T he looking glass in Aster and Clara’s bedroom — a wide ellipse with a bronze frame and the slightest ripple in the glass — had traveled with them from Barcelona. As the donkeys had jogged the wagon along the rough road, Aster had wrapped her arms around it.

Each time Papa had looked at her, he clucked his tongue and shook his head, but Aster had pressed her fingers deep into the grooves on the frame and pushed her cheek against the flat surface.

When they arrived in Mallorca, Papa had not wanted the looking glass in his bedroom, not without Mama to sit before it, painting her lustrous eyes. The looking glass had been placed in Aster and Clara’s bedroom.

Now, they sit before it. Sometimes it is easier to talk this way, through their reflections.

Clara’s gaze is steady. “Why is the talk of marriage always about you?”

Aster presses her lips together.

Clara throws out her hands in a question.

“And behold, Leah,” Aster quotes. She should turn around and face her sister, for then it would be easier for Clara to see the shape of the words that form on her lips, and she would not have to furrow her forehead in concentration. But Aster stays looking at the glass, though it whispers that she is being cruel.

“But if the older sister wishes not to marry,” Clara presses, “can the younger sister not precede her?”

There is a choking feeling in Aster’s throat. She looks at Clara, at the both of them: Aster in the foreground, Clara perched on a chair, expectant.

Indeed, why should her sister not marry?

Apart from the obvious: Who would marry a girl who cannot hear? Who would take her? In the mirror, Aster studies her sister’s profile. Clara was always the prettier of the pair — is their joint fate to bloom and fade, without ever unfurling their petals? She closes her eyes, feels the fear in her chest. Petals fall. Petals are crushed. Petals are trodden upon and washed away and forgotten, their beauty destroyed, in carelessness if not by intent.

“How…” She swallows. “How can you marry someone Mama will not, has not seen?”

“Is this really why you object? For will not Mama see clearly from her place in the Upper World — and will she not rejoice in my happiness?”

Clara stands, clasps her hands together. “I would even have a husband like Sara’s.”

Aster glares. Elisha, Sara’s husband, is a wastrel. He makes his living painting cards used by the Christians — and some Jews, too — for gambling. Sara’s father refused to pay her dowry, saying the day she married Elisha would be the day they dug his grave. He was very much alive at their chuppah, though, and when the couple sipped from the glass of wine, was heard to mutter: “And let that be the only wine you drink tonight, young man.” But despite her husband’s wheeling and dealing, Sara wears colored silks and a smile like a countess in a tower.

Something knots in Aster’s stomach. There are many reasons why Clara should not marry. But if Aster had to choose just one reason, one reason alone, it is to keep Clara safe from herself. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 546)