Anita Diamant Rewrites Esther

What you read every year in that scroll? Chapter 9, Verse 29: Queen Esther, daughter of Avichayil, and Mordechai the Jew, wrote about the enormity of all the miracles that established the holiday. Not my version, which is too bad for you. The literary aftermath is a story in itself. So here’s my version: Esther’s Version. It was about a month after the hubbub, the fighting and killing and burying the poor dead gentiles; Uncle Morty came to my chambers and told me to write an executive summary about what happened, with a shout out to him and how the Jews owed him their lives. He was in a big rush, too; he wanted copy to send with his letter to the landsman, asking for donations and sponsorships for the first annual Purim memorial donor dinner. I told him fundraising wasn’t my job but he said he was too busy running the kingdom and what did I have to do anyway? He had a point. By then, King Achash-horn-dog had moved on to another princess, or as we called them in the harem, ‘fresh meat.’ And Morty had good reason to ask me to write the executive summary. I have a degree in public relations and my king did love my pillow talk. But Morty’s request set me to thinking; if I put in all the sex and back-stabbing, I might be able to sell the tale to a bigger audience, which means non-Jews. And why not? This story had all the makings of a best-seller: sex, wild parties, discarded wives, secret identities, and court intrigugeup the ying-yang. Everyone loves it when the bad guy gets hoist on his own petard, or dangled from his own gallows as the case may be. So I told my uncle I’d do it. I had Timmy bring out the best fountain pens and a ream of clean scrolls and get ready to take dictation. Poor Timmy never gets the credit he deserves, which simply isn’t fair. It’s not only that he cleaned up my grammar; he remembered some extra-naughty details and helped polish them to a high sheen. One thing about eunuchs, they have great memories. In the world of the harem, they also make the best girlfriends: loyal for life, very funny, and with an unerring fashion sense. Timmy is the one who dressed and coiffed me for my encounters with King Ah-just-leave-me-alone, which means he deserves some credit for the salvation of the Jews. There really ought to be a Drag Queen Timmy beauty pageant at all Purimspiels. Sure would spice things up. Before Timmy and I started writing, he poured us a couple of Martinis and after a few rounds, the juicy details began to flow. Like how I used a push-up bra to catch the attention of King Achash-lecher. Persian women are nice-looking but they’re mostly a flat-chested bunch so there’s no surer way to nab a husband than to show off the girls. As for my royal husband, well, you recall that enormous golden sceptre he was always waving around? Timmy and I told the truth about that, too, and not in the most delicate terms. King Achash-nothing-down-below was compen- sating for an almond-sized thingie. How small? Well, suffice it to say that several virgin brides left his bed entirely intact. Did you ever wonder why I took an extra night to play King Achash-dumber-than-a sack-o’-doorknobs before I spilled the beans about my ethnic identity and need for royal intervention? I certainly could have gotten it all over with on the first date, but Timmy explained that we could hold onto the jewellery I wore to those soirées and then cash it in, just in case Uncle Morty’s scheme fell apart and I had to make a quick getaway. Oh,Timmy and I had so much fun writing that memoir. We stayed up late scribbling and drinking and laughing like hyenas. That’s the state we were in when Uncle Morty arrived to pick up his scroll. When he read it, he turned blue and started screaming.‘If this gets out, we’re all going to be spitted and grilled blahblahblah.’ He tore my version in two and threw it into the trash. That account of our eventful season in the palace—the thing you read every year? That was Mordecai’s work.The funny thing is, even my priggish uncle couldn’t avoid all of the smutty stuff; you just can’t put lipstick on a pig and not see the pig. Timmy, always alert, rescued our draft from the wastebasket, glued it together, and tucked it away for happier times. And so it came to pass, King Achash-cirrhosis died of drink and was replaced by a ruler who knew Esther not and I was out of a job. That’s when I put on my power suit, pulled out the old Wonderbra, and strolled over to Simon & Shushan with my sexy scroll. They snapped it right up. The notices were nasty. The Persian Times challenged my grasp of reality, never mind history. Even The Urdu Tattler said I was crude and tasteless for all my explicit depictions of royal foibles and hankie-pankie. I really should have sent thank you notes; those reviews sent sales right through the roof. The book tour was a smash; huge crowds everywhere. And after my hour-long interview with Oprah we sold enough copies for me and Timmy to buy a cosy little villa on Lake Urmia, where we lived happily ever after with Miguel, my special friend, if you know what I mean. And Timmy’s too. Uncle Morty comes up once a year to kvetch about how the Jews turned Purim into a whoop-de-doo, Mardi Gras, Persian-style New Year springtime bacchanal. Morty wanted Purim to be a day of sackcloth and fasting to thank God for sparing the Jews. As I’ve told him a million times, God didn’t have much to do with this one. If it wasn’t for me and Morty—and Timmy—there would be no Purim, no Persian Jews, no chicken with preserved lemons on Shabbos, no gifts for the poor in the middle of getting ready for Passover. Besides, who needs more misery in the Jewish calendar? I’m all for making Purim into a frat party. I’ve even written a few editorials—under assumed names— supporting the laissez les bon temps roulez approach. Let the wine flow until you don’t know Mordechai from Haman and a nice dollop of cross-dressing in honour of Timmy. Gambling! Burlesque shows! Unbridled hilarity in shul! You only live once, right? Poor Uncle Morty would be furious if he knew that the great and learned rabbis of ages hence agree with me on this one. Indeed, they decreed that the only Jewish holiday to be celebrated in the event that the Messiah actually shows up is not Yom Kippur or even Passover. It’s Purim! Smart rabbis. Who needs 70 virgins if you have silly, loud, raunchy, godless, Adar-able Purim? So make your Aunt Esther happy; pour yourself another glass of champagne and kiss that masked stranger. Party on. We’re still here. Adapted from Anita Diamant’s appearance at Jewish Book Week. Anita Diamant is the author of The Red Tent and eleven other books. Her most recent novel is The Boston Girl.

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