Ruth and Boaz – Part 3

Across the shifting sea I have voyage, to far ports and distant shores. I left not to forget, but to remember. To remember the way I was as a child, not the way I have grown to be a man.

I wrote her a letter and sent it on the first ship we crossed. Brief, I told her my intent, and left it at that. To find myself. To learn to love. To remember.

After a year of port to port, island to island, praying to God at night and rising for her in the morning, we arrived at the small Caribbean Island called Eye of the Mother. Named so for the pile of rocks that crests the topmost cliff, a stone chipped statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary resides at the top. Her arms, poised as if waiting to rise to her maker, are spread wide toward the earth, and her gaze is bent to the wide island vista.

I acquire permission from the captain and climb the crumbling stone path that leads with crude steps to the foot of her shrine. Breathing hard from the climb and sweating in the cold breeze that bites into my bones, I kneel in awe to contemplate her face.Ladylebanon

But soon, I grow nervous. Her innocence is not that of inexperience, and I cannot hold my own beneath it. Flustered, I shift my gaze to one of her fingers.

It is pointing to the earth, and idly curious, wanting to escape her eyes, but finding comfort somehow in her presence, I investigate as an excuse to stay. Beneath her finger is an orange patch of dirt – molding clay. Suddenly inspired, I dig with my fingers and take out fistfuls. I pour my water bottle into my hand, and with the mixture began to shape and mold.

Presently, I know not how long my task has engrossed me, I find a child sitting on the cairn of rocks above me and contemplating my actions with wide eyes. Delicate pale wisps flutter around her face, stirred delicately by the breeze.

“What are you making?”

I glance down at the sculpture in my hands. A woman. It isn’t her, like I thought it would be; nor my mother, which might have made sense; not even a replica of the Virgin that stands above my head. I hand it over to the child, who takes it with her tiny hands and looks it all over.

“I’m in love with my best friend, you see,” I tell her. “I’ve always wanted to love her, but I don’t really know how, so mostly I’ve just wanted her to love me. But she told me a story – a story about why she refuses to love me…”

“What was the story?”

I have poured over the book of Ruth ever since setting sail, and I know it now by heart. “Once upon a time, a girl named Ruth married a handsome man named Elimelek–”

The little girl erupts into giggles. “That’s a funny name!”

I smile at her. “Yes, I suppose it is. Well, Elimelek had a mother named Naomi who was a very wonderful and holy woman. But soon, Elimelek died and Ruth was a widow. Ruth now had nothing to do with Naomi, no connection to her, you see, but the girl didn’t see it that way.Ruth and Naomi Instead of drifting away from her, Ruth clung even closer and chose to love Naomi more than anyone else, even more than her friends and relatives.”

“Why?”

I blink. “I don’t know. I guess they were both lonely – they needed each other. Anyway, because Ruth loved Naomi so much, she was able to meet the love of her life and marry him in the end of the story.”

“Emmylack?”

I laugh so hard tears come into my eyes. “No, he died remember? The new guy was named Boaz.”

“They all have funny names!” she laughs. “Are you Boaz?”

“Sort of. I – I hope so.”Wynfield, David Wilkie, 1837-1887; Ruth and Boaz

She sticks out the sculpture at me, now deformed beyond recognition by the fondling of her tiny fingers. “And she is Ruth, the girl you love?”

I sigh deeply. “Actually, no. She is a woman I don’t understand. The woman Ruth loves. She’s Naomi.”

The girl wrinkles her face at the sculpture, confused and dissatisfied with my tale. “Are you going to marry Ruth?”

I am too confused. And now, standing at the foot of a mother, I am too afraid. There is too much symbolism. I have opened my heart to love, and find only symbols. The little girl before me seems to represent my friend as a child, and the Blessed Virgin is her new mother. One is too young, and the other – too old. One too bereft of experience, the other loaded with too much. If I dare to presume to ask for her hand, would innocence repel me? Would experience condemn me? I fear it.

“You should marry her,” she finally pronounces when I am silent too long. She declares it confidently. “Naomi wants Ruth to be happy…. Right?”

Story Continued…

Ruth and Boaz – Part 4

Ruth and Boaz – Part 2

The silver light dances across the white tiles of the empty hall. I am brooding, my hand clenched around a statue of dried clay, my gaze fixated unseeing upon the unfinished mural before me.

I have not set foot in this room for seven years, and apparently, neither has anyone else. The dust lies heavy upon the floor mixed with dirt and stone and dust, and cobwebs of lonely spiders straggle the corners of the mighty pillars.

I ran from my heart last night; I retreated from the starlit fantasy of a man I might be, and my mind will not leave me alone. All morning, in unending parade, memories of the woman have marched across my vision, refusing to cease their haunting. Not the pretty girl in the drawing room, nor the woman she loves more than me, but my own neglected mother.

My shadow. How she clings to my true self, and how I yearn to break free! At last I have fled to this place, the one place she cannot pursue me, because I have, in the end, come to her.

And now I find myself here, leaning against a makeshift scaffold, free of the ghosts and brooding like a haunt myself.

The mural is large and beautiful, of a meadow that my mother and I both loved. It was in this meadow that she met my father, and it was to this meadow that she would bring me and my small friend when we were young and unaffected. How we three loved to play and run and love each other there, and how she joyed to be mother for both of us. We decided to create our own paradise in the giant hall of my mother’s castle, a castle that was old, crumbling, and forgotten; a hall that reminded us of decay and loss, and we decided to transform it to a spring of hope and renewal. I was a sculptor, my mother a painter, and my friend a gardener, and between us we began the transformation, watching the magic unfold.

