By Damyanti Ghosh
Always hearts, all the hearts, and nothing but the hearts will do. An anthem for Ruth, the ruthless. Golden locks, a knowing, pouting smile, and a body to match, Ruth had ammunition. Her eyes were cold, frozen fish cold, but with a single blow of her glance she could land a heart on her palm, fluttering, helpless, beating fast, calling her name, begging for mercy.
All hearts in all directions were hers as she walked, especially the male hearts, those weak things fed on ego and mother's cooking. But those of her sisters, parents, teachers, uncles, aunts were not immune either. As if none other existed they chanted her name. Their hearts lay on her palm, for her to playfully squeeze one or the other, to pet or caress, to arouse or inflame, depending on who they belonged to, and then toss by the wayside.
Playing with hearts was her birthright, her favorite pastime. In the reign of Ruth, there was no mercy, only fun and merriment. But no worldly reign lasts forever.
One day, a new boy came into town, a new boy with melting eyes and a lilting voice, with a willowy body and a light step -- a boy who could've been a woman, but despite his small delicacies, his nimble manners, was very much a man. Ruth heard of him, naturally. She heard of everything that happened in this town, where all hearts were hers to rule. Ruth liked new blood.
She saw him one morning, his hair a halo in the dappled sunlight under a tree, his laughter the song of a mountain brook as he talked to the hearts of men and women, toddlers and grannies. Ruth felt a stillness in the air, as if the air itself had bated its breath to hear what this boy had to say. Her feet took a step in his direction, but she stopped herself. She would have none of this. Were not all the hearts in town her property? How dare they flock to this nameless upstart? For he had no name, he had said so himself.
She walked in to the small park, made an entrance. Ruth always made entrances. But no heads turned, and the eyes of the nameless boy did not rise. Eyes half-closed, he was talking of love.
"What know you of love, boy? For love, you need hearts, and all hearts in this town are mine," she said, waving her arms around her, and then pointing, "Even these."
The boy fell silent, but it was not the silence of defeat. Ruth felt compelled to break it.
"Look at me, boy." she said, her voice seductive yet stern with command.
The boy looked up, but instead of the entranced gazes that had fallen on her so far, Ruth saw clear, untrammeled eyes. In them there was an infinite, wise, calm. The boy's heart was a thing of magic. Ruth could see it everywhere at once, and nowhere at all. She shivered, but held her ground.
"Look at me, boy!" she said again in her mind, willing the boy, "Give me your heart!"
"I'm the most beautiful in this town, the most desirable. Be mine!" she said it out loud this time, panicking inside, for no man or woman or child had been able to resist her before. Her face radiated charm, her smile almost reached her eyes. Almost, but not quite.
"What do I not have? Beauty, charm, seduction, power. Even a sense of humour, boy, which is now running out."
"A heart, Ruth." The boy spoke for the first time.
"What do you mean?" said Ruth, surprised by the quiet intensity in the boy's voice.
"You do not have a heart, Ruth", said the boy, walking away, the hearts of young and old walking with him.
They knew now. The reign of Ruth was over. She was never seen or heard from again.© 2008 Damyanti Ghosh
Damyanti Ghosh: Each morning, I write on word prompts, a sort of timed free-writing. One morning, the word was "Ruth", and the first two paragraphs came from there. I happened on these paragraphs again later, and continued from the last line, using it as the writing prompt. The rest of the story just came from somewhere. The only part I was certain about was that it would include the line: "You do not have a heart, Ruth". In the finished result I hope I've been able to create a fable-like, prose-poem vignette.
Damyanti Ghosh is an established freelance writer, writing for various websites and magazines, who is now trying to figure out a way to step into fiction: a field she has touched before, but never professionally. She has written poetry for quite some time now, and hopes to become a writer some day: not just a published author, but a real writer in the truest sense of the word.