Without a Trace – Chapter 23

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 23 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.

It was very late by the time Chasida finally went to bed, sometime between two and three in the morning. She got into her bed, but not before she made sure all the shutters were closed and the door was locked. No, she wasn’t afraid to sleep alone on the ground floor; nevertheless, she was happy that this was her final night home alone. Tomorrow her parents would come back, and the house would return to normal.

A heavy silence hung in the air as she lay her head down on the pillow. She had a full day ahead of her tomorrow. She had to clean the house before her parents returned, help them unpack, and then prepare for the annual visit of the Blochs, who came every summer. Whenever her brother-in-law Chanoch returned to Eretz Yisrael, he liked to come to Bnei Brak, to breathe in the atmosphere he loved and to feel a bit of what he called “authentic Eretz Yisrael” in his bones. So they would be arriving tomorrow for Shabbos and would stay for a few days afterward, until Shoshi would decide that their mother looked exhausted, and the kids would announce that they were bored. At that point, the Blochs would pack up and return to Yerucham.

Chasida closed her eyes. She had so much to do the next day—she had to get up in less than five hours! So why wasn’t she asleep now?

But although her eyes were closed, she still saw things very clearly. Figures flitted through her mind, laughing and talking, arguing and fuming about those endless arguments that had been spawned by Eliyahu’s illogical proposal.

He had stood in the dining room, pale with fury. “Aren’t you ashamed?” he had asked Yitzchak and her. “What are you trying to say, that Kobi will pay me for this?”

“Thank you for your involvement, but you’ve overstepped your boundaries enough,” she had said coldly. No, she would not let it happen. Abba and Ima would not cave in to him. They had already caved in enough during the years he had lived there. “It’s my parents’ decision, not yours.”

“And it’s not yours either, if you don’t mind my saying so!”

“Whether I mind or not, my connection to this issue is certainly more than yours!”

And then Eliyahu had made the mistake of his life. He had said, “I’m not so sure about that.” And all of his efforts later to explain that he hadn’t at all meant the fact that the store officially belonged to him, but rather had intended to imply the strong connection he felt with his aunt and uncle, were to no avail. It took him quite some time to realize that he was a marked man, and that nothing would help him now.

“What a chutzpah!” Minda had huffed after he left. “I told you, Zalman, that we don’t have to let Liebchu ‘do us a favor’ by buying us the store. She wanted to pay us compensation for that fire? Pah! So why did she register it in his name? We could have waited and saved up a bit more, and then it would have really been ours, not that ingrate’s who can’t wait until we move on from this world!”

Chasida’s father had just murmured something uncomfortably. He had never liked the strained relationship between his wife and his sister, and after the latter had passed on, he was even less capable of listening to such talk. True, Eliyahu’s words grated on his ears as well. Liebchu had given them the money to buy the store and had announced that the land was theirs.

“Only after you and Minda go,” she had said more than once, glancing at Chasida and Shoshi out of the corner of her eye, “then it will belong to my Eliyahu’ku. But not a minute before that.” So why was Eliyahu trying to bring that moment closer, and making moves to cash in on the property now? Did he really have no patience to wait?

Chasida passed a sweaty hand over her forehead. Yitzchak had opposed the sale. Shoshi had opposed it, too, as had she, of course. Eliyahu was alone on the front, and the fact that the only one on his side was Kobi Frankel did not give him too many points. Yes, Chavi was also on his side, of course, but the Dresnicks never knew what her true opinion on the matter was.

As the arguments and Eliyahu’s attempts to persuade them grew, the number of Chavi and Eliyahu’s visits dwindled.

“Well, I imagine it’s not comfortable for her,” Chasida had said dryly after her father had pointed out worriedly that Eliyahu’s wife rarely visited anymore. “I would also be embarrassed if I was in her place.”

Now Chasida sat up in bed. She hadn’t even said Shema; the night was hot and sticky and she felt no desire to sleep. She got up and shuffled into the kitchen with her slippers, switching on the light. She stood in the doorway, blinking in the harsh fluorescent light. This kitchen had been witness to many heated arguments. Eliyahu had spent many months trying to persuade her parents, but had made little headway. There were times when she thought that her parents didn’t really mind so much anymore, despite Yitzchak and Shoshi’s opinions, but when they saw how opposed she was, they also refused to agree.

And she objected. Really and truly. Was that what her parents needed now? To start moving from one apartment to the next at this stage in their lives?

At the time, she had thought that she was really doing it for them, and her concern for their welfare was what was pushing her to insist. But over the years, the recognition began to penetrate that she was really doing it more for herself.

***

The floors gleamed, and the heavenly aromas from the kitchen seeped out into the stairwell.

Tissa held a small, elegant overnight bag in her hand. “It’s so nice of you to have invited us,” she said to Chavi, following Arthur into the house. “We were so happy to come. Arthur is actually happy to be here all Shabbos. So am I. It’s good for him to go to shul with the Rav a little and see one true Shabbos from up close. It’s very good.”

“Of course it’s good,” her husband boomed as he pumped Eliyahu’s hand. “You’re okay, Rabbi Eliyahu. This invitation was just what I needed after a long week at work.”

“The pleasure is ours,” Eliyahu said as he returned the handshake with a broad smile.

