Without a Trace – Chapter 6

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 6 of a new online serial novel, Without a Trace, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every Thursday or Friday. Click here for previous chapters.

“Come to us for Shabbos, Chasi,” Shoshi said to her sister on the phone. “The children miss you.”

“And you?” Chasida joked.

“I do, too. Will you come?”

“I’ll think about it.”

Chasida unwound the tangled phone wire and glanced at her watch. In five more minutes she’d be able to close, if the two women browsing through the store would finish their purchases by then. Through the advertising placards hanging on the front glass, she noticed Shevi Auerbach approaching the store.

“What’s doing, Shevi?” Chasida asked as she quickly rang up one of the customers’ purchases.

Baruch Hashem, everything’s fine,” her younger neighbor responded, looking around. “Do you have something for swollen veins in the legs?”

“There are lots of ‘somethings.’”

“I mean something that will help.” Shevi smiled. One of the women finished paying and left. The second was hidden by the shelves toward the back.

“Who do you need it for?” Chasida inquired.

“My mother-in-law. I told her about your store and she asked me to buy her something.”

“She asked for something specific?” Chasida rose, her eyes beginning to scan the shelves for a suitable remedy.

“No, she just wants to try something out,” Shevi said, following her neighbor into the depths of the shop. “And do me a favor. Give me something that really works. I have no patience for her to tell me that you pushed me to take a product that you were just trying to sell, or something to that effect.” She fell silent when she saw the back of the second woman who was standing and rummaging through packets of dried herbs made by Rosalita.

The woman turned around when she heard them approaching. “It says here that this is blue!” she said, a note of accusation in her voice. Something about the way she spoke was familiar, but Chasida couldn’t place it. “And it’s not blue!”

“Because those are only the leaves,” Chasida explained patiently. “Blue is part of the name of the herb, and perhaps it is also the color of the flower.” She paused for a moment. “Do you need help?” she asked politely. Her customers were usually one of two types: either those who knew exactly what they wanted, or those who came without any information whatsoever and sought her advice. But she hadn’t yet encountered someone who wandered around without any clear objective and asked silly questions!

The woman muttered unintelligibly under her breath and walked away from them.

“Okay, do you have any idea how your mother-in-law’s veins are?” Chasida bent down and lifted a small carton.

Shevi rolled her eyes. “I don’t know. A bit swollen, I think.”

Chasida sighed. “It’s a bit complicated to find the right thing in such a roundabout way. It would be better if she’d come here herself.”

Shevi sighed back in response. “Still, maybe you could help me?”

“You know what?” Chasida suggested. “How about a bit of protektzia for my friendly neighbor? I’ll give you a few things. Take them to her, and let her choose.” She rummaged around on a nearby shelf. “Come here, let me explain to you what each thing is for and how it’s used.”

“And how much it costs,” Shevi added. Chasida smiled slightly and glanced at the only other customer in the store with consternation. She was standing about six feet away with her back to them, and turned around every few seconds, throwing them furtive glances.

“Here, write this down. Regalon cream from Ilanot is something new that promises all sorts of miracles, but from what I’ve heard from women who’ve tried it, it only helps slightly to moderately swollen veins. The price isNIS125 for a tube of 75 grams.” She put the orange-tinged jar on one side and picked up the carton. “These RFB gel bandages are imported from theUnited Statesand I’ve heard they provide excellent relief. But they’re rather expensive—ten bandages costNIS299.” She glanced at the clock at the wall; the woman was still standing in the same position.

“Excuse me,” Chasida called to her courteously. The woman turned around. “If you could hurry, please; it’s already four minutes after eight.”

The woman turned to the register counter empty-handed and stopped there, staring at Shevi, who was industriously writing down whatever Chasida had told her. “Didn’t you hear what the salesgirl said?” she berated Shevi loudly. “She has to close! You’re holding her up! Why are you asking so many questions?”

“A few minutes is okay,” Chasida said after a moment of surprised silence. “And you can also continue to look for what you need. I’m not very pressured with time; I just wanted to remind you of the hour so that I won’t have to stay for too much longer.” She stopped for a second and then asked again, “Do you need help, perhaps?”

“Yes, but not now,” the woman said huffily and walked out of the store. Chasida observed her retreating back with raised eyebrows for several long seconds. Then she shrugged and continued to read the details out to Shevi.

