"P apa?” Aster calls. “It is late.” She picks up a book from the dining room table, closes it carefully, and places it on the shelf.


“Papa, why do you not retire for the night?”

When Papa does not answer, Aster scurries over to the study. “Papa?”

He sits at his desk unmoving, the large map of Europe open before him. Aster peers over his shoulder. He has finished the coastline of Italy, but that was done weeks ago. Last week, he had told her that he was beginning with the island of England and Scotland. Aster’s eyes parse the parchment, but there is only blankness. Blankness, covered in a patina of dust.

“Is it not going well?”

Papa sighs. “You know maps. They never go well, until they are finished.”

“This… this is not like you, Papa.”

No answer. Papa’s shoulders are sloped forward, his face unseen, unreadable.

“Usually, Papa, you tell me that there is nothing like drawing the ocean.”

He brings his hand lightly on the desk. The quill’s feather shivers. “Well, that is not what I say now.”

Aster kneels down. She places her head on her father’s lap and waits until, out of instinct, he begins to stroke her hair. She feels the tremor in his fingers.

“What is it that ails you?”

“Just… that I am an old man. An old man, and when my days are over, what do I have to leave behind?”

“This preys on you, Papa,” Aster says gently.

Her father’s question is the question of the Shamash, and the Parnas, and the Shadchan. But now it is neither couched in obsequiousness, nor pity, nor wrapped in disdain. It is the question of a father who loves his daughters and knows, now, suddenly, that one day he will die and they will be tossed onto the pity of the community.

Aster stifles a sob. She could ask the question when her father was strong and indignant. But now she is filled with the same deep dread as when she climbed onto the wagon in Barcelona, ten years old, black clouds of grief obscuring the future.

“Hush. Hush, Aster. Look what I found.” Papa reaches under the map that he is working on and pulls out an old piece of paper. She lifts her head, and sits up. Papa holds a paper filled with a mass of charcoal-drawn lines. Aster takes it, examines it, and then turns the paper over. Her name is written on the back: Aster. And the date: 1346. She was eight years old.

“Do you not know what this is?”

Aster shakes her head, no.

“Your first map.” Papa gently guides her fingers to the paper’s edge. “Do not smudge it.”

She laughs in surprise. Papa is not sentimental.

“Guide me through it,” she asks.

Papa’s little finger hovers across the page. “This is our home, in Barcelona. Do you have no memories?”

There are wisps, but she does not want to think of them. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 549)