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The Portrait of Many Bright Colors (A Fable)

By Tim Hayes

Once upon a time, many, many years ago, a man and a woman were given a son.  This little boy had very unusual qualities.  He called himself a prince.  He asked for a new mirror every Christmas and birthday.  He liked to tell his brothers and sisters and the children in his school what to do.  He believed he had the best words, the best ideas, the best everything that anyone ever had.  Only one problem bothered the prince.

He hated bright colors.

No one knew why.  His mother and father took him to the eye doctor, but the eye doctor said he had perfect vision.  Bright colors would not hurt him at all.  But the prince got very angry any time he viewed a picture with vivid blue or candy-apple red or juicy orange or shimmering gold colors.  He would purse his lips, narrow his eyes, jut out his chin, and make his face quiver with rage.

“How DARE you make me look at those bright colors!” the prince would roar.  “That’s the one thing I don’t want anyone else to do, but you did it anyway!  You’re fired!”  Which was another unusual trait of the prince, since he was five years old at the time, and couldn’t really fire anybody from anything.  He said it would be good practice for later in life.  He truly was an unusual little boy.

His father made Lego statues and models and buildings, and became very famous.  So famous, that his fortune grew and grew, and he gave the prince a boatload of money when he grew up for doing absolutely nothing at all.  That was fine with the prince, though, because it only served to feed his gargantuan self-image to even greater heights.

“Now I’m the most wonderful person in the world AND one of the richest!” the prince shouted at people as he rode down his shiny gold staircase.  “Now everyone will know what I have known since I was born.  And so, I think I should be much more famous than my father ever was.  I should be seen by millions of people.  I should tell them I am a genius, and they will believe me.  And why shouldn’t they?  It’s all true!  Oh, the wonderfulness of me!”

And in fact the prince got to be seen by millions of people, once a week.  And he told them he was a genius.  And so many – so, so many – people believed him.  And so, he decided to have his portrait painted so that people could look at it for centuries to come and remember what a perfect and perfectly stable genius he was.

As the prince sat for his portrait, he kept asking the artist to let him see the painting as it took shape, but the artist refused.  “No, I need to follow my vision without any distractions,” said the artist.  “I’m looking for truth.  The message my portrait must tell has to be based on facts.  The truth lives forever, after all.”  This required the prince to control himself, something he hated to do and was very bad at doing.  That’s why he rarely tried.  But he succeeded this time, knowing that any portrait of him would naturally be perfect and amazing and the best portrait in the history of portraits.

Finally, the big day arrived.  The artist stood next to the portrait at a Special Portrait Unveiling Ceremony that the prince had arranged, no expense spared.  Everybody came to see the prince’s portrait.  He couldn’t wait to see himself, his glorious self, painted forever on that portrait.

The artist pulled the draping from the portrait, and there it was.  A stunningly accurate and realistic representation of the prince, painted on canvas.  It had the vivid blue of his suit, made somewhere overseas.  It had the candy-apple red of his very, very long necktie.  It had the juicy orange of the spray-tan on his face.  But most of all, it had the shimmering gold of his marvel-of-engineering-and-Aqua Net, spun-candy hairdo.

“Oooh, ahhh!” cooed the crowd to the artist.  “This is unbelievable!”  “You have captured his essence in total!”  “Bravo, Maestro!  Bravo!”  “We are looking at pure truth!”

And all the while, the prince became angrier and angrier.  His lips pursed, his eyes narrowed, his chin jutted, and his face quivered with rage.  Finally, he could take no more.

“This portrait is an outrage!” stormed the prince.  “How DARE this artist actually paint something like this!  Look at all those bright colors!  I HATE bright colors!”

“But this portrait looks exactly like you,” the artist replied.  “My work reflects precisely how you look, how you carry yourself.  The image I placed on this portrait is based on 100-percent verified facts about you.”

The prince had heard enough.  No one had ever talked to him this way, confronting him with actual facts instead of accepting his view of the world without question.

“You, sir, are…” the prince shouted at the artist, “The Enemy Of The People!  Listen to me, everyone!  This artist should not be believed!  He has created a portrait of many bright colors, which are terrible things!  I command all of you to reject anything this artist ever creates again!”

And some of the people believed the prince.  Some of them shouted at the artist, and one even tried to break his easel and steal his paintbrushes.  But most people did not believe the prince.  Most knew the truth when it was presented to them.  They were not afraid of the truth – in fact, they welcomed it.  It had been hidden away from them for so long.

Eventually, that prince lost everything.  His free fortune, his fancy house, his golden staircase, his chance once a week to tell millions of people what a genius he was.  But that wasn’t the worst part.

The Portrait of Many Bright Colors had become famous around the world.  It became a top-rated computer screen saver image.  The dictionary used it to illustrate the word “truth.”  It even became a postage stamp.  The prince couldn’t avoid it, no matter how hard he tried.  And you’d better believe he tried.  But The Portrait of Many Bright Colors had become unbreakable, unassailable, and unavoidable, as the truth always does.

And even when he closed his eyes at night, the prince still envisioned that beautiful, amazing, wretched portrait of truth in his mind during his final moments of conscious thought before sinking into another night of fitful sleep.

And that, thought the prince, was the worst thing of all.

So the moral of the story is:  When faced with the truth, don’t fight it or try to outrun it.  For the truth always wins in the end.

The End.

Copyright 2019 Timothy P. Hayes