Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 38 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.
The familiar gate came into view, and just as they approached and were about to enter, someone emerged. Zevi heard his mother politely greeting the man who had come out of the yard, clearing the path for them. And then Zevi saw him: the man who had been following him.
“Hello,” Ima’s cousin said. “Zevi, right?”
“Right,” the boy responded. His mother hung back and didn’t say a word.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Eliyahu.”
Did he sound flustered? Zevi wasn’t sure. He solemnly shook the proffered hand. Here he was. The man who had caused…
Have you forgotten again what the doctor’s husband had to remind you?
Zevi leveled his gaze at the man who was still clutching his hand. Eliyahu was of average height, with slight shoulders and a big, brown-orange-reddish beard. He had sparkling brown eyes that seemed to smile all the time, reminding Zevi of his grandfather’s smile. Perhaps he, Zevi, would also look something like that in twenty years’ time. He returned the man’s smile with a small one of his own.
“You’ve sure grown a lot,” Eliyahu said. Then he turned toward Shoshi. “Can I borrow him for a little while? Don’t worry; I’ll give him back soon.”
She smiled. “Okay,” she said. “Our bus to Yerucham leaves a bit after ten thirty.”
Eliyahu nodded. “Were you in contact with Dr. Lorenstein?” he asked.
“Yes.” Shoshi glanced over her shoulder, to the little house.
“Can Zevi tell me about it?”
“If he wants to.”
Zevi knew that his mother only planned to tell Saba, Savta, and Chasida the barest minimum of what she had heard, keeping the rest to herself. But he didn’t know how much she planned to tell Eliyahu. He looked at his mother with alarm in his eyes, hoping she would be able to read his question.
“Eliyahu is the one who referred us to Dr. Lorenstein,” Shoshi said in a low voice to Zevi. “You can tell him.”
Eliyahu wanted to add something about the news of the lawsuit against Sol, which was progressing nicely. But when the door to the house opened and Aunt Minda’s voice filled the yard, he decided to wave goodbye to his aunt and make for the exit. He would speak to Chanoch later.
Or perhaps he could share the news now, with Zevi?
He studied the boy standing beside him, and the familiar trembling in his knees attacked him. There you go. You chased this boy down to Yerucham and fled at the last minute. You asked a million questions about him, but you didn’t dare face him and say, “Hello, here I am.” For months, you’ve been caught up in the old-new whirlwind, and you still haven’t managed to muster up the courage you need.
And now Zevi is here, next to you.
You’re creative enough to speak all around the issue, to tell him about the compensation you’re trying to get for him, and your connection to the Lorensteins. And once again, you’ll escape the awkward situation that you got yourself into in one fleeting second. And then what?
Let’s go, start talking, and stop thinking so much. Impulsiveness can also be a good thing, if you want it to be.
He didn’t remember leaving the house with Zevi beside him, but the fact was that they were now both walking on the next block over to the one on which the Dresnick home was located. That means that you’ve been quiet and thinking for a few minutes already, and for you, Eliyahu, that’s too long.
He looked directly at Zevi, and with a smile that did not betray a hint of the internal turmoil he felt, he said, “You know, Zevi, I’ve had to apologize to you for a long time now.”
In the end, Chasida and Aunt Minda forgav me even tho a lot of days past and I was shore that she would be angry forever. Even Yitzchak said I’m getting better. I’m really trying to be a good boy and listen to my aunt and uncle— just sumtimes, it dosint work. I help Chasida and Shoshi do their math homework that they don’t like, and I do like it. And I also play pick-up stiks with them and almost never bother them when they play. Yesterday, Ima came and said that I got so tall that soon she won’t rekognize me, and she said that the letters I send her are so nice and that I have nice handriting. Uncle Zalman asked me if I keep a jurnal like he once told me to do, and I said yes. Chasida and Shoshi said that’s very nice that a boy writes in a jurnal, and becuz everybody talked about it so much I don’t think I’m going to want to write in this notebook anymore.
Isn’t it funny that I used to write notbuk instead of notebook?
The pressure in the Dresnick home was more intense than it had been in a good few years. It began mounting the minute Shoshi and Zevi had departed the night before to their house in Yerucham, and grew stronger as the hours ticked by.
“Enough already!” Chasida grumbled as the coffee she had made herself sloshed over the counter. She took a dishrag and wiped up the pale liquid. Her mother was washing dishes silently in the other sink, casting nervous glances at her daughter; Abba had opted to leave the kitchen entirely.
“A date!” Chasida muttered to herself, her mother, and the cup of coffee. “That’s it, just a date. So what?”
“It will be good, b’ezras Hashem,” Minda soothed, although her voice betrayed the tension she felt. “Did you see how thrilled Shoshi and Zevi were yesterday? You’ll see; very soon, this is all going to work out.”
