Vincent in the Yellow House
Nuala Ní Chonchúir

If I live in a crepuscular haze, he lives in the light. Funny, then, that I choose yellow: the colour of sun and butter, spring flowers and madness. And Gauguin revels in devilish reds.

A weak absinthe swirls my brain toward anger; I eye him.

'Why,' I say, 'did you put your own features on a painting of me?'

Gauguin frowns. 'Because all pictures are portraits of their makers,' he says.

I fling my absinthe — glass and all — at his head. He manhandles me from Café de la Gare, across the square to our yellow house. He puts me to bed and sleep muffles me at once.

'I apologise,' is my morning greeting, but I continue to watch him. He steps back from his easel.

'I'm going for a walk,' he says.

I follow, a razor tucked into my palm. On the Place Lamartine he turns to face me and I plunge the air with the razor. Gauguin runs away and I am immediately remorseful; he is my friend.

I return to the yellow house, where my squat and motherly portrait of the Virgin mocks me; she screams to my loneliness. Like some biblical traitor, I take my razor-blade and carve a slitch off my ear. I watch the red seep of blood mingle with the yellow paint on my palette. Then I wrap the ear-slice in newspaper, like a rasher of bacon, and take it to Rachel the street-walker. She is not pleased.

Gauguin leaves the yellow house after that and I have a spell in the asylum; safe from the Virgin, safe from the prostitute, safe from Gauguin, safe from yellow.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir lives in County Galway, Ireland. Her books include To the World of Men, Welcome, a collection of stories, and Tattoo:Tatú, a bilingual collection of poems.

To link to this story directly:

Detail on main page from painting by Vincent Van Gogh: "The Yellow House" (1888); oil on canvas.

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