Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 27 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.
“You’re biting yourself, Shoshi,” Chanoch said quietly. Only then did she notice the drop of blood that had dripped onto her sweater. Bloodstains were a hassle to get out in the laundry, and it was more difficult when the garment was 100 percent wool, like this sweater.
Laundry. What was laundry? Which world did it belong to? To a world where a child wakes up in the morning and chirps that he wants bread with cheese for kindergarten, and then later in the day, his mother gets upset because the bread comes home whole, and she berates him that he shouldn’t ask for something that he knows he doesn’t like to eat. Laundry was a word that belonged to a world where the child is very tired at lunchtime, but his mother doesn’t want him to fall asleep, because then he’ll dance around all evening. But sometimes, the child falls asleep anyway, on the floor, because he really is so very small and tired, and then, at twelve o’clock at night, the mother is running after him, trying to get him back into bed. She runs after him. She doesn’t go down to wait for taxis in the heavy rain to get to the hospital, only to hear that they had gotten there too late…
Hashem! Another drop of blood dripped onto her light-colored sweater as Shoshi bit her bottom lip again. Hashem, make Zevi well again. I’ll never get angry at him again. About anything. Let the antibiotics help; let him be fine; make his leg better; don’t let anything happen to him because his mother didn’t take him to the hospital in time.
Tearstains joined the bloodstains on her sweater. She didn’t even have a Tehillim with her, and had no idea where she could find one now, at 6:30 in the morning. The doctors had waited four hours, giving the massive doses of antibiotics a final chance, but when nothing changed, they announced that they were taking Zevi into the operating room. Not one of them asked, “Where were you until now?” or “How come you didn’t notice that the color of his leg is terrible?” They just asked for a signature consenting to the operation, let Chanoch have fifteen minutes to try and reach Rav Shulman by phone, and left them there alone, in the waiting room.
It was so empty. They were the only two people there. Were there no other operations at 6:30 in the morning?
A gentle creak, almost like a distant chirp of a bird, made Shoshi jump from her seat and Chanoch stop his nervous pacing from wall to wall. A nurse stood in the wide doorway and motioned for them to follow her.
“The surgery is over,” she said, as they crossed the threshold into a large hallway. “Dr. Schreiber wants to speak to you.” She pointed to a door that was down a long hallway. To Shoshi, the hallway looked endless.
“What about Zevi?” Chanoch’s voice sounded light-years away. “Shouldn’t someone be with him when he wakes up?”
“Right now he’s sedated,” the nurse said courteously, but offered no further details. “In the meantime, Dr. Schreiber is waiting to speak to you.”
Chanoch and Shoshi exchanged a fleeting glance and then turned, like a pair of obedient students, in the direction they had been sent.
“I don’t want to talk to any doctor now,” Shoshi managed to croak. “I want to be with Zevi. The minute we go into Dr. Schreiber, tell him that he should talk to you and tell me where to find Zevi.”
Chanoch didn’t respond. He remembered the appendectomy his father had had five years earlier. He and his mother had waited outside, and when the surgery was over, his mother had remained to speak with the doctor and he had gone in immediately to see his father. Now, they were not even letting them see Zevi yet. The doctor wanted to speak to them first, both of them. Was the situation waiting for them in the recovery room so bad that they could not go in there before being emotionally prepared?
The corridor, as Shoshi had suspected when she had first seen it, was very long. Endless.
For the fifth time, Chasida slammed down the phone. Her father peeked at her from behind his newspaper. He didn’t point out that it was unbecoming for such a mature young woman to behave so roughly, but rather murmured something to himself and asked if she wanted him to take her to Shoshi’s house.
“The store,” she said curtly and went over to the counter.
“It will wait,” he replied and put down his paper. He took the keychain that had been tossed on the table and said, “I’m going to her. Will you be ready in a few minutes?”
“That’s not the point, Abba.” She sighed. “Shoshi always picks up the phone. She’s not home.”
“Maybe she’s sleeping? We don’t know what kind of night she went through with Zevi.”
Chasida looked at him. “Abba…” she said, her face flushed. “We’re identical twins. I’m telling you she’s not sleeping now…and I’m afraid for Zevi.”
Zalman glanced over his shoulder to make sure Minda wasn’t in earshot, before asking, “Did you have a bad dream, Chasi?”
“It’s not a dream,” she insisted, and her expression became rebellious, like a ten-year-old’s. “Abba, I’m afraid.”
“So that’s another reason to go over there to see them,” her father said decisively. “I’m going to Shoshi’s house. Tell Ima something and come on with me.”
