Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 36 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.
Shevi opened the door and entered the house; signs of the housewife’s exhaustion were apparent in every corner. The chairs were in disarray, a towel was tossed on the floor, both sinks were piled high with dishes, and a phone book was open on the table that was strewn with crumbs. With a tired sigh, she closed the book and sought the dishrag. She had no energy to do much now, but Gavriel would be back in a few minutes from his mother’s with Miri, and at the very least, he could come home to a clean table, if not a whole supper.
Baruch Hashem, Eliad’s condition had improved drastically, and the doctors expected to release him at the beginning of next week. But it was no wonder she was tired. Since Monday, when Elinor had called in a panic, Shevi had hardly been home, spending most of her time with her family at the hospital, next to Eliad. They had even seen Gavriel’s rabbi, Reb Eliyahu, twice over there.
“You’re very family-minded,” her mother-in-law had remarked to her recently, and it was impossible to discern from her tone if it was criticism or a compliment. Gavriel’s mother had really been very helpful. This was the third time she’d offered to watch Miri during this chaotic period.
Shevi bustled around quickly. As she put up a pot of water on the stove for pasta and lit the gas, the phone rang. It was Gavriel’s mother.
“Gabi just left,” she said. “His father’s bringing him.” She paused, as though waiting for a reaction of some kind.
“Thank you so much,” Shevi said warmly.
“Oh, it’s fine. Listen, Shevi, I asked him if you spoke to your neighbor about what I’d asked, and he said he had no idea. Did you do it yet?”
“What…?” Shevi asked, not because she didn’t understand, but because she desperately needed a second to think. Hashem! She had totally forgotten about the conversation she had to have with Chasida! What would she tell Gavriel’s mother now, after her mother-in-law had made it clear at the beginning of the week how urgent the matter was?
“I’m referring to what Mrs. Blum wanted you to tell your neighbor,” Gavriel’s mother explained tersely.
“So, did you speak to her?”
“No, I never got around to it. With all that’s been happening, I completely forgot about everything else…”
An irritated silence came through the line. “That’s not good,” Ilana Auerbach said finally. “It’s really not right. It’s important to them, and they’re really waiting for it to be done already.”
“Yes, I…I’ll go down right now and talk to her,” her chastened daughter-in-law replied. Really, had they forgotten that her brother had been in serious condition all week? You would think she’d spent the last few days sleeping or taking nature walks!
The conversation ended on an awkward note. Shevi abandoned her rag, lowered the flame under the pot, and rummaged in a drawer for a piece of paper. She’d leave Gavriel a note so he wouldn’t wonder where she’d disappeared to.
The house had quieted down since the Blochs had left the previous evening. Chasida was straightening up the shelf with the children’s books that had entertained Shoshi’s children for a large part of the time, when something vibrated on the table. She glanced at her cell phone’s screen, and knew that once again, she wouldn’t be answering Rachel Kurzman’s call, just as she hadn’t answered it the past few times Mrs. Kurzman had called over the last three days.
The shadchante had tried the store as well, but she’d been ignored there, too. If she’d tried to call during the hours when only her father was there, Chasida didn’t know about it. Abba hadn’t said anything, and Mrs. Kurzman kept trying. She had also tried the house phone; Ima had answered the call and said, yes, she would tell Chasida to contact her right away. Then she’d told Chasida about it, but Chasida had done nothing of the sort. Mrs. Kurzman had asked Ima if Chasida was busy with something else, but Ima had just sighed. It had been a good few years since Chasida had been seriously busy with any suggestions. Each year brought fewer reasonable suggestions, and as the years passed, the phone rang less frequently.
Chasida opened the window to air out the room and moved on to the next room. Her mother was on the phone, and something about her expression made it obvious that the conversation was not exactly a friendly chitchat. Was it Kurzman again? Chasida came a bit closer.
“No,” Ima was saying. “Zalman threw it all out as soon as we learned the cream was fake. Do you want me to ask him? Fine. And speak to Shoshi; maybe they have something left of it, but I would find that hard to believe.”
“There’s nothing left of it,” her daughter interjected loudly. “Shoshi told me after they lost the lawsuit that she was going to throw all the Coldar she had left in the garbage.”
“Oh, Eliyahu, Chasida thinks that Shoshi didn’t keep anything. Okay, you want Zalman’s number in the store? One minute…” Minda straightened her kerchief and flipped through the phone book. “I never remember if it’s six seven or six four. I don’t usually use the number.” She slowly read out the number from the phone book and concluded the call with sending regards to Chavi and the children.
She slowly hung up the phone and turned to look at her daughter. “What should I tell you?” she mused. “He’s really become a mentsch, that Eliyahu. The minute Shoshi and Chanoch told me that he wants to pay to help Zevi, I realized he’s really matured. He’s begun to think about other people. That’s nice, very nice.”
