She is blessed to be a woman. A man must stop and think and consider. He must set back his shoulders and lift his chin. A woman may scurry hither and thither, hiding her confusion in the thousand tasks that are in her domain.

Now, Aster reaches for a bottle of wine and two earthenware mugs, one for Jocef and one for the priest.

Purple wine splashes into a goblet. Aster’s hand shakes so hard that the wine spills onto the white linen tablecloth, staining purple across the weave. Over her fingers. Anywhere but the earthenware mugs. She must clean her fingers from the stickiness, plunge the tablecloth into a pail of water, wipe the wine from the tiled floor, before the bees gather for a summer’s feast.

She takes two deep breaths, and holds her hands together firmly for a few moments, before she is able to pick up the earthenware mugs and set them down before Jocef and the priest.

“Drink,” she bids them.

The priest lifts the mug to his lips. He drinks long, then he sets down his mug and lifts the second one to Jocef’s lips. “Drink,” he tells Jocef. His voice is gentle. She does not know who he is, or where he comes from, or how he came to find them, with Jocef in his arms. But she is filled with gratitude just for the softness with which he talks to Jocef.

Jocef’s eyes are open, but he is limp like a babe. When he drinks, wine dribbles down his chin. Aster watches. Her eyes follow the small purple droplet as it threads down his skin. As it reaches his chin, she quickly turns away. She hurries to a wooden chest in the corner of the room, takes out a small square of linen. She places it before the priest, who takes it and wipes Jocef’s face.

What? Who? How?

But questions now are a luxury, like silk and pods of cardamom. They belong to a foreign time and place. Now, she must concentrate on all that needs to be done: first, wake Papa from his rest, for Jocef needs Papa’s skill as a healer, and find Jocef a place to rest, ask the priest to tell them what happened, so much to do.

Papa lies peacefully in his bed. Aster places a hand on his shoulder. “Papa?” she whispers.

His eyes open, just for a second, and then close once more. “Papa?”

She rocks his shoulder, just slightly. “Forgive me, Papa, for robbing you of your sleep, but I am sorely in need of your wisdom.”

His eyes are open now, though they are dim and tired.

“Papa?”

He blinks.

Panic rises inside her. “Papa, we are in need of your aid.”

Careful now. Haste, please Papa, make haste. But Aster, guard your words, lest they inflict a sudden shock and Papa himself takes ill.

Gentle, Aster, gentle, lest your own composure disintegrates. Around her, the world is slowly fracturing. If she lets go now, who knows what may take place? (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 587)