Their cabin was small and dark, just large enough for a bed, a lamp and a small chair. Annelies lay out on the bed, tired and worn.
"At least this trip is only a few days," she sighed. "I don't think I could handle weeks of this. I'm already nauseous."
"Are you sure it isn't your sickness?" he asked, looking out the small window in their cabin.
"No, it very well could be. I could never understand why men would want to become sailors, though. Being trapped inside for months, years, with only water all around and the birds in the sky."
"It's to see the world. To be able to go outside your town, be something else. You could see so much of the world if you were a sailor," Daniel replied, trying to find solace in the bobbing waves.
"There is that," Annelies yawned. She stretched out and closed her eyes, sleep claiming her.
He looked over his shoulder at his sleeping wife. Though peacefully asleep, Daniel knew that she was just as emotionally worn as he. Her lips curved down in a frown, and small lines creased her forehead even in sleep. Both of them hadn't slept in days, the stress of the journey too much.
Am I really doing this? Am I really going to another country just for my livelihood? What type of son am I, to leave my mother when she is sick and ill? This isn't right, and I know it. I can't just sacrifice my family like this.
But what am I supposed to do? Keep on suffering when I have a way out? I mean, it's not as if I'm the first in the town to do this. The Wittes up the street left just last week, just them. No family or friends. Just the parents and the children. No aunts or uncle or parents.
But is it right just because others did it?
It's not as if I'm abandoning them, forsaking them. They're still my family. I'm just trying to survive. Besides, who's to say I'm leaving them behind? I'll get them when the time comes. I will.
But what if I'm not there in time?
He rubbed his temple, his mind throbbing with unanswerable questions. He felt weary, so tired of having his mind run around.
I suppose I had better go to sleep. The captain says it will be rough tonight, he thought, absentmindedly. His thoughts were thin and listless, tumbling quickly into each other, yet always returning to the last look on his family's faces. He tried to put them aside as he climbed into bed.
Though he tried hard to rest, he lay awake all through the night, his mind ravaged by thoughts. It was near midnight when he finally felt himself drift to sleep.
The fierce, hard rocking of waves tossed the ship about. Daniel felt delirious, unsure of where he was. Raining was pouring on his face, drenching him from head to toe. He wiped his brow and tried to open his eyes. He was alone on the deck of the ship, no one around no matter how many times he cast his eyes.
He was clinging desperately to the mast, trying to keep from falling overboard. He slid about, going one way, then the next. He didn't feel sick; rather, he was too disoriented to know better.
After minutes of thrashing about, the boat seemed to stabilize. Daniel swept his eyes about, trying to make sense of it all. He realized that he wasn't on the boat he was sailing to England. Instead, this was a grand vessel, large and wooden. The prow was a head of what looked like a dragon, and the mast was a brilliant purple. It was a strange, lovely ship.
Why am I here, he wondered, as the rain continued to beat on him. He looked out east, and saw a country shrouded in clouds. He swallowed and looked out west, another country in the dark. He turned his gaze back down, to the polished wood beneath him.
The ship still rocked uneasily under the storm, and rain continued to beat fiercely. He wished it would stop, that it would all go away and the sky would clear out, but it remained dark and dismal.
"Please, someone, help me!" he screamed out to the sky, knowing it was a futile attempt. There was no one around for ages. Just him and the ship, balancing between two countries.
He saw, out of the corner of his eye, something bright and golden. He raised his head, and saw a large, glowing lion. Scared, he stood up and started to walk away slowly, but the quick moving ship pitched him forward, landing chest first. He felt his lungs ache, devoid of air.
He closed his eyes and clutched at his chest, the pain so strong he didn't notice the lion walking closer. When he opened his eyes, he saw patches of golden fur. He glanced up at the lion and swallowed, hoping it would be over soon.
He felt the lion grab him by the scruff of his neck in his jaws. He expected the lion to snap his neck any moment, but instead, the beast pulled him up gently and set him on his feet. It was like a mother helping up their fallen child.
The lion breathed on Daniel, and the painter scrunched his face up, expecting some nasty smell. Instead it was light and sweet. He felt a strange sense of hope run through him, as if all of the storm was worth it. He nervously reached out a hand to stroke the lion's muzzle, and it accepted, a trace of smile on the beast's lips.
Daniel sighed, happy to find that horror over. He looked up at the sky, rain still pelting them. The lion turned his head up and breathed again, stronger. The skies slowly cleared away, the waves lessened. It was calm.
Daniel looked back down at the large lion, awe filling him. How strange, how god-like this creature was. He could handle him with the gentleness of a mother, and dispel an entire storm.
He swept his eyes over the ship again, trying to memorize it all. It was even more glorious in the softly rising sun, the wood bright as brass and the form elegant but sturdy. His eyes drifted to the east, but the lion gently pressed his paw on Daniel's foot. He looked over at the lion, curious. The beast leaned in and whispered in his ear, his voice deep and rough.
"Don't regret it."
He woke with a start.
He looked about the room, sweat beading the top of his brow. It was dark, shadows cast on the floor. He was in bed, in a cabin. Their cabin, in their ship to England. It was metal and dull and bulky.
His wife stirred beside him. There was no one else in the room. He looked over at his sleeping wife, and sighed.
He felt his mind race with thoughts, like before. But instead of guilt plaguing him, there was also sense of relief, acceptance buoying him up.
His thoughts, this time, meandered back to the bright, bold ship. The strange yet intricate prow, the glossy beams, the purple sail. It was a beautiful ship, something out of a storybook.
He threw the bedclothes off and ran for his valise. He quickly, quietly, rummaged for his paper. He certainly wasn't going to let the ship escape his memory. Nothing that lovely deserved to fade away.
