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About my Entry
This flash fiction piece is different from any other I’ve done. Nothing immediately sprang to mind for the prompt “Café Terrace”, so I decided to read up on Van Gogh’s painting Café Terrace at Night to see if that might spark something.
In a letter to his sister, Van Gogh described it as “a painting of night without black.” That idea intrigued me, as did the comparison some have drawn between the painting and The Last Supper.
I then discovered that the painting and the café it is based on were both featured in the 1956 film Lust for Life starring Kirk Douglas, who had passed away only a couple of days before I started researching. Falling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, I was amazed to learn that Douglas had appeared in more than 90 films!
Van Gogh’s artistic career was similarly prolific; he produced more than 2,000 pieces of art in his short lifetime, including about 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings and sketches.
I suddenly had a random idea: I would challenge myself to write a flash fiction containing as many references to Van Gogh paintings and Kirk Douglas films as possible.
The final piece contains the titles of 27 Kirk Douglas films (in purple) and 31 Van Gogh paintings (in red).
Thank you to Daniele Longhi for his advice about French wine.
Word count: 551
Trigger warnings: Terminal illness, implications of suicide.
Critique preference: FCA
Portrait of a Man
The brief glance in the bathroom mirror was a mistake; a portrait of a man at eternity’s gate. I return to the waiting room, devoid of colour except for some wilting flowers in a blue vase and a faded Van Gogh print. It reminds me of the café on the outskirts of Paris where I let her go. Strangers when we met and when we parted. I told myself it was an act of love. I didn’t expect the sorrow, the fury. How the orange landscape at sunset flickered in her glassy eyes. Is Paris burning?
Phantoms loom out of the past, swirling in blue and gold. Mine is the story of three loves, for once is not enough. We have to put ourselves in harm’s way again and again, don’t we? Lonely are the brave who dare to love. I loved like a tortured artist, with the same strange compulsion that told Van Gogh “Draw!”
Life isn’t all poppies and butterflies. Van Gogh understood that better than most. He painted the bad and the beautiful. The stormy night, a wind-beaten tree, a vase with dead leaves. And yet also…a field of yellow flowers, an orchard in bloom, and all those bloody sunflowers. Despair cast a giant shadow, but he still saw the light at the edge of the world.
“Mr Roberts? Sorry to keep you waiting.”
The final countdown. I know exactly how it ends. It runs in the family. The care at St.Andrew’s is state of the art I’m sure, but that means two weeks in another town. A crab on its back in a town without pity.
I walk alone, wincing through the pain until I reach a café terrace, not a bit like Van Gogh’s. I settle on a decadent Chapoutier La Mordorée to take away the bitter taste of my meds. The rich and seductive raspberry, cherry and tobacco flavours conjure up the view of the roofs of Paris and a certain starry night over the Rhone.
The paper only offers more bad news. Kirk Douglas, one of the Hollywood greats, is gone. The first picture of his I saw was that Van Gogh biography, Lust for Life. Says here he was 37 when he played that part, the last age the painter ever saw. Two cut sunflowers. There’s a magic in those little coincidences, isn’t there? Almost like the universe is trying to tell you something.
A taxi returns me to the village at sunset. I thrust a wallet full of notes at the bemused driver, then begin my unsteady trek across the marshy landscape, along the great divide. I stumble through a ploughed field until I spot a girl in white, the half-figure of an angel waiting on the edge of a wood. I follow the girl in the wood through the undergrowth to my sanctuary, the poet’s garden. There I rest on her memorial bench in remembrance of love and pen a letter to three wives.
I’m honoured with the perfect view of the last sunset, leading the way west. I relive those glorious seven days in May behind closed eyes, lying under trees in a field on a sunny day and walking, our two hands clasped on the banks of the Seine. It really is a lovely way to die.
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Over to you…
This piece was experimental so I’d be interested to know your thoughts on whether it works or not and how you think it could be improved. Please let me know in the comments.