The Cuckoo Clock – Chapter 19

August 19, 2019

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 19 of a new online serial novel, The Cuckoo Clock, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week.  Click here for previous chapters.

Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications. 

 

Bayla Stockhammer walked into Peretz’s empty room and opened the ironing board. How many shirts was she supposed to iron for him ahead of time? She’d be happy to iron all twelve of his new shirts, but in recent years, ironing had become increasingly difficult for her. She couldn’t do it sitting down, and when she stood to iron, it didn’t take long for her legs to begin protesting. If she could have spread the ironing over a few days, that would be one thing. But the wedding was in less than a week, and she had so many errands to do, and it was the aufruf this Shabbos… Maybe she would just give everything to a professional ironing lady.

She didn’t even plug in the iron. Instead, she went to find the most recent advertising circular that had arrived in her mail. If she wasn’t mistaken, there was an ad every week for just this type of thing.
The circular was waiting on the mail table in the hallway, and just as she found the ad and was about to make the call, the phone rang.

“Hello, is this Mrs. Stockhammer?”

“Yes, it is,” she replied, sinking into her favorite old armchair.

“This is Attorney Rosenblit. Your receipts have arrived, but we cannot file them because Peretz did not sign them.”

“What?”

“I called a day after our meeting to let you know that my client is requesting the signature of the chassan and kallah on each of the receipts.”

“Ah, yes, now I remember,” she murmured. “I didn’t really like that directive, which is probably why I didn’t remember it.”

“Could be.” He was very courteous, but remained firm. “I’m sending them back to you with a courier so Peretz can sign them immediately, and the courier will bring them back to me. Alright?”

“Fine…oh, but one minute. Peretz is only coming home the day after tomorrow, on Friday. He’s in yeshivah now.”

“So be in touch with me when he comes home, and we’ll set up a time for him to sign everything.”

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The Cuckoo Clock – Chapter 18

August 12, 2019

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 18 of a new online serial novel, The Cuckoo Clock, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week.  Click here for previous chapters.

Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications. 

 

“Shaina?” It was Nechama Kagan, Shaina’s cousin from Petach Tikvah. As principal of Bais Yaakov Zichron Elchanan, Shaina Rosen was a busy woman, and her cousin had caught her just as she was about to leave her office.

“Hi, Nechama, how are you?”

Baruch Hashem, nothing special here. Tell me, we got a very strange invitation today from friends on the block… What’s the story with Stockhammer and Potolsky? Bais Yaakov Zichron Elchanan is your school, isn’t it? Since when do people make weddings in your gym?”

“It’s really just a one-time thing.”

“Is it true that Stockhammer’s son, the chassan, is sick? And he’s supposed to have surgery in another month, so they’re making the wedding early?”

Shaina switched off the light in the office. “I haven’t heard of such a thing,” she said cautiously.

“So what did they tell you?”

“That they got money from a special fund if they would make the wedding on Rosh Chodesh Teves, and being that all the regular halls were already taken, they were looking for an alternative that could work.”

“Strange. Maybe this money is just an excuse to cover up the truth… I heard that they asked a rav, and he told them not to drop the shidduch. A school gym as a wedding hall…? Who called you about it?”

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The Cuckoo Clock – Chapter 17

August 5, 2019

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 17 of a new online serial novel, The Cuckoo Clock, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week.  Click here for previous chapters.

Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications. 

“In the gym of Bais Yaakov Zichron Elchanan…?” Avigail Auerbach raised her eyes from the invitation she was holding. “What’s the story with Tzippy?”

She went back to reading, and then: “What?!

Her little shriek did the trick, and her mother came rushing into the room. “What happened?” she asked her daughter, who was also a kallah, in alarm.

“Look!” Avigail said. “It’s Tzippy’s chasunah invitation… She’s getting married next week!”

“So, what are you so shocked about?”

“She told me that the wedding is in the middle of Shevat! Why did they suddenly make it six weeks earlier?”

“Oh, you’re talking about Tzippy Potolsky?”

“Yes. And not only that. Look where the wedding will be held!” Avigail handed her mother the cream-colored invitation.

“Strange…” Mrs. Auerbach murmured. “I hope everyone’s okay there. What was so urgent all of a sudden? And to make a wedding in such a place? What is going on?” She and her daughter exchanged anxious glances.

“She was supposed to get married six weeks after that. You remember we met her doing errands?”

“Yes, sure.”

Avigail sat down near her desk, playing with the cap-less pen that she found there. “But they both looked perfectly fine. What was strange was the standard of things they were buying, remember?”