“Oh, that. I don’t believe one word Shoshi said,” Chasida scoffed and reheated the water in the kettle. “They want to consider if it’s worth it? If there’s something to consider, then it’s certainly not worth it. If the chances were high, Shoshi would be dancing with joy, not coming into the house with the biggest smile she could paste on her face and calmly telling us about the lovely meeting she had with the charming doctor.”
“You think so?”
Chasida wanted to say that she was positive about it, but just then she noticed that no matter how hard she tried to fill her cup, the water level kept going down, while the counter was getting wetter and wetter.
“Ugh!” she cried. “There’s a crack in this glass. I was so klutzy before that I broke it. Ima, isn’t that a sign that we have to think about this date again?” She turned the cup over in the sink, emptying it of the liquid that hadn’t escaped through the crack. “Spilled coffee, a cracked cup, and now we know that Zevi’s foot will always stay the way it is because of the cream that I myself gave Shoshi. Maybe we should wait a bit longer before I go out with Yerachmiel Blum?”
“You know, Chasi,” Abba said, entering the kitchen again, “I once heard a nice story about the Brisker Rav. He was mesader kiddushin at a wedding, and at the critical moment, it turned out that the ring had been forgotten at home. They sent someone to bring it, but then, when the chassan took the ring, it fell to the floor. The mothers and some of the guests began to panic. Who knew what this meant? Was it a sign of some sort?” Abba gave a smile, but it was not a happy one. “The Brisker Rav, though, saw things differently. He said that yes, of course it was a sign—a sign from Above that the right time for the chassan and kallah to get married was only in a few seconds hence, not right then.”
Chasida looked down at the cracked glass in her hand and didn’t reply.
“Why always look for the bad?” Zalman asked. “Maybe, when there are obstacles, it is to show us that we’re on the way to something good, and up Above, Hashem is waiting to see if we’ll overcome those obstacles so that we can finally get to that good place? Or perhaps you should think about how nice it is that a glass broke…hmmm?” He exited the kitchen, leaving his question hanging in the air.
Chasida wiped down the counter once again, but didn’t try to prepare another cup of coffee for herself.
Her father then went to learn, and she went down to the store. Like most mornings of late, the store was very quiet. She arranged a few shelves that had become a bit messy, and thought about the story her father had related. Really, how was it possible to know for sure why things happen? It’s always possible to think of more than one interpretation!
Perhaps she should look into the subject a bit further, but she really didn’t have whom to ask.
“Do you believe that everything that happens to us is from Above?”
She had found whom to ask. Not that she had been looking, but at 8:06, after Yerachmiel had arrived and spoken with her father a bit, and after Chasida and Yerachmiel had sat down and exchanged some pleasantries with each other, Chasida decided that he could be the perfect person to direct her questions to. First of all, she’d be able to see if he was a deep thinker. She could also examine how much thought he devoted to things that bothered other people, not only himself. And if she’d also get an answer to her questions at the same time, well then, that would be really wonderful.
There was no water pitcher on the table. She wondered if he would be thirsty this time, as well. If yes, then the shidduch would be called off immediately, because if the side effects of the surgery were still there despite the fact that Shevi had said they were not, then who knew how many more things existed! And if it wasn’t a side effect, just normal thirst—then it should not distract him from the conversation. In any case, there was a pitcher of water waiting in the refrigerator, just to be sure, and Ima had made sure there were two gleaming glasses on the pareve counter.
“We’re supposed to learn from things that happen to us, right?”
“Learn what?” he asked. “A lesson?” In his pocket he carried a letter from Dr. Gur, and Yerachmiel tried to shove his tension into his pocket also. They’d been speaking causally for about ten minutes, without Chasida giving him the slightest sign that she’d basically been forced into this date by Mrs. Kurzman. Perhaps she was just being polite, and there was nothing more to it than that, but it was also possible that this shidduch still had a shred of hope. The letter could wait. Meanwhile, as long as Chasida was treating this like a normal date, he would do the same. Perhaps Hashem was giving him another chance.
“Not to learn about the past, but rather for the future.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
“I don’t mean that we have to ask ourselves, ‘What did I do to make such-and-such happen to me?’ But rather, shouldn’t we ask ourselves, ‘What am I going to do now that, because of what I did, this thing happened?’” Did he always need everything explained so explicitly?
“I think,” Yerachmiel said thoughtfully, “that today, we can’t establish such things clearly. Great people can probably see the things that happen to them as signs from Above. The Gemara mentions that the Tanna’im would make simple signs for themselves to know if they should do something or not. It is also known that when the Chazon Ish tried to call someone to him more than twice and it didn’t work out, he would decide that it was obviously preferable that the meeting not take place. But us, small people? It says that a person is not allowed to make signs for himself, such as, ‘If I drop the food, then it’s a sign that I won’t have a good day.’”
