At first, when Aster has removed the brick from the wall of her cell, she does nothing but breathe. The air is damp but warm. It smells of the sea, and of the rain that will soon come, and of the city, and of the clouds in the sky.
She turns around, wanting her Papa to breathe in the fresh air, but he is sleeping, finally, and she does not have the heart to wake him, although it would be good for him to get the good, sweet air into his lungs.
She is filled with a sudden excitement. The air is like wine, and she laughs suddenly, to herself. And there is light! She can see the dappled shadows on the cobblestones: outside, the sun is shining. There is a whole world out there.
She holds the brick in her left hand, and with her right, pushes her hand through the hole, until the surrounding bricks graze her arm. She gropes until she picks up a stone, then she waits until she can see a woman’s slipper. When she does, she throws the stone, to attract her attention.
The woman walks past.
No matter. She holds her face to the stone and peers out, waiting to see the colored tassel of the sandals favored by the women of the Call. Seeing one, she calls out.
The foot stops. Aster’s heart beats wildly.
“Who is there?” A voice, tremulous and high-pitched.
It is Rivkah, the wife of the Shamash, crouching as if to adjust her sandal.
“Rivkah! It is Aster!”
“Aster!” She breathes.
“Rivkah, is all well with Clara?”
“Clara is well. She is being cared for. Aster… Aster… Can I get you food? Water?”
“Rivkah, call Jocef for me.”
“Jocef,” Rivkah repeats. Then Aster watches as Rivkah’s foot disappears.
It seems like forever. She paces the cell. For the first time in days, she looks down at her clothing, she tries to shake the dirt out of the fabric, but it is creased, she has slept in it for days. And her hair: knotted and dirty, her face must be streaked with dirt. None of it matters, none of it matters, only that he come. And that she find in herself the courage that she needs.
Night is deep and chill when Aster hears footsteps and knows that it is him.
Her breath is stuck in her chest, and she is seized by sudden trembling. Though she wraps her arms around herself, she cannot still it.
Then a small whistle, like a birdcall. It is him.
She loosens the brick further.
Jocef. Jocef is kneeling down before her, and she does not know what to say, the words are almost gone, but there is no time, soon enough the guards will return on their circuit around the building and it will be too late, too late.
“Please, Jocef,” her voice cracks. She tries to catch the words, before they are lost to the wind. “Jocef.”
He leans down, on his hands and knees, she can just see the corner of his face.
“Aster. Aster, what can I do for you, Aster? Is Papa with you?” He is choking down a sob, and for a second she feels anger; it is her privilege to cry, not his.
“Papa is…” She takes a breath. “Papa is here.”
She closes her eyes tight, and moves her fingers across the stone wall until they find a ridge. She presses against the sharpness. Shards of eggshell. A nest, somewhere between sky and ground, suspended between life and death.
“Jocef,” she whispers. “I want to die a married woman.”
(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 601)