Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 35 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.
Zevi climbed the familiar stairs, but before he had even managed to knock, the door was pulled open and two little figures hurled themselves at him.
“Zevi!” Shloimy howled. “Ima! Zevi’s here! Savta! Zevi’s here! Abba! Zevi’s here!”
His mother came out of the kitchen and began hovering around him, like she usually did. His brothers danced around him happily, and he tried to smile at them all despite his exhaustion.
“How was it, Zevi’le?” his mother asked when things had calmed down a bit and the younger children had decided that they had seen enough of him. Savta had gone to lie down before lunch, and he and Ima were left alone in the kitchen.
“It was very nice,” Zevi said, leaning back in his chair. He couldn’t deny the fact that he had enjoyed himself, despite all the arguments he’d had with Yehuda. He smiled and drank the rest of the contents of his glass. Now he had an opportunity that he did not know when he would have again. It was just him and Ima, and Yehuda’s words were fresh enough in his mind so that he could repeat them as they had been said. True, he did not agree with Yehuda one hundred percent, but that was exactly why it would be a good idea to first hear what his mother had to say about it. He wondered if Abba had told Ima about the guy who had been following him. Then again, that was really unrelated to this conversation.
“My friend Yehuda,” he said, setting down his empty cup, “wanted to talk to me about my foot.”
“About your foot?” A flush rose in his mother’s face. There, he knew that it wouldn’t be as simple as Yehuda had made it sound. His mother took this issue far more seriously than Yehuda thought. It would not be easy to convince her that the secrecy was needless and that it made things much more difficult.
“Yes,” he replied, avoiding her gaze. “He knows about my story.”
“Which story?” his mother asked abruptly. “About your foot?”
“Yes,” Zevi replied again. “He once saw my foot, by mistake. He claims it was a mistake on my part to be so secretive about it.”
“Hold it.” Ima hardly seemed to be paying attention to what he said. She was still fixed on his earlier remark. “Which story exactly does he know about? How it happened to you?”
“What do you mean, the tea and all that?”
She nodded weakly. The blush in her face had been replaced by a sickly pallor. It was happening. You’ve waited years to find the right minute to tell him what exactly happened, but someone beat you to it and presented him with finished facts that don’t leave you much room to be quiet now.
This was not how she had imagined herself apologizing to Zevi. The few times she had worriedly thought about this moment, she had imagined extensive emotional preparation beforehand, and all the scenarios included Chanoch beside her. Perhaps she should have told it all to Zevi when he was much younger, apologized then, and have been over with it. Now it would be much harder.
“I told him a little, not too many details,” Zevi said now. “I don’t particularly like to talk about the tea that spilled. In any case, what he wanted to tell me was that he thinks I’m making myself miserable with all the secrecy. He says that bachurim could think that I have something much worse, and that keeping such a secret in a dormitory is really taking things too far.”
“And you think he’s right?” Slowly, very slowly, Shoshi released the breath she’d been holding. Baruch Hashem. Zevi knew nothing, at least for the time being. She had just misunderstood him for a minute.
“There’s something to what he’s saying.”
“So we’ll think about it and decide. Was it very hard for you this year to be careful that no one should ever see your foot?”
“Kind of,” he replied.
“So we’ll hear what Abba has to say. Perhaps all the pressure really is unnecessary.” She got up, and he gaped at her. That was it? It had been so easy!
Zevi had no way of knowing that if he would have asked at that moment to fly to Australia, she would have easily said, “Maybe; let’s hear what Abba has to say” about that, too. Her thoughts were completely focused on another issue. Eliyahu had returned to their lives, and he would want to speak to Zevi at some point. It would be better for her to speak to him before that, and pushing off that moment of truth time and again would do nobody any good.
“Zevi,” she said slowly, but when he raised a pair of questioning eyes to her, her sudden burst of bravery dissipated as fast as it had appeared. “Zevi,” she repeated, hurriedly changing the subject to one that was no less significant, “last time you visited Dr. Schreiber, did he send you for x-rays?”
“I don’t think so.” Zevi shrugged.
“Okay, then, I want to make an appointment for x-rays. Here’s a referral from a private specialist who might be able to give us some advice.”
“A private doctor?”
