I am Vashti

I can feel my cheeks flush again. I can remember it like it is still happening. I can still feel the weight of hundreds of women’s eyes on me, wide and shocked, waiting for me to respond. Weeks later, though I am alone, their eyes have not left me.

by Stephanie Black

broken-vase.jpg

I look out the doorway into the night. I sit alone in my room overlooking the desert. There is no one around to disturb me. My mind wanders, and for the first time since arriving here, I let it. I can feel my cheeks flush. But I am not embarrassed now. Not anymore. I am furious.

                                                                        ___

For one hundred and eighty days he declared we would feast. A celebration in his honor and in the honor of his royal court. My husband, the King, enjoyed his festivities.

As the days carried on the deeper he drank. I can still see him sitting on his throne above his subjects, surrounded by dancers and magicians. Lavish delicacies, songs and chanting, all to impress his court. Every day the palace gets louder and fuller.

The King fought for this court and his right to rule it. He was a smart man, savvy and political. He leaned on the advice of his councilors to maintain his power. Such displays as this festival serve to both celebrate his rule and remind those beneath him to stay there.

Soon, thousands of inhabitants have flocked to the city to partake in this celebration of His Greatness. He becomes bolder: more wine, more food, more festivities.

____

I am brought back to my empty room by someone knocking at my door. My handmaid, Zhale brings a small tray of food and leaves it at my feet before hurrying away. I push it away with my foot. I do not look at it. I do not touch it.

____

During the king’s feast, I remain in a separate hall, away from the King, away from the court. Other women have joined me, creating a festival of our own. Wives, sisters, daughters of the court’s nobility are here. We are left alone. It is how things usually are: We are separate. I am an accessory. A vase.

Servants scurrying to and from the kitchen and grounds gossip with my servants about what is transpiring next door, a thousand miles away. We are kept abreast of the feast without entering.

____

On the 7th day of the feast, I am approached by a servant boy. Shocked, my court goes silent, watching. It is the king, he says; I am summoned. As I begin to rise, the servant boy flushes and mumbles something I cannot hear. What!? I snap.

Your crown.

What of it?

He is flustered, staring at his feet. He is unable to look at me. I roll my eyes at him and cross my arms. He is not used to addressing a Queen.

My  maid approaches him, seeing my impatience. I am nervous, this is unusual. He whispers his orders in her ear. Her face pales and she turns to me, eyes wide.

Well? I ask.

She approaches and kneels.

Your Highness. The King has summoned you and demands that you wear your crown.

Very well. I begin to leave.

Wait, Your Majesty. Only your crown.

­­­____

I can feel my cheeks flush again. I can remember it like it is still happening. I can still feel the weight of hundreds of women’s eyes on me, wide and shocked, waiting for me to respond. Weeks later, though I am alone, their eyes have not left me.

I look back down to the tray at my feet. I grab a dish and hurl it at the wall.

____

Back in the court, my words choke in my throat. I cannot not move. I cannot not breathe. One hundred women stared back at me as I desperately look for help in the eyes of these women.

Ma’am?  The servant boy has found his voice.

But now I cannot look at him. I can only shake my head. I was to dance naked before the court? In only my crown? My fingertips are numb.

Ma’am? He asked again.

LEAVE ME!

Everyone turned away. The boy scurries away, no doubt to report me to the king.

It takes a full ten seconds before my court of women erupts. A few of the women leave. Most turn to one another, scandalized. My servants rush to me.

What I have done is unthinkable.

I refused an order from the king.

____

What happened after happened quickly. It didn’t take long before official soldiers of the king entered my hall and escorted me to my chambers with my servants in tow, barking orders at anyone around us. I could not understand what they said. My ears rang too loudly.

In my royal chambers, the cold stars are stared back at me as my servants flurried around me, collecting the few things I was allowed to call my own. It wasn’t much; A few dresses, a small mirror, some jewelry. I don’t pay them any attention; these objects no longer mattered to me.

The soldiers then escorted me through the servants’ quarters and out into the city. I had never travelled on foot outside the palace walls before. I could hear the festivities booming on inside the palace walls.

____

What has transpired since my banishment I have heard only through hushed whisper. The King’s slithering council. A decree of obedience and compliance for the wives. An example made of me.

There are other rumors too. Shifts in the royal court and the rise of a Jew, Mordecai refusing to bow to Haman, the king’s confidant and a ruling that all the Jews will now die because of Mordecai.

But it is the whisperings about the new Queen that intrigue me. My handmaid Zhale divulged last night; a story almost too impossible to believe.

I rise from my chair overlooking the desert and call Zhale to me. She glances at the wall and the pile of smashed pottery and figs, but she doesn’t say anything. I have her ready my cloak and the few small items I brought with me from the palace. I have her wrap them in the remaining silks I have left.

Where are we going Your Highness?

To meet the new Queen, I respond.