Without a Trace – Chapter 25

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 25 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.

Two days later they were discharged by the department director in Tel Hashomer Hospital.

“Keep an eye on it,” he said, and picked up his pen to sign the form. “We took out all the glass that we found, but please keep an eye on it and be aware if any changes occur in the color or shape. Come back at the beginning of next week for a check-up in any case, even if you see an improvement in the burn.”

They went from there to the car that waited for them outside. Zevi’s head rested on Chanoch’s broad shoulder, and Shoshi gazed at the small, pale face. The last round of tears still twinkled on the edges of the little boy’s eyes. Shoshi couldn’t find a tissue, so she gently wiped the tears away with her hand. Abba waited for them in the car next to the entrance of the hospital, and they climbed in quietly. Chasida was sitting in the back, and she moved over a bit to allow Shoshi to climb in. Chanoch carefully passed Zevi inside.

“Zevi, darling, I brought you a candy!” the doting aunt crooned before greeting her sister and brother-in-law.

Zevi shrugged and turned his head to the other side, letting it droop onto his mother.

“He has no interest in anything,” Shoshi whispered and stroked the short, orange hair. “No candy, no nosh. All he ate today was a few spoonfuls of yogurt, and even that was difficult to get him to swallow.”

In the front, Abba and Chanoch were discussing the doctor’s orders and the rest of the treatment. Behind them, the two sisters sat and gazed silently at Zevi, who suddenly looked much smaller than he had two days ago. The two days that were the longest ones of Shoshi’s life.

“You’re coming home to us now, right?” Chasida asked.

“I think so. The truth is, we haven’t even thought about it at all.”

“Of course you’re coming to us. How will you take care of his foot yourselves?”

Shoshi didn’t reply. She continued stroking Zevi’s head as he looked quietly out the window, squinting every few seconds.

“Does your foot hurt, sweetheart?” she asked, touching his chin.

“Not now,” the three-year-old whispered, his eyes still on the window. “There’s Uncle Eliyahu,” he suddenly said, louder. “He has flowers for me. Yellow ones.” He closed his eyes and turned his head in the other direction.

Shoshi gaped at him for a second, stunned at the first long sentence he had uttered in two days, and in his normal Zevi voice, too. A second later she also joined the others in peering out the windows. Only Zalman continued to look ahead as he kept his eyes on the road and turned the car onto their narrow street.

“He’s there,” Zevi said, but didn’t turn back to the window. He pointed in a vague direction behind him. “He went to the bus.”

“The bus?” Saba asked.

“Eliyahu?” Chanoch looked outside. “He isn’t here, sweetie,” he said gently. “It must have been someone who looked like him.”

“He had flowers.” Zevi’s voice was hoarse. “Yellow ones. Big ones. With green leaves.”

Chasida stroked her nephew’s smooth little cheek. “Uncle Eliyahu isn’t here,” she said softly. “Do you want me to buy you flowers?”

“No,” the three-year-and-two-week-old said, his lips clamped together and his eyes squeezed shut. The car was silent for a moment.

“Eliyahu…!” Shoshi broke the silence when she turned to Chasida slowly, taking care not to move Zevi’s bandaged leg. “Has he called at all?” The past two days spent with Zevi in the hospital seemed to have been taken straight out of a nightmare, one that you’re not sure if it’s ahead of you or behind you. Aside for the first minute, when she had been asked in the emergency room to relate the cause of the burn on Zevi’s foot, she hadn’t thought about Eliyahu, the tea, or the loud argument at all. Actually, she did remember the tea, only because of the fact that it had been written on the chart affixed to Zevi’s bed. But Eliyahu had been erased from her memory until the second Zevi mentioned him now.

“Yes, he called,” Chasida replied, looking down at her clasped hands. “He spoke to Abba.”

“He was very sorry about what happened.” Zalman’s calm tone came from the front. “And he’s very worried about Zevi.”

“It’s so nice of him to worry from afar.” Chasida’s hands were still clasped together. “And it’s also very easy to say so.”

“I imagine he really is worried,” Chanoch said, and looked at his father-in-law’s lined face and his hands resting on the wheel. “He probably feels very uncomfortable.”

Zalman nodded and parked the car near the gate to the yard.