“It costs a fortune.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she reassured him. “There’s a small chance that something can be done, and we want to check it out.” She rummaged around in the pocket of her robe. Since Eliyahu had given them the list of instructions yesterday from that doctor, she had been carrying it around in her pocket. “There are a few dozen x-rays here that the doctor asked for.”
“Okay,” he said tiredly. “No problem with me. But Ima, do you remember that Dr. Schreiber said there’s almost no chance of changing anything?”
“I know,” Shoshi said. “Still, we’ve decided to look into this option.”
“Sounds good to me,” he said, outwardly indifferent, but under the apathetic façade, his heart began to beat a bit faster. Whenever he discussed the matter with his mother, he tried to pretend that the whole thing didn’t bother him, and that he had long gotten used to it all. Ima was distraught enough as it was about his foot, and he didn’t want her to know how much it really meant to him and affected him.
Could it be that next year he wouldn’t have to hide anything? Was it possible that there was a way in the world to erase what he had done to himself, at the age of three, with his ten left-handed fingers?
“Ima, can we go to Abba’s aunt and uncle in Bnei Brak again? It was so much fun yesterday! And we’ll stay for supper, like we stayed for lunch yesterday! The chocolate that Aunt Minda makes to spread on the bread is yum, Ima!”
“Wonderful,” Chavi said. “But we’re not going there today. We’ve just come back from Yerushalayim, in case you didn’t notice.”
“But it was such a short trip! We just visited Saba Be’er Sheva and the Kosel and that was it. And why did Abba go to his uncle again, after we came home?” Libby grilled her mother.
“Because he had some important things to discuss with the family there,” Chavi said tersely.
“And he also had to eat Aunt Minda’s soup!” Michal crowed. “That’s what she said to you before you went to the hospital with those neighbors! Did you eat it, Abba? Was it good?”
“I ate it,” Eliyahu replied with a glance in the mirror. “Sit straight, Michal.”
“And did she also give you bread and chocolate spread?”
“Silly girl,” Libby mumbled. “And such a baby. Abbas don’t like bread with chocolate.”
“No insults, please,” Eliyahu said. “And actually, yes, I did eat bread and chocolate.” He smiled at the road in front of him. The delicious chocolate that Aunt Minda made by herself didn’t tempt him as much as it used to, but she hadn’t let him off the hook.
“I remember, Eliyahu, that…” she had begun, but then stopped.
“I remember, too,” he’d said with a smile. He still recalled that long-ago evening when Aunt Minda had prepared a pot of chocolate that was supposed to last two weeks. She walked out of the kitchen for a minute, and somehow he and Kobi had divided the sticky treat evenly between themselves, until all that was left was a sticky layer at the bottom of the pot.
Yesterday, he had eaten everything she served him, and didn’t forget to mention how delicious he remembered the chocolate being. Then he had spent over an hour speaking to Chanoch and Shoshi. He gave them Tissa’s referral, and then, just before he left, told them about the suspicious cream that had caused the complication in the soldiers’ conditions and Arthur’s remark that, “The army will certainly sue the manufacturer when they find out who it is.”
“My agent’s name was Sol Brein,” Uncle Zalman said, his voice a bit shaky. “Maybe it’s the same person, Eliyahu. Look into it. If yes, tell us what kind of steps the army is taking against him. Maybe we can file another lawsuit.”
Aunt Minda was skeptical, but still remained far friendlier than what he had ever hoped for. Uncle Zalman was literally beaming when he had left.
“Come again, Eliyahu! Come as often as you like,” he had said.
“And that was it,” Eliyahu concluded telling Chavi, who was distributing taffies to the squabbling children in the seat behind her. “Zevi will b’ezras Hashem be taken care of, and I’ll pay. Maybe when he’ll be all fixed up, I’ll be able to calm down a bit.” He fell silent and then added, without removing his eyes from the road, “And I also have to apologize.”
“And what will you do if Kobi comes back?”
His face clouded. “I don’t want to even mention his name there,” he said, more to himself than to her. “I haven’t heard from him in weeks, and I hope the letter I sent him will keep him at a distance for a long time.”
“We want to go back to your aunt and uncle today, Abba!” one of the girls behind them—perhaps it was Libby—cried.
“No way,” Eliyahu replied, banishing Kobi from his thoughts at once. “Let’s give them some time to recover from our last visit.”