Ruth and Boaz – Part 3

Across the shifting sea I voyaged, to far ports and distant shores. I went not to forget, but to remember. To remember the way I was as a child, not the way I had grown to be as 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 each night and rising for her each morning, we arrived at the small Caribbean Island, Eye of the Mother. Named so for the pile of rocks atop which, at the crest of the topmost cliff, presided a stone chipped statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her arms, poised as if waiting to rise to her maker, were spread wide toward the earth, and her gaze was bent to the wide island vista. I climbed the crumbling stone path that led with crude steps to the foot of her shrine, and paused to contemplate her face.Ladylebanon

But I soon grew nervous. Hers was not the innocence of inexperience, and I could not hold my own beneath it. Instead, I noticed that one of her fingers pointed distinctly to a patch of earth, and idly curious, wanting to escape her eyes, but finding comfort somehow in her presence, I investigated as an excuse to stay. Beneath her finger was an orange patch of earth – prime molding clay. Suddenly inspired, I dug with my fingers and took out fistfuls. I poured my water bottle into my hand and with the mixture began to shape and mold.

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

“What are you making?”

I glanced down at the sculpture in my hands. A woman. It wasn’t her, like I thought it would be; nor my mother, which might have made sense; not even a replica of the Virgin standing above my head. I handed it over to the child, who took it with her tiny hands and looked it all over.

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

“What was the story?”

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

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

I smiled 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 blinked. “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 laughed so hard tears came into my eyes. “No, he died remember? The new guy was named Boaz.”

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

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

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

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

I hadn’t admitted my desire to myself – all through my searching, I was too confused. And now, standing at the foot of a mother, I was too afraid. The little girl before me seemed to represent my friend as a child, and the Blessed Virgin was her new mother. One was too young, and the other, too old. One too bereft of experience, the other loaded with too much. If I dared to presume to ask for her hand, would innocence repel me? Would experience condemn? I feared it.

“You should marry her,” she finally pronounced when I was silent too long. She declared confidently. “Naomi wants Ruth to be happy…. Right?”

Ruth and Boaz – Part 2

The silver light danced across the white tiles of the empty hall. I was brooding, my hand clenched around a jar of clay, my gaze fixated unseeingly upon the unfinished mural before me.

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

Ever since running out on her last night, since retreating from that starlit fantasy of a man I might be, my mind would not leave me alone. In unending parade, memories of my mother marched across my vision, refusing to cease their haunting. At last, desperate to escape, I fled to the one place around which they all centered, and found myself here, leaning against a makeshift scaffold, free of the ghosts but now brooding over this haunt like a ghost myself.

The mural was large and beautiful, an outdoor scene 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 childhood friend when we were young and unaffected. The three of us decided to recreate our own paradise in the giant hall of my mother’s castle, a castle that was old, crumbling, and unassociated with any monarchy; a hall that served to remind us of decay and loss, but we decided to transform to a spring of hope and renewal.

I was a master sculptor, my mother an inspired painter, and my young friend a genius gardener. But in the prime of her life, in the midst of her greatest masterpiece, in the very process of raising a son into manhood, God took her in his infinite providence. Two weeks later, in his unending Mercy, God inspired my best friend’s father to send her abroad for an education. Away from my corrupting society, away from our paradise, away from the memory of pain and anguish. If she got to escape the devastation of my life, I decided then, then so will I. And so without a second thought, seeped in my bitterness, 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 – they would never have another excuse to exclude me from their company. And for the next seven years, I was a carefree, untamed, debonair scoundrel, just to defy my own pain.

But the pain was there, it was buried deep, and I had not forgotten. And love was there, though I’d never known it. When I saw her again last night, my heart tightened into a knot, for the moment she saw me, I knew she never stopped loving me. But I was so accustomed to shutting myself off, so used to being dashing, that I masked my true self, and lied to her all night.

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

And I did love her. I looked at the mural, full of untamed flowers, birds, and wind. I looked at the dead potted plants all around me – one of the roses had dried on it’s stem. I looked at the half-formed clay statue of a mother with two children, and then words from last night swam to my consciousness, “She must be my love, you know. For now.” My mother had always been our love, our guide, and now my friend had a new mother to love, but I only had the old. Rough as it was, the stone revealed my mother’s features – she had had such hope for us.

“I will make you proud, mother,” I whispered to her for the first time since her death, breathing the words through clenched teeth. “I will fulfill your hope for me.”

Then I leapt to my feet and left my home, my village, forever. I descended to the seaport docks, hired myself as a sailor, and departed on a schooner to the wide world.

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.