by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois
My people sought solace in the Black Forest, and that impossible commodity, safety. For the pleasure of their neighbors, all of whom were at a distance, they loaded cakes with chocolate and coconut, which they’d discovered on an aborted foray into Morocco, but someone else got the credit, the fame. Someone else got the wealth and the gratitude.
From Africa they’d brought African bees, stowaways in their battered brown suitcases, one of which I inherited. It was all I got from my grandfather except a fedora, which my father later stole from me and burned in my backyard. The neighbors called the police and an unpleasant scene ensued.
African bees and vengeful wasps, those were our neighbors in the Black Forest, vying with each other to see who could be nastier, training the other insects and small creatures to hate us. Even the snails and slugs came after us, tried to suffocate us while we slept. We had to flee back into the unfortunate world of people. We had tried living with people, but it had always been a disaster, and we expected it would be again.
So… on to France. One ancestor became obese on cheese and suffered an early heart attack. Another became a soldier in Napolean’s army and deserted after the little general’s ignominious defeat in Russia. He thought of going back to the Black Forest, but the hornets had erected a black fence to keep his kind out. So he went south, always south.
At roughly the same time, van Gogh was struggling with his career as an artist. There’s new data that Van Gogh, having failed to sell any of his paintings, had a sudden entrepreneurial inspiration and invented a primitive Etch-a-Sketch, and that he took on a partner, a businessman to whom his brother Theo had provided a formal introduction.
This businessman and Theo had done business before. In Vincent, he sensed weakness and vulnerability. Theo had told him that Vincent originally wanted to have a career as a pastor, but had failed, and only then, at age twenty-seven, had taken up painting.
So Vincent was well-versed in failure, and this businessman decided that Vincent was not only contemptible, a poor specimen of a man, but also ripe for the taking.
The primitive Etch-a-Sketch was a marvelous device, ingenious really, and had the potential to make a man rich, one man, and that man was not Vincent. So one cool foggy day in the woods, a rather thick patch of woods in rural Provence, a perfect day for infamy, this partner shot Vincent and made it look like suicide.