He paused. “Personally, I think that a person always has to seek to do good. If he wants, chalilah, to go do something bad, and the bus leaves without him, yes, he should definitely stay home. To say that the bus left so that he shouldn’t go? I don’t know. There’s bechirah in the world, and it says that a person is led on the path that he chooses to follow.”
“And it could be the opposite also. When a person wants to do good, obstacles can arise.”
“Like the Satan coming to Avraham Avinu on the way to Akeidas Yitzchak? That’s true.”
“But when it comes to things that are either good or bad, it’s easy not to get confused,” Chasida said. “We have Torah and halachos, and we usually know what the truth is. But if, let’s say…”—she sought the right words—“there’s a matter that’s not good or bad; it’s just…something.”
“Like, for example?” Yerachmiel probed gently.
“Like, someone is planning to do something, and then her coffee spills.”
“Maybe she was in a hurry or tense, and her hands trembled a bit,” he suggested.
“You don’t think that’s a sign that she should change her plans?”
“If the coffee would have spilled on an important letter that I had to copy over, I would reconsider and perhaps instead of copying it over word for word, I would look for a better way to word certain things.” He smiled. “And if something better would be the end result, then I’d say that maybe that was the reason Hashem made the coffee spill. But I wouldn’t force myself to rewrite a new letter completely right after the coffee spilled because that was why the first one got ruined—so that I should go and write a whole different letter.”
“I see what you’re saying,” Chasida conceded with a sigh. “There are some people who have it easy in life.” Outside the room where they sat, the house was quiet. Ima and Abba were probably closeted in their room or the kitchen—davening. She leaned back.
“If you mean me, I have to say that’s a gratifying description. I am usually described in more pitiable terms. In any case,” Yerachmiel tried to find the right words, “to delve into what we are experiencing is good, and in cases where there’s indecision, it’s always a good idea to consult with an adam gadol.”
“So you don’t discount such feelings as silly?”
“Silly? Of course not!” He coughed. “Feelings are not something you can just scorn. How can you argue with the way a person feels?” He leaned his elbow on the table and told her about a chuppah that Rav Shach once conducted, where the chassan simply could not break the thick Duralex glass that had been placed under his foot. There were those who said it wasn’t such a big deal, that it was not an impediment to the kiddushin, but Rav Shach did not give in until the chassan succeeded in breaking the glass.
At this point, Yerachmiel coughed again, and Chasida observed him from beneath her lowered eyelids. Would he ask for water?
No, he didn’t ask. He continued talking.
“Later, people asked Rav Shach why he couldn’t forgo the minhag, and he replied that if the glass would not have been broken, right after the first argument between the couple, all the aunts would cluck that it was because their chuppah was not conducted properly, and because of that, nothing would ever be right between them.”
“So, based on this story, you’re saying that it’s important to pay attention to people’s thoughts and feelings?” She had to speak about the most important thing that bothered her. The direct path, like they say, is usually the best one. “Even if they are different from your own?”
Yerachmiel paused before answering. “Is that a general philosophical question or a personal one?”
“And if it’s personal?”
“Then I hope you’ll understand that it’s harder for me to answer it.” He smiled.
“Because all the possible answers are not really so relevant. To say that I treat everyone respectfully—that doesn’t sound right. To say that I don’t—that wouldn’t be smart.”
She laughed, but stopped abruptly. “I actually heard that you donated a kidney to your sister,” she said very quietly.
“Right.” He could feel the paper in his pocket. How could someone feel a paper? Apparently he was imagining things. There, the show was over. Until now, it had all gone fine. He liked deep conversations. But soon he would return home and tell his mother that it had been awful, and that no, he definitely did not think this shidduch was for him.
“The twentieth of Elul, 5733/1973, 5;30 p.m. That’s your birthday, right?”
“I know the date and year very well,” Yerachmiel replied, slightly puzzled, “but the hour? Sorry, I don’t remember anymore.”
“Well, I know that it is.” A sense of humor wasn’t a bad thing, but she had to make sure it didn’t border on cynicism. So many things for her to find out! She would have to sit down after this date, if it would finish all right, and make a list of all the things she had to look into further.
“Nu?” He smiled a bit hesitantly.
“Nothing.” She looked for something to do with her fingers, but came up short. It wasn’t a good idea to fold her arms. That gave an impression of being distant and closed, she’d read somewhere. His arms weren’t folded either. She rested her hands in front of her, grasping the edge of the table. “I’m a bit interested in the connection between a person’s personality and the time when he was born.”
“And what does this mean?”
