At twelve, she learns that a body is capable of being nothing more.
There is screaming outside the window and uncontrollable fire spreading through the halls. She has sat at the table and heard the talk; she knows exactly who is here and of their intention.
But she’s twelve, and terrified, and she nearly slips on the pool of blood leaking from a guardsman’s neck in her desperate haste to reach her father’s quarters (safety) before it’s too late.
It’s too late.
Her father has disappeared, and in his place is a mutilated mound of flesh and blood sprawled over the rugs.
What happens to a body when there’s nothing left inside?
There is blood under her fingernails, and her city is dead.
Beauty is a virtue, and it is not. Beauty is why her city is dead, and she is not; beauty is why she was carried away with the silver instead of chopped down like so much wood; beauty is why she has the privilege of being gifted to a young prince along with the silver (and the wood).
Babylon was shaded in bronze.
Persia is turquoise.
The night is still black and the sky is still blue, but she can sometimes barely see it through the haze.
She was the daughter of kings, and now she is Queen.
She can’t quite see that, either.
She doesn’t hate her husband, exactly. He’s a drunken lout, and everyone knows it, but sometimes it’s preferable. In any case, it was his father who snatched her away across the desert. There’s no need for misplaced blame.
She’s known how to be dead for years. It’s easy enough to take advantage of this when they lie together, his hands rough and clumsy and whole body heaving.
What happens to her body when she’s not there inside?
There’s an empire to run, and it’s not for queens to talk, but she knows what flavor of wine each of Ahasuerus’ counselors prefer and the power of passively suggested words heard before sleep. She knows where to place the armies with the greatest effect and how to levy higher taxes without promoting uprising. The most popular, well-respected counselors are the ones who take her drink almost nightly.
She is Queen, and not to be heard. She is decoration.
She is running the empire.
To be clear: almost half the stories are true, and nearly all of them are lies.
She expects her slaves to work daily, of course (she doesn’t learn until after it all ends what the significance of a day of rest was for some of them), but she has no illusions about the possibility of her own divinity.
And she does not have a tail.
There should be nothing different about this night (that’s a different holiday, after all). A coup is imminent, perhaps, but a coup’s always imminent. She’s gathered the women together, advisers during peace, potential hostages if everything dissolves.
She knows how to survive.
She’s called into her husband’s revelry and she knows what to expect. The request to strip, to lay herself bare, to parade her body and dance for these men as they drink themselves sick.
What if her body has something inside?
It’s a paradigm shift, tilting the word on its edge, running through her and leaving her breathless.
She inhabits this body, and so long as she is breathing, it is hers.
It doesn’t have to be for them; she doesn’t have to leave it and let her mind flee somewhere, anywhere else.
She is her body, and she refuses.
Banishment is not like kidnapping and not like freedom. It’s the best and worst thing she could have done for herself.
Esther is, truly, a far better queen than she could ever be. Esther is sweet and passive and shyly manipulative and, for all her Hebrew-ness, ultimately Persian in the way Vashti, in her bronze brashness, never mastered.
But she has black night, and blue sky, and a soul made up of fire and desert and bronze and turquoise, and a body she can live in as long as she breathes.