“He learns everything quickly,” Tissa said, casting a glance at her husband. “Arthur’s a really quick learner. The only thing he’s not learning quickly enough is how to be a Jew.”

Chavi smiled and showed the couple to the room she had prepared for them. The Katz children stood at a bit of a distance, smiling shyly, but Eliyahu knew that within a few minutes—especially with Arthur around—his children would tear off the masks of refinement and begin cavorting around the house as they always did.

***

Shevi stood at the doorway of the darkened room, listening to Miri’s steady breathing. Then she turned back into the quiet dining room, where it was just her and the Shabbos candles. The leather couch they had received from Gavriel’s parents for their first anniversary shone after the special treatment it had received, and the floor gleamed, shinier than it had been in a very long time.

Her in-laws were coming for shalosh seudos tomorrow. Gavriel had laughed at her frenzied cleaning and promised her that his mother would be busier with Miri than with their floors. But she wasn’t taking any chances. Her mother-in-law was a very pedantic woman, and her house was always neat and organized, to such a degree that Shevi never seemed able to attain.

Even Elinor had volunteered to help Shevi clean the house before returning to Haifa, and had run to buy the special leather cleaner. “The cleaning lady told me it’s good,” she’d said as she handed the bag to Shevi.

“Ima has such a thing at home?” Shevi had asked in surprise. She had never seen her mother bending over the sofa to clean it. The leather couches in her parents’ house were old and comfortable, and as long as they were more or less in one piece, no one said anything about them. In her mother-in-law’s home, though, it was the diametric opposite.

“Yep,” Elinor had said, flipping off the cap. “Not that I or Ima have ever used it, but Lydia cleans with it every week. She buys the cleaning materials, and Ima pays her back for them.”

Elinor had asked Shevi for a rag and then buffed the couch. Soon the couch looked the way it had when it had been delivered.

“Wow!” Elinor had exclaimed. “How beautiful! Much nicer than Abba and Ima’s couches!”

“Well, that’s because this one is much newer than theirs,” her sister had said over her shoulder. She was busy preparing the salads she would serve, and had opened the refrigerator to see how many peppers there were there.

“It’s really nice!” Elinor had moved aside to examine the outcome of her efforts from a different angle. “I wish Abba and Ima would buy something like this, instead of keeping the antiques that they have. Maybe I’ll suggest it to Ima. There’s totally no lack of money at home, so why not?”

“Don’t dare.”

“What?”

Shevi closed the refrigerator. “A few shabby couches in Ima and Abba’s house, that we can all jump on and eat ice cream on without worrying about how much will drip onto them and how we’ll clean it up, are much better. You think I get all excited about a couch that makes my mother-in-law cringe when I sit and feed Miri her bottle on it? In her house, no one’s allowed to go near the couch with a cup of water!”

Elinor had said that she didn’t know which was better. But then she’d helped Shevi sweep and fold a bit of laundry—all in honor of the historic visit of the shvigger. On Friday morning she had left, but not before hugging and kissing her niece countless times and warmly wishing Shevi the best of luck for the grand shalosh seudos.

Shevi had waved goodbye until her arm hurt, thinking about how a sister like Elinor was a wonderful thing. True, she could occasionally wrap herself in a prickly, distrustful layer and sound like an echo of Gavriel’s mother, but when she chose to be different, like this week, for example, the closeness between the two sisters was so powerful that it could not be covered up for a minute by their differences.

***

On Shabbos there was no training, of course, and Don and Eliad had time to sit and talk and find the holes in Sol’s methods of bio-cosmology. Eliad had attended two of the meetings held in one of the houses in Kfar Yona. Don was a fervent admirer of Sol’s, the lecturer. Eliad was less so. The man was charismatic, true, but Eliad hadn’t been able to connect to his methods. Don had.

“Between me and you,” Eliad said, “your only attempt to change the kitchen here wasn’t exactly very successful. The commanders laughed at you, and you didn’t catch the chief cook. So we’re both continuing to eat the same food as everyone else.”

“But we’re doing what we can!” his friend protested, arms folded. “I’m sure that I’m doing something for myself.”

Eliad looked doubtful. “To tell you the truth, I’m not so sure that I’m going to keep this up for much longer,” he said thoughtfully. “Here, with you, it’s one thing. It’s just an experience to see how much stronger we get. But away from here? I tried it this week when I was at home. You had to see how my brother and sister looked at me.”

“Like you fell from the moon.” They laughed. “That’s not what happened in my house,” Don said, leaning on the wall behind them. “I gave my mother Sol’s material to read. She said it sounded interesting and understood my reasons for wanting to follow his dietary instructions.” His determined expression amused Eliad. He wasn’t used to seeing Don so sure and decisive. It was just out of character.

“Minchah! Eliad! Minchah!” called one of the religious soldiers on the base as he passed by the two.

Eliad turned around. “I’m going to the beit knesset,Don.”

“Go. Pray for me, too.”

“You’re invited to come and speak for yourself,” Eliad said snippily.

“No, thanks.”

“Ah, your mother won’t agree to that?” Eliad chuckled and began to walk toward the shul. As he got closer to it, Don’s figure grew smaller and more blurred.

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