Short Subjects


"Otavalo Market" by Patricia Mae Young

Painted Eggshell Ruth

Sarah Greenwald

To get the egg out I make a pinhole at each end and blow very gently. At this stage it is crucial not to laugh but I often do. Because when my old love and I used to decorate eggs for Easter her little breasts, scarcely bigger than two hens' eggs, would quiver envy at the attention that unfeeling surface got--and soon long fingers would come stealing through my hair and down my back. And if you cry while blowing out an eggshell it is bad luck so you have to start over.


The case is hopeless. She hardly knows me; she is not gay. What she is, is married. Knowing well better I decide to give her a present, a painted eggshell like the one she admired the time she came to my house. Painted by my old lover. Who's gone.

I am going to paint a scene from the Book of Ruth. Ruth is short, but greatly loved. Many people who have not read her know the story. An eggshell has the shape of a zero. Decorated with Ruth it will be an emblem of possibility. There are five scenes to choose from:

  1. Ruth's wedding to her nameless bridegroom, she already looking past him as she says the vows at his mother, Naomi.
  2. The husband's funeral (I suppose he got one although it isn't mentioned), her grief at Naomi's grieving and her wild unspoken joy. He was a lummox, Naomi's son, as the loved ones of our best-beloveds will be, and though in the last weeks of his illness, worn thin with hair astrew, he looked so like his mother that Ruth nursed him from real pity, at the end she pulled the sheet across his face with a ragged laugh.
  3. Ruth following Naomi all the way to Bethlehem, yanking her dress out when the briars catch it, always hurrying after those familiar roadworn ever-receding feet.
  4. Naomi sending Ruth through harvest fields to Boaz. Whenever one lover burns more ardently, there is a Boaz. Boaz is the cruelty lovers do who are afraid to love. In the Bible he is Naomi's fat relation who smirks welcome as Ruth, in the last greatest sacrifice, uncovers him to lie down.
  5. Ruth's return to Naomi, who asks her, "Who art thou?" Her answer, unrecorded, was to tear her clothing, screaming, "I am Ruth! Ruth! Ruth!" Naomi said, wait to see who will marry you. And that is the end of Ruth, when, her sacrifice refused, she believes at last what she has known but not comprehended through all the footsore days and half-delirious desert nights, that Naomi is closed to her. So she marries Boaz, and bears a child to suckle at Naomi's breasts.

A love-gift commemorating Ruth is an outrageous promise, a promise of all-consuming devotion. Who would dare make a pledge like that, of love renouncing even the hope of hope, love raping its own body to bear its rival? Had you told her in her youth how far that love would drive her, Ruth would have cursed you, even had she known she'd make the Bible, because how could she guess the learned men who always mis-hear women like her would understand, as by miracle of empathy, and record those most famous words she said at the height of their tenderness: whither thou goest I shall go? If I gave this love-gift as a promise I'd be afraid; what saves me is that it's fact. The Boaz to which she eventually points me will shine with reflected desire.

I decide to paint Ruth gleaning in the field in the days when she still hoped one or another of her sacrifices would be accepted. There is a picture in my Bible. Wheat-phalluses cover the bottom third of the surface, then my Ruth the size of a postage stamp and beyond her a pinkish city wall. The top third is sky the unpolluted blue of ages dead.


I wet the pencil because if I press the egg will shatter. It's a hard story, and it may be no consolation to believe that on one of those nights between Moab and Bethlehem in the sands Naomi felt the change of universe that makes most right and simple what had seemed most wrong and twisted and felt Ruth's hand on her and said you bring me no wealth or children. Ruth said your people will be my people, as you are I will be, and I will uncover the feet of Boaz for your love's sake. Because you will be the last of my choosing and I will go to whom you send me full of the sweetness of your memory and our love will be sealed in the past which does not change. And Naomi, crazed by the emptiness and desert stars, found herself in the elemental passion and for an instant, before the wind blew reputation from the city, answered yes.

Sarah Greenwald is currently an English composition instructor in San Francisco. She holds an MA in Literature and has published fiction and nonfiction. This piece is part of a novel in progress.

About Moondance * Contents * Links * Editors

Please send comments and suggestions to Moondance. Please be sure to put "Moondance" in the subject line. Thanks!