Chasida took a deep breath. Let’s see how he dealt with this. “That someone who is born at the time I just mentioned is liable to be self-centered and very focused on himself; he’s likely to work according to the rules that he sets, irrespective of what is going on around him.” She smiled almost apologetically. “He is also someone who has a hard time giving up his own things for others, but that’s really not relevant, I would say.”
“Not relevant to what?” Yerachmiel focused his gaze on the doorknob; it was a gleaming, silvery color. Was that an ant walking on it now? No, it was his imagination.
“To a person who donates a kidney to his sister.”
“I see.” He took his hands off the table, and his right hand reached up behind his neck. A sign that he was ill at ease, Chasida knew. “Sounds interesting,” he added. “How are these things decided?”
“Based on the location of the sun, moon, and some other stars. But I think we can forgo the astrology lesson now, can’t we?”
“Yes, sure.” He paused. “And this is an exact science, these personality analyses?”
“That’s what I’m asking.”
He laughed. “Donating a kidney to a sister doesn’t seem to indicate anything to me. Any normal Jew would do it. Even if he is supposed to be especially selfish, based on the rules of astrology.”
“So I take it that you don’t believe in it. Is everything I said really not right?”
“Can you accept a personality testimony from the defendant himself?”
“It will be accepted.”
“So it’s like this.” Yerachmiel put his hands on the table again. His self-confidence had returned, apparently. “I’m not sure that I remember the whole list, but I’ll try. Do I like rules and order? Yes, I’m pretty organized with a daily schedule, which is as predictable as possible. Do I not care what is going on around me? I don’t think that’s a very accurate way to describe me.”
The situation was quite bizarre, and Yerachmiel knew that he no longer had anything to lose. Rules or no rules, she was calling the shots in this game, and he would just go along with it. He’d have to dwell on the outcome later. “Am I focused on myself?” He ran his fingers through his beard. Another awkward motion, she knew. “I can’t deny that I sometimes need my few minutes of privacy in order to think through all sorts of important matters, because I can’t always find a suitable person with whom to iron out the issues that bother me, and the only person who knows how to do it the way I want is me.”
“The only one?”
“Yes. In the yeshivah where I learned until a few years ago, everyone was very different from me. In the kollel where I learn today, everyone’s different from me. Ditto for everyone at home.”
“And you find that you can’t speak about issues that trouble you with people who are not in the exact same situation as you?” she wondered.
“I can, and I do it from time to time, but it doesn’t always satisfy me. Perhaps it’s because I can’t bring myself to expound on everything with everyone. My friends are uncomfortable, my mother is very distraught, and discussing things with my younger brothers and sisters is out of the question.”
Chasida was quiet. He spoke of a mother in pain, of friends. Of siblings. She also had family, friends—albeit just a few, and she, too—how funny!—liked to be with herself in the store and think her wordless thoughts about herself and her life. She wasn’t selfish, of course. Apparently, being self-centered in this situation was only natural, if not self-evident. How could she find out if it was an inborn trait of his, or if it had developed over the years, like it had with her?
She didn’t know what she said exactly or how she excused herself, but somehow, she found herself in the kitchen, taking out the pitcher of water and the cups. That he hadn’t asked for. She suddenly wanted them. She re-entered the room and placed the tray on the table. “I’m sorry; this got left in the kitchen,” she said.
“Not a problem,” he replied, but made no move to help himself.
“In our family, it’s customary on the first date not to eat or drink anything,” she remarked casually. “I don’t know what the source for it is, but it comes from my father, and to the best of my knowledge, his sources are accurate.”
“So the water is here as a decoration?” Yerachmiel asked with a slight smile.
the white stuff. mmy that it had been awful, and no, he definitely did not think this shidduch was for h she said, and as though to prove it, she grasped the pitcher and filled the two glasses with water. “It’s not the first date anymore.”
Silence hung in the room.
“Did I ruin something by drinking then?” he asked after they had both overcome the silence.
She shook her head, and then remarked in a low voice, “You could say so. But not because of the thing that we don’t drink on the first date. It’s not such a matter of principle.”
“Is there a way to fix the things that I ruined that are a matter of principle?”
“You’ve fixed some of them.” She raised her eyes.
He made a brachah and drank, even though his original plan had been not to drink even if he was offered something. Well, this date was not going at all the way he had planned, so one more spontaneous thing wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway.
“I thought that the thirst then was a very bad sign,” Chasida said suddenly and put a hand over her shoulder. A clear sign that she was flustered. Chasida! What’s with you?
“Recently…” She was scratching under her neck, and now she was stammering, and if she wasn’t mistaken, her leg was just beginning to itch… She was totally ignoring the rules of etiquette that had been limiting her to such a degree. “…Recently I realized that it was a mistake.”