T he next morning, Aster is up at sunrise. She tiptoes out of bed, and goes straight to the kitchen. There, she finds half a loaf of bread from the previous day, a chunk of cheese, three plump figs. She places them on a tray and then carries them out to the courtyard. She knocks lightly on the door of the stone hut, and pushes it ajar. The stranger lies in his low cot, but his eyes are open. When he sees her, he lifts himself up on one elbow and nods his head in acknowledgment.

She sets the food down before him. “Please, do me the honor of breaking your fast.”

“I thank you. But I can not eat until I have said my prayers.”

She nods. “It seems to me that you have more strength than before.”

“I thank you for your care.”

She dips her head. He is a big man: his size always surprises her. But even with the broad shoulders and large hands, he looks frail. “I shall ask my father to come and see you again today.”

“Again, I thank you.”

She leaves the tray of food with him, and walks out of the hut, closing the door behind now.

There. Now there is no reason in the world for Clara to serve him.

Papa lies in his bed. Aster, red-faced from the sudden heat, lifts a large linen sheet from a bowl of water, and hangs it from the window. As the linen dries, it will release cooling moisture into the room, and make Papa more comfortable.

He turns in his bed, weak from the heat. “In Barcelona, at least there was the wind from the sea.”

Aster secures the corner of the sheet. “Papa! Mallorca is an island. There is nowhere we are not surrounded by sea.”

“Yes, but here in the Call, we are cut off from all the breezes.”

Aster shrugs. It is true. With no place to expand beyond the gates of the Call, each time new housing is needed, another floor is added to the buildings. The Call seems to get taller each year, and each summer, the air on the street grows sultry, thick with the smell of rotting fruit. Each time she goes out, Aster is afraid of the illnesses that may fester in the air.

“It would be good for you to get out of the Call,” Aster says. “Down to the shore.”

She thinks of the hilltop above the harbor, where she and Jocef met, first as children, and later to form the maps.

Papa just grunts. She sighs. “Come Papa, it does not help to fight the heat. Allow it to embrace you. And then it will be easier.”

Papa does not reply. Aster smooths a silk sheet over him; the fabric is cool to the touch, it might soothe him. And she tries to distract him. “It is time for you to talk to the stranger.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 577)