"What are you doing, Daniel?" his wife stirred.
"Painting, my dear."
"In the middle of the night?" she wondered, incredulous.
"Inspiration waits for no one," he replied, pulling out paper and covering a stretcher. He tightened the material, and pulled out a brush.
All through the night, while the rest of the passengers slept, Daniel was up, furiously painting. He wanted desperately to remember the ship, to keep it from slipping away. With every minute the brilliant ship was slipping away from his memory. But the feeling it gave him lasted.
"Are you still painting?" he wife asked as the sun crept into the sky.
"Just finished," he replied, with a triumph stroke of his brush. His wife climbed out of bed and leaned over, looking down at the small painting.
"A green and purple ship? Where did you come up with such a thing?"
"This dream that I had last night."
"That must have been some dream," she chuckled.
"Yes it was," he sighed, a strange sense of resolution washing through him. Deep down, though, he still felt the storm of guilt and doubt, rage inside of him. But now he could calm it himself.
When they arrived in England, the sky was the same, drab gray it was in Germany. The air was filled with sounds of busy, hurried people, but it was foreign. The words, the calls they made to each other were different, strange. Daniel, while waiting with Annelies on the deck, strained to understand the words.
"Do you understand them?" she asked.
"Only bits and pieces. They speak too quickly for me to comprehend," he replied, sighing. He felt his heart pound nervously. How could he expect to make it here if he couldn't understand the first words he heard?
He felt a little pressure on his forearm, and he turned. Annelies was smiling, holding him close. "Don't worry, dear. We made it. That's what matters."
"Yes, I suppose," he muttered. He gave a brief thought back to his family, before remembering his strange dream.
Don't regret it.
I won't, he resolved, as he and Annelies made their way down the ramp to the dock below.
Daniel sighed as he stood outside of a gallery, looking in the window. He'd been through three or four galleries so far, all of which rejected his paintings. His stomach churned, hoping that maybe this one would buy something.
He had gone back to taking up small, odd jobs, to be able to pay for the rent and food. Though it was a living, Daniel hated it. He had painted continually since his arrival in England, but had yet to sell a painting in the three months since they arrived.
Daniel shrugged his shoulders and went inside, checking in with the secretary. She immediately led him to the owner, a thin, well-dressed man in his sixties.
"You're German, you say," the gallery owner said, interest in his voice.
"Yes. Lived in the north," Daniel replied, as he laid his portfolio on the gallery owner's desk.
"After the Modernist movement German painters are all the rage. They're very modern, on the edge of things, you know," the gallery owner replied, opening up the portfolio and taking out paintings.
"I can't say mine are modern," Daniel sighed, as the owner looked over his pieces.
"No, very rustic and whimsical. You paint mostly nautical scenes, I see."
"I lived near the sea when I was in Germany," he replied.
"Hmm, interesting. Oh, what's this?" He picked up the hastily painted ship. Daniel flushed with embarrassment.
"That was something I did in a fit. I shouldn't have brought it," he excused, trying to take the piece away.
"Oh, no, I like it. I think it's quite good. The urgency, the harsh brush strokes. It really helps define the ship. Gives it character."
"Character?" he asked, the word unfamiliar. Though he had learned a lot of English within the first few months, he still found his vocabulary lacking.
"Makes it interesting," the owner simplified. "Yes, I will definitely buy this one. I'm sure it will sell. Absolutely positive," he raved, pulling out a few pounds. "Here. I think this should be enough." He pressed the money into Daniel's palm. He smiled, collecting his paintings.
"Is there anything else you like?" Daniel asked, before he left.
"No, this'll do."
The gray-haired man blinked, startled by his name. He shook his head and looked around his small office in his gallery. It was the same sight he had seen for twenty years, ever since he made the decision to sell paintings instead of create them, for monetary sake.
"Yes?" he answered, looking up at his secretary.
"I'm leaving now. I just wanted to let you know since it's a little earlier than usual."
"Oh, of course. Good-bye," he replied, with a half-hearted wave of his hand. He looked back over to the calendar on his wall, to check the date once more, and then sighed. It had been thirty years since he had left Germany to come to England.
The thought of it brought a rush of memories back, some pleasant, but most not. He remembered his family with a sharp sting in his heart.
Where are you now, my brother, he wondered. You never did make it out of there. It had been too late by the time you were ready to leave. And almost ten years later, I still have no idea if you survived or not. Mother…well, God rest her soul.
He felt his throat grow tight, and that same piercing feeling he felt aboard that ship so many years ago came back. Remembering the difficult journey, he tried to push it away. He thought about the dream once again, now a hazy memory in his mind. It was a constant source of comfort and question for Daniel as the years went on.
He felt his shoulders shrug as the memory played out, reluctant and mournful. The pain slowly ebbed away, until it had become like it always was, a dull, numb stab in the back of his heart.
Thirty years later, and the pain hadn't gone away. But neither had the resolution that the dream had given him. He reached for his keys and sighed, adjusting his shoulders. The two feelings would never go away, he knew. But one made the other bearable. And he thanked the Lion for that, every day.
NOTE: Some of my readers have wondered if the story goes on past this chapter, to talk about how it ended up at the Scrubbs' house. Sorry, but it does not. I wanted to focus more on how the painting was created and on Mr. Maler's back story and emotional development.
However, I did write a coda that shows how it did up there, within the context and continuity of my stories. I posted it up on my Live Journal. The link to the coda can be found on my profile, under the 'MISCELLANY' category. You don't need to read it to understand the story, but if you want to know my theory as to how it got there and how it fits in with the characters in my story, this is mostly for your benefit.