F riar Pere’s eyes are deep blue and inscrutable. “Come in, come in,” he says. “Will you not close the door? Or are there more eavesdroppers out there?”

Bernat stands up and closes the door. Ramon looks down at his hands. Friar Pere’s words play in his mind. Perhaps this will lead him to follow in his ancestor’s footsteps. Though it was a tragic path.

Friar Pere always told him that he knows nothing of Ramon’s family or origins.

When Ramon was but a boy, of maybe six summers’ life span, each morning he would go up to the friar after morning Mass, grab at his flapping black sleeve and say, “Today, Father? Today will you tell me of my family?”

Each day, Friar Pere would look down, his fat hands would pat Ramon’s thin cheek and he would say, “The day you arrived here you were newborn. Look to me as your father, and the holy spirit shall be your mother, and you shall never lack.” Morning light glowed through the stained-glass windows and just for a second everything was warm and the world filled with yellows and reds, moments held in sunlight. But as the day progressed, the dazzle always wore away.

When had he stopped asking?

Ramon didn’t know. But sitting in the velvet chair, watching Friar Pere sip a glass of ruby-colored liquid that looks and smells like wine, but that he calls essence of hibiscus, because wine is forbidden to churchmen, he realizes that he stopped asking too soon.

“So, boys. How would you like to learn the tongue of the Jews?”

Bernat crinkles his nose, so that his nostrils flair and his cheeks grow pink. “Extra studying, Father? Really, we only came up here—”

“For braised hare. I have not forgotten. No doubt you’d prefer to…”

“Anything, Father! Even digging up that patch of ground. For the herbs...” He blushes, caught.

Friar Pere tips back his head and laughs. “And why not, Bernat?”

Ramon watches them. Rumor has it that Friar Pere wears a rough horsehair vest under his vestments, for penance. That under his clothing, his back is raw and bleeding, an attempt to atone for some sin. Perhaps he deserves it.

Friar Pere sets his glass down. “Hebrew is an ancient tongue, the repository of much wisdom. Surely, it is wisdom that you seek?”

They had made such a vow when they became novices: truth, purity, wisdom.

Friar Pere stands up, and reaches up his bookshelves to find an old volume. His fingers scrabble at the bottom of the shelf: he is just a little too small to grasp the leather. Ramon swallows, binds the workings of his heart with a tight leather strap. He strides to the bookshelf, and slides the book down easily. He hands it to Friar Pere, who blows the dust off the cover.

He puts the book down in the middle of his desk and opens the front cover. “A Hebrew prayer book,” he announces. “But we do not need their prayers. Just their alphabet.”

“And here, here we begin. And in the beginning…”

Ramon’s fingers grip the carvings on the side of his chair.

The beginning. Ramon’s own beginning.

A puddle of brown blanket, left by the altar of the church.

“The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet — which, parenthetically is read from right to left, not left to right as we are accustomed — is alef. Alef.”

Ramon forces himself to echo: “Alef.”

Friar Pere’s face becomes contemplative. “Silent letter, alef.”

The silence of abandonment, of questions never answered, of searching for an elusive point of origin.

Alef of silence. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 553)