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Old Vincent

He created his own problems. He knew that. He was practical enough to understand that life is constant ebb and flow between cause and effect, decision and consequence. Only once before this was he faced with a life changing situation where he was thrust into a decision for better or for worse.

Now, he faced two main problems. One was in the background his whole life waiting to come to fruition.  The other was something that he had manifested all on his own out of sheer stupidity.

Berkel sat in his doctor’s office gripping the chair’s wooden arms and tried to not listen to what she had to say.  She explained how he would need to do some research now while it would be easy. He should find someone that he liked and who he trusted to work with during the transition.  He should look for a new apartment that wasn’t on the top floor of a building that didn’t have an elevator. He should prepare for the inevitability that he was about to lose his vision.  These were not the words he wanted to here. He thought he would have had at least another ten years before something like this happened.  He had known since childhood that it could happen, but a person can never be ready.

At twelve he was diagnosed with child onset diabetes, type two. It had gone undiagnosed for almost a year which had heavily taxed his liver and kidneys.  By the time he was diagnosed and prescribed regular insulin injections his eye sight had already taken a hit and he had to wear glasses. His doctor then had said that the long term effects of not treating it earlier would most likely lead to blindness one day.  At the time, like any smoker who knows that they will die from lung cancer someday, it did not really faze him.

Berkel was not your typical kid. At eight years old he had taken to charcoal drawing like a baby takes to the nipple. When he turned eleven he switched to watercolor and at fifteen he was painting with oil. While other kids were watching Sesame Street on television he would watch Bob Ross. His bedroom wall was plastered with beautiful women like most teenage boys, but his favorite poster was of Starry Night over the Rhone. He was both transfixed and disgusted by the life of Vincent. 

Through his years as a painter he had experienced some highs and some definite lows. Some of his still life’s had sold for near five thousand dollars in a gallery in Boise near his home.  But those were too few and far between. He had sold a fifty five by forty inch oil painting of the Sun Valley landscape for thirty thousand dollars to a hotel when he was just twenty two. It had been a god sent because his wife, Jocelyn, lost her job and they were just about to foreclose on their small house.

Being an artist was all he knew to do. He tried a couple other jobs just to make more money for his wife and his daughter, but he could never hack it. He couldn’t sit in an office on the computer. That was not what his hands were meant for. He loved his family, but he was always looking beyond the horizon knowingly, waiting for the right time to go.

Now, he was no longer in Boise. He had moved to Cannes, France on impulse after he separated from his wife after eighteen years of marriage. They had married young, because they’d had a kid young. He had felt guilty leaving, but his daughter was a woman, just turned eighteen. His art had come to a stand still and he needed inspiration. Where better to find inspiration than France and Italy?

It only took seven months for him to find himself all over again. He found his edge, his calling as an artist. He made more money selling paintings on the boardwalk in Cannes then he did in five years in Boise. Something changed in him and passer Byers could see the fire spill from his paintings.

He sent a big check to Jocelyn.  They hadn’t officially divorced, but they were no longer exclusive in anyway.  For now they agreed to be two drifters. She was focused on the restaurant she had bought.  He sent money for her and for his daughter. He didn’t care how they used it.  They had left on good terms and all in all she had been loving and supportive of his need to seek out his talent. 

To celebrate himself and his new found success he bought a black Mercedes convertible and drove up the coast to Monaco.  His first trip he stayed at the glorious casino de Monte Carlo. It was decadent.  He wasn’t much of a gambling man. He sometimes played friendly poker back home. He never had much money to lose.

This time was different. This time his practical nature flew out the window.  It met in direct proportion to how quickly his bank account had grown. He didn’t know it yet, but at almost thirty seven years old, Berkel faced disaster.

He discovered that roulette infused his excitement more than most things he’d tried in his life. At first he just watched and devised a plan of how he would play and win.  His strategy was clever. He always stuck to the same group of numbers and often correlated them to his wife and daughter’s birthdays. His first time in he walked away ahead eight thousand dollars. His heart beat furiously on the drive back to Cannes from Monaco. The wind blew through his hair and he felt alive.

His art work continued to sell and he felt he gained even more of an edge.  He went to Monte Carlo every weekend and sometimes during the weeknights if he had made a good sell that day. His ego ran high and the sheer adrenaline from this new and exotic life fed his fury. It was six months later, since the first day he played, that he lost. He lost big.

In his time there he’d made some friends. One in particular took interest in him as an artist and a player. They would share stories over whiskey until the early hours of the morning. His name was Franco. Franco was a retired banker from Paris. Franco was there the night that Berkel lost big and gave his condolences. Berkel, was left with only two thousand dollars to his name and his rent was due the following week. His rent was five grand. 

Franco offered to lend him the money to cover it and a little extra. He knew he was good for it .Berkel would pay him back the following weekend. This went on for a few months. Berkel would get back in the black and then fall deep into the red. Franco would help him out.  Not too much time went by before the being in the red became the norm and Franco was done with it. He wanted his money back and was ready to be rid of Berkel.

Berkel walks out of the doctor’s office. He walks the seven blocks down to the water and stares out at the cruise ship anchored just off shore. His money would come in from those people, those wealthy American’s and British travelers who would want a piece of art to take home to remember their once in a lifetime vacation.

The problem was that his debt to Franco far outweighed what he could bring in a week. He stared onto the horizon perplexed as to how he got into this mess. He would just have to cut out his gambling. At thirty seven his life was starting to feel as devastating and morose as his favorite painter. Vincent had shot himself and died at the age of thirty seven. That fate almost seemed optimistic in comparison to what faced him now.

