Thursday, April 15, 2021

Something Comes to Live in Vincent Van Gogh's House by Sobia Ali

Vincent van Gogh had been out walking his imaginary dog. He found it helpful to have imaginary pets. And it was the dog too who first sniffed the thing. It stopped mid-step at the gate and gave a loud yelp. Van Gogh found the dog’s behaviour quite baffling. This had been an obedient dog, unlike other imaginary stuff. When he tried to induce it inside, it resisted.
 
Something was really off. He opened the gate and passed. Behind, the dog whined, its yelps a premonition. He stood thinking, dreading. Then went up to meet the thing in the atelier.

The light had faded out the window a while back. The lamps were not lit yet. He rested on the door-step, adjusting his eyes to the dimness of the workshop. All around the room canvases of half-finished paintings, colours, brushes, palette knives, were scattered on the floor and on the chairs. He peered into the dusk of the room, his eyes blind after having been outside in the colours and light. He searched the window seats, the folds of the curtains; crouched down to look under the chairs and tables. The thing was directly in front of him, crouching, just off the threshold. He was disquieted for a moment when he saw it. He was expecting something that lurked.

The thing was a thick mound teeming with a swarm of eyes, bulging, crowded one over the other and staring at him hostilely. The eyes blinked constantly; first closing slowly, then all opening one by one in a pattern.

The whole movement was like a shimmering of the beehive. Hairy spiders crawled up Van Gogh’s spine. First instinct was to run for the door, which he resisted. Even face to face with the abhorrent thing, he accepted that the flight was impossible, now, after having seen it. Its visual imprints would be caged in his memory, forever.

He mulled over if he should call neighbours and friends to help him get rid of it, but decided against it. Can things like these be shown outside? He thought of his critics. No, let it not be seen by anyone, he came to the conclusion after thinking it over. He knew what was required of him, his own responsibility. He needed to throw it out of the house. But he was loath to go near it, and touch. It could not be swept off, nor raked out, and while shovelling it; might slip and slide onto his feet. The last image made him break out into cold sweats. He fetched a blanket from the bedroom and flung it across the thing. Then skipping into the room he started stacking
furniture and paintings on the loose ends of the quilt. The thing lay roofed in, impassive and unmoved.
*
The next morning, he was roused up by a steady, low scraping noise. In an instant, he was out of the bed and on the stairs to the workshop. The bundle of eyes, for that is what he called it now, had wriggled out from under the blanket. He stood with the doorknob in his hand, listening to it move inside. He did not want to look at it in the daylight, desiring his conscience to be deceived; to let it remain an illusion of nights. All the same, it was there, squirming against his labour of love - his masterpieces.

He came outside, rather breathless. The sun was up and the air was luminous with the smells and colours of the morning. The bright greenery of the foliage glowed in the gentle light. The scent of the fresh barley hit him and his nostrils flared up keenly. He breathed deep into his lungs, his cells lapping up the oxygen, hungrily. All his being shivered in response to the stirrings of life.

All this beauty was like a pain — a delicious anguish, that quickened his steps, filled his heart with dreams. His soul was awash with rapture which would metamorphose into the longing to create. A single eagle, its wings chipped by age and weather, swooped down out of sight. He walked on.

Then it rose, triumphant, a field mouse clutched in its talons. His heart contracted. He had never had any stomach for the cruel necessities of nature. But it was in his make-up. It made him what he was.

Then he stopped. Along the road, a bank of purple flowers with big yellow hearts nodded their heads in the light wind, proud and aloof, and yet strangely fleshy and miserly of life. A reluctance, like a sudden coldness, came over him. He thought of the bundle of eyes writhing through his things, its loose, puckered skin folding over the eyes in slow sickening waves. He realized abruptly what a multitude the thing was.

Peasants trooped to the fields. It was going to be a windy day, one in which breeze sprang up in the tops of the trees and one felt heady with all the motions. He liked days like this. Liked to be blown about with the elements. But still the thing walked over his canvases, like on a grave. He felt inadequate and inept to the existence. Quite overwhelmed; his dampened spirit refused to rise again.

He turned homewards, rueful of the day. He knew what was to be done.


© Sobia Ali

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