Brakes lock. A car screeches to a stop. A door opens, a woman darts out, almost falls, begins to run, sandals sliding, slipping in the gravel-coated strip beside the road. A man leaps from the driver's seat, leaves the car cantilevered in the street and runs her down. On my porch I huddle, mute. He grabs her hair, spins her around. His fist shoots out. She sags, a rag doll kept on her feet by his hand in her hair. I don't yell at him to stop, or threaten to call the police. No, I sit frozen, afraid to move as he drags her back to the car, pushes her inside, and fishtails away. What I remember is the silence as the violence unfolded, how not once did the woman cry out. She knew how this would end, knew as I did−no one listens to our screams.
I sit at a sidewalk café in St. Rémy near Monastere St. Paul where Van Gogh spent a year painting the views from his hospital room. Those paintings are now in the Louvre. Across the street the open air market has closed. Gone the stalls of colorful cloth, scented soaps, rich cheeses. Gone, glassy-eyed fish on beds of ice that caught the light and shot rainbow prisms into the air. In the town square traveling troubadours sing of love. My waiter pours white wine, adds bread and olives to this cloth-covered table. I nibble and sip, wonder why love songs sound more poignant in French.
You would have loved it here, would have repeated how the light was everything you hoped, would have sketched madly, visited each place Van Gogh painted, your face alight with wonder and plans. I pretend you sit beside me, your hand stroking mine, your thoughts far away, dreaming of home, of scenes you’ll paint to rival Van Gogh’s. I still have your paints, your empty canvases. One day I’ll pass them on.
--Editor's Favorite Award, 2015
Judith Quaempts lives in rural eastern Oregon. Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in Buddhist Poetry Review, Persimmon Tree, and other fine places.