Eine Kleines Purimspiel
By ALICIA SUSKIN OSTRIKER
The scene is a Beit Midrash
somewhere in the first century, or perhaps the third, or the tenth. It is the
night of Purim, and all through the evening the rabbis and their students have
been carousing, reading the Megillah, toasting the beauty of Queen Esther,
raising their cups to the wisdom of Mordecai, downing cup after cup of good
wine. It is said that on Purim one should become so drunk that one cannot
distinguish "Blessed be Mordecai" from "Cursed be Haman,"
and the rabbis have more than obeyed this dictum. On this occasion they have
become so drunk and confused—or is it enlightened?—that their blessings and
cursing have completely mingled. And one by one they have fallen asleep.
As the rabbis snore gently, through the window of the Beit Midrash a star
gleams. Its light illuminates the disordered room. It shines on bottles of wine
standing half full, glasses half empty or overturned, the unbelted robes of the
men, their pale visages and white beards. There is a glittering mist, and then
a woman is sauntering through the room. She wears a white jumpsuit. Golden
curls. She looks like Bette Midler.
The woman glances over the place with an air of amusement. While the rabbis
continue to sleep she walks around the room straightening things, adjusting the
men's robes, sometimes helping them to lie more comfortably. From time to time
she finishes the wine in one of the cups; when the cups are empty she pours
She speaks to herself while sipping the first cup: "It is written that
whenever two or more of them speak of Torah, I am among them. In one of my many
manifestations. What they forget is that it takes me awhile to dress, do my
face, and make myself generally presentable. And then, too, it's such a long
distance to travel." She sighs.
Second cup. "Naturally they forgot all about me. To them I'm nothing but a
doll, a puppet. They like to imagine my sexual tricks, which in fact are
nothing special. They think I am somehow more alluring than their wives. Secretly
they lick their lips over me."
Third cup. "Do they care that I was humiliated for a year in the harem,
being 'purified'? That I couldn't do my aerobics because the king liked maidens
without muscles? That I had to keep batting my eyes at the Chief Eunuch Hegai,
and listening to all those bimbos in the Miss Persia Contest babble and hiss
and gossip and whine while waiting to see if they would be Number One?"
Fourth cup. "Does it ever occur to them what a disgusting, degrading
experience it was to make love to Ahasuerus?" She shudders.
A trapdoor—the door to the wine cellar—suddenly bursts open and a second woman
steps into the room. Black tights and spiked hair. "Disgusting!" she
grins. You're telling ME?" The two women greet each other like long-lost
friends, laughing and hugging. "Vashti!" "Esther!" "You're
looking fabulous!" "You are too!" Esther pours, and they toast
Ahasuerus' limp scepter, his piggy belly under his ermine robes, and his
pathetic bird brain. What a fool! What a drunken fool! the two women sit on the
table swinging their legs. "You had the right idea, telling him to stuff
it," giggles Esther. "No," Vashti insists, "you had the
right idea, twisting him around your little finger the way you did. That was
beautiful." Esther hiccups. "Honey, we are both beautiful. Bad but
Vashti nods in the direction of the sleeping men. "So what's with the
rebbes?" Esther shrugs. "You won't believe it, but this time they
were finally starting to get somewhere. They were drunk enough to start mixing
their blessings and cursings, drunk enough to see a glimmer of the Holy One in
whose image every mortal is both good and evil, creative and destructive. Almost drunk enough to understand that my beloved cousin
Mordecai and that monster Haman were both control freaks... Almost drunk enough to feel guilty for
killing all those Persians at the end of the story—not just Haman and his sons,
but... what was it?"
"Seventy-five thousand, eight hundred Persians, including women and
children, killed in two days," Vashti says. "Their enemies,"
Esther reminds her. "Whom they called their enemies," Vashti says. "Power.
What is it about power?" Vashti does a small tap dance step. Esther
repeats the step, seizes a cup from the table, and throws it into the
fireplace, where it shatters. "Power? Power corrupts. All of us."
Sixth cup. Vashti pours, the women silently lift their glasses in each other's
honor. They are stone sober. Outside the window the sky grows slightly paler. "I
wonder when they will wake up," whispers Esther. "So do I,"