the cuffs of which run some short of his ankles. Wearied out boots, black leather work boots that knew labor and travel and walking through fields of abandoned winter crop roughs, and heading into fields of sunflowers. So the impression is near joyful because of the color and texture of him, which I don’t say aloud, suspecting it may annoy. I am remembering the reports of this man’s agony as he tried to reach down so low and down so deep and feel for the plain peasant inside himself and embrace his potato eaters with all his big bursting heart.
Without breaking concentration Vincent takes a small dark pipe out of his breast pocket, fills it with tobacco from an orange leather pouch, lights it up with a wooden match he scrapes against the floor by his boot, then rises at a gentle angle, a twist mid torso near imperceptible, to let fly the cindered wood into the going fireplace. I lean back against the kitchen sink, watch him. He’s made the lovliest smooth grace the way a dancer does who knows his muscle.
The tobacco smell is superb. A thin line of smoke hovers the breadth of the cool room excited by dawn light. There appears to be some cojoining of energy as the brightness is drawn into objects by desire, by mutual agreement. One of my cats leaps on his lap. Vincent accepts her as his own. The atmosphere increases richly. Turpentine the deepest layer. Aroma. The cooked food. The visuals of the pipe smoke, the sound of his pulls for it. Loud feline purring. My heartbeat. These things the breaks to silence.
A good fifteen minutes passes and he hasn’t spoken. I’m capable of inventing dialogue but nothing comes, which also seems okay. He finally turns to look at me, stands up, and makes a gesture both so vague and so specific that I immediately understand. He wants to see more of my work. Most importantly, I begin to remember why I want to paint pictures.