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Vincent placed his mug on the sink bench, picked up his jacket from the chair, and went out the door. It was a warm sunny day in Arles and he wasn’t about to spend it inside his tiny room.
Morning sun was already high, and its intensity touched his fair skin with a burst of heat. Vincent placed a hat on his golden hair, turned and strode towards the bridge. Today he would not bring his sketch pad and pencil, he just wanted to walk. He wanted to breath deeply the fresh air and simply enjoy the countryside for a while. After all, this is the reason he had moved from Paris. The city, as he understood it, is the place of bodies. He believed the countryside to be the place of souls.
“Morning Vincent” said Monsieur Bernard , tipping his hat in passing. Vincent smiled and nodded. He didn’t feel like speaking. The narrow winding lane looked clear now apart from the occasional shadow of a poplar tree and a few puddles from last nights showers.
Around the next bend Vincent stopped. To his left was a field of bright yellow sunflowers, swaying gently in the summer breeze. He knew it to be the field of an elderly farming couple. The wife took bunches of these sunflowers to the market each week, the rest were saved and dried for seeds which they also sold after the blooms were finished. Vincent had done a sketch of the old couple a few weeks back. They seemed nice people. Maybe they wouldn’t mind if he crossed into their field and sat to enjoy the beauty of the flowers.
Over the stile he climbed. The farmer’s wife waved, and he signalled his intentions to sit a while. She nodded and carried on picking.
Taking his faithful pipe from his pocket, Vincent lit up. Deep in reflection and puffing away at the pipe, he didn’t see the old woman come towards him at first. She startled him. “I have brought you a bunch to brighten your room” she said, smiling through a mouth of broken teeth. Her crumpled face did little to disguise the friendly twinkle of old eyes. She thrust the flowers at him.
“Thankyou Madam” said Vincent, trying not to sound gruff at his tranquillity being shattered by her imposing presence. “You are very kind.”
It was three days later that finally Vincent picked up his pallet, moved his chair into position and commenced to capture in paint the vase of sunflowers. Already some were wilting and losing petals. He felt the poignancy in their slow death. They were still so beautiful, as they reached for the sunlight that filtered into the room.
He did two paintings. The first capturing the despondent drooping of the flowers as they struggled to survive. Then Vincent carefully rearranged the sagging blooms, adding to them three further sunflowers, slightly different, ones he had rescued earlier that morning from a bin outside the café. Now he had fifteen aging sunflowers, many by now had lost most of their petals. But he liked them, they certainly brightened his little room.
The second painting was still lively, but he decided to change the background. This created depth in the bright green stems. Vincent still wasn’t completely satisfied, but it was better than his first attempt.
The significance of the flowers struck him. This bunch of sunflowers was the only gift anyone had given him in many years. Now captured on canvas he can continue to enjoy them as long as he wished.
Vincent put down his pallet, and with a satisfied smile he lit his pipe.