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Who needs a gallows when you have a sword?

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"I'm sick of dressing up as Queen Esther," Mirka said, jumping up in the woods and catching onto a tree branch, bending her knees to swing. "We're all nudneh Queen Esther, every year. Why can't I ever be someone strong, someone shtark?"

"Someone stark raving bonkers, more like," said Zindel, swinging a stick. Last summer's dried seeds flew off the grass with each swing.

"You get to be King David!" Mirka shouted, as she looped her legs up and over the branch. "You get to carry a slingshot. I get to wear a veil," she sneered.

"Nu, so who do you want to be?" asked Zindel. He considered poking her bottom with his stick but thought about how much trouble he'd be in with Fruma if she told. "You could be the Witch of Endor." He laughed, waving his stick with glee.

Mirka let go of the bough with her hands and swung by her knees, dangling her arms beneath her. "How about Devora? She was a great general. Or Yael, who drove a spike into Sisera's brain." Her braids brushed the ground as she swung. "Or..." She paused, face crumpling as she pondered.

"Or a meshuggener. Like Delilah," Zindel muttered, backing out of the range of Mirka's grabby arms as he did.

"There was the woman who killed Avimelech," she said, thoughtfully. "The one in Sefer Shoftim. Or Tomoe-san bas Tatsutaro, who dueled Reb Usagi to a tie.

"Why do you always need to kill everything?" Zindel asked, plaintively. "Also, your skirt is riding up and I can see your knees. It's not tsnius.

"Eek!" Mirka batted at her skirt, lost her grip, and fell from the bough to her bottom. "And ow. Ow ow ow ow ow."

Zindel giggled.

"It's not funny," she said. "And I don't need to kill everything. I'm just sick of dressing up as the stupid queen who doesn't even make her own plans, because Mordecai has to tell her what to do. And who can't just come straight out and say to Ahashverosh, hey, you're my husband, I'm your wife, stop trying to kill the Jews."

Zindel frowned. "Should you be saying bad things like that about Queen Esther?"

"Oh, you," said Mirka. "Come on, we'll be late for school, and Rochel will get in trouble if she has to cover for me again."

nudneh: boring

shtark: strong

meshuggener: deranged

Sefer Shoftim: The Book of Judges

Tomoe-san bas Tatsutaro and Reb Usagi: See Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, page 88, panel 1!

tsnius: modest

All that afternoon Mirka thought about Purim costumes. She hadn't gone back for the sword, not even to look at it. First the witch filled her with shame, and then Poppa and Fruma. Ever since that day, she hadn't even wanted to go back, she'd felt so bad. She'd been so good, especially to Zindel, to make up for what she done.

She'd helped him with his math homework!

She'd chosen not to tease him ever, even when he really deserved it, like when he hid every time Gittel's friends came over but hid especially fast when it was Basha Kagan.

She'd worked really hard on learning to knit, and was going to make a sweater for Poppa just as soon as she figured out sleeves that would actually keep somebody with two hands warm.

She took over grinding the liver for chopped liver when it was Chaya's turn, just because Chaya never had time to help in the kitchen now there was finally going to be a shidduch for her. Even though Mirka really hated grinding chopped liver.

shidduch: match


"Fruma," Mirka began, tentatively the Thursday before Purim. "What did you dress up as when you were a little girl?"

"Gittel," said Fruma, around the pins in her mouth. "Give Yocheved a glass of milk. And Mirka, that seam's not straight. Pick it out and try it again."

Mirka held back her sigh of frustration. She was being good, she really was. She owed it to Fruma for scaring her last month. But she thought Fruma should notice how good she was being, and reward her for it. By not making her pick out a seam in a nightgown, of all things. She tried not to roll her eyes as she lowered her eyes back to her sewing and waited, waited...

Fruma took the pins out of her mouth. Yes!

"Queen Esther," said Fruma. "Of course. The Sabbath Queen, once, and a bride a couple of times. But what I really wanted," she paused, and laid down her own sewing on her lap. "Was Beowulf."

Mirka squeaked, her mouth falling open so her face was a massive O between nose and chin. Beowulf?

"You wouldn't know Beowulf," said Fruma. "He's a goische hero. My baby brother told me about him when we were children."

But Mirka did know about Beowulf. And she knew about him, in fact, from Feter Gedalya, Fruma's baby brother.

goische: not Jewish

feter: uncle


Two years ago...

Mirka sulked on the couch while the adults talked. The other kids played backgammon, but Mirka didn't want to play, she wanted to go home.