Chasida was quiet. “Why does he need the cream?” she finally asked.
Her mother shrugged. “He wants to check something out,” she replied.
“Well,” Chasida said, entering the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator and stood in front of it, wondering whether she wanted to eat or not. She didn’t want a whole meal, but had no patience to start chopping up a salad. She closed the door.
“What can I prepare for you?” Minda asked. “Do you want me to cook something for you?”
“Oh, no,” Chasida replied. “I think I’ll just have a coffee.”
“There’s some cabbage salad,” her mother said, opening the refrigerator. “And carrot salad. Or cold tzimmes.”
“Maybe I’ll take some carrot salad.” Chasida went over to take out a plate, but her mother blocked her.
“Sit,” she said, her voice sounding a bit strange. “I’ll prepare it for you.”
Chasida looked at her mother curiously. Something about her jerky motions was odd; her forehead was lined with creases. Finally, when her mother served her the plate of salad, she asked, “Do you want to tell me something, Ima?”
“You have to call Mrs. Kurzman back. Maybe she has something good for you.”
“Maybe,” Chasida said in a low voice, almost into her carrot salad. “And maybe not.”
Someone rang the bell just as her mother wanted to ask what was happening with Blum. Mrs. Dresnick went to the door, and Chasida heard her greet someone warmly. She’d obviously invited the person into the house, because her voice got louder as it came back toward the kitchen. Chasida listened carefully and heard Shevi Auerbach’s voice.
“Baruch Hashem. He’ll probably be released next week. Oh, hi, Chasida.”
Chasida swallowed another spoonful, coughed, and said, “Hi, Shevi.” Her mother left the kitchen.
Shevi took a deep breath. “Chasida,” she said quickly, before she regretted it. “I need to speak to you about something important. Can it be now?”
“Sure,” Chasida said. “But sit down first.”
Shevi sat down, glancing at the empty hallway. Mrs. Dresnick wasn’t there anymore. “My mother-in-law is a cosmetician,” she began. It was always better to start from the roundabout angle. “And she has a client whose name is Blum.”
Chasida nodded almost imperceptibly.
“She asked me to tell you that…that…” Welcome; the stammering was here. “That…her son is healthy, and there’s no damage from what happened.” A little dove flew onto the windowsill and settled there.
Chasida closed her eyes for a second and then opened them. “Damage? What happened?” she asked. Despite all her inquiries, could it be that she still didn’t know everything about Yerachmiel Blum?
“You know, that he donated a kidney to his sister almost twenty years ago, and she says that perhaps…” Shevi paused. “Perhaps people don’t believe that he’s totally fine, so she wants you to know that he is, and she can even show you the medical certificates.”
“And why didn’t she convey this important information through the shadchante?” Chasida asked as she looked at the dove. Donated? A kidney? Blum? Was this a joke, a mistake, or something else?
“I’m not sure I remember correctly, but I think she said she didn’t know for sure who knows and who doesn’t, and if this shadchante doesn’t know anything, she wasn’t interested in telling her about it.”
“That makes sense,” Chasida said with a faint smile. “So you’re telling me he’s healthy. Okay, that’s good to know.” Could someone live a normal life with only one kidney? Well, it’s not relevant to you anyway, and not because he’s missing a kidney.
But he wasn’t just missing the kidney. He had donated it. Donated.
Since when did an August donate?
“Yes,” Shevi said, and then she remembered something else. “She also said that he has no more side effects from the surgery.”
“Side effects?” Chasida raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, she said that right after the operation, he sometimes had headaches or became unbearably thirsty very suddenly.” She fell silent, watching Chasida’s forehead become lined with creases. “And all those things have completely passed, baruch Hashem.”
“You were looking for me,” Chasida said tiredly. She hadn’t had time to think about anything yet, but one thing was clear—the time had come to make this call. Yerachmiel Blum was sometimes unbearably thirsty, Shevi Auerbach had said. As if she needed to be told that. She knew that very well, too well.
“Of course I was looking for you! I almost decided to pay you a visit at home, but I hadn’t had a chance to get to your area yet!” Rachel Kurzman pressed her lips together. “Nu, so why did you decide to call me suddenly, Chasida? Did you just get the message that I called?”
“Not exactly.” Chasida made no effort to conceal the weariness in her voice. “But now I want to hear what you wanted to tell me.”
The shadchante didn’t need to consult her lists. First of all, she didn’t have any. And secondly, she knew exactly what she had to say to Chasida Dresnick. “I gave over your answer to Blum. To him, himself,” she emphasized. “And he asked me if you’d agree nevertheless to one short meeting. It seemed very important to him, if you ask me.”
