By the time Roland and Sonya arrived at the great hall—a big room with a little stage—the thrown-together orchestra was playing: strings, one trumpet, woodwinds, an accordion, a balalaika, three guitars, one drum. Candles in tin cans were burning side by side on the rim of the stage and on a ledge around the room and at the windows. Each thick candle, Sonya noticed, was made up of a clutch of little, twisted candles, the Chanukah kind. There were also several chanukkiyahs. A broad table held a mountain of hamantaschen. Another table sagged under bowls of liquid. “Let’s hope no one got hold of the methanol,” Roland said. At another camp, mostly Polish Persons, two men had gone blind from drinking the stuff.
Roland was dressed, he claimed, as Dionysius—that is, two sprigs of juniper were pinned to his scant hair, one falling onto his forehead, the other nestling within his humble nape.
Most costumes were equally rudimentary. Where could Persons get fabric, jewels, gauzy shawls? Yet some had indeed procured such items. A wife had made a royal garment for her husband. It was a short black silk cape, formerly the lining of their only coat. They wouldn’t need a lined coat in Palestine, this loving spouse explained to Sonya. She had adorned the cape with little white fur tails which on close inspection turned out to be the inner stuff of sanitary napkins. Several young Mordecais wore, in front of their ears, scholarly coils: the strapping tape from Red Cross packages. One Esther had saved a beaded dress from her dead mother’s wardrobe. Another wore a dirndl skirt and a jersey shirt that said Englewood High School. A Catholic family slipped in shyly wearing Easter finery; after years in a cardboard valise the clothing too seemed to be cardboard. Ludwig and his uncle Claud had encased their upper bodies in splintery barrels that had held potatoes. Their heads were crowned by circlets of dry leaves. Schwarz Konig was painted on Ludwig’s barrel. Uncle Claud was the white queen.
Excerpted from “Purim Night” from Binocular Vision: New & Selected StoriesCopyright © 2011 by Edith Pearlman. Used by permission of Lookout Books, an imprint of the Department of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.