“Yes, but I think this conversation is getting a bit gossipy.” Her mother handed her back the invitation. “I will tell this to Abba, though. He needs to know any unusual information regarding people who take loans from the gemach. It’s other people’s money, you know.”

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The Cuckoo Clock – Chapter 16

July 29, 2019

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 16 of a new online serial novel, The Cuckoo Clock, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week.  Click here for previous chapters.

Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications. 

“I’ve never heard of a wedding held in a school gym.” Miri was standing in the middle of the gleaming kitchen, studying the central island that she was leaning on. She swiped a finger over the countertop. “Everything is full of dust,” she said with disgust. “It’s only from far that it looks so shiny. And look at that filthy floor there, in the space where the refrigerator goes.” She looked at the stained patch. It was a pretty big area. It didn’t look to her like the size of a regular fridge, but rather a double-sized one. Is that what they had bought for Tzippy? She didn’t really want to ask. It was enough that at first they hadn’t even told her about this huge grant, for fear that she’d be jealous.

“Peretz’s mother said yesterday that we’ll bring a cleaning company to tackle the kitchen before the appliances arrive.” Tzippy washed her hands, and then pulled out the faucet and used the spray setting to squirt the countertop, enjoying the novelty of the fancy faucet. “But I cleaned the bedroom with Ima yesterday, because we knew that the furniture was supposed to arrive this morning.”

“Let’s start putting your stuff on the shelves. That’s what we came for,” Miri said, trying to get a hold of herself. “So, what were we talking about?”

“The wedding,” Tzippy said lightly. “Of course people will raise an eyebrow, but I trust my mother-in-law to make sure the wedding will be elegant.”

“It’s true that even the shabbiest hall can be dressed up into something nice,” Miri agreed. “But it’s still strange to get married there. His mother couldn’t find any other place?”

“Everything else was booked. At first we thought we could make the wedding in a shul hall, but none of those ended up being available for the date we needed. The other option my mother-in-law suggested was some country club type of place near Rechovot, but Abba and Ima didn’t want that, and neither did I. How would my friends get there?” She paused at the door to the bedroom. “And Peretz didn’t want it either. We’re not looking to be the topic of discussion.”

“I hear,” Miri murmured. “So did you order invitations yet?”

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The Cuckoo Clock – Chapter 15

July 22, 2019

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 15 of a new online serial novel, The Cuckoo Clock, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week.  Click here for previous chapters.

Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications. 

“My daytime fears have invaded my dreams at night,” Elisheva told Eliyahu, who had gotten up to prepare her a cup of tea.

“I can call the bank line again if that will calm you down, so that you can hear the recording that there is one hundred and eighty thousand shekel in the account.”

“I know it was deposited.” She shook her head. “I know it for a fact. But…”

“But what?”

In the dark, she stared at her palms, but couldn’t find the words to express herself.

“We’ve checked into this story from every angle.” Eliyahu sat down on a chair that someone had left near the door of their room. “The millionaire exists, Rosenblit is a lawyer with a paper trail, receipts and everything, and the first installment of the money is already in our bank—or rather, it’s flowing freely out of the bank, baruch Hashem.”

“And we’re flowing along with it.” Her smile was a bit crooked. “Yes, with all this running around and shopping, I’m getting very used to this new reality. But apparently, somewhere inside me, there is anxiety lurking. I guess it’s only natural.”

“Very natural,” Eliyahu said, looking at the cup of tea he had made for his wife, which she still had not touched. “I feel that way, too. When someone tells me that there are two million shekels waiting for an apartment for my daughter, and all I have to do is find the apartment, I feel a bit uneasy about it. But I don’t know if it’s disbelief or the discomfort of needing money from other people.”

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The Cuckoo Clock – Chapter 14

July 15, 2019

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 14 of a new online serial novel, The Cuckoo Clock, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week.  Click here for previous chapters.

Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications. 

 

“And then you’ll come, and you’ll give me more candies?” Edo asked as Emil led him along the darkened corridor. Emil put a finger to his lips and smiled at the little boy.

“And tell Gustav not to forget: before he comes, he should take his candies—you know, the ones you already gave him—out of the hiding place,” the child whispered. “He has a hiding place that’s only his, and only I know where it is. He keeps all kinds of things there, like food and candy. He always puts a little bread there for me, because there’s hardly any food, and once, the director caught him and beat him. So tell him he should bring the candies from there. He said that he’s keeping the candies for me also.”

“Shhhh…” This time, Emil placed his finger on Edo’s lips.

“Alright, I know how to be quiet,” the boy said, miffed, and fell silent.

Emil only smiled at him again. They reached the door of the building.

“Run to the gate,” the man whispered. “Quickly and quietly. A nice lady is waiting for you outside, and you should go with her.”

