When Vincent parted with the claim that the sadness would never end, he wasn’t lying. He passed in the hot summer of southern France, but no one would have known it. When he left, rain descended on the land like it had never been known to, at least not since Noah’s deluge. There were meteorological phenomena like nobody had ever dreamed of – the sky twisted sickly with shallow blacks and fathomless blues, hues of darkness and sorrow that would swallow you whole. Nobody could see the sun.
The thunder came heavier than the roar of a beast in a flock of doves, shaking the foundations of the heavens and the earth. The lightning burst forth in moments of impossible, nuclear brilliance, its forks creating cracks in the sky that opened up into blinding, yawning chasms that shattered the night into a million pieces of black brittle glass. The stars exploded from pinpricks in the velvet darkness to gaping holes, torn out as if by the hand of God. The sky as we knew it was shot through with bullets the size of the moon. It was Vincent’s greatest masterpiece.
We remember him for his warm yellows, his flowers, his moments of orange mania and baby blue tristesse. We remember him for his fields of wheat and cypress trees, and his warm evenings in the French cafés. Some remember him for cutting off his ear, for shooting himself in the chest, for eating yellow paint because he missed the sunshine. But what he will never be remembered for is the way he destroyed the sky with his broken heart. It is the greatest grief – I think – not to suffer pain yourself, but to watch another person suffer so much that they are consumed by it, and in being consumed they, much like a black hole, cause everything else to be drawn into this bottomless pit of ceaseless torment. Vincent never pulled us in until the night he died. His yellows before had been a reminder of his hope and longing for the sunshine to once again touch his face. It had been the yearning, the bitter want, for a friend. The blues had been his colder moments, where his heart would stop beating and he would remember what sadness truly was. Vincent was horribly alone. And when he died, he did not find the sun. He was right. The sadness would never end, and he filled the sky with so much anguish that the sun, too, would fall into the void.
When I died, not five minutes ago, I too was convinced that the sadness would never end. That was why I chose to take the same way out that all artists seem to go nowadays. It is the age of desperation, and so when the going gets tough, the artists get going to see the man upstairs. I, like Vincent, masked my grief with yellow, with sunshine, and with friendly fire. But I knew then what Vincent did not know in his time. When they die, every artist gets to make his final masterpiece in the sky.
I think of Vincent and the first colour on my canvas of clouds is yellow. Cobalt yellow, aureolin, whatever you may call it. It is the brightest, most intense and deafeningly happy colour in this world. I keep painting with the yellow until I cannot feel my sadness anymore. My form feels warm – I am no longer corporeal but ethereal, and whatever there is left of my soul is filled with the sun. Vincent, I feel, let go of his hope as he died. Convinced as I was that I would never find solace, I still found the will to hope I would see the sun again. And it is here where Vincent could not find it, shining into the finest cracks in my being. I can feel it glowing inside of me. This is happiness.
I am painting a sunset, I realise. I add blue – not Vincent’s blue, but the hazy kind of blue that one finds beneath the fog on the sea, the blue that lingers at the apex of the sky when all else has been consumed by darkness. It is a hopeful blue. I paint it along the curves in the clouds, and then I add the warm, sweating pinks that you see along the horizon when the sun is half asleep. I let them bleed happily into the blue, and the air is dripping with lavender.
I paint until I cannot postpone it any longer. I cup the sun in my palms, and I lay it down to rest; I paint more blue until it is dark enough to see the stars. I reign them in and dash them in turpentine until they are cleaner than any other light. They shine bright and hard, steadfast and resolute, and if I were to touch them, their diamond gleam would tear my skin clean open as if it were done with a blade. I hang silver chains between the night-time candles, and I dance, my toes skimming the waterline that is the horizon. I watch the stars spin above me, and I paint the planets into alignment – they are so far beyond my reach, and yet I hold them between my thumb and forefinger, their colours alien to my eye. I let them rest, too, where they belong.
Vincent would be enthralled – for I have found our place in this universe where he felt he could not belong. We are this – the sun, the sky – and soon we will fade – to dust – and then into the stars, forever more, like every man was destined to do, once upon a time.