When the two of them walked out of the shop, it was twelve minutes after eight. They walked together in silence until they reached the long flight of steps that led to the Auerbach home. Shevi paused for a moment. “I think she wanted to talk to you.”

“Who?”

“That woman in the store. But she didn’t want to say anything when I was there.”

Chasida wrinkled her forehead. “Could be,” she said finally.

“And soon you’ll have proof that I’m right,” Shevi continued.

Chasida smiled. She liked her young, energetic neighbor. “Nu?” she prodded.

“As soon as I go inside, she’ll be back. Don’t turn around, but she’s standing near the garden across the street. She’s just waiting for me to disappear before she comes back to talk to you.”

“Okay, let’s see.” The figure in the background shifted restlessly. “Bye, Shevi.”

“See you,” Shevi said, taking the steps two at a time.

Chasida had only a few feet to walk until the three steps to her own house, but she didn’t get as far as two feet because the woman was already standing beside her. “I decided that the time has come to get to know you personally, finally!” she said in a voice filled with rebuke. “But your neighbor really doesn’t know how to take a hint!”

***

Biting his lips, Yehuda came to his room and sat on his bed. Only then did he look at his hand. The finger was beginning to swell—that was obvious. What should he do?

Zevi walked into the room, humming to himself, but stopped as soon as he saw his roommate’s expression. “Are you okay, Yehuda?” he asked.

“Not really.” Yehuda raised his hand. “I think I broke my finger.”

Zevi came over to him to take a closer look at the hand. “It’s swollen,” he said, looking up.

“I can feel it.” Yehuda groaned softly. “Should I go to the emergency room?”

“Should you? You have to!” Zevi wanted to ask if he should call one of the members of Yehuda’s chaburah to go along with him, but Yehuda preempted him.

“Will you come with me?” he asked simply.

They sat in the taxi, Yehuda’s finger wrapped in a cloth handkerchief that Rosenberg, the unofficial EMT in the yeshivah, had bound it with. “The pain’s receding,” Yehuda said suddenly. “Maybe we should go back?”

“I think you should have an x-ray,” Zevi said. “Don’t you?”

“Think, think.” Yehuda’s smile reached his dark eyes. “I just can’t stand hospitals, that’s all.”

“Me neither,” Zevi agreed. “And believe me that—um, how did you do this?”

“What?”

“How did you do it?” Zevi repeated the question with obvious discomfort.

“You probably think I fell, huh? Where? Well, actually, I was arguing with my chavrusa, and without noticing, I slammed my hand into the wall next to us. So what do you say about the shlemazel who breaks a finger from an argument in learning?”

“They’ll be telling this story about you for years to come,” Zevi comforted him, his face still pale. “About how involved you are in your learning, you know.”

“What, they’ll say this in the hespedim?”

Zevi laughed. “No, when they ask about shidduchim. Don’t be so morbid!”

Yehuda grew serious. “The story would be even better if the tzaddik doesn’t notice the pain in his finger, so involved is he in his learning, until those around him begin to point out the terrible swelling to him. But based on how much pain I’m feeling, I must be on a pretty low level…”

“We’re here, boys, in case you haven’t noticed. Fifteen shekel,” the driver said. “And refuah sheleimah to you, young man.”

The emergency room was pretty quiet. The nurse behind the desk looked at the swollen finger. “You have to see the orthopedist,” she said. “And he’ll probably send you for an x-ray. Meanwhile, sit down.” And so they sat.

Ten minutes passed in relative silence. Yehuda didn’t talk much, and Zevi didn’t want to bother him. He regretted that the taxi had pulled up at the hospital just when the conversation between him and Yehuda had been developing so nicely. Yehuda was always very nice to him, but their conversations had never really reached the comfort level that made them laugh together and forget the age gap that divided them…

Then Zevi berated himself. His friend had a broken finger and needed emergency treatment—and he, Zevi, wanted the taxi to tarry. Why? So that they could continue a pleasant conversation. Was that not the epitome of selfishness?

“Where’s the finger I have to look at?” a deep, hoarse voice called from the direction of the entrance.

“Here.” Yehuda rose, expecting Zevi to follow. But Zevi continued sitting, staring at the curtain next to him.

The doctor looked at the finger for less than five seconds. “Go take an x-ray,” he said. “Fourth floor. Then come back here.”

