Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 17 of a new online serial novel, Without a Trace, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
At three o’clock, as the pale moon began to sink below the horizon, Eliyahu woke up and could not fall back asleep. For many long years he had slept, very deeply. Now the time had come to act, and with him, as always, action didn’t come far after the decision, even if it was difficult or puzzling. Perhaps the fact that Zevi was reasonably tall was what was bothering him. That was a sign that he was toward the end of the growing stage, wasn’t it? And if he had understood Arthur correctly, it was easier to repair the problem when the body had not yet reached its final growth. Perhaps these were the final days when something could still be done, if at all!
And maybe it was his impulsiveness, which had never given him any respite. His Aunt Minda had always said that the moment he decided something, nothing could stop him.
Either way, Eliyahu felt that he had to act. He couldn’t wait, despite the discomfort and awkwardness he knew would be involved. He waited impatiently for another hour to pass, and then got up and went out to the nearest shul where a vasikin minyan was held. He learned a bit, davened, and went back home. Chavi and the girls were up, as they usually were at this early hour. Only the boys’ room was still quiet. Elchanan had to get up for davening already, but he had an alarm clock. He didn’t need his father to wake him. Eliyahu marveled at how mature and responsible the boy was.
“Chavi?” He found her in the kitchen, cutting tomatoes on the blue cutting board as she listened with a sigh to the screams coming from the girls’ room. “Do you know how someone can get from Bnei Brak to Yerucham?”
“From Bnei Brak to Yerucham?” The knife in her hand froze in mid-motion for a second. “I think there are private buses a few times a day. Not too many.”
“Is there a direct bus from here?”
“I don’t think so. I imagine that you can take a bus from the Central Bus Station to Beer Sheva, and from there I’m sure there’s a link to Yerucham.”
Eliyahu nodded, feeling that familiar sensation of his blood churning through his veins. He knew that from the minute he had decided to speak to Chanoch and Shoshi Bloch, he would not be calm until the conversation was behind him. “I want to go there today.”
“To Yerucham?” She raised her eyes, and then quickly lowered them back to the cutting board and the tomato. “You want to talk to Shoshi?”
“To Shoshi and Chanoch.”
“Is he in the country?” Chavi moved to the cucumbers. “Isn’t he supposed to be in South America?”
“I think he always comes back before Tishah B’Av,” Eliyahu said, mixing the cut-up vegetables that Chavi had poured into the bowl. “What do you suggest? Should I drive there myself, or take the bus from Bnei Brak? I have no patience for multiple buses.”
“Come, let’s eat breakfast. You’ll think about it as you eat,” Chavi replied.
Eliyahu wanted to tell her that he had no appetite at the moment, and that he’d prefer to leave as quickly as possible, but instead, he opened the bread drawer and took out a loaf of bread. He wasn’t a seven-and-a-half-year-old boy anymore. The time had come to grow up a little.
“I can call Metropolin’s information line,” he said when he finished eating. “I think that’s the company that services the south. I just have to find their number.”
Metropolin’s answer was surprising: there was just one bus a day from Bnei Brak to Yerucham, and it left at ten-thirty at night. Now, during bein hazmanim, the company added one other bus, at three-thirty in the afternoon. There were no direct buses from Tel Aviv, only to Beer Sheva, as Chavi had surmised.
“Well,” Eliyahu said impatiently, “I have no patience to wait for them. I’ll manage myself. I know the way to Beer Sheva from the days when I used to live there. Yerucham is a bit further toward the end of the world, I know, but there’s clear signposting even to the end of the world.”
“You have the strength for such a long drive now?” Chavi asked him.
“And if I don’t?”
“Then maybe you would consider waiting until the afternoon.”
Eliyahu was quiet, trying to see himself through his wife’s eyes. A child, really. Zevi wouldn’t run away from Yerucham until the afternoon; neither would his parents. What was so urgent?
“Okay.” He sighed. “I’ll go in the afternoon.”
Only after lunch, as he stood at the door, did Eliyahu realize that he had no idea where in Bnei Brak the bus stop to Yerucham was. “Where’s that number to Information?” he muttered as he flipped through the phone book. “In the end I’ll miss the bus and have to take the ten-thirty one, and I doubt the Blochs will welcome me warmly after midnight.”
“I’ll call Information,” Chavi said. “You go, Eliyahu. You might have traffic between Tel Aviv and Bnei Brak now. I’ll call you as soon as I know.”
A smile of gratitude crossed Eliyahu’s face, stretching from his red beard to his orange-tinged eyebrows. “Thank you so much, Chavi. That would be a huge help. I’m leaving now.”
“Don’t forget to say Tefillas Haderech!” she called after him.
