Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 17 of a new online serial novel, Divided Attention, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every Thursday or Friday. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © 2010 by Israel Bookshop Publications
Yael Cohen served her guests a plate of cookies and two cups of soda. “Which era interests you the most?” she asked in her soft, refined voice.
If Yaeli would have to sum up Mrs. Cohen’s personality in one word, that was the word she would choose: refined. As much as she tried, she could not possibly imagine this woman not being religious.
Tikva peeked at her. “Yaeli?”
“Nu, which era?”
The truth was that Yaeli had not devoted even a second of thought to the matter before coming there. What difference did it make if they were writing about something that happened two hundred, five hundred, or even a thousand years ago?
“Maybe the unification of Germany,” she blurted, just to say something.
Tikva glared at her. “We don’t want to write about the Holocaust, remember?”
Yaeli sighed. “If you don’t mind my saying so, Tikva, the unification of Germany happened many years before the Second World War. It’s not the same thing at all.”
“Many years before?” Tikva echoed.
The historian, who had just finished filling their glasses with soda and was now capping the bottle, smiled. “Sixty-eight years, to be exact, if we are referring to the final unification declared in 1871, and not one of the previous stages.”
“I want something from longer ago,” Tikva said decisively. “The more ancient something is, the more interesting it sounds.”
“Could be,” Yael agreed and rose to look at the binders lined up on the top shelf. “Although you have to take into account that the earlier something happened, the fewer details we have about it. But let’s take a look at what we have….”
The curtain hanging over the window of the small room fluttered in the wind. A quiet voiced called out, “Ima?” Someone was talking.
Yael stopped and turned to the door. “Yes, Nava, what’s going on?”
“I’m going out with Rafi, okay?”
Yael put her hand back on the fat, cardboard binder that was on top of the pile. “No problem at all, Nava. Have a good time. Give him something to drink before you leave.”
Tikva and Yaeli sat there for almost fifty minutes, and, after choosing the spread of Islam as their topic, diligently wrote whatever Yael told them. Or rather, Yaeli sat and wrote, and Tikva helped by interjecting her comments and suggestions. Yael gave them a list of books that could provide them with more information, and offered advice on how to approach the actual writing. “This reminds me of my B.A. work,” she said with a smile.
“Well, it’s something a lot like that,” Yaeli said. “I mean, that’s at least how important we think it is.”
They agreed that they would give Yael their report to review before handing it in, thanked her warmly, and left.
On the last step, Tikva suddenly stopped.
“Come on already,” Yaeli said. “Why are you just standing there?”
Tikva looked at her in consternation. “Tell me something, Yaeli. You know that ninth grader with the brown ponytail who’s in Morah Dinner’s class? She always moves it forward.”
“I think I know who you’re talking about. Why?”
“Isn’t her name Nava Cohen?”
Yaeli, standing a few feet ahead of Tikva, turned around. “Could be,” she said quietly, her eyes narrowing. “You could very well be right.”
Nava and Rafi stood facing the shelves packed with merchandise. “Not with the flowers,” Rafi said. “It’s not nice. I want the white one with the gold. This one.” He pointed to a shiny white kippah on the bottom shelf, with a Magen David woven onto it in gold thread.
“I don’t know if that one is such a good idea,” Nava said carefully, not sure how to persuade him that he should choose a different kippah.
Surprisingly, Rafi stood up right away. “Okay, then a black one from here,” he said almost agreeably, “with gold or silver designs.”
“Velvet,” Nava agreed, picking up one kippah after another from the pile before her. Where was the difficult, obstinate—almost monstrous—child that Sarah had described to them? Rafi was very suspicious, that was true, but nothing more than that. He looked like he had always fit perfectly into the role of a spoiled younger brother who willingly went along with her—and the rest of the family’s—attempts to spoil him. He had been with them for three days already, and he eagerly pounced on every offer of a story (from Abba, usually), gastronomic invitation from the kitchen (from Ima, of course), and idea for an interesting game (from her, Nava; who else?). Everyone seemed to be thoroughly enjoying their “latest addition,” and the eight-and-a-half-year-old seemed more than willing to indulge them in this pleasure. So why had Sarah told them he was a stubborn, impudent child whose life had matured him too early?