Yehuda looked to his left and then to his right. Where was Zevi? He wasn’t afraid to go up to the radiology department himself, but it sure would be more pleasant with some company. Wasn’t that why Zevi had come with him?

***

Chasida sat in the dining room drinking her coffee. Why the dining room? Because. Sometimes she didn’t want to drink her coffee in the four walls of the empty kitchen. Her mother was lying on her bed and talking on the phone to Shoshi, and her father wasn’t back from Maariv yet. Chasida put the spoon down on the saucer and wondered for the umpteenth time if Mrs. Kurzman had expected to be invited inside.

She thought back to their conversation of a few minutes ago. After identifying herself, Mrs. Kurzman had said that she was looking for an opportunity to speak to Chasida privately. “I just didn’t think anyone would be in the store a few minutes before closing,” she said with mock anger that passed very quickly. “Tell me, Miss Dresnick, why do you think I came?”

Chasida had replied that she had no idea. The entire conversation, with the two of them standing near the wall of her building, did not sit well with her, especially when the memories that the name Kurzman evoked flooded her mind all at once. Did this shadchante know how many sleepless nights had followed the conversations Chasida had had with her?

“Well, I wanted to discuss something with you.” That voice, that calm voice of Mrs. Kurzman. Usually, the more maddening her words, the calmer her voice was. “I thought I would speak to you in the store, not in the street. Do you think we can go back there?”

“Mrs. Kurzman, I haven’t eaten a thing since lunchtime.” Chasida sighed.

“One hundred percent. Go upstairs, drink something, and come back down. I’ll wait for you here.”

At the last second, Chasida had swallowed the cynical remark on the tip of her tongue, and instead said patiently, “No problem, Mrs. Kurzman, but it might take some time.”

“Very good. Fifteen minutes?”

“Okay.”

Now Chasida glanced at the clock on the wall. Ten minutes had already passed; in five more she’d go downstairs to see what Mrs. Kurzman could possibly have to tell her. Her heart didn’t skip a beat, like it used to when every new suggestion was offered. She was old. Very old.

“Chasi.” Abba entered, putting his hat down on the shelf. “What’s doing? How are things at the store?”

Baruch Hashem. Nothing new. Abba, do you remember the name Kurzman?”

Her father’s forehead creased in concentration. “Not really. Was he once suggested for you?”

“No, it’s a shadchante who hasn’t been in contact with me for years. The one who suggested Blum.”

“Oh.” His voice fell at once. “Her. Yes, I remember. What happened?”

“She must have remembered about me again.” Chasida smiled thinly. “She’s waiting for me downstairs.”

Abba considered whether to say something. “B’hatzlachah,” he said finally. His sigh made many deeply embedded chords in Chasida’s soul tremble. In a way, she had almost gotten used to the situation, and perhaps had begun to come to terms with it. But her parents just couldn’t bring themselves to do that.

***

Zevi held the large brown manila envelope. They went back into the emergency room. “I need Dr. Schreiber again,” Yehuda told the nurse.

“There he is,” the nurse said, pointing behind them. Even before Zevi could flee to the bench, the doctor was standing in front of them. “Yes, the one with the finger!” his hoarse voice boomed. “Oh, and who is here with him? Welcome, Mr. Bloch! What’s this? You’ve come along with him?”

Zevi nodded with effort, unable to utter a sound. His lips were pressed together tightly.

“It’s good to see you out of my clinic at Tel Hashomer. I hope you didn’t miss me so much that you broke your friend’s finger to meet me here, did you?”

This time, Zevi couldn’t even nod. His eyes pleaded with the doctor, but the latter wasn’t looking at Zevi’s eyes. His gaze was focused on Yehuda’s x-rays, and Zevi did not even remember how the large envelope had gone from his hand to the doctor’s. Had he handed it over? How come he didn’t remember? Dr. Schreiber most likely hadn’t grabbed it from him, so what had happened?

What had happened? A few things had happened. Yehuda apparently broke his finger. He, Zevi, had come along with him to the emergency room, only to discover that Dr. Schreiber was on shift there. The doctor had recognized him and didn’t realize there was any reason to conceal the fact that they knew each other. He spoke so clearly that only a fool wouldn’t understand what was going on there. And Yehuda Levy was no fool.

That’s what had happened.

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