I talked to Van Gogh in my dream.
We were having a picnic by the lake side, sitting atop a pale mayonnaise-yellow blanket. There were egg sandwiches and apple juice, and a plate of apple pie with cream — the one I had in Amsterdam at a store down the lane, obscured by a thin line of trees. I remembered walking for 15 minutes in the dark, blinking back rain, cobblestone pavements dimly lit by street lamps, until I finally located the store. Neither of us touched the food.
“I really like the color blue, you know?” I said, gazing at the ripples ruffling the lake. “And whenever I see your name printed on art book covers and phone cases, I think of the color blue. Not the bright, cheery one, like the morning sky, nor this tranquil lake. But the deep one — dark shades that remind you of the ocean bed, or when evening falls, with remnants of sunlight leaving streaks at the edge of the horizon. I think people called it midnight blue — or is it navy? No— I would say it’s the shade in between the two, the kind of blue painted on the walls of a desolated house near the cliff, overlooking the sea, and is left to rot for decades, where you can see the paint near the window peeled and washed.”
I took a moment to envision the house and its faded walls. “Yes, the kind of blue painted near the window,” I repeated, forking the apple pie. It was tasteless on my tongue, I must have forgotten how it should have tasted, only the memory of it being good.
He was leaning against the elm tree, the shade provided by the canopy receded just at the tip of his pointed shoes, a few inches from where I lounged, bathed in the sun. “Is that so?” He said, tapping at the page of the poetry book on his lap. He was looking at the field of sunflowers.
“You said you wanted to be remembered as the artist of sunflowers,” I said. “But sunflowers are happy flowers. Their petals, like fiery sun beams, emit a natural gaiety and joyous electricity that makes people smile. Is that what you really want?”
“Sunflowers are beautiful flowers,” he said.
“Yes, just like your soul. Is that why you painted them bowing? They aren’t facing the sun in their vase.”
A tingling pain caught my attention. I turned over my palm, and saw a sprouting leaf growing out of my skin. It bent and twisted, petals spreading and spreading until it could blossom no more. I had the impression of watching the birth of a star, corners uncurling to reveal the hue of the universe.
I uprooted the flower. It was the hue of blue painted near the window of a desolated house near the cliff overlooking the sea. This was the blue I was talking about, I told him. I tucked it behind his left ear and smiled. He asked what flower that was.
“Gentiana scabra. It is made for you.” I looked at him and the blue flower, added, “If I ever write anything worth reading, I’ll dedicate it to you and all the Gentiana scabras out there in the wild.”
He smiled then, and it was like that of a sunflower.
“No offense,” I said, stirring my cup of tea. The teabag has gone cold, snugging at the side in a disgusting kind of way. I hurled it at the bin, missed. “But if I were to choose whose painting to hang in my bedroom, I would have one of Monet’s.”
Van Gogh nodded, brows furrowed in a pensive way. “I understand. His paintings have a way of calming people down, their haziness induces a kind of mellow, atmospheric stillness — a gentle reverie of yesterday and tomorrow.” Fingers twitching, he asked, “What about Paul’s?”
“Gauguin? No— call me neo-classical, but I still don’t like his work no matter how I look at it, sorry.”
“But you like mine?”
I brewed a fresh pot of black tea. Pouring them inside the cups with ears tipped in gold, I served him a plate of blueberry muffins to go with it. “I may like their works — Monet’s or Vermeer’s, but I would prefer your company over theirs any day.”
The barest beginning of a smile ghosted his mouth. He lifted the cup, concealing the smile, and said, “Which explains my presence here.” Through the dusted window, soft shafts of sunlight penetrated the glass tea pot, throwing a luminous sepia shadow on the marble table. His finger ran circles on that spot.
“You’re more tolerant than I expected, or should I say composed?” I remarked.
He chuckled. “I live in your imagination, you can reshape my temper however you want.”
We drank our tea in silence. Cars rushed past the streets, rumbling engines shook the glass pane and the plate of muffins. Puffs of dust were left in their wake. I watched the cloud of grey suspended in the air, and thought of the baby Empire penguins in Antarctica. When they shed their grey coats, would the shedded fur roll around the snow for days — or maybe it would take only hours, before they were buried in the tyranny of whiteness, eternally forgotten? The thought of it made me sad somehow. I asked Van Gogh what he thought of that, to which he responded with a shrug. “The sadness will last forever,” he said.
A parade of geese were patrolling on the now deserted streets. They waddled around, picking at trash and leftovers. “I know,” I answered. “But have you ever wanted to be understood — to be recognised, after all the effort, of your worth?” This question disturbed me more than any other, and for the longest time I had not had the courage to ask him, fearing his answer. It was quite inconceivable for me to imagine his reaction to a world that praised, worshipped, and celebrated every stroke of his brush and the chaos that resided in him and his palette. I was happy for him, of course, because he deserved all of them. But what of the gaping void named loneliness — was it filled? Could it be filled — by this world of banality? Would their clamorous adoration and lurid replicas ebb away the beauty of his soul?
He set down his empty cup, dark tea remnants staring back at me. “Do you remember the amber grains and crows I did before I die?”
“Wheat field with Crows, you mean.”
“Yes, that. I could always paint another one of that.”
“And Starry Night?”
He grinned. “That too.”
In the distance, the geese let out plaintive cries, and the church bell went on and on into the quiet of the night.
Do you know
That lonely people wear blue?
Because the blue of the sky is the only thing we share
It is a long, sad dream