You can rent Van Gogh’s bedroom on Air BnB for ten dollars a night. We were on the final leg of our cross-country expedition when we ran into Chicago and out of money. When we left Venice West we were intertwined in one-another firmer than the Treaty Oak’s roots, somewhere around Lincoln Nebraska we suffered our own poisoning. By the windy city it was more than just a cold shoulder. We checked our pockets. Seventy-two dollars in change and we still needed to get to New York where our flights home were waiting on us.
“This is still the best value,” she said as her eyes slightly caught a glance my way “it’s kinda cool.”
“It’s a single bed.”
“Which means what exactly?”
Which meant that neither of us could really bring home strays to make the other jealous and show that we were simultaneously fine with the break-up and comfortable with the new arrangement. The night we both brought something home, doubling the occupancy of our motel room, proved nothing but awkward. Though not as awkward as our conquests splitting an Uber the following morning.
I said none of this.
The silence did it for me.
“Ten dollars is ten dollars.”
“Taco Bell for dinner and a Mega Bus to New York…” we were still finishing each other’s…
“… with a little left for a beer at JFK.”
When we were languishing in The Middle I prayed for the day I could wave goodbye to her and rid my days of the sad old bones of a once plump relationship. Now that the wash was in sight and our Native land was but a quarter-day’s travel away I was suddenly longing for the last two weeks to do over again. To savour waking up in the same room as her smell. To remove whatever third and fourth wheel around so it could be the two of us again.
We finally reached the house. A two-storey wooden giant that was so tired from years of accommodating strangers it appeared to be leaning on its neighbours for support. I had met her in Art College and she’d proved ferial enough to be a challenge worth accepting. We split three times in the first year. Each time after great advances in intimacy. The last reconciliation had her demand I cum inside her. I want to feel your warmth, she said. It was as close to emotion as she was comfortable with.
She knocked on the battered old door of the abode as I memorised the curve of her neck. The owner came to the door. He wore a green apron with yellow speckles of paint littered across it. He smiled, wiped his hands on the inside of the garment and started up the welcome wagon for us.
“Care for a drink?” he asked.
“I’ll take a Seven and Seven if it’s going, Lou.”
He talked of his dead wife. She wasn’t wired right and had taken her own life.
“She loved his work though. It spoke to her. Probably should have seen it all comin’.” the finality of his lamentation put my own personal aches into perspective. I wasn’t losing Fi. I was simply allowing her problems to roam in the hope that maybe someone else could bring peace to them.
“She sounds like a complicated lady.” Fi offered, topping herself up.
“More complicated than I knew, and better than I deserved. She only started talking to me that night because she overheard me saying something about the potato eaters and assumed I was talking about the painting.”
“Nah. I was givin’ those Boston Irish reprobates some abuse. No offense.”
“Oh none taken,” I sighed “coming from the country that gave us a beef peddlin’ clown I promise you… WE,” I said gesturing index finger widely back-and-forth between us “we’re golden.”
“So what, she starts chattin’ Van Gogh and you play along? That’s pretty playa-ful of you, Lou. I’m impressed.”
I checked the clock. Then my glass. Then I counted up the number of times it had ran empty on me. Either I was getting the paranoid blinkers on or my former woman was putting the moves to this total stranger.
I drink up and refreshed everyone else. If I can get them both to the bottom of the bottle then maybe we can prevent one last awkward goodbye before the grand finale.
It’s empty again. I shake the last drop on to my parched tongue and wonder how long I’d been napping in one of the many rooms in the house I hadn’t paid to stay in. Clambering to my feet, I climbed the stairs towards the $10-a-night bedroom in Arles. As I entered I found Lou and Fi stripping but rather than recoil they simply invited me into the mix. We took to the small red bed and made her the centre of both our worlds. She kissed me and asked that I warm her up one last time.
When Lou left for his own room, I waited for Fi to fall asleep before taking to the floor. I lay staring up at my own Starry Night. I was ten weeks off my thirty-seventh year. It had all been enough to send a man to his grave.
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