Feter Gedalye came into the family room carrying a large cardboard box. "Mirkele," he said. "Do me a favor? Take this out to the trash. You can keep anything you like; it's dreck from the attic." For some reason, he winked.

Sighing gustily, Mirka compllied, but as soon as she was behind in the back yard, she opened the box.

At the top, on a pile of old newspapers, was a book: The Big Book of Monsters.


dreck: trash, crap

Mirka couldn't help imagining Fruma, Mirka-sized but looking just like Fruma always did, snood and all, hiding under her covers just like Mirka herself. Imaginary Fruma read The Big Book of Monsters by flashlight and thrilled over the wonderful pictures. Mirka imagined Fruma complaining to Feter Gedalye (Zindel-sized, but bearded) about always having to wear Queen Esther costumes for Purim.

Then Mirka had in idea.

All week long she hid in her room knitting furiously, sneaking in wash basins full of water. Rochel yelled at her more than once for propping something against the door to keep everybody out, and once for spilling water all over the floor and not mopping it up well enough so that Rochel almost went flying when Mirka finally did open the door. Late Wednesday afternoon, Erev Purim , Mirka came home hours and hours after the end of the half day of school, when she should have been home doing homework and helping Fruma put together shaloch manos.

She snuck into her bedroom without anyone seeing her, and then came down to get yelled at. She didn't tell anyone where she'd been, but Zindel had come home shortly after school ended looking tightlipped and frightened, and as soon as Mirka came into the kitchen, ran into her arms and hugged her. She hugged him back, whispered "I told you I'd be fine," and then straightened and waited to get yelled at. Fruma yelled and ranted and waved her arms, shaking the wooden spoon she'd used to mix the hamentaschen fillings. Mirka stood with her hands behind her back and lowered eyes, nodding, and took her punishment (grinding more liver for dinner instead of helping put together the shaloch manos baskets) without complaint.

The next day, Mirka and Gittel helped get the little kids into their costumes for the masquerade. Rochel was Queen Esther, wearing the costume Mirka had worn last year. Zindel was the Rebbe, and looked so much like Mirka's mental image of young Feter Gedalye that she couldn't help giggling as she helped him fasten his fluffy cotton wool beard. Yocheved was a tiny bumblebee, adorable in yellow and black. Mirka could not remember wearing the costume herself, but she knew she had once. Finally, the little ones were dressed so the older children could put on their own costumes.

"I have a costume for you," Mirka said to Fruma.

Fruma snorted. "I don't need a costume. My costume is circus master, with you lot around."

Mirka stood firm. "I have a costume for you anyway," she insisted. "Come upstairs and try it on."

Fruma argued, but after Mirka sent some contorted facial expressions Zindel's way, he joined in on the pleading. "Okay, okay!" Fruma let them lead her upstairs, each holding a different hand. "Stop your kvetching."

The other children waited downstairs. "What's going on?" Gittel demanded in a whisper, but Rochel didn't know. Zindel returned downstairs a minute later, but he wasn't saying. Finally, Mirka and Fruma returned.

Mirka looked ridiculous, all wrapped up in a big woolen ball with only one arm. The sweater she'd knit for the troll had been a willing sacrifice, with all the arms but one looped up and sewn back to the body, then the whole thing felted into a multicolored fuzzy mess. And behind her --

Behind her came Fruma, wearing a brown cloak (that looked remarkably like it had once been an ugly skirt hated by all the girls as it came to them; Rochel breathed a sigh of relief that it would never be hers), and carrying the most marvelous thing: a wooden sword. Wooden, for of course Mirka would be unable to explain the real sword. Instead, she had knit the best mittens she possibly could, no magic yarn or needles, with a careful cable pattern on the back of each. The troll had been willing enough to trade a wooden sword for the mittens, and he'd let her choose her favorite from his pile of several.

And Fruma, who'd never wielded a weapon other than a wooden spoon or a knitting needle, held that sword like it was made for her.

"Who are you supposed to be?" Gittel demanded of Mirka, with frequent glances flashed at her stepmother.

"She's the monster Grendel," said Fruma, beaming.

"And Fruma," said Mirka. "Is the hero who defeated me."

It was a motley but happy crew who traversed the homes of Hereville that afternoon. A bumblebee and the Rebbe giggled as they handed baskets of delicious goodies to their neighbors and friends, prodded on by two Queen Esthers, a one-armed monster, and the mightiest hero Hereville had ever known.


Erev Purim: the night before Purim. Jewish holidays start at sundown!

shaloch manos: shortened version of "Mishloach manot", gift baskets of food and drink sent to friends on Purim

hamentaschen: a three cornered pastry for Purim, often filled with prunes, applesauce, or poppyseed.