Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 40 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 Auerbach reviewed the photos she’d just picked up from the developer, for about the hundredth time. The three-year-old Goldschmidt boy smiled back at her from the images; his mother would be very pleased, she was sure.
She took an album off the stack of new albums she’d bought and began sliding the pictures into the plastic sleeves. Mrs. Goldschmidt had said she’d come over later that evening to pick up the photos, and Shevi wanted to have time to show her work to at least one other person before she came.
Should she go downstairs to Chasida? No, it wasn’t nice to disturb her four days before her wedding. Besides, it was impossible to know how her mother would react. Shevi had no idea why, but Mrs. Dresnick did not like photos, especially not of children before their upsherin. Strange, wasn’t it? She’d said it clearly, when Shevi had begun taking photos and had scanned the Dresnick home for studio photos of grandchildren with long curly hair. She would have thought it was so like Chasida’s mother to adorn her home with photos of her grandchildren, but people don’t always turn out to be the way you think they are.
Shevi walked over to her dresser and opened a drawer. Chasida’s engagement photo lay there, and she picked it up, focusing on the faces looking into the camera. Herself, red-eyed, hugging Minda, who, with all her dislike for pictures, could not say “no” to the camera. Shoshi, Chasida’s twin, stood off to the side, and on their left stood Chasida, not looking directly at the camera, but rather trying to soothe Miri. Shevi remembered how the baby, frightened by the unfamiliar scene and not recognizing the festively dressed person who was holding her in the hubbub, was not amenable to being soothed just then.
Someone knocked at the door and then turned the knob. The door opened, but the person did not enter. “Shevi?” he called into the house.
“Abba!” She leaped toward the door. How had he known just when to come?
“I had some errands to do in Tel Aviv, so I decided to pop in here on my way,” he said. He bit into the cookies she served him. “Delicious, Shevi. Where are Gavriel and Miri?”
“In shul and sleeping. Do you want to see one of my first professional jobs, Abba?”
“Sure. How are you going to manage without your neighbor, by the way? When’s the wedding?”
“Thursday.” Shevi did not reply to the first question. How could she respond to a question whose answer she herself did not know? She would bake Chasida the fanciest cake she knew how to make, and had already arranged with Shoshi to come and help her set up the apartment before the wedding. It was just a symbolic token of thanks to Chasida for all the help she’d given Shevi in finding her feet in this big, strange, hot city. By now, Shevi felt settled in Bnei Brak and even liked it.
She showed her father the Goldschmidt boy’s pictures, and he complimented her like only a father could. They spoke about his project in Yokne’am that was finished and about a new tender it looked like he was about to land. They chatted about her mother’s latest art projects; about Eliad, who had returned, reluctantly, to the army two days earlier; about Elinor, who was preparing for the new school year; and about Elia, who wasn’t interested in much of anything.
“He’ll find himself in the end,” her father said calmly as he took out his lighter. “I don’t push any of my children into doing the opposite of what they’re interested in, just like I didn’t press you to continue studying for a profession.” He sat back, smiling indulgently. “A children’s photographer. That’s also a profession. If that’s what makes you feel fulfilled, by all means, why not?”
“Abba, it doesn’t make me feel fulfilled.” She spoke quietly, struggling with the stinging insult. It was the first time she’d heard any disappointment from her father about one of her choices. “I feel fulfilled by a thousand other things in my life. The photography is only for the income, and if I enjoy it a bit, too, incidentally, does that make me inferior to someone who studied law, for example, and is now running around in court all day?”
“No, not at all,” he hurried to aver loyally. “I know that you’ve built yourself a very nice path, but I do happen to see, from time to time, advertisements about Chareidi colleges. You know you can still get a degree if you really want to.”
“I know,” she said. “And I don’t want to.”
“That’s fine,” he replied, and then chuckled. “Shall we change the subject, Shevi’le?”
Somehow, the bitter taste of the offense dissipated. It was her father, after all. Who knew as well as Shevi that even when her conversations with him didn’t go exactly as she’d liked, it was only because he cared so much about her? She knew how to appreciate the fact that her parents very much respected the path she and Gavriel had chosen, even if she had deviated significantly from the expectations they’d had for her. She also knew that when things weren’t that way, when parents were not as respectful of their children’s choices, it could be very painful. In fact, it was only recently, when her mother-in-law had finally started to object a bit less to her and Gavriel’s lifestyle, that interactions with her in-laws had begun smoothening out and becoming more pleasant.
Abba took the album again and leafed through it, and Shevi couldn’t help but think that perhaps it wasn’t only her mother-in-law who was to blame for those difficult interactions. Oh, sure, it was very easy to blame the ideological and principled differences; it was a lot less pleasant, though, to admit to the fact that she, Shevi, hadn’t tried hard enough to make it easier for her mother-in-law by being the warm, loving daughter-in-law who would cushion the difficulties—without backing down from her principles, of course.
In all honesty, Gavriel’s mother had had a much harder time dealing with their transition than her own parents had. Her parents were okay with a daughter who dressed a bit differently from the norm, lived in Bnei Brak, and didn’t do National Service. The career that she hadn’t developed wasn’t that much of an issue for them, taking into account the fact that her mother’s profession was not all that much different from the one Shevi had ultimately chosen.