“Okay!” The boy forgot his injured pride and waved at the older man. “See you, Emil!”

Within three seconds, he was next to the well-trimmed tree just beyond the gate, and he stuck his head out to the street.

Ulush Cohen was there in a second. “Are you the cute little boy who is supposed to come with me now?” she asked. He nodded silently. “Come, let’s go to my house.”

They walked hastily, silently. Ulush lowered her eyes to the boy with the baby face. He was scratching his shorn head, looking very confused. She smiled at him again, but he didn’t return her smile. Had she taken the wrong child?

“Who told you to go to the gate?” she asked gently, stopping at the corner.

The boy’s eyebrows stiffened. “No one,” he said. “I just wanted to go because Emil said that you’ll give me candies.”

Her smile widened. Baruch Hashem, it was the right child. And thankfully, it was she who had asked the question and no one else. “That’s right,” she said, without knowing how she would procure candies. “I don’t have any at this moment, but afterward, you will come with me to a place where there are sweets, and good people who like you.”

He stared at her for a minute, and then shifted his eyes back to his shoes, taking step after step.

A car was waiting for them at the corner, as Janek had promised. Janek himself was seated behind the wheel, with one of his friends at his side. He waited in silence until Ulush and Edo were seated in the back seat. Only when the door closed and the car lurched forward, did he murmur, “Baruch Hashem.”

Baruch Hashem.”

“Was it alright?”

“All perfect.”

“No one saw you? No one asked anything?”

“No one asked a thing. Did anyone see? Well, I hope not. Tell me something.” She suddenly switched to Yiddish. “Who told you that he’s Jewish? His eyes, his hair… Is Emil positive that this is a Jewish boy?”

“Emil would not have put all of us, including himself, in danger if he wasn’t sure about it. He went into the office there and checked the documents. Edo is Jewish.”

The little boy smiled at the sound of his name, but a second later, his face grew somber again. “Jewish?” He touched his blond, closely-cut hair

“Yes, what do you say about that?” Janek asked him.

The question wasn’t worded clearly enough for the child, and he retreated into silence.

The man sitting next to Janek murmured something.

“He can come to us now, right, Ulush?”

“Yes, sure,” she said. “Do you want to come to my house, sweetie?” she asked the boy.

He nodded.

Again, Janek’s friend murmured something to Janek.

Janek turned to his wife. “The second one also, Ulush?”

“How old is he?”

“I don’t know exactly, and I don’t think there’s anyone who does know. Something like eight, maybe less, maybe more.”

“Fine,” she said. “We’ll find them a place to sleep.”

***

Ulush looked at the two children sitting quietly on her pair of floral armchairs. The younger one leaned on the side of the chair so that he was closer to his older friend. “You’re not brothers, are you?” she asked in a friendly tone.

“No,” the one who had introduced himself as Gustav said.

“Because you look a bit alike. Your eyes are the same color.” She served them a plate with a few slices of cake on it.

“I’m like his brother,” Gustav said, his mouth full of cake crumbs. “And I told Emil that he’s also Jewish, and that you should take him and find his mother and father also.”

Janek approached. “Yes, Emil told me how responsible you are.” He was holding two white papers in his hand. “He took this from the office of your orphanage,” he said. “These are the only documents you have. The orphanage gave you the name Gustav, right?”

“Yes,” the boy said, eyeing the cake plate “But I don’t remember how old I was when I came there.”

“Is it possible that this was your real name?” Janek placed another slice of cake in Gustav’s hand.

The boy’s forehead creased. “No,” he said slowly, “because Theodore once told me that he had a little son whose name was Gustav, and that he died a long time ago. The director told him to call me by that name.” He looked at the cake in his hand. “He found me near the gate and saved my life, and gave me a new name, Gustav.”

“Who, the director?”

“No, the director wouldn’t have saved me. Theodore.” He took a big bite of the slice of cake, and then another one. When he’d finished the piece, he added proudly, “He also agreed to take Edo in, and to watch him. It was only because I begged him to take Edo.”

“Good for you!” Janek smiled warmly at him. “So you really are like Edo’s brother. You saved his life! But before we talk about Edo, tell me some more about yourself. You say that you once had another name?”

“Yes.”

“And how old were you when Theodore found you?”

“Theodore says I was about three.” Gustav gazed at him with his gray eyes.

“That’s what he writes on the form. Do you think that he ever met your parents?”

“Don’t know.”

“And do you remember anything…” Janek paused for a moment. Ulush hastily whispered something in Yiddish, and he answered her. Then he continued: “Do you remember anything about your father or mother? What they did? What your family name was?”

