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The Percival

It was an indomitable ship, from the look of it. Big, strong timbers for masts and the bent-beams of the hull had such flexibility that the strain of their fibers bowing to the wave-cutting shape of the prow made them look defiant and unbeaten.

In the water, it bobbed slower than the slap of the waves, as if considering. When each crew member took a step in, The Percival barely rocked. Gliding out into the sea, it split the water in two, and sent sprays high and away from the sails. Even the sun left no marks in its rich, red sides.

Below decks lived a painter, who cared for the ship. Much of the time, the painter knew that the ship would be strong enough not to need him. He would spend months at a time laying in his hammock, painting little scenes and caricatures of people he knew, or even some he had never met. When he felt it was needed, he would come out and give some attention to the outside of the ship to keep it in reasonable condition. He spent more time on the little paintings in his quarters below deck than on the ship.

“This is such a strong ship,” he said to himself, and others who would listen, “Surely, people will see that it is strong, which is all a ship needs to be. Then, they will come inside to see my paintings.”

Many years went by. The painter became more and more impatient. Sometimes, he would purposefully let the ship fall into disrepair and neglect. But, no one came then, either. Sometimes, he would spend extra time painting the exterior of the ship, almost enough to make it as beautiful as the other ships, whose painters spent so much time on them.

“After all,” he thought, “the ship still is a ship. It’s been painted enough. And, it’s such a strong ship. Surely, people will see that it is strong and that is what a ship should be. Now, that it has a fresh coat of lovely paint, they will want to come in and see my paintings.”

But no one came.

Eventually, the painter grew tired of painting, and left all the scenes and caricatures curl from their frames. Even if people had come to see the paintings then, they were dusty and peeling and their edges were rough. They were not the paintings anymore.

The Percival was still strong, even after many years. It creaked more now, but it still split waves, and dared the sun. Many crews would sail it, but when they went below decks, they would hear a howling they could never quite identify. Occasionally, they would find a curious painting lying on the ship’s floors, but a nervous and thin man would come from the darkness to snatch it away. When they would go back above decks, sometimes they could hear him say, “It’s a ship. It’s a strong ship, and that’s all it needs to be.”

And the sailors would nod and agree and sail on.

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