Without a Trace – Chapter 22

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 22 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.

Although it was Thursday, the yellow drops of ices that dribbled onto the floor did not bother Shoshi. She would just run a mop over the floor before they left for Bnei Brak tomorrow. Zevi stood in one corner of the dining room, observing his family. Something in his expression made it clear that his thoughts were very far away, but she had no idea where they were. Since coming home a few days ago, he seemed a bit preoccupied.

“Zevi?”

He lowered his eyes toward his mother, who was seated on the sofa. His father sat at the head of the table as Shloimy proudly showed him his alef-beis cards. Shloimy sucked the end of the soggy popsicle stick and turned to look at Zevi.

“You didn’t get an ices!” he said, understanding dawning on him. “Do you want one, too?”

Zevi smiled at him, and his mother tried again. “What are you dreaming about, Zevi’le?”

“Nothing special.” Only about strange people who have taken an interest in me lately, and Abba might know who they are but doesn’t want to tell me. “I think I’ll go to shul to learn a bit.”

As he headed for the door, the telephone in the hallway rang. Zevi answered it. An unfamiliar man’s voice asked if this was the Bloch residence, and then asked to speak to his mother. Then the man changed his mind and asked for his father.

Zevi raised an eyebrow and turned toward the dining room. “Abba?”

Chanoch stood up.

“Someone wants you on the phone.”

Chanoch waved as Zevi left the house, and picked up the receiver that Zevi had put on the wooden shelf.

“Hello?” he said into the phone, smiling at Shloimy, who had followed him into the hall, unwilling to give up a single minute of precious Abba-time.

“Hello,” the anonymous voice said. “Chanoch?”

“Yes.”

“It’s Eliyahu. Eliyahu Katz.”

“Eliyahu? …Oh, hello!” Chanoch’s gaze sought out Shoshi. It was her turn at the Monopoly game, and she threw the dice to the cheers of her daughters.

“Six, Ima!” Yocheved announced. “You’re going to have to pay me rent! I bought that property before!”

Chanoch, seeing there was no chance of attracting his wife’s attention right then, resignedly turned his attention back to his conversation on the phone. “How are you, Eliyahu?” he asked, raising his voice slightly. Still Shoshi didn’t hear him.

Baruch Hashem, I’m doing well,” came the response. “I…I was wondering if I can meet with you. There’s something I have to discuss with you.”

“We’d be very happy to see you again, Eliyahu,” Zevi’s father said warmly. Eliyahu was taking a significant step. He wondered what had brought him to do it so suddenly.

Eliyahu, in his house, untied the strings of the white apron he just noticed he was still wearing. Chanoch sounded very friendly, as always. He, on the other hand, knew  he sounded reserved, as he tried to formulate his sentences. Orange drops of water mixed with dish soap slid from the apron onto the bed frame, and he wiped them with his palm.

Chanoch was still talking. “You live in Tel Aviv, don’t you? There’s no reason for you to make the trip down to Yerucham. We’re planning to be in Bnei Brak next week.” Chanoch hesitated for a minute. He didn’t want to decide anything by himself, without consulting first with Shoshi. “Can you wait a second? Let me hear what Shoshi says.”

“Sure,” Eliyhau said quietly, moving the phone away from his ear a bit. The fact that Chanoch was a nice guy, despite everything, was something he had always known. Shoshi, though, was much closer to the crux of the matter and was probably more weighed down by the emotions involved in it. He had neither the energy nor the interest in hearing the exchange between the couple.

Shoshi didn’t say any of the things Eliyahu was afraid she would say. “Did you tell him we’ll be in Bnei Brak next week?” she replied when she heard who was on the phone. “My parents will be happy to see him, my father at least. He’s been eating his heart out for years about what happened.”

“I don’t think he’ll want to,” Chanoch said gently, far enough from the phone. Even if Eliyahu would press the receiver to his ear with all his might, he wouldn’t have heard a word of the exchange between the Blochs in Yerucham.

“Who, my father?”

