As oldest of ten children of a porter, I clean houses and make clothes, and Mother works by my side and younger siblings too. This isn’t enough, though, and we go to soup kitchens and anywhere else for help until I decide to sell what I have and men like it well enough, and I bear three children by customers I can’t name and one daughter survives and I’m thirty-one and pregnant again when I meet Vincent in 1882.
He tells me I’ve been ploughed by life but appreciates that because he has too and needs someone who won’t reject him like his widowed cousin Kee and art dealers and his parents who curse him for living with me. Vincent isn’t going to listen to them. I’m the only woman he doesn’t have to pay in cash, and he’s thankful to give my daughter and me and soon my son a place to live and says life is so much better waking up next to me.
He sketches me all the time but I tell him, you’ll never make anything doing that, nobody wants to look at me especially the strange way you draw and paint.
I’m learning, I’m getting close, you’ll see, everyone will.
I can’t see his hobby going anywhere. After all, he’s being supported by his brother. I don’t want to lie around all day while he scribbles. I go back to cleaning and sewing and as usual earning little so again entertain men while Vincent cries and Theo rushes to The Hague and says, you must get rid of Sien Hoornik, if she stays she’ll ruin your career.
What career, I ask.
If you let her stay, Theo says, I may have to withdraw my assistance, this is a personal and aesthetic disaster.
That’s a lie. I’m good for Vincent’s work, even if it brings in nothing. Look at me in Sien, Sewing, Half-Figure, I’m a diligent woman making clothes and more money than Vincent ever does painting. Sure, I’m unattractive and worn and weak-chinned, but Vincent isn’t any better. We’re what people like us can expect to find and both quite unhappy and Vincent more so than I even in Sorrow when I sit, burying my face in weary arms as breasts sink onto thighs in a horrible world.
Fine, Vincent, I say when he insists on leaving, in 1883, you’ll never have anyone like us again, my daughter loves you, the baby boy thinks you’re his father, you and I may not be in love but we have each other, and you’ll never have anyone again.
I don’t wish Vincent bad luck, but I know him, and am not surprised to hear he shoots himself in 1890. I know he has to do it. And I’m sure he would understand in 1904 I’m fifty-four and married to a no good man and can no longer sell myself and, feeling like an old whore, jump into a river. I’m telling you, Vincent should’ve stayed with me.