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Starry, starry day


That was the village where van Gogh had lived for a while and where he died. It was within a longish train journey from Paris, and they decided to go, as a sort of pious pilgrimage.  It was late spring. There was still a nip in the air, and just for once, they were both wearing the right sort of clothes: light coats that swung in the breeze, silk scarves, sensible shoes. As they got off the train, they saw a bird of prey gliding across the sky, and hoped it was not an omen.

The little town was a sort of shabby homage to the great painter. They passed a cafe that was decorated with posters of the old Hollywood film about van Gogh, and Kirk Douglas’ face looked odd staring out at the blank streets and greyish skies. But they were determined not to be nonplussed. They were still charmed with each other then: their skin seemed dewy, their talk seemed witty. They arrived at the inn where the painter had eaten and lived. There was a plat du jour and nothing else, and they sat round a huge communal table and were served  great slabs of meat and hunks of bread, just as van Gogh had been, perhaps. Afterwards, slightly tipsy with the wine, they went to see the little room where he had slept: cramped, colourful. Roped off against the tourists.  

They walked to the field where he had blown his heart out. It had been raining, and they were up to their ankles in mud. Here he had seen the ravens and the cornfield, here he had thought there was nothing else for it but oblivion. At the time, it didn’t make them depressed: they had each other, all would be well, they would do great things together. They boarded the train back to the streets of Paris.

As it turned out, that was their last day of real happiness. Soon after that, mould and then bitterness set in: jealousy and  dishonesty. She thought that seeing the little room and the gaunt field might have been the newell on which their love turned from  mutual admiration into distaste: that the spectacle of such loneliness, despair and waste had somehow poisoned them. Before that happened, the time had seemed set fair. She thought: “that was our immortal day.” It had seemed shining and warm in the morning,  and they had been holding each other’s hand as they stepped down from the train. 

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