“No, Eliyahu. He called us, not your parents.”

“Okay,” she said. “So make up to meet him somewhere neutral, if you think that’s better. He certainly doesn’t have to make the trip down here.” She went back to the Monopoly game and her patiently waiting daughters. Fortunately, they did not ask about the mysterious phone call that had generated a hurried conference between their parents in the kitchen. She didn’t want to disappoint them by stopping the game. But she knew that she wouldn’t be able to focus on the little plastic houses and the colorful cards right now. Oh, well, the girls would be happy to win.

***

“Eliad, is that you?”

“He went back to the base this morning.”

“Oh, it’s you, Elia. Hi. So you’re alone with Abba?”

“Alone with myself, you mean. Abba isn’t home much. The project in Yokne’am, you know.”

Elinor leaned on the wall in Shevi’s kitchen, clutching the receiver. To her right, Shevi opened a bag of beans and poured them into a bowl of water. “What are your plans for Shabbos, Elia?”

“Dunno. A friend invited me, but I’m thinking of staying here with Abba. He’s usually home for Shabbos.” Elia snickered quietly at his own joke, but Elinor did not find it funny.

“Why don’t you come here?”

“Because I don’t want to leave Abba alone.”

“So let him come along!” Elinor said, not noticing how Shevi wrinkled her forehead when she heard her sister’s invitation.

“I see that you feel so at home over there that you’re already extending invitations, as if it’s your house!” He laughed. “But you’ll have to talk to Abba about it, not me.”

“Fine, so I’ll tell Shevi to talk to him. It makes no sense for you two to be at home alone! Abba isn’t home now, right?”

“Right.”

“Okay, so we’ll call back. Have a good—wait! Elia, are you still there?”

“Yeah.”

“How was Eliad the past two days?”

“Pretty normal. A bit edgy. But besides that, everything was fine.”

“Completely normal?”

“Yes, completely normal. Well, he sometimes mixed his water before drinking it, but not always.”

“Anything else?”

“What do you mean?” Her brother was confused.

“You know, other strange things.”

“I don’t think there were any,” he said slowly.

“Did he eat normally? Drink normally?”

“Yes,” Elia replied, still thoughtful. “I’m pretty sure.”

“Okay, Elia, thanks.” She hung up the phone and looked at Shevi, who was standing at the counter. “Abba usually comes home at around ten in the evening. Call him then, okay?”

“I’m….not sure.” Shevi turned to face her. Only now did Elinor notice her sister’s distraught expression.

“What’s the matter?” Elinor asked. “Do you have other plans? I’m sorry; I thought that if I’m here anyway, then it won’t make much of a difference…”

“No, I really don’t have other plans,” Shevi said, fixing her kerchief. “I just don’t know how my mother-in-law will feel when she hears that my father will be coming for Shabbos for the second time, while she and Gavriel’s father have still never eaten here for Shabbos yet.”

“I thought you said she doesn’t want to come.”

“Right, but you can never know when my mother-in-law will suddenly decide to want something.” Shevi sighed.

“So invite them!” Elinor suggested. “They’re very good parents, in my opinion. Look what a nice trip they took us on yesterday!”

“Yes.” Shevi stirred the beans, gazing at the water that swirled around them.

Elinor looked at Shevi’s hand. “And I’ll go back to Haifa, to be with Abba and Elia,” she added. “I’m sure it will be a beautiful Shabbos!”

***

The house was dark and quiet; only the kitchen light was on. Chasida returned from her evening walk. She didn’t do it every day, but she tried to make it happen at least twice a week. Switching on the vestibule light, she walked toward the kitchen. Her parents were returning the next day from their vacation at Yitzchak’s, and the Blochs were coming from Yerucham. She had to start getting ready for Shabbos.

Faigy, her sister-in-law, would send salads with Abba and Ima, and Shoshi promised to bring a side dish. What Chasida had to do was deal with the chicken that had been defrosting on the counter since the afternoon. They’d eat fish from a jar; surprisingly enough, that had been Ima’s suggestion. “It tastes like glass,” she would inevitably say the few times they bought jarred fish. “Really, they shouldn’t tell me this is gefilte fish!” But now she had asked Chasida not to bother cooking fish.