“Bravo,” Chasida said sarcastically. “We really should admire the fact that it’s unpleasant for him that he injured Zevi. Maybe you need to send him a bouquet of flowers for the gesture. Think it over, Shoshi.” And she got out of the car before all of them, lugging the blue tote with Zevi’s clothing and a few books and games that Shoshi had asked her to bring the day before, when she had come to visit them in the hospital. If Chasida wasn’t mistaken, it was the leather tote that Aunt Liebchu had given Shoshi and Chanoch as a wedding gift.

At that very moment, Eliyahu was looking at the huge bouquet of flowers in his hands and regretting having bought them. Before he’d left the house that morning, Chavi had suggested that he buy them, and without thinking, he’d heeded her suggestion. Now the idea seemed so foolish. Flowers? Was he coming to visit someone in a maternity ward that he was carrying such a huge yellow bouquet?

“A deep burn,” Uncle Zalman had told him on the phone. “Hashem will help. It’s a long recovery.” Poor Zevi. Why did he have to be the victim of all his frustrations?

The number 7 bus moved quickly along its route. It drove out of Bnei Brak, passed Givat Shmuel, and continued straight to the hospital. He didn’t have much time left before they would arrive. There. To Zevi. To his parents. What would he even say to them? He bit his lip, casting apprehensive glances at his bouquet on his knees.

“They’ll understand,” Chavi had promised him. “Do you think they’re so dense? No one thinks that you did it on purpose! They saw exactly what happened!”

Yes, he knew that they had seen, and that’s why he was so embarrassed. Not only did he have to be ashamed about what had happened there, but no one else had broken a glass of tea on a three-year-old’s foot except for him.

Eliyahu stuck his hand into his suit pocket. The chocolate bar was still nestled there; it had no intentions of going anywhere. Yes, he would give the chocolate to Zevi as well. He felt bad that he didn’t have a toy for him, but perhaps there would be a store in the hospital where he could buy a toy or game for a three-year-old whose mother’s cousin had spilled a glass of tea on him. No, not on purpose. On purpose? Of course not!

Eliyahu watched as a row of trees flashed by the window. So, he would offer some love, chocolate, and flowers to Zevi, and of course, words of apology to his parents—that was for sure. What else? That was already dependent on who else he would find there. If it would only be Shoshi and Chanoch sitting beside Zevi’s bed, then there was a chance he’d be able to explain himself coherently. But if other people would be there, that was a different story.

The long corridor that greeted him was full of moans, screams, and cries of children. Eliyahu stood for a moment next to the large doors at the entrance to the department, stunned at what his ears were hearing. In the ward where his mother had been, between one heart operation and another, it was usually quiet, almost deathly silent. A call to the nurse every once in a while, a sigh here and there that occasionally cut into the thick silence—but that had been it. The cacophony of cries he was hearing now was something completely foreign to him.

His eyes scanned the room numbers as he walked toward the painful sounds. Thirty-six. Thirty-seven. Zevi was in room number thirty-nine, Uncle Zalman had told him. Perhaps the shriek he had just heard now had come from room thirty-nine?

When Eliyahu finally stood at the door to the room, he saw nothing, only the bed closest to the door. A pale child lay there, staring at him apathetically. The rest of the beds were enclosed by curtains, and it was quiet, a contrast to the corridor behind him.

“Zevi?” he asked hesitantly as he took a step inside. His question was met with silence. At least Zevi did not seem to be in pain like the other children. It was better that way. It would have been frightening to know that he, Eliyahu, had caused so much suffering.

“He went home,” the child in the bed right near him said.

“Home?” The relief Eliyahu felt overpowered his disappointment, by far. True, he had come for nothing, but it was better to know that Zevi was no longer in this place. There; a bit of cream and a bandage, and he had already been released. The injury hadn’t really been that serious.

“He went home,” the child repeated. The blanket reached his neck and only his pale face peeped out from beneath it. Eliyahu had no idea how old he was.

“I came to visit him,” Eliyahu said. “When did they release him?”

“This morning.”

“And he’s all better?”

The child smiled. When he smiled, his face grew even lighter, almost transparent. “Dunno. But I don’t think so. He cried a lot this morning, before his father told me that they were going and said thank you for my help.”

“Help?” Eliyahu took a step closer to the boy’s bed.

“Yeah. When he screamed at night and his father ran to the nurse’s station and the nurse didn’t come, then I called her with my bell also, so she should come already.”

Eliyahu bit his lip again. The flowers had gone so limp in his arms that the longest one was practically touching the floor by now, but he didn’t notice. “He…he cried a lot at night?”