The glare of the sun off the water forced him to put on his sunglasses. He wished he could say that the sky looked anew and the water shimmered like it never had before, but that was not the case. He didn’t see things any differently now then the day before when he didn’t know that he would be blind in a month, maybe two according to the doctor. He had always seen things the way he was meant to see them. He had an acute artist’s eye and knowing that it would go away didn’t change what he already saw.

Here he was faced with both problems. Destiny had caught up to him and in the meantime he had done something extremely moronic. To make matters even worse his daughter, now nineteen, had finished her first year of art school and was flying out to visit him for the summer. In just two years he had changed from a man who was most likely going through an early mid life crisis to just a man in crisis. He didn’t want to face his daughter.

His pocket vibrated.  He had turned his cell phone to vibrate in the doctor’s office. He looked at the caller id. It was Franco. He didn’t want to answer, but at the same time, he wanted to talk to someone.  Hello. “Berkel, ces’t Franco,” he said. I know. Do you mind if we speak in English? “Okay, no problem,” said Franco. Listen, Franco, said Berkel. “I just left the doctors office and found out that I am going blind. You are the first person I have told,” he said.

His total bill to Franco had reached thirty one thousand dollars. Without a doubt it had added tension to their friendship. Franco knew that Berkel was an outstanding artist. Franco himself had taken a piece as payment for a portion of his debt.

The line was silent and then he spoke. “Mon amis, Je regrette,” which meant, my friend, my apologies. He sounded sincere and it felt good for Berkel to speak the words.  Next he would tell his wife. 

“I will get you your money before I am incapacitated,” said Berkel.  “Your friendship is important to me and I have been living a fool’s life,” said Berkel.  “You are going blind? For sure? He asked. “Yes, that is what the doctor said and it has always been a possibility,” he replied. “Mon amis! Your art will be worth even more than before, now that you won’t be able to paint anymore originals,” he said with his thick French accent.  What he said cut like a knife, but Berkel listened on. “Paint me two of your finest ever pieces and I will take them in exchange to write off all that you owe me,” he said. “You have a deal,” replied Berkel. 

“How much time do you have,” he asked. Berkel’s eyes burned with tears of resentment, not at Franco, but at the world in general.  “I should have another month or so,” he replied. “Okay. I will come by your place in a month then,” he said. “Okay. On se parle bientôt,” said Berkel.  He hit the end call button and then dialed his wife.

He didn’t have much time to be depressed. He had two paintings to create. They had to be his best ever and he only had a week before his daughter, Marcy, would arrive. He’d asked his wife not to tell her anything, but at the same time knew that was probably impossible. They talked about everything. Especially him, he was sure.

The first thing he did was cancel his lease on his apartment. He moved his meek belongings to his new apartment on the bottom floor of a small complex right near the water. If he couldn’t see the ocean he damn sure wanted to be able to hear it. He set up his painting supplies in the front balcony and set to work. The first one came to him in a breeze. It was something he had dreamt about as a little boy, but never dared to paint. He rarely did portraits, but he had seen a face of a man in his dreams and could still remember him.  He would call it Old Vincent. He felt it was a depiction of what Van Gogh might have looked like had he not killed himself at a young age.

Old Vincent looked fuller of life and more content than the self portraits Van Gogh created of himself. Maybe he had finally found love again and was able to keep it. Or maybe he gave into life’s flaws and quit his grievance.

By the time he had finished his first painting it was the day he was to pick up Marcy.  He grabbed a chauffer to the airport. He’d liquidated his Mercedes. He would have just had a car pick her up and bring her down the coast, but he wanted to greet her himself. It had been two years since he’d seen her. He was nervous.

At the airport she was waiting outside the baggage claim exit doors. Berkel got out of the car and walked to hug her. She greeted him with a huge smile. Her long brunette hair was pulled back in a pony tail. It barely looked as though she’d spent the last sixteen hours traveling. When he pulled away he saw that her eyes were wet.  “Well, I guess your mom talked to you about it then?” he asked. Her expression was of worry mixed with anger. “She told me everything, dad,” she said. “You have been living like a buffoon,” she said.

Berkel didn’t have much of a response. “Let’s get out of here,” he said.  On the drive back to his apartment he told her everything.  She told him about her first year in art school. It was like no time had past at all since they last saw each other. They had stayed in touch via email and telephone, but it wasn’t the same, as in person.

In the weeks that followed she helped him to get settled. He had nights when he would wake up in the dark and think, this is it, I can’t see. He would reach for his bed side lamp and be able to see just fine. 

He finished his two paintings and gave them to Franco. Franco was astounded by both of them, exclaiming that even if he didn’t go blind they should appreciate to be worth much more than his debts. They shook hands and said their goodbyes.

Marcy stayed the summer. They painted together and traveled around France and Italy in a used diesel van.

He never stepped foot in a casino again.

 -A Girl Who Writes

Categories: Literary Fiction
  1. Sonja
    February 10, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    . The story left me with wanting to read more…Your writing had a great flow to it.I felt so anxious while Berkel was gambling thinking how crazy that was considering what he was facing. I guess his actions showed how he was in such denial. I was left with the feeling of anticipation. Wondering if Berkel was going to go blind and how would he manage his life. Looking forward to more stories.

  2. February 20, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Wow! what an idea ! What a concept ! Beautiful .. Amazing

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