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 the 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 tough 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 and keep it in reasonable condition. He spent much 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 and see my paintings.”
Many years went by and the painter became more and more impatient. Sometimes, he would let the ship fall into disrepair and neglect. But no one came in then, either. Sometimes, he would spend extra time painting the boat, almost enough to make it as beautiful as the other painters’ boats, who spent so much time on their boat, they had no other paintings to show, but he didn’t really care as much about the outside of the boat.
“After all,” he thought, “the boat still is a boat, whether it’s painted well or not, and it’s such a strong boat. Surely, people will see that it is strong, and now it has a fresh coat of lovely paint, and 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.
But The Percival was still strong, even after many years. It creaked more than it had, but it still split waves, and dared the sun. Many crews would sail it, but when they went below decks, there was a howling they could never quite identify. And, when they would find a painting, a nervous and angry 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.