They didn’t exchange a word during the drive. Zalman wondered what her plans were regarding Yerachmiel Blum. Last night, she had hardly spoken.
“Chasi,” he said as they climbed the stairs. “What’s with Blum? Have you thought about it at all?”
“I don’t know,” she said and knocked at the door, just under the brightly painted nameplate. “Bloch,” it read in brown letters. They both listened tensely for any sound behind the door, but they heard nothing. It was silent, and no one opened the door for them.
When they returned home, Chasida heard her mother speaking on the phone. She dashed into the kitchen, hoping it was Shoshi on the line.
“Yes,” Minda said with a broad smile. “I think it was very nice. Look, she’s the type who likes to think a lot, so I don’t have a clear answer yet. But it looks to me like she enjoyed. Yes, they even laughed a lot. What? Yes, I’ll tell her to call you today to give you a report; let’s give her a bit more time to think. Of course, of course. Oh, one minute, she’s just walked in…” But seeing her daughter’s vigorous hand motions, Minda added, “But she’ll speak to you later, okay?”
“Did Shoshi call?” Chasida asked as soon as her mother hung up.
“No,” her mother replied as she went over to the kitchen table. “Come, Chasida’le. You haven’t eaten a thing today. I made you a cup of coffee. Will you wash?”
“Yes. No.” Chasida swallowed and followed her mother into the kitchen. Zalman looked at her for a second, muttered something about how he’d be happy to hear any news, and went down to the store that should have been opened five minutes earlier already.
“Come, Chasida.” Minda set the steaming mug down on the table and laid two squares of chocolate beside it. “Only two. All you need now are pimples,” she said with a meaningful smile and sat down across from her daughter.
Chasida murmured something, made a brachah, and sipped from the cup. The steaming liquid didn’t go down. Something in her throat was blocking it. Tears? At her age? Something strange was happening to her today. Yesterday was the date. It was fine, but very problematic! She wanted to talk it all over with Shoshi, but her twin had disappeared. And she was worried. Anxious.
But to cry?
A fraction of a second after she had convinced herself that it was just a bad mood, and that it would soon pass, the phone rang. She leaped toward it, sending coffee splattering every which way. “Yes?” she said breathlessly into the phone. “Who is it?”
“Chasida’le!” Minda was horrified at her daughter’s lack of manners. What if it was the shadchante again?
“Who?” Chasida asked again. She was almost sure it was her, but not positive.
“Where are you, Shoshi?” Her fingers clenched the phone, white from the effort.
“In Tel Hashomer. Call Ima to the phone.”
“Zevi had an operation.” From the other side of the line, it became clear that Shoshi was sobbing quietly.
“An operation?! Why?”
“Because…” Shoshi’s voice trembled and then broke. “His f-f-fooot…” She tried to say something more, but couldn’t. Chasida, her face pasty white, handed the phone over to her mother.
For the next two hours, Rachel Kurzman tried to reach Chasida, to hear if she wanted another date with Yerachmiel Blum, but there was no answer at the Dresnicks’ home. She decided to forgive her own dignity and pay them a visit. But no one was home to answer the door for her, either. The store was also closed.
“For now, no,” Chasida said curtly. It was almost sunset when Rachel Kurzman finally managed to get her on the phone. They had just returned from Tel Hashomer, and the horrific day she had spent next to three-year-old Zevi had erased any desire to be pleasant to the shadchante.
“No?” Rachel Kurzman was stunned. “Why?”
“Because,” Chasida answered
“That’s some answer!”
Chasida sighed. “I’m really sorry, Mrs. Kurzman, but right now it doesn’t seem to be the right thing for me.”
“Can I know, according to how you decide, what’s right for you and what’s not?”
“It’s a bit complicated.” Chasida’s voice was weary.
“To understand things according to how I see them.”
“It really does sound like it is!” Mrs. Kurzman was clearly furious. “How can I go back to his mother now? How?” she asked Chasida. “You’re not giving me any reason for why you’re saying no. And tell me, do you even know what you want?”
Chasida smiled sadly, but the shadchante didn’t see the smile. The conversation ended on a hard note. Rachel Kurzman was fuming, but what could she do if Chasida refused to provide any more details?
