At a Café in Arles After Sunset by Grace Beilstein
(Inspired by “Café Terrace at Night” by Vincent Van Gogh)
It’s late, and I’ve watched the street fill with that honey-moonshine light, painted across the sky like acrylic. I sit and watch our favorite café turn darker, moodier as night yawns, stretches itself across our sleepy city. Cobblestones like dormant creatures protrude, freed from their weighty, sideways shadows. As I often do, I sit contemplating what led me to the steamy, smoke-filled streets of Arles, nestled among the wanderers that creep only under night’s forgiving mask. I think of love, solitude, obedience like a child thinks of toys — interchangeable, each with the same dull pang of pleasure as I hold them in my drowsy mind. Who came and replaced my spry, eager body with that of a tired old man? Who stole the sun and forced me into this eerie spell of deathless exhaustion? I cough, clearing the dusty air from my throat, my coffee-stained mouth. A small boy walks by, a creamy yellow cloak and pauper’s cap resting sloppily on his matted pelt of hair. Who holds him at night, scrubs the dirt from his hands and porcelain face? Who cares for him the way an aching, stretching soul desperately needs? I wonder with a dulled face: another tired, wrinkled set of eyes that he glances over without a second thought. Planets spin like my mother’s dinner plates above, our faces dappled in freckled starlight. When did love’s torturous spell consume me like some ravenous beast? Do I still long for you like I did so long ago? I hold your hand, coarser with time, smile at your vacant face. I decide some things are best left unanswered, splayed open like the sky after sunset. I break— the biscotti on my coffee’s curved saucer, my crumbs spilling onto the table. This table. I’ve sat at its curved seats, its marble-crusted top more times than I’m proud of. I drift to my father’s cow-like chewing — how he separated us with the day’s newspaper, forcing me to hold my love for him in an outstretched hand. My mother, her gentle coughing, the way she slurped coffee—smiled after each luxurious sip. Apparitions linger now, fragmented in the steam rising from each coffee cup.
I stand and walk away from that café I loved on Main Street. I— I who loves to walk away. I— I who has been devastated by love. Ruined. I—I who has watched my life pass by like I watch smoke curl above the dimmed streets of Arles.
Grace Beilstein is a sophomore at The Kinkaid School in Houston, Texas. She writes flash fiction, poetry, and prose. She is one of three main editors of her school's award-winning literary magazine "Falcon Wings."