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Thursday, March 16

Van Gogh on the Subway

"Van Gogh on the Subway"
Short Fiction - Literary
by Michael Patrick Brewster

He is standing there, holding a pole, not just another commuter, but van Gogh. Vincent. He has the white iPod earbuds in, naturally, absorbed in some distant song, perhaps Don McLean, if he wants to be simultaneously self-absorbed and self-referential.

I know nobody will believe me, so I pull out my cellphone to snap a picture. Surreptitiously, I think, but just as I'm ready to click, he turns his head, slightly, leaving me with a snapshot of only his hair, some faceless apparition. Reddish-brownish in the harsh subway car light, maybe less red than in some of his self-portraits, but with that same cut. I put the phone in my coat pocket, ready still, but not threatening.

He gets off at Penn Station, strangely the only one on the train to do so. I, already late for work, choose not to follow him. I figure some karmic serendipity is owed me, for one cannot see a van Gogh one time only. A solitary viewing might work for angels and Sasquatch, but not acknowledged masters of painting. What surprises me is his complete anonymity even now, after a century of fame and millions of francs, pounds, dollars and yen later. How can that man, one so often glimpsed in his self-portraits, one so focused on the spiritual notion of self as expressed in exquisite brushstrokes, how can this man walk unnoticed through the streets and tunnels of Manhattan?

A week later and the sky is somber gray, as the cliché goes, reflecting my mood. I stroll the city streets museless, looking for some small crack of inspiration. Shut your eyes and see, I remind myself, walking through the open door of the Starbucks on 1st and 73rd. I half-expected to see my buddy Dan sitting there like some Duchamp, chessboard before him, waiting, but instead I see van Gogh. I cannot bring myself to think of him as Vincent, though so many apparently do. What first strikes me is that he's in an uptown Starbucks, rather than some ratty East Village café, and second that he's fondling a large mug plastered with his starry night. He seems to be pleased, though subdued, not his ecstatic Guaguinish pleasure, and I watch enraptured. He looks at the entire mug collection, perhaps a week of starry nights and, if I may presume to read his mind, ponders purchasing one. Finally "Vincent" rings out across the small store, the barrista offering up a steamy latté to the artist, and he accepts it quietly just before he walks into the solemn afternoon.

This was accepted and read at a "Quick Fictions" event at the University of Sussex, England. Michael Patrick Brewster has previously published short stories and poems in many obscure literary journals.

7 reactions:

Kelly Parra said...

Michael, I really enjoyed this! It has such a subtle, yet strong storyline of curiousity and awe. Thanks so much for sharing with FM. =D

Word Nerd said...

Great story!

Jeff said...

Very nice, Michael. Thanks for sharing. :)

bytemyshorts said...

I really enjoyed this. Absolutely delightful. The earbuds and cellphone pic was so nicely done.


NinemilePress said...

thanks everyone...

I had just watched a documentary on the Sunflowers series and started reading tons of his letters on

I ended up writing two poems, one from his persepective and a nother just about the I was completely in a VG space. I had written a Rilke story the week before on the dare of a friend, my first short fiction in 15 years. Similar idea- narrator sees Rilke in NYC. Since then I've written two for Joyce, one set in Dublin and another in NYC. I will probably end up doing another several for other artists and writers from the same era.

anne frasier said...

loved it!

T. Cannon said...

The ear buds and cell phone created a nice, quick picture of current life. Seeing a famous person that you really cannot be seeing is also a common experience. I liked it!