There is a painting of a shipwreck. In this painting, more colors have been used to portray the ocean than the vessel itself, which lilts, dangerously, to one side. The water has been painted in shades of blue, green, grey, black, and yellow, while the ship is mostly painted in greys and browns. The sky above is a similar palette as the sea, with some reds and yellows visible in the storm clouds.
In the painting, the ship is about to capsize. When it does, nearly the entire crew will be lost. Some will drown below-decks, either in their cabins or in common areas, trying until the last possible moment to affect repairs. Most will drown on the open sea. The waves are catastrophically tall. Men and boys will cling to each other, each scrambling for purchase, fighting to claim anything buoyant for themselves, and ultimately dragging each other down. The ship will sink, creating a temporary riptide that will pull even the strongest swimmers to the deep.
Only two sailors will survive: a cook and a cabin boy. They will not know each other well — the cook was a recent addition to the ship and the cabin boy a pet of the now-deceased captain. They will survive not due to anything they did or didn’t do but out of sheer luck. They will be washed upon a deserted shore. They will discover each other and rejoice. The island is bounteous. They can survive for very long before being rescued, and without any industriousness between them. But they become bored. They are poor company. The cook is a pious and sullen man and the cabin boy is practically a halfwit. Their pairing will soon feel like a particular form of punishment, even on this island paradise, even in light of the deaths of their crewmates.
One day the cabin boy will make a discovery — he will make noises of appreciation. The cook, sunburned and dehydrated, will come up behind him, asking to see. The cabin boy will keep his back turned to the cook, the treasure pressed against his chest, refusing to afford a glimpse. The cook will demand to see. The cabin boy will refuse. The cook will pick up a large rock and smash the cabin boy in the back of the head. The cabin boy will land face-first in the sand, dropping the thing he held so close, while his legs twitch spastically. A starfish — it was only a starfish. Not a very beautiful starfish, either, nor a rare find. The cook will inspect it. He will toss it away. He will then see, for the first time, the cabin boy — how he lays still and the pool of crimson blood beneath his head. As thick as molasses, the cook will think to himself.
The cook will sink to his knees and weep, but not for any sin he has committed. When he was a child and he stole eggs from a neighbor, he waited for weeks to be punished, not by the farmer or even his father, but by God Himself. As time passed, the cook came to realize that God wasn’t watching or that He didn’t care. Why should anything have changed? God’s judgment is reserved for the dead — the living suffer alone. So the cook will weep for himself. He will weep for all the days and weeks he must spend in isolation — and, yes, the eternal damnation he now expects, upon dying, but before that a different kind of Hell he has brought on himself.
It is a good painting.
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