“Nava…” Rafi nudged her impatiently. “Why are you dreaming? I want that one, up there.” This time he chose a regular dark blue velvet yarmulke with gold and red tulips trimming the edge.
“Very nice,” Nava said, placing it on his head.
“I prob’ly look really funny with a kippah,” Rafi said, grimacing in the mirror.
“Not at all. You look very cute.” She didn’t mention the fact that the long, curly locks prevented the yarmulke from resting properly on his head. That’s what clips were made for.
At home, Yael welcomed him with a smile. The room she had been sitting in when they had left was empty.
“Did your mysterious guests leave already?” Nava asked.
“Yes, they did. And you don’t have to take it personally. I told you, they’re high school girls, and I have no idea from which school, who need help with history and asked me to keep the meeting secret.”
“I’m not insulted at all,” Nava said, pouring herself a cup of water. If there were girls who wanted her mother’s help, by all means. She didn’t feel any envy whatsoever. “We went for a walk. I bought Rafi two cute shirts that he chose in Shloimy’s, and a yarmulke. He asked for it.” She opened the bag and took out the shirts. They were both of good quality, one green with a black print and the other white with beige stripes. What could Shloimy’s carry already? No monsters or torn elbows on shirts there.
“They’re both very nice, and the yarmulke is gorgeous,” Yael said, pouring Rafi a cup of juice. “Are you two ready to eat supper?”
Nava brought three metal clips and clipped the yarmulke to Rafi’s curls, pulling them back off his face a little. “You look like a boy in chalakah pictures!” she said with a smile, admiring her handiwork.
“What’s a chalakah?”
“We don’t cut boys’ hair until they are three years old,” she said, not noticing the pointed look her mother was giving her. “And then, before they get their first haircut, they usually take pictures, so there will be a memento of their long hair.”
Rafi sat near his plate and distractedly sniffed at his omelet. No, he didn’t look religious at all, and that wasn’t good. Which other boy in the store had long curls like him? They had all had their hair cut when they were three!
“I think I should have a haircut, right?” he said, and, using his bandaged elbow, he mashed his bread on his plate. He would miss his hair, and even worse, if Sarah would see him, she’d think that he had finally decided to listen to her. But it would grow back.
“We’ll think about it together and decide,” Yael said, and filled his plate with colorful salad. Something strange was going on, and she had to speak to Manny about it. Shortcuts were not always a good idea.
“And tomorrow, you’ll buy me strings to put in my pants,” Rafi ordered, rather pleased with himself.
The Jerusalem Forest was deserted during the late evening hours. A heavy chill hung in the silence and penetrated through Ronny’s leather coat as he leaned on one of the wet tree trunks. He held the handlebars of his bike with one hand, while his eyes constantly scanned the dark area around him. A muffled hum drew closer from a distance and then stopped.
Two figures finally appeared between the trees. He recognized the first one right away, but not the second. Who had Eddie brought along?
“Hi, Ronny,” Eddie said. “This is Yuri Sudosky. He was a grade above me in elementary school.”
“Pleasure meeting you,” Ronny said officially and proffered a hand to shake. Yuri was tall and broad, and something about his gaze did not sit well with Ronny. He had brown, penetrating eyes, and arched black eyebrows. His hand was firm when Ronny shook it, and his overall appearance emanated casual apathy and a healthy dollop of conceit.
“Same here,” Yuri answered tonelessly and shoved his hand back in his pocket.
“I think that Yuri can help us a lot,” Eddie said. His fawning tone irritated Ronny. “He has ways of getting into closed buildings. We won’t need your Rafi.”
Ronny didn’t react. “How did you get here?”
“On Yuri’s motorbike,” Eddie replied. That explained the noise Ronny had heard earlier. “He just didn’t want to take it into the mud here.”