“You don’t have to work too hard. Just buy ready-made, and if I have the energy, I’ll prepare real fish on Friday.”

The poultry scissors were in their regular drawer, and she flipped the chicken over to the other side, peeling off the plastic wrap. She really didn’t know how to make fish properly. She’d once tried, nearly twenty years ago. It had fallen apart horribly, and the whole thing had turned into thick fish soup. She hadn’t tried a second time.

“When you get married, you get fish from your mother for Shabbos,” her mother had said firmly. “And then you learn to cook it. No need to know how to make it beforehand.”

Years had passed, and her mother’s fish was as tasty as ever. No mass-produced fish would ever hold a candle to it, and she continued to eat it each Shabbos at home, at the same table.

The chicken seemed to be trying to evade the cold metal scissor blades. Shoshi wasn’t the only one who had gotten fish from Ima for Shabbos. Chavi, Eliyahu’s wife, who noted many times that there was nothing like this fish, never objected when Ima urged her to take a few fish balls home for Shabbos. Liebchu, Eliyahu’s mother, had died of heart disease about three months after she’d merited to see her son marry; she never sent her daughter-in-law fish, and the job fell automatically onto Ima.

Then, too, it was Thursday; Thursday afternoon. Chasida’s fingers clutched the scissors tightly. Eliyahu had called and asked if they could pop in. Ima had smiled and said why not—she’d be happy to see them. They still lived in Bnei Brak at the time, in a rented apartment. When had they moved to Tel Aviv? Chasida didn’t know. It had happened after they had cut off contact.

The young couple appeared half an hour later. Chanoch, Shoshi’s husband, was also there at the time. She didn’t remember if he, too, had been sent to bring home fish for Shabbos, or if he’d come over for something else, but he was there by himself. To this day, she remembered how he was standing at the counter, how he greeted Eliyahu and Chavi who walked into the kitchen, sat down at the table, and gratefully accepted the cold juice Abba offered them.

“So what’s new?” Eliyahu had asked, reaching for the juice pitcher. “How’s your Zevi, Chanoch? Does he still look like me?”

Chanoch had chuckled. “Like two drops of carrot juice,” he replied. “We hope he plans to be as nice as you, too. So far, it looks that way.”

“Just a bit less wild,” Ima had hurried to say as she put down a glass plate with slices of fresh-out-of-the-oven cake. It amused Chasida. Eliyahu normally cut his own cake, but now, with Chavi, he sat like a tailored gentleman in a suit and took the cake served on a plate. Well, that was because Ima was still so excited about Chavi. A few more months, Chasida knew, and it would pass.

Chanoch, who was standing at the counter, near the pan of cake, straightened the edge of the cake, which Ima had cut a bit crookedly. He pinched the crumbs between his fingers and remarked, “Feel at home, Reb Eliyahu, eat something.”

“You don’t say!” Eliyahu laughed and took a warm slice. “I feel quite at home here, after almost eighteen years. A bit longer than you.”

“How’s everything by you, Eliyahu?” Abba had asked. Up until now, he had been standing quietly and observing his son-in-law and nephew, both of whom were very dear to him. Abba had been extremely solicitous about Eliyahu during the period following Liebchu’s death. Perhaps he had some pangs of guilt, or maybe he thought Eliyahu needed support. Chasida personally thought Eliyahu was recovering very well. But she didn’t say a thing. Her father wanted to give his nephew some extra attention? No problem. It really did not affect her at all.

In general, when Chanoch and Eliyahu were there together, Abba tried very hard to give them equal amounts of attention. He was afraid that one would become uncomfortable or feel rejected beside the other. Chasida didn’t know if the two men were aware of it, but from the time Chanoch and Shoshi got engaged, Abba had devoted a lot of attention to this matter and had asked Yitzchak to do so as well whenever he was around.

