“Your daughter sure is pretty,” the sheriff said. Then he spat. A line of tobacco flew from his mouth, splattering like a twisted branch on the dry ground. He reeked of stale sweat and old chew, and his pale eyes gleamed from within the fleshy folds of his face. “All willow-thin and fresh-faced. Oh, my.”
Essie looked up at her uncle, then back at the hulking lawman, her dark eyes wide.
The big man with the big leather belt and the big black gun just grinned and tipped his hat. “Even her nose is perfect. Not a big beak like most o’ you Jews.” He ran his thumb across the side of his nose, then continued, not even looking at Mordecai. “Course, I know she’s not really your daughter. Her parents are dead, aren’t they?”
“Please,” Mordecai said, “she’s only thirteen.”
Even in the heat of August, Essie shuddered. Her Bat Mitzvah – and her first flow – had come only two month ago.
“That’s okay. The Mayor likes ’em young.” The sheriff tugged at the strap of his Sam Browne belt while his gaze crept over every inch of Esther’s body. “Maybe not this young. I think we’ll keep her around the mansion for a while, till she ripens up a little.” He cupped his hands at chest level and mimed squeezing. “I think a year will do it.”
“Sheriff -” Mordecai’s face grew red. He knew not to appeal any further to this pig’s sense of decency. Obviously, he had none.
The sheriff laughed so hard his belly shook. “I told you the Mayor likes ’em young. Don’t worry, little Essie, you’ll have plenty of company. He’s got every pretty little thing in the county livin’ up there. I think you’ll be the only Jew-girl, but that don’t matter much. I’m sure you’ll pretty up just as well as the rest of them, if they can get your hair to behave. I declare, girl, it’s wild as a badger’s backside.”
“Damn you -”
“What are you upset about?” The Sheriff said, turning on Mordecai, “The Mayor’s gon’ choose a new wife when all this is over. Your little Essie here could be the new first lady, live in that mansion forever, maybe even do some good for your scrawny little tribe.” He snorted. “If she pleases him.” He leaned in close to Esther, his breath thick and dank, his eyes hard as diamonds. “You know anything about pleasing a man, little girl?”
“That’s enough!” Mordecai snarled, pulling Esther back and raising his fist.
The sheriff stepped back, surprisingly nimble for all his bulk. “Watch your step, boy. We can do this the easy way or the hard way.” He tapped the butt of his revolver, as if to remind them both what ‘the hard way’ meant. “Either way, the girl goes with me.”
Mordecai swallowed hard. “Go with him,” he whispered, “I’ll find a way to be there for you. Just keep yourself alive. And remember who you are. Remember where you come from.”
Esther swallowed hard, tensing her jaw and raising her head. She would not let him see her tears. She walked, head held high, to the sheriff’s car, sliding into the back seat like a prisoner, and like a queen.
The preceding, despite being time-shifted 2,500 years, and despite the liberties I took with Mordecai’s social status and the secrecy surrounding Esther’s religion and ethnicity, was still a far more accurate and truthful retelling of how Esther came to be in King Xerxes’ Harem than the rape-apologist, misogynist “exegesis” Mark Driscoll posted and preached Sunday. An “exegesis” so wrong, so dangerous, that refutations have sprung up like white blood cells at the site of infection. Rachel Held Evans has a good one (and kudos to her for bringing this to my attention). So does Sarah Over the Moon. So does Can’t Catch My Breath.
Honestly, I think (and hope) there can be some value to seeing an old story in a different setting. Maybe we can see Esther’s humanity and stop slut-shaming one of God’s heroes, a true woman of valor.