He is not like a magpie. He is like a great, black raven.

Aster takes a few steps backward. From the corner of her eye, she sees Sara swiftly rise, and holding Avraham tight, slip into Aster’s bedroom, out of sight. And Clara, where is she?

Brother Garcon stands, waiting.

He’s not here for the stranger, Aster tells herself. Just the silver. She trips toward Papa’s room. Papa is asleep, but she must wake him, there is no choice. She gently places an arm on his shoulder.

“Papa,” she whispers. “Brother Garcon is here, you must get up.”

With a moan, Papa rises from his bed, washes his hands.

“You humiliated him, Aster,” he says, weary. “No one refuses Brother Garcon.”

Aster bites her lip. They return to the dining room. Brother Garcon is too big for their small house. They are all small and slight, the furniture fits them. Brother Garcon’s height looks monstrous under the low ceiling. His wide shoulders and long arms mean that most of their treasures are in reach.

She looks around the room. There is the Havdalah set, the candlesticks — Mama’s candlesticks, given to her by Papa’s parents on their marriage, brought here from Barcelona, and fashioned there by an expert craftsman. There is a menorah, but it is rather plain and so tarnished that he will think it is copper. The sea air does a good job of tarnishing anything left out, and it stays on the shelf from one Chanukah to the next, one of the jobs that Regina does not enjoy and so it does not get done, though Clara should be doing it, but she is not a worker, Clara.

But why is she thinking of all this?

They are just trinkets. What if he discovers the stranger, the stranger?

Calm yourself, Aster.

It will do no good for him to see you flustered in this way.

Or perhaps Brother Garcon will ask for Papa’s books. They are worth more than the silver, some of them. Galen’s medical tomes. Or Ptolemy’s Geographia. What does he care what he takes, if Sara is right and he is just after goods that can be sold or exchanged or bartered?

Papa holds out his hand. “Brother Garcon,” he says in greeting. He will not dip his head, for the icon the man wears on a thick gold chain.

Sell your chain, Aster thinks. And leave us in peace.

Brother Garcon’s eyes roam around the room. No doubt, they are practiced at picking out treasures.

“One of my disciples is investigating the art of compass making,” Papa begins.


Aster sends Papa a look. Do not take him into the study. He will take your tomes. She speaks up. “Perhaps his holiness would like some refreshment. Please, sit down.”

She goes into the kitchen. Bless Regina, before she left today, she baked date pastries. Aster piles up a plate and brings it through to the dining room.

They are not there.

No, no, where are they? The man’s huge shadow hovers in the small corridor that leads out to the courtyard. Aster follows. Please, Almighty, protect and guard us. Protect and guard Papa, for he is a scholar and has spent all his years in Your service.

The sound of laughter. Clara.


 (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 582)