Chanoch had come into the family when the girls were twenty-one and Eliyahu was almost twenty. Yitzchak, Shoshi and Chasida’s older brother, lived in Jerusalem and wasn’t so involved in the new situation that had arisen between the new son-in-law and the cousin who was really a member of their household. Eliyahu and Chanoch developed a cordial friendship, and Chasida didn’t bother to look any further as to whether there was a subtle tension between them. She only knew that Abba—and Yitzchak, when he came with his family for Shabbos—were doing everything they could to make sure that it would be smooth sailing for the two young men.

Liebchu had urged Abba to find a kallah for Eliyahu as quickly as possible, but three more years had passed until Eliyahu found his zivug. At one point, a weird situation evolved in which about once a month, some wise guy who thought that he had been the first to think of it tried to match Chasida up with Eliyahu. But the outright ‘no’ was mutual on both sides. They didn’t even try to conceal it, and it became a running joke in the family.

“You need a bit of variety in life,” Eliyahu had said once when he was home for bein hazmanim. She didn’t remember how old they had been then. “I can’t always drive the same people crazy. You need a change!”

She and Ima had heartily agreed with him. Abba had, too, but his reason was more of an aversion to a shidduch between such close family members.

“And how’s your father?” Chanoch asked Eliyahu in the kitchen as he gathered a few more crumbs from the cake. “How’s he feeling?”

“So-so,” Eliyahu answered and moved the cake plate in his wife’s direction. “It’s very hard for him. Hashem will help.” He continued speaking, segueing from one subject to another smoothly, as he was wont to do, and then suddenly, without any advance notice, he mentioned Kobi Frankel. She and Ima had wrinkled their noses immediately, but Chanoch—who apparently had never heard the name before—was interested.

“His parents moved to Yerushalayim and left him to handle their house,” Eliyahu said enthusiastically. “He has an apartment. He wants to sell the lot and wants to know if you’re also interested in selling, and maybe he’ll speak to the Goldsteins, over on the left side. He says there’ll be a lot of contractors who would jump at the chance and would give you a good price. This area has become very popular commercially, and he says it’s easy to find a contractor who’d want to invest here and put up a shopping center.”

“Put up a shopping center.” That was Ima. “And where will we live if they put up a shopping center here?”

“I promise you, Aunt Minda, that you’ll get enough money from the deal to be able to afford a huge apartment.”

“And the store?” Chanoch’s brows dipped toward each other.

“The money that they’ll get will be enough for a new and bigger store, too.” He turned to Abba. “I think it would be a good idea for you to jump at the opportunity. Kobi’s great at these things!”

Nu, we’ll see,” was Abba’s noncommittal response.

“And who will tell us if it’s a fair deal or not?” Ima had asked doubtfully.

“Kobi.”

“Kobi, nu.” Ima didn’t say another word.

Eliyahu began to laugh. “He’s grown up, Aunt Minda, just like me. I know you didn’t like him much when he was a kid, but I think we can trust him today. He’s a lawyer, did you know?”

“Those are the most dangerous,” Ima had said decisively. Chavi whispered a brachah on her cake, looking very uncomfortable about the whole discussion. Eliyahu continued laughing but didn’t say anything.

“Well, you think about it,” he said when they got up to go.

“There’s nothing to think about,” she, Chasida, suddenly said from the doorway of the kitchen. She hadn’t taken part in the conversation, but as it proceeded, it began to rankle her. Sell! The house and the store! And the yard! What happened—already now Eliyahu wanted to get the part that was registered in his name? As a child he’d also always been pushing ahead. He’d crashed into their tranquil lives, captured Abba’s heart, and left his fingerprints (which were often dirty) on every single event or issue.

“Oh, Chasida!” Chavi turned to her in surprise. “You’re here? I didn’t notice. When did you come in?”

“Yes, I’m still here,” she replied. “I’m definitely here, and it’s about time that some of the people who come by take notice of that.”

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