Short Stories 366:323 — “Queer Esther, Unmasked,” by Hallie Alexander

Okay, I loved this story pretty much from the get-go. Found in Love All Year: A Holidays Anthology, this story drops us into 1890, just before a Purim spiel, and gives us Frieda, who has just recently broken it off with a fiancé who was a cheating jerk. She’s squinting her way through an awful evening (her mother doesn’t let her wear glasses to events because she thinks it does her looks no favours) and dreading the moment where she’ll be opposite her ex during the Spiel. She’s getting by on willpower and fury (and stubbornness) so basically as a heroine I fell in love with her immediately and was 100% on her side.

But when it’s time for her ex to appear in the Spiel (as Esther), the voice (and sheer size) of the man in front of her makes it clear this isn’t her ex. And a few fumbled lines followed by improvisation later, the two of them have stolen the show—if set tongues to wagging—and Frieda finds herself more than a little captivated with this masked man (not that she could make out his face anyway without her glasses). They manage to find a small space to be alone, and Frieda finds herself wanting to do what she can to salvage her reputation after tossing aside her ex, but also… not caring at all if she gets to spend more time with this man. It’s an impossible choice, really.

The end result is a lovely bit of will-they/won’t-they, and there’s some great moments of personal triumph (especially for Frieda, but also the man in question). I have to admit to a love of rough-faced but gentle-hearted lugs, so the love interest here was totally up my alley. The arc of this one is both sweet and sizzly (sharing chocolate hamantashen, who knew?) and ultimately a feel-good that I enjoyed whole-heartedly.

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