T he next day, Regina chases Aster out of the house. Wielding a broom, she flaps her hands from side to side, cornering Aster and driving her first through the kitchen, then the living area, and finally out to the courtyard.

“Heaven help us,” she cries, over and over again. “Heaven help us.”

Outside, Aster holds the large woman firmly by both arms. “What is the matter, Regina?”

“Evil tidings, evil tidings,” Regina says with half a sob.

Aster thinks quickly. Regina has a tendency to see portents and omens when in the midst of a task she does not enjoy. Most often, Aster has noticed, they come when she is cleaning fish or plucking fowl. She has often wondered if she should take over these jobs, but Papa would be aggrieved to see it: Regina might have been with them for ten years, but she is still the housekeeper, paid good money to do her job.

Regina continues to blubber and moan. “An owl, an owl. A white owl flew past the window.” She waves her hand in front of her, as if the bird is still there. “And the baker once told me that this is a sign of phantoms coming from the other world.”

“Come, Regina. Why should phantoms make such a long journey? All the way to Mallorca?”

Regina rocks back and forth, pleading with the Almighty to save them from the latest apparition.

“How do I know why? But the baker is a clever man, and why should I not believe what he tells me?”

The baker. As he kneads his dough, he thinks up tricks to play on them all. He probably had his son catch the owl in some deserted house and place it in a cage, and then waited for the moment Regina was approaching to release it. He once sent the Parnas to Father Garcon, under one guise or another. He tried it with Papa — spinning a tale about a traveler who had seen Prester John. But Papa saw straight through the baker’s tricks.

“Do you think there are signs of change?”

Regina stops to think. “Here in the Call, I do not know. But in this family, of course.”

Aster holds her breath.

“The chicken.”

Aster breathes out.

“Now you tell me, ‘Regina, do not roast the chicken, it is not good for Papa. Cook it slow and long with a sauce.’ And most days, you tell me, ‘Serve meat, for meat will give Papa more strength.’ But this is not the way I cook. This is not the way my mother cooked. This is not the way my grandmother cooked. We put the chicken on a spit and roast it over the fire. If it is a little burned on the outside, a little leathery on the inside, this we overlook in favor of our tradition. But now you say, ‘No, do not follow the ways of your mother and grandmother.’ ”

Aster reaches over and gives Regina a pat on the shoulder. “I thank you, Regina, for all that you do for our family.”

Regina’s dark face crinkles into a sudden smile. “You are a good girl, Aster.”

Regina may be calm, but she will still not allow them back into the house. She tells Papa that he must go to the rabbi and get his assurance that all is well.

Papa shakes his head and mutters — foolish superstition — but he knows that there is no fighting with Regina. He disappears, in search of Rabbeinu.

From across the courtyard, their neighbor Sara appears, her face pulled into an expression of extravagant surprise. “Well,” she says to Aster, “the mapmaker herself.”

Aster holds out her arms and takes baby Abraham from Sara’s arms. He squirms and she sets him down on the ground. Sara disappears into her home, and Aster picks up the baby and follows her.

Inside, Sara turns to her, hands on hips.

“So, I am finally worthy of being remembered.”

Aster settles back on a low, wicker chair, covered in embroidered cushions. “It has just been so busy…”

She looks at her friend, the dark, slanted eyes, her face like an empress. Sara wouldn’t understand.

“Busy. Of course. And in the meanwhile, I am bored.”

“Bored?” Aster looks around. The place is messy, it always is, and Sara has no housekeeper; she does everything herself, even the laundry, even plucking the chickens. And she has a baby to care for.

“How can you be bored?” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 564)