Later that night, Tova and Sam were sitting at the formica table in the small dining area of Sam's apartment. He'd pushed aside his dessert bowl and taken her hand, stroking the red and green stones of the ring she wore.
"I don't even know how you feel about marriage," he'd said.
Nonplussed, Tova had exhaled a nervous laugh and said, "When gay marriage was legalized, my mom said she had no problem with gays being together – she just didn't understand why anyone would want to get married."
"She had a hurtful experience with matrimony."
"And before that, they did this study that said a woman over thirty-five had a better chance of being in a terrorist attack than of getting married, and mom thought it was interesting that they compared marriage to terrorism."
"Your father was a difficult person."
"And you know, Mae West said she believed marriage was a wonderful institution only she wasn't quite ready for an institution yet."
"I think she was talking to W.C. Fields when she said that, so it was understandable."
Tova had been silent then, until Sam had asked, "You got that all outta your system now? 'Cause then we could start thinkin' about talkin' about how you and me want things to be between you and me."
She hadn't been able to argue with that, so she'd said "All right."
More than eight months had passed and still there was no sign of Montgomery Dickson. They didn't talk about him, and after a while they hardly thought about him at all.
The outstanding warrant for his arrest, should he appear anywhere in the whole big country of Canada, was comforting.
Sam had fired Monty's company, along with his tame PA, and hired his old New York agent back. Even if it was a long-distance relationship, at least the guy didn't make him do book-signing tours. Or try to kill him. So Sam figured he was safe as long as he didn't leave the country.
"How's Crane doing?" Tova asked over breakfast, the morning after Sam's boxing coach came to dinner.
"Still trapped by the evil mage. I can't decide whether to leave him there and let the ladies rescue him, or let him take part in his own escape."
"Won't people get upset that you're rewriting history? Because I know what readers of historical fiction are like, and they'll give you hell about any anachronisms."
"The thing is," Sam said, slicing and coring an apple and offering some to his wife, "no one knows if Esther and Ahasuerus were real people. Susa was a real place, for sure, and I found in my research that some people say Ahasuerus was based on King Xerxes, but that don't make no sense to me since Xerxes never ruled an area that size. The Bible says 'all the lands from India to Ethiopia'."
"So if she was imaginary, you're free to re-imagine her. What about religious zealots? Not afraid of offending them?"
Sam shrugged. "I don't consider what I'm doing to be in any way blasphemous. The old king of the Bible story was a self-centred, amoral old coot. He'd do any stupid, mean thing his advisors come up with – from banishing Vashti for standin' up to him, to killing all the Jews on old Haman's say-so. Esther's the indisputable hero of the story, and my story simply extrapolates on her best qualities. And anyway, as far as religion goes, 'Esther' is the only book in the Bible that never mentions God once."
"I'd heard that. So what's it doing there?"
"Well, there's different theories, like that she was supposed to help convert gentiles by recasting their Goddess Astarte; hence 'Astarte' becomes 'Esther' and brings her followers along board. Every religion grows by co-opting the one that come before it like that."
Sam took a thoughtful sip of tea. "My own personal theory is that Esther's story was included in the Biblical canon in order to warn other nations not to mess with the Jews. Because of the way they take their revenge on Haman and his followers."
"Not to mess with the Jews," Tova repeated sadly. "That worked real well, didn't it."
"You thinkin' about your dad?"
"Every day. And my mom. Jews in Canada felt the effects of Fascism too, like her friend who got beat up in a park in Montreal."
"Oh yeah – she wrote that beautiful poem about him. Terrible.
"They called you 'dirty'/ as they pushed you in the mud," he quoted.
"You memorized my mom's poem?"
"It's a memorable one. What's the next line? They laughed and cursed you/ as they wiped your blood off their hands."
"She wrote it much later, you know – after the War."
"You think your momma would have approved of me?"
"Sure. Didn't I ever tell you that she liked your stories?"
"No! You never told me that. How come you never told me that?"
"I thought I did."
"Which ones she like the best?"
"I don't know. The sexy ones, I guess."
"Not Crane, then. Crane's never had much to do with women before. It's about time that changed."
YOU ARE READING
Once upon a time there was a warrior queen who loved peace ... Mild-mannered writer Samuel J. Burnside is working on his latest adventure story, set in ancient Susa, where Queen Esther is teaching former harem slaves how to fight! But can Sam's new...