But in the midst of our building, of claiming a paradise on earth, of claiming a future of perfection for ourselves, she left me.

In the prime of her life she fled. In the midst of creating her greatest masterpiece, she quite. In the very process of raising a son into manhood, she died.

God took her in his infinite providence. And two weeks later, in his unending mercy, God inspired my best friend’s father to send my one companion abroad for an education.

And so naturally, after that, I shut up the hall and transformed my home from a sanctuary into a place of revelry, just to defy God. But I kept it respectable on the outside, just to defy society – let them think they know me; let them invite a son of the devil into their homes, to their tables, beside their daughters. I was a carefree, untamed, debonair scoundrel, just to defy my pain.

But the pain is there, it was buried deep, but I have not forgotten. And love is there, but that I had forgotten.

I stand and pace the long hall, running my hands along the unfinished painting, brushing my knees against dead plants that crinkle and turn to dust as I pass, and my fists are clenched and my knees shake from anger.

When I saw her last night, my heart tightened into a knot. And the moment she saw me, I knew she still loved me. But I have learned to shut out the world. I have learned to mask myself, and I lied to her all night.

All night, until the moonlight. And then I couldn’t.

And I do love her! I stand back to look at the mural, full of untamed flowers, birds, and wind. I look at the dead potted plants  – one of the roses has dried on it’s stem. I look at the half-formed clay statue of a mother with two children, and then words from last night swim to my consciousness: “She must be my love, you know. For now.”

My mother had always been our love, our guide, but now my friend’s father has given my friend a new mother to love, but I only have the old, the dead, the forgotten. Rough as it is, my stone sculpture reveals my mother’s features – she had such hope for us – for me.

I approach with reverence and take the stone hand that she stretches out to me. I look into her eyes that plead for me. I look at her arm that encircles both children in an overflow of love, and she has reached me.

“I will make you proud,” I whisper to her. “I will learn to love again.”

Then I leap to my feet and without a glance at the halls of revelry and debaseness, I flee my home and my village forever. I descend to the seaport docks, hire myself out as a sailor, and depart on a schooner to the wide world.

To Be Continued…

Ruth and Boaz, Part 3

Ruth and Boaz – Part 1

The soft light of candles flickered across her shadowed neck. The forgiving darkness of night enclosed the swirls of her skirt. The filmy swirls of hair adorned her bowed head.

She was too innocent to be sensual and too sensual to be innocent. Just old enough to know the ways of the world, and just young enough to not have experienced them.

I watched the way her dew-drop earring dangled against her flushed cheek, the way her painted nail ran along the paper on the desk, the way her mouth pouted prettily as she read the printed words.

I came up beside her. “What are you reading?”

She glanced quickly over her shoulder at the parents sitting near the fire. I was a good four years her senior and she felt the difference. I was old enough to have experienced the ways of the world, but not old enough to regret them.

“It’s an old bible of Mr. Derry’s,” she explained. It was his house we were at. His living room in which we stood. His book we were reading. But it was her hand that glanced across the pages.

“It’s the story of Ruth and Naomi.”

“Oh? Not the story of Ruth and Boaz?”

She looked up at me where I towered close, half a head above. Her face, at this angle, did not catch the lamplight. I was standing closer than she thought was proper, but though she wrapped herself in caution, she did not pull away.

“Ruth loved Naomi first, above herself,” she explained, “and that was how Boaz learned to love her so much. Above himself, above anything. It is first a story about Ruth’s love for Naomi.”

She was firm, and I was surprised by the layers of her speech. Though she was young, she was not naive. She knew what I wanted, and I knew she would not give it to me. But still I did not move.

In my turn, I glanced back at the adults. The same fair hair that piled richly on the head of the girl beside me gleamed brightly on the head of her mother, who laughed lively among the others.

“She must be my love, you know,” she whispered while I looked. “For now. It will keep me modest, and teach a man how to love me.”

“Tied to her, are you?” I jabbed.

Now she stepped away, more in contempt than discomfort. She walked into the hallway and meekly, I followed; the long panels of oak gleamed darkly out here away from the lamps, reflecting only the moonlight streaming through the wall length windows. She turned suddenly back to me.

“Haven’t you ever loved anyone?” she pleaded, her voice deeply trembling. “Haven’t you ever loved me –  for who I am?”

She wanted the truth, not pleasant niceties. Had she wanted me to lie, she would have remained in the civilized parlor; but no, she had led me to the natural light of the honest moon, and I could not lie here in this shrine. I did not respect man, I did not know God, but I loved natural beauty, and she knew I could not lie here – not when she pleaded with me.

So I simply sighed and looked at the floor. I was fourteen again. Confused, honest, yearning. “You know I haven’t,” I whispered. “You know I’ve only ever loved myself. You’ve known that for forever.”

“I know. But I thought you were only immature. I thought, when you grew up, I thought you would change. I came back with that hope – I came back to meet you again for the first time, but you were only a dandified version of who you’d always been.”

“Well that’s your fault you know. I never pretended to be anything else.”

“Oh, I know! I know! That’s what’s so pitiful about it. Did I fail you?” she asked after a painful pause.

“You could never!” Without noticing, I had darted forward and grasped her hands. I was closer now than before, yet she was not uncomfortable. But I was. I suddenly backed away, looking anywhere but at her, mumbling an apology.

“Why? Why make excuses? Why pull away?” Her voice shone with hope for me. Hope I could not answer or fulfill. “Don’t you realize – oh, don’t you know that this is your real self? The self you hide so well, no one but me has ever seen it. This is the man you were born to be!”

Without another word, I turned about, took my coat from the rack by the door, and let myself out into the dark night.