But Gavriel’s mother? One fine day, her one and only son had upended all her hopes for him, taking another direction in life and basically turning his back on all the dreams she’d nurtured—except for her dream that he find a wife who would be willing to live in Bnei Brak and be like a daughter to her.
And what had Gavriel’s mother gotten? A daughter-in-law who thought only of herself, and who had over-righteously blamed their complex relationship on the way her mother-in-law made life difficult for them. Perhaps, if she would have smoothed the path somewhat, then those difficulties and the ensuing chill in their relationship would have slowly disappeared on their own.
There was no doubt about it; Shevi had what to rectify. Perhaps Rebbetzin Filman from the Kiruv Center could help guide her on how to do the rectification best. She had told Shevi once that she would always be available to help her with any deliberations that arose. And now, it seemed, the deliberations the rebbetzin had been referring to had arisen.
When one climbs to the summit of a mountain, he thinks he has reached the peak. It is only when he looks ahead, toward the horizon, that he realizes that there are many more summits that he will still have to scale, some much more difficult than the one he has just climbed.
The last page of the notebook featured an entry in a different handwriting:
Chasida, Abba’s cousin, was by us the whole Shabbos, because it was her chassan’s aufruf and because her parents didn’t want her to stay home herself when they went to the seudos, so my parents invited her to us in Tel Aviv. When she came, she brought this notebook and said it had been in their house for so many years and it was my father’s. I read it a whole Shabbos and it was so funny to see so many milions of mistakes my father made—I write much better than that! I never wrote a journal like this because it seems very silly to me, but I saw that there was one page left in this one, so I asked Abba if I could try to write something in it and he agreed.
It was very nice here with Chasida on Shabbos and she promised to invite me to her house for Shabbos sometimes. I told her that her chassan also has to agree, and she laughed and said he will for sure. I barely ever saw him, only by their vort and two weeks ago on Sukkos when we came to visit Uncle Zalman and Aunt Minda and he was also there. At least then, he didn’t have that yuge, yucky bandage he had on his hand by the vort.
The wedding is on Thursday and I’m going to wear my new outfit that I got for Rosh Hashanah. And Elchanan can laugh all he wants that I’m so excited. He’s also. I know him very well. I have only two lines left to sign off so I’ll finish here.
The view from the kitchen window of their rented apartment consisted of a row of gray buildings, but in Chasida’s eyes, it was the most beautiful scenery in the world. She swept the kitchen and hallway, pursuing specks of dust that weren’t there in the first place, and wondered if her mother wasn’t finding it hard to stand in the store after being exempt from that job for so many years. Her mother had reassured her that it wasn’t, but Chasida feared the reality was otherwise. She could continue working in her father’s store if she wanted to, but she really had no desire to do so. She wanted to start her life anew, completely anew.
Their last sheva brachos had taken place the previous afternoon. Yerachmiel had diligently returned to learn today, but she was still pampering herself a bit. Well, it wasn’t that hard to do so when everyone was urging her to take some time to smell the roses. She wondered if kallos who married at age twenty enjoyed sitting and doing nothing, like she did. Well, they didn’t have that privilege; they usually had classes to attend or a job they had to run to. It was a good thing she didn’t have studies on her mind right now, because she could not imagine landing from the most exciting week of her life to a whole morning of boring lessons. She had no idea how any kallah did it.
Evening fell quickly, as it usually did in Cheshvan. Chasida glanced at her watch. Yerachmiel would be returning from kollel soon, and to those born in August, a regular schedule, a clean home, and a ready meal were very important things. Nice, wasn’t it? An organized, routine life was a wonderful thing. Really. She suddenly felt bad for all those scatterbrained, disorganized people.
Pushing the messy clothes-closet she’d left in her parents’ house out of her mind, she went over to the utility closet on the porch and took out a brand new rag with which to wash the floor. She’d washed the floor three times, and each time, she took out a new rag. She liked a closet full of old, used rags, just like she liked cookbooks with drips and drops of food all over them. There was something very pleasant about all the new things for someone who had just begun a new life, but on the other hand, there was something even more pleasant about that someone feeling like a veteran homemaker who could blend in quickly among the other busy, industrious women her age without anyone realizing she had just joined the ranks.
They would be home this coming Shabbos. Last Shabbos, Shabbos sheva brachos, had belonged to her parents. This week, she wanted very much to be at home, but it was clear to Yerachmiel that his parents were waiting to enjoy the nachas. So they’d come up with the idea to invite the senior Blums to them for the Shabbos meals. It could be very nice. Her mother-in-law was a lovely woman who still teared up from time to time when they met. But that, Chasida was sure, would pass soon enough.
Chasida scrubbed the floor. Thankfully, she’d stocked up as much as she could before the wedding. A sifter, a garlic press, a schnitzel hammer, and a poultry scissors—she had them all. She’d bake the cake soon, and cook the rest tomorrow. It wouldn’t take her much time, especially as her mother was sending fish and compote.