Gustav was very quiet for a long minute.

Janek leaned toward him. “Did you have sisters? Brothers?”

Still the boy was quiet. He stuck his hand out to the plate to take another slice of cake.

“Uncles? Aunts?”

“I don’t know,” he said finally, dully. Ulush said something again, this time louder, and Janek’s leathery hand stroked Gustav’s cheek gently. He stopped asking questions.

***

Something about the ringing of the phone heralded bad news as soon as it broke through the silence. Elisheva didn’t know why, but it made her freeze in her tracks. A moment later, the gears of her brain seemed to thaw, and she reached out to answer it.

“Hello?” Her voice sounded a bit tremulous.

“Hello, this is Chanan Braunstein from Bank Pagi.”

“Yes?” She could barely get the word out.

“Can I ask for an explanation about your exorbitant spending in recent weeks?”

“What?” she whispered.

He raised his voice. “I’d like an explanation for these exorbitant expenses. Large withdrawals, checks that we have no choice but to send back, and in four days, your overdraft has inflated to twenty five times your regular credit line. You realize that we will not allow this to continue even one more day. I am asking you to come in urgently, today, with at least eighty thousand shekels in cash, and to make order in this account so that we don’t have to take any measures that are unpleasant for all involved.”

“No…no!” Elisheva found her voice. “It…it can’t be!”

What can’t be?”

“Five days ago, one hundred and eighty thousand shekels were deposited in our account, and even with all the expenses, we should still have a nice amount of money left there.”

“What?” Something in the hardness of his voice and the intensity of his confidence wavered for a moment. She heard the tapping of a keyboard. “I see no such thing.”

“On…it was on Monday. No, wait, maybe it was Tuesday…”

“Ma’am, no such amount was deposited in your account, not on Monday, not on Tuesday, and not on any day in the last month or the last year. You’ve been hovering around zero for a long time already.”

“Maybe my husband withdrew the whole amount this morning?”

“No.” The bank clerk’s patience was wearing thin. “There was never any such sum, Mrs. Potolsky. No one withdrew it, because it was never deposited. It just didn’t happen.”

“But we called the bank ourselves and heard that it was there! It was a special grant, and yes, it was very unusual for our account, but I am sure that it was deposited there!”

“I don’t know who managed to hoodwink you like that—” something about his tone softened suddenly—“but it must have all been some kind of trick. Now I am asking you to come right away and take care of this mess.”

It’s a dream. It’s a dream. It’s a bad dream.

“It can’t be,” she muttered, in total shock. But Mr. Chanan Braunstein had finished saying his piece and hung up.

She had to call Eliyahu. And to reach Tzippy, who had gone out with the other girls to a gown rental. And the mechuteiniste. She wondered what was happening in the Stockhammers’ account.

She just had to remember not to mention specific amounts, because Peretz’s mother did not know that they had gotten three times as much as the Stockhammers had received. Actually, it seemed they hadn’t gotten anything, but you don’t take chances with your future mechutanim’s feelings. Resentment about the “imbalance” could fester for a long time.

And as she was planning the words that she would and would not say to her mechuteiniste, Elisheva woke up from the nightmare.


The Cuckoo Clock – Chapter 13

July 8, 2019

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 13 of a new online serial novel, The Cuckoo Clock, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week.  Click here for previous chapters.

Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications. 

 

Bratislava 5708/1948

 

Ulush Cohen was wiping the small kitchen table when she heard her husband’s footsteps outside, accompanied by another set of footsteps. She quickly opened the pantry to see if they had enough ingredients for lunch.

When she heard the knock, she closed the pantry and hurried to the door. “Welcome,” she said, and then moved aside. Janek walked in with two guests; she knew them already from previous visits. He saw the look of distress in her eyes as she glanced at the pantry, and quickly murmured, “They won’t be eating lunch with us.”

“I can run down to the store,” Ulush replied quietly.

“No, no, this is really a short meeting relating to something we’d rather not discuss in the office.”

“I understand.” She went back to the kitchen and her wet rag, glancing over her shoulder. From the doorway she could look into the living room and see the edge of their floral armchair, as well as some of the dining room table. Someone sat down on the chair, and an ashtray was put on the table.

“It’s two days already…”

“The lists are closed….”

“…Cooperating nicely.”

“Another child…”

She tugged at her kerchief, opened the window to try and ward off the cigarette smoke that would inevitably waft in very soon, and took a few potatoes out of the pantry. Her husband didn’t share information about his activities and various smuggling operations, and it was better that way. He explained to her that this way, both of them were safer. But now things sounded really serious. They’d never come here to plan their next operation.

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