“Okay,” Chasida replied quickly. Excellent; Yerachmiel Blum had saved her the need to explain her sudden change of heart to the shadchante. This was much easier and simpler.
“Okay??” Rachel Kurzman echoed the single word, clearly shocked.
“Sounds like I surprised you, Mrs. Kurzman.”
“A bit,” the shadchante conceded. “But I like such surprises.”
“Yes, sometimes we’re surprised by all types of things,” Chasida said heavily. “So you can set up the meeting.”
“Whenever you decide. It will be fine with me.”
The dark-haired young man who got off the bus from Yerucham handed the package over to Eliyahu, who was waiting at the bus stop. “Katz, yes?” he asked. “They asked me to tell you that it needs to be frozen. They forgot to write it inside.”
“Frozen?” Eliyahu didn’t understand.
“I don’t know either.” The courier shrugged. “But that’s what they said.”
Eliyahu got into his car, waiting for the bus from Yerucham to pull out of the stop and clear the road for him. Meanwhile, like a little kid who couldn’t control his curiosity, he tore the package open and turned it over on the seat beside him. A sheaf of pages fell out, and with it, a small, white cardboard box that had yellowed over the years. With a tug, Eliyahu pulled off the sheet taped to the box and read:
Here are the documents from our failed lawsuit, as you asked. Thank you for the attention that you are devoting to this matter. Please, don’t pin too many hopes on it. Shoshi wanted to throw the cream out, but in the end we decided that maybe we’d be happier some time in the future if we kept it. I don’t know if it will have any legal value after all these years, but it is still a form of evidence.
Thanks for everything,
Eliyahu opened the box and took out a clear plastic container. There was a logo on the cover, but he didn’t pay much attention to it. He opened the cover and peeked inside. It was about half full with a viscous, gray-white substance. The years in the freezer hadn’t exactly enhanced the stuff, Eliyahu thought as he closed the cover, slightly nauseous.
The bus had long pulled out of the stop, but Eliyahu leaned back in his seat and didn’t even reach for his keys. That evening he would once again be meeting the prosecutor representing the army. Eliad Fine and his friends had a good chance of getting significant compensation for the injuries they had sustained, from what he had heard during his initial conversation with the prosecutor. The question was if he would be able to add Zevi to the list of people who had been harmed by Sol Malkin’s products—the same Sol Malkin who had once worked with Uncle Zalman, selling him products for the store.
The prosecutor had been happy to get more material about the old lawsuit against the same person. “They basically attacked his forgery and deception,” he said after Eliyahu described the case briefly, as he had heard it from Chanoch and Shoshi. “We will focus on his production methods, which, from the descriptions I have gathered, sound awful. This whole story smells as bad as the infamous cream itself.”
Yerachmiel’s cheerful voice filled Devorah Blum’s ears as she hurried to the door to see him enter and place his backpack on the floor. “It’s full of sand, Mommy,” he smiled. “I’ll clean it up right away.”
“Can I get you something to drink?”
“Yes, thank you. Some juice would be great.”
“How was your trip?” she asked, looking into his eyes.
“Wonderful. The kids had a great time.”
He chuckled. “It’s almost boring for me already. Rappelling for the eleventh time is not quite as exciting as it is the first time.” He stood up, and the smile disappeared from beneath his black beard. “Kurzman called me.”
“When?” Devorah grew a bit breathless, clasping her hands together tightly. If he would have had good news, he would have looked and sounded different.
“Just as I was persuading a terrified camper that everything was very tight and strong and that I’d be next to him the whole time, she called. The boy didn’t understand why I disappeared suddenly in the middle of my spiel, and he ran around trying to find me.”
“Nu?” his mother pressed tensely. With all due respect to the frightened camper, she was much more nervous now.
“There’ll be a date.”
“There will?” Her eyes opened wide. “So why do you look so…” She groped for the right word.
“I don’t think I have to dance with joy quite yet,” he replied, following her into the kitchen. “My track record in this area is not quite encouraging.”
“I want you to buy something new to wear,” Shoshi declared firmly. “I think it’s been years since you’ve bought any new clothes for yourself, Chasi.”
“Could be, but why should I take the risk of spending all that money for an outfit that’s going to lie in the closet afterwards?”
“Why should it lie in the closet?” Shoshi was puzzled.
“Because if this evening will just be an annoying waste of time, I’ll probably never wear the outfit again.”
“So wear your Erev Pesach model’s coat, then!” Shoshi snapped. “It would be a shame to risk losing a good outfit, wouldn’t you say?”
“That’s actually an idea.” Through the phone Chasida sounded so serious that Shoshi was afraid she might actually carry through on what she was saying.