He had already descended the first flight of stairs when he remembered something and retraced his steps, two at a time.
“Chavi?” he said quietly.
Libby and Michal stopped fighting over the flowered plate. His wife came to the kitchen door.
“I just wanted to ask you,” he paused, “to please daven for me.”
She nodded with a smile.
“Bye, kids!” He waved. “Don’t make things harder for Ima.”
The tenth page read:
Aunt Minda says I have thorns in my feet, but I cheked and there are no thorns. My father says a lot of times his feet hurt and that it’s like there’s thorns even tho there aren’t any. She said it’s becuz by brekfast I talked to Chasi about the flowers that are growing now, and she said they aren’t growing yet, and Yitzchak also said she’s right. But I already saw them yesterday! And then she said that if I find one of the flowers, I should bring her a presint. So in the morning I went to the feeld with my backpack and picked five flowers and not just one, and then I went to skool, and my teacher got angry and said Uncle Zalman had to rite a note that I went to pick flowers instead of gowing to skool.
The next page:
I told my uncle that I just had to go today qwikly, becuz I was afraid the flowers would die or other kids would pick them, so I went qwikly and didn’t wait even a minut, and I didn’t look at my watch to see that it was already eight. And Uncle Zalman took a deep breth like he sometimes doz when I talk to Aunt Minda, and my aunt said that we have to think before we act, and becuz I never think before I desid to do something, then I do silly things. But she says there’s nothing to do with me, becuz I’m the sort of kid who wants to do rite away whatever I desid, and I don’t think furst.
Eliyahu’s car darted forward, joining the stream of cars on the road. The sun was moving up in the sky and filling the streets with its bright, clear light. A sharp ringtone sliced through the silence in the car, and Eliyahu wondered for a second before answering his phone if he should lower the volume. He looked at the unfamiliar number on the screen before pressing the green “receive” button.
“Good afternoon,” he said.
Arthur’s voice filled the car through the speakerphone. “Good afternoon to you, too, Rabbi Eliyahu. How is it that you are going to Yerucham without letting me know? Why don’t you go with me? I don’t understand!”
“Sorry that I didn’t let you know that I went to the grocery yesterday, either, after we parted,” Eliyahu said, and then grew serious. “But really, Arthur, what do you have to do in Yerucham?”
“I told you!” Arthur scolded. “I have a series of lectures in the south. I was there yesterday, I’ll be there today, and next week, too.”
“In the south?”
“In BenGurionUniversity in Beer Sheva. Yerucham’s not far, right?”
“By German standards, no,” Eliyahu said. “It’s about half an hour away, maybe a bit less.”
“Nu, so I want you to join me. Why should I be bored in my car and you in yours? Let’s bore each other. I have a thousand questions, and Tissa’s nudging me that I have to keep talking to you. She says—” here Eliyahu could hear the smile in Arthur’s voice—“that you have a magic influence on me. Nu, so, Magic Rabbi, are you parking your car in some corner and joining me in mine? Where should I pick you up? Have you left Tel Aviv yet?”
“It doesn’t sound to me like you’re too worried about that magic energy that I influence you with…” Eliyahu chuckled, but his mind worked quickly, considering the options. It would be nice to travel with Arthur, that was for sure. But if he had a direct bus from where he was to Yerucham, it would be even better. Why should he drag Arthur there? “I’m on Jabotinsky already, just outside Bnei Brak. How did you know I was going down south?” he asked curiously. Wait, how was he going to get back from Yerucham? He hadn’t thought about that yet. Whatever; he’d figure it out later.
“I called your house to let you know that I told Tissa about that boy, and she said she needs a few pictures to know exactly what the status is.”
“What do you think I meant, studio photos? Anyway, when your wife heard that, she told me that these details could be important to you today, and then said that you were on an urgent trip to Yerucham.”
A call-waiting beep told Eliyahu that Chavi was trying to reach him. “I’ll be in touch with you in a few minutes, Arthur,” he said. “I’m just finding out where the bus stop is in Bnei Brak. I think I have a direct bus from Bnei Brak to Yerucham. If I do, you’ll have to manage without me.”
“Maybe I’ll also come to Bnei Brak, to take that bus. Do they let people with ponytails onto the bus in Bnei Brak?”
“No, they throw them down the stairs.”
“Very sad. Well, it doesn’t make sense in any case, because I need Beer Sheva and not Yerucham. Besides, I get the rental car free, so it’s a shame for me to pay for a bus that they’ll throw me off of anyway, right?”
Another beep cut off Eliyahu’s laugh. “I’ve got to get that call, Arthur,” he said, still smiling. “The bus actually has a stop in Beer Sheva, but we’ll talk soon, okay?”
