A ster whittles at the nib of a wooden pen, while Papa pores over her map of the Holy Land. She is occupied with the water: the rivers that flow into the Sea of Galilee. Where is the source of these rivers? Should she somehow indicate that they come from the Garden of Eden, or should she not reach beyond her borders?

Papa thinks for a long while. Aster holds the nib up to the fading light, examines her work. The sun sends its last shafts of light across the room, and for Papa’s sake, Aster is glad for the dying of the day. For with the fading light, the heat dissipates. The summer’s cloak of heat has given Papa a lassitude that is not familiar to them. In the coolness of the evening, Papa has more vitality.

Just as she thinks that they should cease the day’s work, he says, “I do not see how you can avoid depicting the Garden of Eden, if that is the source of the Holy Land’s water and goodness.”

His fingers, lithe and supple still, hover over the top right-hand corner of the parchment. “It will have to be over here,” he says.

She nods. “But that is for tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow,” he agrees.

They sit together in the darkening room, allowing night to lay its peace around them. Aster swallows. Finally, it is time.

“Papa?”

“Mmmm.”

She turns her head to gaze at his profile. Over the last few months, his cheeks have lost their roundness, but his white beard is still tufty and thick. The thinness of his cheeks make his eyes look as if they are set in deep hollows, and that his sight comes from some inner vision.

He turns. “What is on your heart, daughter?”

The invitation to speak threatens to topple her. What is on your heart… where should she begin? Jocef. Clara. Even Regina, who has become lazy in the heat, so that the dust builds up in corners and the vegetables are wilted, for in the marketplace, she simply takes what is close at hand, not bothering to check its freshness.

But Papa’s back is bent under the weight of his cares. She chooses only the most pressing of her concerns. “The stranger.”

Papa nods. “What of him?”

“He should not be staying on our property.”

Papa shrugs his shoulders. “True enough. What would you have me do?”

“Tell him to leave.”

Papa turns around to look at her. He gives a laugh. “The man can barely sit up in bed. He has so little life force inside him that he can hardly swallow a sip of gruel. How is he meant to leave?”

Aster stands up. She folds her arms around her and looks down at Papa. “Four strong men would do the job.”

Papa shakes his head, an incredulous smile spreading through his face. “And have him die on the streets outside the Call?”

“Surely he is not so ill as that?”

“There is a deep weakness in him. I do not know what could happen to him if he were distressed.” He looks up at her and stares. “What are you afraid of, Aster?” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 575)