T here is but one window in their home from which the night sky is visible. Papa’s study. Aster slowly steals inside, past the bookshelves, laden with tomes in Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, Catalan. Past the desk, littered with quills and inks of cobalt and black. Past the half-drawn map that is Papa’s latest commission. She opens the wooden shutters. The light-blue slats glow softly in the moonlight.

Aster places both arms on the windowsill and leans forward, tipping her head up to the sky. She traces the shapes of the stars, shapes the Arabic names Papa taught her with her lips: Humām, al-Qaiḍ, ar-Rishā’

Usually, her nightly trail through the constellations makes her feel safe, reminds her that the world indeed conforms to an order. Tonight, though, her eyes blur and the sky is awash with spilled ink and random pricks of light. She grasps the windowsill with both hands, tries to think of the reason for her sleepless night. Papa? Clara? Perhaps it is the change of the seasons, the turning of the year. Aster stretches her arms.

The note sails through the window just as she turns to leave.

It lands on Papa’s desk, making only the slightest rustle. Aster runs back to the window. Hurrying back up the narrow alleyway is a slight figure, narrow shoulders. She leans out further. He walks through a patch of moonlight and she catches sight of his short beard, brown threaded with coppery red.

Jocef.

She hesitates for a moment and then picks up the note, slitting the seal with her fingernail. She holds the paper up to the light and reads.

Samuel,

So it is not for her after all. Why should it be? The note is for Papa.

The first ship of the season dropped anchor this evening.

I bid you, hasten to the harbor upon daylight. Bring the captain to meet with our fellowship of cartographers after noon.

Mose

Aster crushes the note between her palms.

Surely Mose knows of Papa’s labored breathing, of the cough that hacked through him all winter long? It may be the first day of spring, but the sea wind is sharp as a blade. To send Papa down to the harbor… Papa, who has taken not more than a few steps all this long winter, who has even neglected his commission — there is a patina of dusk at the edge of the vellum. Is Mose truly commanding Papa to brave the wind and the rain?

Aster places the missive on her father’s desk, to the side of the map he is working on. She rubs the heel of her hand over the paper, trying to remove the crumpled traces of her fury. She closes the wooden shutters and steps out of Papa’s study.

She lies down in her bed, listens to Clara’s steady breathing, and wonders at her sister’s sweet tranquility. Her own mind is a tempest of questions.

Did Jocef know the content of his father’s letter? If so, did he remonstrate with his father, did he walk the streets of the Call with a heavy heart? And what is Mose trying to do, if not destroy her father? (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 544 – Shavuos 2017 Special Edition)