A ster stops Clara with a light touch on her shoulder. “We shall be sitting down to breakfast as soon as Papa is ready.”

Clara hesitates and then nods.

Aster goes into the kitchen, brings out the still-warm loaf of bread, cheese, a bowl of figs. She sets the food down on the table and begins preparing the hot drink that Rivkah recommended to give Papa strength: sage leaves, the root of a fennel, and mint, mixed with warm goat’s milk. Papa disdains it, but he drinks it anyway, probably just to be kind.

She chops a leek, places it on the table next to the bread and a small jug of olive oil.

Presently, Papa’s footfalls are heard. Aster hurries over to him, gestures to the set table.

“Is Regina eating with us?” Papa asks.

“Of course.” Yesterday, Regina was in the marketplace when they dined, and Papa was displeased. For though she is only the housekeeper, she too should be a proud daughter of the King of Kings. Papa views it as his obligation to feed and provide for all those who step foot in their home, whether guest or servant.

“Good, good.” He rubs his hands together. “You know what the holy Torah tells us about a Hebrew slave.”

“Yes, Papa.”

He holds up a finger. “One pillow and it—”

“It is allotted to the slave, Papa.”

“Good, good.”

“Papa, let us sit down.”

When they sit down, Papa sits at the head of the table, Aster sits to his right and Clara to his left. Regina sits next to Clara; somehow, the conversation always splinters naturally, so that Regina and Clara talk of their own affairs, while Papa, if he is feeling fit and well, will launch into some learned discussion that lifts Aster up, even while she strains to understand.

Her place opposite her sister should help Aster talk to Clara, but somehow, Clara prefers to turn her face and talk to Regina.

Papa slices into the loaf, hands around large slices to each of them, and they smother the bread in cheese and leeks and olive oil. Clara, who usually takes large bites, nibbles at her slice of bread.

“Does something ail you, sister?” Aster asks.

Clara creases her forehead and tips her head back slightly. “No.”

“Are you not hungry?”

Clara does not answer. She reaches for her slice of bread and takes a bite. She chews slowly, Aster watching all the while.

“Would you like some honey?” Clara has a sweet tooth; Regina’s date pastries disappear fast when Clara helps with the baking.

It is on the tip of her tongue to ask Regina to bring the honey, but Papa will object. If they sit down together to dine as equals, why should Regina get up and serve them?

She goes to the kitchen and opens the honeypot. It is empty.

If there is one pillow, it goes to the slave. Does that mean that if there is only one dollop of honey in the honeypot, Regina should take it to flavor her own drinks? Or, as she has witnessed, for Regina to close her eyes and, with her tongue peeping out of her mouth, to swallow a spoonful of the runny sweet stuff, just for her own pleasure?

When she saw Regina eating the honey, Aster had tiptoed out of the kitchen while the spoon was still in Regina’s mouth, not wanting the housekeeper to open her eyes, see Aster observing her, and her cheeks to flame red. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 576)