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I’m not sure what to make of the title. I want to say it’s non-indicative of the story, but it’s not. After all, Isabella of Castile is a central character, the story’s told in letters between her and Columbus, and the title captures a sense of the irreverence and anachronism within the piece.

As I’ve said, the story involves Isabella and Columbus trading letters while he’s seeking the Indies for the first time (the near-instant transmittal of letters is a narrative convenience not remarked upon). While Columbus is concerned with his journey, Isabella’s thoughts are on her recent expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and she wonders: “Am I the new Pharaoh? In banishing Spain’s Jews, have I thrust myself forever into God’s disfavor?”

Soon enough Columbus sends excited word that he’s found land; inhabited, at that. In fact, he has landed near an enormous green idol, standing on a plaque bearing the words, “Give me your weary, your indigent, your huddled multitudes…”

What follows is a hilarious culture clash, both of misunderstanding – “No doubt the “huddled multitudes” are sacrificial victims”– and horror at the sheer multiculturalism on display. The last straw is when Columbus finally convinces a local to lead him to gold, and is led to a jeweller.

Then we saw the name.

Zabar’s.

“Jews?” I inquired.

“Jews,” the youth confirmed.

We did not go inside.

To contrast the present United States with its past is not exactly new, but rarely is it done so entertainingly, with biting teeth beneath the smiles.

Isabella of Castile Answers her Mail by James Morrow

Availability: print only

Word count: 3,900

First published: Amazing Stories, April 1992

Where to find it: What Might Have Been vol 4: Alternate Americas, edited by Gregory Benford and Martin H. Greenberg, 1992, Bantam Spectra

The Cat’s Pajamas & Other Stories, collection, 2006, Tachyon Publications

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