A soft cry emerged from the carriage, and Miri looked with disappointment at the rattle that her grandmother had given her, which had fallen onto her lap. She waved her hands furiously, but the rattle was hardly impressed.
“Here, sweetie, take this,” her grandmother cooed and put the toy into the baby’s pudgy little hand. She turned her head to Shevi, who was standing near her, and said, “Don’t you think, Shevi, that she’s not grasping things like she should be? What did the nurse at the baby clinic tell you?”
“That she’s fine,” her daughter-in-law replied, sinking tiredly onto the plastic chair that Gavriel had brought down from the house upon his mother’s orders. Pale morning rays of sun peeked through the trees and mottled the wall behind her with bright circles.
“I came to visit our patient,” her mother-in-law had announced with pathos when she had breezed through the door that morning. “I have this morning free, and I think, Shevi, that we’ll go down to the garden. There’s beautiful sunlight there now. Why did we invest so much money in buying such a large piece of property? You don’t take enough advantage of it.”
“Shevi actually uses it for her photographs,” Gavriel said, hurriedly clearing a chair from the piles of clean laundry. Shevi had been bedridden for two days with an ear infection, and the house looked awful.
“Can’t you fold a bit of laundry when your wife doesn’t feel well?” his mother asked as she sat down. “And wash a few dishes? It’s no wonder Shevi’s sick. Just looking at those piles of dishes makes me feel feverish!” She laughed at her own joke and leaned back in her chair. “Someone’s already come for photos?”
“One mother called,” her daughter-in-law replied, trying to smile.
“Good, from one, many more will come. Now, we’re going to go down to the garden,” Ilana Auerbach said firmly. “I’m sure the clear air will do wonders for Shevi.”
Shevi nodded and hurried to her bedroom to change the robe she wore over her nightgown for a shirt and skirt. Her mother-in-law wanted to sit in the garden? That was fine with her—but she couldn’t go down like this.
“It’s nice here,” Ilana said when they were finally downstairs. Gavriel was leaning against the wall of the house, facing her. He had been planning to go to the beis medrash to learn, but when his mother had come in announcing that she knew that his vacation had begun today, he knew with certainty that he’d have to postpone his plans. All in the name of kibbud eim. “I hope you aren’t seriously planning to sell the house and yard, like you’ve been offered. It would be very foolish, Gabi. To exchange this small, enchanting area for an apartment on top of a shopping center? In a building of five or six floors? No, tell them you don’t want to do it.”
Shevi gnawed on her tongue and looked at her daughter in the carriage. Once again the rattle had fallen to the floor, but this time, there wasn’t a peep of protest. Miri had fallen asleep, with the hint of a smile on her round, full cheeks.
Shevi, though, was far from smiling. She fixed an angry pair of eyes on the ugly blue stroller that her mother-in-law had bought for Miri when she turned five months old, and felt the fury rise in her throat, threatening to burst forth at any second. “This small, enchanting place.” Really! Her mother-in-law wasn’t the one who lived day in and day out in an old house, where all the renovations they had done hadn’t prevented the mold stains from spreading in the bathroom and the tiles in the inner rooms from being faded and scratched. Gavriel’s mother lived in a real urban building, with an elevator and neighbors who made problems, but because she loved small magical places, she wanted her son and daughter-in-law to continue living in an old, moldy hole in the wall.
Shevi stood up, knowing she was horribly spoiled. She had an apartment that was renovated, making it almost new, and she lived in Bnei Brak, a place where many would have loved to live but didn’t have the means to do so, and with all of her house’s drawbacks, it was impossible—under any circumstances—to call it an “old, moldy hole in the wall.” But the tears of anger that blinded her vision didn’t take into consideration that she knew she was wrong.
Of course, she also could not forget that the first one who had said, “Don’t give up on that garden,” even before they’d received the offer from the lawyer, was her mother.
“Are you going, Shevi?” Ilana asked solicitously. “Are you not feeling well?”
“I’m feeling fine, baruch Hashem.” She smiled wanly. “Maybe…um…I’ll go up and bring down a pitcher of juice and some cups.”
“You won’t bring anything,” her mother-in-law declared. “Sit down. Gabi, why don’t you go get us something to drink?”
“Sure,” her son said, shaking off his own musings. He and Shevi had seriously considered the idea, and when he had casually told his mother about the offer they had received, she hadn’t sounded enthusiastic, but also hadn’t voiced any opposition. “Do whatever you think,” she had said, and then changed the subject. What had happened?
“Should I bring us something to drink?” his mother asked him.
He smiled and began to go. “No, Ima, I’m going. I’ll be right back.”
Morning dawned on the military base near Beit-Lid.