The boy nodded, looking Eliyahu up and down. “Did you hear how it goes here?” he asked, pointing to the corridor and smiling slightly at the visitor who was grasping onto his every word. “It’s like this because that’s the way it is in the burn unit. I heard one intern say that this is one of the worst wards she’s ever seen. I don’t know. That’s what she said. When I leave here, I hope I never have to see this ward again, or any other one.”

“Amen,” Eliyahu said sincerely. His legs were trembling, or at least he imagined that they were. He was very near the pale boy’s bed, and without asking permission, he sat down on a black plastic chair right near the bed.

There you are, you devoted “uncle.” With your own two hands, you sent Zevi to one of the worst wards in the world.

He and the boy remained silent for a few long seconds. “Well, I hope you get well soon,” Eliyahu finally said and stood up, wanting to escape as fast as possible from the room that Zevi had lain in until a few hours earlier.

“Uh, thanks,” the boy said, closing his eyes tiredly.

Eliyahu gazed at him for a few second longer and then tiptoed out of the room, dragging the now-droopy flowers along with him.

And suddenly, he turned back. “This…” he said. The boy opened his eyes and looked at the bouquet of flowers being offered. “This…is for you. Can I put them here, in this cup?”

The boy nodded and looked at the black-hatted man stuffing a huge bouquet into a small plastic cup and standing it in the corner of the room, right near him. “Refuah sheleimah,” Eliyahu wished him as he trudged toward the door.

And then he was back again. “This, too.” He took the chocolate out of his pocket and put it on the night table. “Do you like chocolate?”

“When I’m not in pain,” the boy said with his transparent smile. Then he closed his eyes again. He didn’t say thank you, but that didn’t bother Eliyahu at all. He looked at the white face one last time and turned yet again toward the door. When he reached the corridor, he swallowed the distance to the entrance of the ward with the largest steps he could manage. The first thing—the most urgent thing—was to get out of there. Then he could find the bus stop and go home to Bnei Brak. And then, worst of all, he had to see Zevi. And it wouldn’t be as easy or as simple as he had thought it would be just half an hour ago.

***

“Why didn’t you let me speak to your aunt?” Chavi asked when Eliyahu hung up the phone.

“Because even I barely spoke to her,” he answered heavily. “Zevi was screaming in the background, and she wasn’t exactly very friendly. What can I do?”

“Go visit,” Chavi said.

“I can’t,” he said, gazing a the needlepoint that Chavi had done, but not really seeing it. “Chavi, maybe you can go instead of me?”

She looked at him. “Myself?” she asked hesitantly. “It’s…not so comfortable for me, Eliyahu.”

“Yes, I can imagine.” He paced up and down the room, looking at every possible thing except his wife’s face. “Well, at least I wished them a good Shabbos.”

“I think you should go now,” was Chavi’s reply.

“But I can’t, I can’t!” Eliyahu said in despair. He stood in front of the open closet door without moving. What had he wanted to take out before he had called the Dresnicks? He could not remember. Then he grew angry. Why couldn’t Chavi understand that he had to recover a bit himself before he could face Shoshi’s son?

“I didn’t mean you should go to Zevi,” Chavi said, closing the closet door. “I meant to the bus stop. I think your father should be arriving in a few minutes. You’re supposed to wait for him there, aren’t you?”

“Oh, right!” Eliyahu grabbed his hat from the bed. “I’m going. I totally forgot that he’s coming for Shabbos. So many things have happened since I spoke to him at the beginning of the week.” He put on his hat. “I didn’t even prepare the room for him! Where is he sleeping? In the mess of our wedding presents?”

“I prepared everything,” Chavi said patiently.

“You? When?”

“Last night, while you told me what happened in the hospital.”

“And how did you wash the floor without me moving the bed?”

“I moved it myself.”

“And linen?”

“I borrowed from Sternbuch. They were happy to lend me a set and just asked that I give it back clean.”

“You did it all yourself…” Eliyahu said and then swallowed. “And I didn’t notice a thing!” And it wasn’t the only thing he hadn’t seen. Since he had been to the burn ward yesterday, he had seen nothing except for Zevi’s shocked face a second after the boiling tea had landed on his foot.

***

Shoshi carefully wound the white bandage around the little foot, covering the greasy ointment and what was under it. Zevi sucked a lollypop, his face wet from tears, and his breath still coming in short gasps. “All the enemies of Am Yisrael, all the terrorists—they should have to change bandages for their children’s burns,” she muttered fervently under her breath, fighting her own tears.