However, contrary to Mrs. Kurzman’s beliefs, the reasons Chasida was taking this suggestion off the table were very clear to her. They could be easily delineated. First of all, the boy was very self-centered and focused on his own needs. She didn’t need any more proof beyond what had happened on the date. And besides, this shidduch just happened to keep encountering unfortunate circumstances from all sides: It had been discussed on the evening of the harsh fight with Eliyahu, and then Zevi had gotten his bad burn; the date had taken place on the evening that Zevi’s infection had gotten worse; and in short, everything had gotten mixed into a mess of negative connotations. Clearly this was a sign that the shidduch was just not meant to be. And even if it wasn’t Blum’s fault, the whole thing of the bad mazel—nu, who really wanted to get into a shidduch with such bad mazel?
It wasn’t pleasant to have Rachel Kurzman be angry at her, but what could Chasida do? If she would detail to Mrs. Kurzman her reasons for calling off the shidduch, the shadchante would be even angrier, so it wouldn’t help in any case.
Eliyahu’s head ached, and he hurried to get home. If Chavi had already arrived home and managed to prepare something to eat, that would be wonderful. But if not, he would go down and buy them two portions of falafel. Chances were that she wasn’t home yet. Her job at a travel agency was becoming more demanding in the pre-Pesach season. She would be happy to come home and find something more interesting than bread, cheese, and a hastily prepared omelet for supper—especially since it was Thursday, and she still had to prepare for Shabbos.
He hurriedly crossed the street, and toyed with the daring idea of suggesting to Chavi that she ask Aunt Minda for fish for Shabbos; but he quickly abandoned the notion, knowing that she wouldn’t want to, and that really, he didn’t want to either. After the cold way his aunt had spoken to him on the phone for the past two weeks, he wasn’t going to come to her and beg, not for fish and not for anything else. They wanted to keep a distance? No problem; they would get it. He would continue to be polite and call each Friday to say “good Shabbos” and ask how they were doing. How would they react? That was their problem. He had wanted to help them. They didn’t want his help? Fine.
He was already at the entrance to his apartment building, and he glanced upstairs, toward the windows. The house was dark, so he turned around, planning to go straight to the nearest falafel store. But Kobi, standing right behind him with a cold smile, ruined his plans.
“Kobi! I didn’t see you there!” Eliyahu stuck out his hand, but the handshake he received in return was limp.
“How are you?” Kobi asked dourly.
“Baruch Hashem, fine. How are things with you?”
“What do you mean, ‘nothing’?
“I lost out big time; it’s over.”
Eliyahu stared at him. There was a clear accusation in his childhood friend’s tone. “Meaning?”
Kobi stuck his hand into his suit pocket. “The upstairs neighbor signed for me; did you know that?”
“You told me something to that effect.”
“But the dear Dresnick family didn’t. Do you know that, as well?”
“So that’s it. I gave up.”
“You’re kidding me,” Eliyahu said, punching his friend’s shoulder lightly. Kobi had lots of ways to make others cave in. “You didn’t really give up on your plan, did you?”
“I’m actually very serious,” Kobi said, shrugging and taking a step backward. Eliyahu’s hand fell back to his side. “This morning I signed a rental contract for five years.”
“So you’re burying your plan for five years?”
“That’s what I said. Why, do you care?”
“Of course!” Eliyahu’s headache grew stronger. “Too bad you didn’t wait just a little longer. I’m sure that if I had another month or two, my uncle would have been persuaded!”
“I’ve been losing rental money for four months already.” Kobi’s cold smile returned. “And I don’t plan on losing even one more month. So now you have five more years to pressure your uncle, and if that’s not enough for you, maybe I’ll give you a few more years after that. Depends if I have potential tenants at the time.”
Eliyahu walked beside him quietly. The coldness irritated him. Kobi was angry at him. At him! Why? He had done all that he could to persuade Uncle Zalman and Aunt Minda to sign onto the plan. He had spoken, urged, cajoled, pressured—it was a shame Kobi hadn’t been there and heard the efforts he had put into his persuasions.
The situation was almost laughable. Kobi was sure that he didn’t care enough. Maybe it would be a good idea for him to make a phone call to the Dresnicks. They were convinced that it mattered too much to him… Fury rose in his throat, strong and stinging. He decided to forego the falafel; he didn’t need to eat something now that would exacerbate the pressure and burning sensation in his throat.
Eventually Eliyahu parted from Kobi and began walking back home. How much time had they spoken? He didn’t know. But when he approached his building again, he saw a light in the kitchen window. Chavi had come home. He wondered what she would say about Kobi’s news, but he had already drawn a clear conclusion. The Dresnicks had made it clear for some time already that they were displeased with his intervention in their lives. No problem. The time had come for him to keep a distance from them, as well.