Eliad, Shevi Auerbach’s brother, hurried out of the barracks toward the base, his eyes still itchy and dry. Once again, he hadn’t made it to shul in the morning, and he had put on his tefillin in his room and muttered the brachos. His face was wet from the water he had splashed on it to banish the cobwebs of exhaustion, and he went out into the sun, too lazy to find his towel.
“Hey, ‘Liad!” The hoarse voice from behind him surprised him. Don, his roommate, was walking down the stone steps of the administrative building, smiling jovially. Eliad liked his smile.
“Good morning, Don,” he replied. “What are you doing here at administration?”
“I went in to talk to them about the lettuce.”
“From Gush Katif?”
“Very funny. The settlers took all the lettuce. I came to talk about our lettuce.”
“What’s there to talk about?” Eliad asked with interest. Don was a fascinating friend; there was always something interesting going on around him. He had the most unconventional ideas, but it was never boring talking to him.
“With these guys there really is nothing to talk about.” Don waved his hand scornfully toward the office. “Maybe I need to talk to the cook, but I doubt he’ll take me seriously.”
“What’s up with the lettuce?”
Don sat down on the step behind him. His eyes twinkled mischievously. “Tell me, ‘Liad, why are you wasting time in your life on the disgusting food here?”
“Disgusting? I think it’s actually pretty good,” Eliad protested.
“Tastes good, yes, but what about everything else that goes into it? They destroy all the energy in the food, these guys in the kitchen.”
“What are you trying to tell me, that cooking is better than frying? I know that very well.” Eliad looked at his friend closely. Since when did the flighty Don think so deeply about nutrition? He was the last one Eliad expected to take the medical articles printed in some anonymous pamphlet seriously.
“Silly boy, I’m not talking about vitamins and minerals. I’m talking about the energies that the moon gives the whole world. Haven’t you ever heard about them?”
Eliad couldn’t help but smile, and Don smiled calmly, too. “You don’t understand me, do you? I suggest you come with me in two days, when we have a few hours off. Someone’s giving a lecture here, in Kfar Yona. I also started listening just recently.”
“Whoa, you are heavy today. Not like you at all, Don.”
“What heavy, who heavy? You just have to come with me to hear Sol. He’s huge, this guy. If our cook would hear him, he would understand very well why, when he cuts lettuce along the length of the veins, he paves the path for the energies to leave, and it’s a shame. Lettuce is a wonderful source for the positive moon energies, or whatever they are called.”
“The moon, if you don’t mind, has long set,” Eliad said dryly. “And the sun has risen. That means the time has come to go to the mess hall before they call us to morning exercises and I’ll be hungry because of you.”
“You’re a robot, like everyone else here,” Don chided him with a smile, but fell into step beside him. “No problem. You continue eating foods that they took all the life out of. Continue drinking coffee mixed in the wrong direction; continue eating chickens that never saw the light of the moon their whole lives except the night they were slaughtered—and don’t wonder why you look like this.”
With a soft beep and flash of the lights, the car was locked. Eliyahu didn’t even bother to check if the doors were really locked as they should be, like he usually liked to do. He hurried up the street toward the only bus that stood at the stop. It would be departing any minute, and was liable to leave him standing there.
Someone in a suit and hat was standing next to the luggage compartment. The youth deliberated for a moment and then closed the compartment with a bang and boarded the stairs of the bus with what looked like a blue tote. Eliyahu didn’t ask himself why the boy hadn’t put his belongings below like everyone else, because at that minute, the bus pulled out of the stop, and the roar of the motor growing fainter was one of the most maddening noises Eliyahu had ever heard in his life.
He looked at the remote control keychain in his hand, and tiredly put it into his suit pocket. Yes, it made sense that Zevi was going home. What did you think, that he would stay in yeshivah forever? And if he didn’t go home yesterday or the day before, for whatever reason, then he’s going now.
Arthur called again. “Nu, what’s going on, Rabbi Eliyahu? Are you taking the bus, or are you coming with me?”
“I missed the bus. If you don’t mind, pick me up at the gas station on Highway Four just outside Bnei Brak, near Coca Cola. Is that too difficult?”
“Yes, very much so. Bye, Rabbi Eliyahu, see you soon.”
When Arthur’s silver car pulled up near the curb, Eliyahu didn’t notice it at first. He was thoughtfully watching a light-colored bus from a distance. “Rabbi!” Arthur’s voice pulled him out of his dreams. “I’m here.”
“Great.” Eliyahu got into the car. “See that bus there?” Arthur nodded, remaining unusually silent. “That’s the bus I missed. You can follow it and it will take us directly to Yerucham, without us getting lost on all sorts of side roads.”