Ronny looked at his own bike. It was a good thing he’d be using it for just a few more days.
Yuri put his second hand in his pocket. “What exactly do you want from me, Eddie? How can I help you guys?”
Ronny looked at Eddie, waiting for an answer.
“Nu,” Eddie said, turning to Yuri. “You have experience, like you told me. We’re looking for someone.”
“We’re not looking for anyone,” Ronny said, making a quick decision. He swung his leg over the seat of his bike. “I waited for you, Eddie, because I wanted to tell you that I’m giving up the whole plan. I’m not in the mood of getting in trouble and then ruining my reputation for the army and later on.” He put his foot on the pedal. “So, good night, guys, and I apologize for getting Sudosky out here for nothing, Eddie. By the way, if you want to get next semester’s chemistry plans, meet me at Miki’s Pizzeria; my treat. Bye!”
The tires of his bike picked up speed. Yuri and Eddie exchanged glances. “Well, I’m sorry,” Eddie said uneasily. “I didn’t know there was a change in his plans.”
“Or your friend doesn’t want my help,” Yuri said, walking back to where he’d parked the motorbike.
“Whatcha talking about?” Eddie protested, following him.
Yuri laughed, but didn’t answer. “Hold on tight!” he told Eddie, who had clambered up behind him on the bike. “And don’t forget to go to the pizza store to see what he does want. Don’t worry; I’m not upset at all.”
Forty-five minutes later, Eddie pushed open the fogged-up door to the busy pizzeria. A cacophony of voices and a combination of aromas assaulted him, and it took him a few seconds to find Ronny. A waiter loaded down by three trays oozing with hot yellow cheese passed him. “Can I help you?” he asked courteously.
“No, thanks; I found my friend already,” Eddie said, suddenly spotting Ronny’s profile at one of the corner tables. He walked over, inadvertently stepping on some cardboard strips smeared with red tomato sauce.
“Hey, Ronny!” he said, slapping his friend on the shoulder. “What’s up? What kind of chemistry plans were ya talking about?”
Ronny turned around, his eyes shooting sparks of fury at Eddie, causing him to recoil. “Tell me; are you crazy?” he lashed out. “You gonna bring me someone who’s already mixed up with the law?!”
Eddie sat down, toying with the napkin holder, the only object on the table. “Maybe stop screaming at me and explain what you’re talking about?”
“I’m talking about the fact that if you said he has ‘experience,’ then the police must know him. At least a little, right?”
“I guess so,” Eddie admitted. “But I don’t think he was ever actually arrested.”
“Yes,” Ronny said impatiently, “but you’ve gotta understand, Eddie. If he has experience with break-ins, then I’m sure he has a nice file with the police. I want nothing to do with a guy like that, got it? They have an eye on him!”
Eddie nodded in concentration, just as the pizza that Ronny had ordered arrived.
“Eat,” Ronny told Eddie. “It’s on me, remember?” He chewed his own pizza quietly, observing Eddie unobtrusively. No, Eddie was not the type who would accept his every word like the guys in his neighborhood, but that didn’t bother him so much. But to bring someone like Yuri into the picture? Besides for the criminal part, which was also true, did he really need someone who would compete with his position of power?
“What do you say ’bout Ofer?” Eddie asked, and reached his hand out to grab one of the cups of chocolate milk that had just been brought to the table. He drank thirstily.
“Yeah. You think he’s good?”
“Could be.” Ronny picked a glob of cheese off his pizza with his fingers. “But let’s decide, Eddie, that we don’t meet with anyone else unless we both agree.”
“Okay,” Eddie said, and looked at Ronny, who had tilted his head backwards to get the last drop of chocolate milk out of his cup.
“And we can’t be more than four or five guys,” Ronny added. “The fewer the better.”
“And of course, don’t forget, not a word to that Yuri. We don’t want him to have any information about us next time he’s caught by the police. Okay?”
“Absolutely,” Eddie said, wiping his mouth with a napkin he’d pulled out of the metal holder.