“Why should they have bandages? Better that they shouldn’t,” Chasida suggested.

“Because this bandaging part is the worst,” Shoshi said, trying to compose herself when she saw Zevi was also calming down. “Actually, taking off the bandages is. From the second I begin smearing the ointment, he’s already much calmer.”

Chasida hugged Zevi and kissed him soundly on each cheek. He didn’t respond, just slowly took his lollypop out of his mouth, waiting for the second his mother’s sister would stop bothering him so he could continue to lick his candy. “Nu, and do you see any improvement?”

“In the pain, yes, a bit. But in the burn itself, no. Of course, he is much calmer than he was last week, but there’s no improvement on the foot, if you ask me. I hope the doctor knows what he’s talking about.’”

“Who, the one who checked him on Sunday?”

“Yes. He said we need lots of patience, and it could take weeks until it all heals.”

“So?”

“What ‘so’? It’s going to be a week soon!”

“A week.”

“A week, and nothing’s changed! Someone in the hospital told me that this doctor is a bit old-fashioned, and today there are much better creams that help the skin regenerate much faster.”

“Like Coldar.”

“Like what?” Shoshi leaned back against the daybed cushions. Zevi sucked his candy vigorously, not interrupting in the conversation between his mother and his Aunt Chasi.

“Oh, something natural that we have in the store. I’ve heard wonderful things about it. They say it prevents infection and speeds up the healing process for burns.”

“A cream for burns?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Special, only for burns?” Shoshi didn’t notice that she was almost shaking her sister.

“Yes, Shoshi, and I’m ready to promise you even if you don’t pull my shoulder out of its socket.”

“So why are you being quiet about it?” Shoshi left Chasida’s bruised shoulder alone and raised her voice. “Here you have a nephew with a burn, and behind the house there’s a store with a miraculous cream. What are you waiting for?”

“Abba.”

“What Abba?”

“The store is Abba’s, and he knows very well that there’s such a cream on the shelf, right?”

“I imagine so.”

“So why isn’t he suggesting it to you?”

Shoshi was too edgy to try to think. “Why? Maybe he forgot that he has such a thing; maybe it happens to be out of stock or something. I don’t think he didn’t tell me about it because it costs too much, right?”

“It isn’t cheap, but that’s not the issue,” Chasi said and sighed.

“So what is the issue?”

“You’ll laugh,” Chasi said, “but Abba doesn’t like the dealer.”

“What?”

“You heard me. Abba doesn’t get along with the dealer who sells the cream.”

“So he doesn’t want him to make a profit?”

“Don’t be silly, Shoshi,” Chasi said sharply. “Do you think your father wouldn’t give a good cream to his grandson just so that someone he doesn’t like shouldn’t make money on it? That’s taking things too far!”

“That’s what it sounded like to me.”

“No, my dear. That’s what you heard. When I said he doesn’t like the dealer, I meant he simply doesn’t trust him. Do you understand now?”

“No.”

“Abba doesn’t know who exactly manufactures the cream. It’s supposed to be the product of a small company, but he didn’t clearly understand from the dealer if he still works with them or not. Abba told me that this dealer once told him that there’s some type of lab, and he also concocts all sorts of products himself.”

“But if the cream is good, and it helps, then who really cares who manufactures it?” Shoshi sounded desperate, as though the magic formula was in reach and slowly slipping away.

“Abba cares,” her twin replied. “It may not seem to make a big difference—but it does matter. You see he didn’t give it to you himself.”

Shoshi leaned back on the daybed, next to her son. After a minute, she asked quietly, “But he sells it to other people?”

“Only to anyone who asks for it specifically. He told me not to suggest it on my own to anyone.”

Shoshi fell silent again. “And what do you think?” she asked after a long moment.

“I don’t know.” Chasida shrugged. “I saw the guy once. He looked just like all the other dealers and agents who come by.”

“And the cream?”

“I’m telling you, I’ve heard lots of good things about it.” She smiled suddenly. “I’ve actually inquired a lot about it, almost more than we inquired about Blum.”

Shoshi stared blankly for a second until it dawned on her. “Oh, Rochel Kurzman’s suggestion! What’s happening with that?” For a second she forgot about the wonder cream. “Weren’t you supposed to meet this week?”

Chasida stood up. Zevi’s eyes followed her. “We have to think about it some more,” she said noncommittally. “I’m not really in the mood for dates right now, and Ima’s also kind of lost interest because of this whole story.”

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