“Why aren’t you allowed to wear an outfit that you wore on a date that didn’t work out?” Shoshi asked. “Does it bring bad mazel?”
Chasida chuckled. “No, it would just make me sad.”
“I can accept that,” Shoshi said. “At least it’s a logical explanation.” She paused and then asked, “So what are you going to wear? Not the blue suit, I hope.”
Chasida sighed. There was so much ahead of her. Abba, Ima, and Shoshi all expected her to be a bit more excited after two years of nothing, but for her, the whole thing was a pressure much more than it was something to be excited about. True, she’d said yes, but from there to being excited was still a long way, much further away than they all thought.
“Not the blue suit?” she asked tiredly “So then which outfit?”
“Should I bring you one of my things?” The idea excited Shoshi. “I have a few things that could work for you, and I’m planning to be in Bnei Brak today or tomorrow to do some shopping with Zevi.” And hopefully, to get the answer we’re waiting for from Dr. Lorenstein, the plastic surgeon.
“As long as if nothing comes out of this date, you’ll never come here with that outfit again,” her twin said morosely. “You don’t want me not to be able to look at you, right?”
Shoshi was quiet. Chasida had decided to be in a depressed mood tonight; great. She wasn’t judging her sister, of course, but if this mood wouldn’t pass by the time the date began, Chasida might have some other reasons to be depressed.
“Maybe I will buy something,” Chasida said slowly. “And then I’ll give it to a gemach afterward. That’s a good idea, isn’t it?”
Shoshi ignored the second part of the sentence. “Excellent. Go and buy a suit,” she said, trying to sound as chipper as possible. “Do you want to wait for me and we’ll go shopping together?”
“Nah, forget it; I’ll manage.”
By the time the conversation was over, Chasida was still as dismal as she had been all day. True, now she understood that the failure of that original date had not been his fault, but that was no reason to start having huge hopes. First of all, now the new issue of his kidney donation was on the table. She had to find out what it meant, but she would only invest the time and effort if she saw there was a reason to do so. And besides, there was this issue of his birthdate. That hadn’t changed with the years, and the horrible combination of an August birthday with an Aquarius-Capricorn horoscope still needed some more research.
She went over to the ironing board and plugged in the iron. Last time she’d ironed, she had burned two of her father’s shirts. Based on the optimistic air that everyone—except for her—had been overcome with here, she should be starting to seriously practice ironing, because it had never been her strong point.
With a sharp motion, she took the first shirt in the pile and spread it on the board that was decorated with so many years’ worth of burns that its original pattern was concealed. So many things were fluttering around in her mind. A new suit? That was the last thing that needed her attention right now!
But remarkably enough, Shoshi had succeeded at sticking this little issue right in the front of her mind, and as minor as it was, it stayed there and refused to move. Chasida hung the pressed shirt on a hanger and moved on to the next one. How foolish are the things that can distract our thoughts!
After the ironing session, Chasida went upstairs and knocked on her neighbor’s door. “This might sound like a bit of a silly request,” she said to Shevi, “but would you be interested in coming shopping with me this evening? I’m looking for a nice, conservative outfit.”
“Sure,” Shevi said. “My husband might not be home, but my mother-in-law will be happy to watch Miri, I’m sure.”
They made up a time and parted, with Shevi thinking suddenly about the amazing fact that her mother-in-law, with all her flaws, was always ready to watch Miri when necessary. How many grandmothers like that were around? Not too many, that was for sure.
She had also been very worried and solicitous about Shevi when she’d had the ear infection.
And she bought Miri tons of clothes.
And she also sent them orders from her fruit store, sometimes. Actually, quite often.
Shevi leaned against the closed door. Suddenly, she had the strange wish that Gavriel’s mother would tell her that she was very sorry but she couldn’t watch Miri that night. But when she called, her mother-in-law said she’d be happy to help out and what time did Shevi need her.
Shevi hung up and went to scrub the kitchen counters, her expression grim. She was fully aware of the fact that she had been behaving like a little kid. A baby, actually.
And why are you so grumpy now? Because you suddenly realized that your mother-in-law has many good qualities, too? That you can’t wallow in self-pity, with thoughts of a threatening mother-in-law who is tactless and angry because you forgot to do what she asked?
While Shevi washed down the counters and the backsplash, Chasida was finishing davening Minchah. She closed the siddur, suddenly discomfited, recoiling at the two wet stains on the page. Not that her siddur had been pristine and smooth until now, but the most recent stains before these had long dried, and Chasida didn’t even remember when they were from.
Welcome back, tears. Are you a good sign or a bad sign?
Whatever sign they portended, the tears were very good for her now. Chasida knew that without a doubt, and if only because it proved how the gates of tears never, ever closed.