It was a bit strange to sweep all the water into the bathroom, where she expected the drain hole to be, only to discover that in this home—her own—the hole was on the kitchen porch. And so the water went through the house again. Oh, well. No harm done. In a few minutes, it would all be dry, and she’d begin on the cake.
The water flowed down the drain in a steady stream, watering the garden beneath the house. Chasida raised her eyes to the wall, where they caught sight of a well-glued ceramic plate. Eliyahu and Chavi had received it from a family friend, and hadn’t liked it. Somehow, as she’d helped Chavi wash the dishes on the Motza’ei Shabbos she’d spent with them, the conversation had evolved and Chavi had told her about the gift that had broken. Chasida had asked to see the pieces, and had liked them.
“Take it,” Chavi had said simply. “If you have the patience and good hands, you’ll be able to glue it together. I don’t like ceramic plates on the wall, anyway.”
Good hands? Chasida wasn’t quite sure about that, but she had the will. She had retuned to Bnei Brak with her overnight bag and the flat box, and had worked until two in the morning trying to glue the plate together with some strange glue she’d found in the house. She didn’t know if the glue was even meant for ceramic, but as long as it held, she wanted to see these words on her wall.
Chasida set aside the mop and looked again at the only wall hanging she’d had a chance to hang up since the wedding. The thin lines in every direction were the remnants of the travails this gift had endured, but the words “Mei’Hashem mitzadei gever konenu—Man’s steps are planned from Hashem” remained clear and pretty.
She heard footsteps on the stairs. She had learned to discern Yerachmiel’s footsteps, but this time, it sounded like there was another person with him.
But the knocking was only his. She hurried to the door, happy that the cake had been in the oven long enough so that its aroma wafted through the house, and discovered her husband with Eliyahu Katz. “Hello!” she exclaimed, clearly surprised, and stepped aside. “Welcome!”
Yerachmiel smiled and took off his hat. “Hello,” he replied. “I’m sorry I’m a bit late—I hope you didn’t worry. I didn’t want to wake you when I left the house this afternoon, but your mother called to say that I could come after kollel to take the fish for Shabbos. So I went over there and met Eliyahu. He gave me a ride until here, and I insisted he come up.”
“Very good,” she declared. “It’s a shame the cake isn’t ready yet. But there’s plenty of hot water, milk, and coffee.”
“That’s fine,” her cousin said awkwardly. “Don’t go to any trouble…”
Trouble or not, Yerachmiel didn’t allow Eliyahu to leave before he consulted with him about the mold he had discovered on the hallway ceiling that morning, and about who should have to pay for the tarring of the roof outside, and before they knew it, the coffee was ready. Chasida remembered a cake that Shoshi and Shevi had stuck into the freezer when they had prepared the apartment, and she quickly took it out and cut some pieces. The two men sat down to “make a brachah in our home,” as Yerachmiel had put it.
As she put away the rest of the cake, listening with half an ear to the conversation between her husband and her cousin, Chasida suddenly heard something that made her mind snap to attention.
“…Sounds serious. Her father will come back with an answer next week. Personally, I think it will be very worthwhile for them to move, because, with all due respect for nostalgia, those rats in the yard can’t be all that much fun, can they?”
Eliyahu didn’t reply; he was surely afraid.
“And the store,” Yerachmiel continued. “Do you know what they can buy with the amount they’ll get from it?”
“You’re missing some details to the story, Yerachmiel. The store is not theirs,” Chasida said as she stood up on her tiptoes to reach the small porcelain plates they’d toiveled two days earlier. “Has Kobi Frankel already heard that I’ve left the house?”
“The store is theirs,” her cousin said without turning around. “I sold it to them.”
Two small plates turned into fragments on the floor. In a dreamlike state, Chasida’s eyes traveled from the shattered plates on the floor to the glued-together one on the wall. Broken plates had become a very dominant feature in her life lately. What did that mean?
“Her father asked me two weeks ago to contact Frankel in his name,” Eliyahu continued, his eyes on Yerachmiel. “I asked him to leave me out of it, and then we decided that it would be simplest and easiest for everyone this way, if I just sold my rights to him.”
Yerachmiel nodded understandingly. Chasida, standing behind them, swept the floor quietly. Eliyahu cupped his hands around his coffee mug and wondered if it was a good idea to speak about this there. After a moment, he added, “I told my uncle that it was his anyway, but he said”—Eliyahu smiled—“that he was taking care of his children ahead of time and that he didn’t want there to be any misunderstandings between us after 120.”
“Misunderstandings?” Chasida’s husband was surprised. “Between you and Chasida’s family? You seem so close to them all! I doubt any misunderstandings could affect your relationship with them.”
Chasida bent over to pick up a big fragment of the plate that had had gotten stuck near the cabinet door. She didn’t like this talk of inheritances and “after 120,” especially not when Eliyahu was the one saying it. Still, she found that she felt no anger—not toward Eliyahu and not toward the conversation. Now, everything was different. Eliyahu’s words, she knew, came from a totally different place, not like then.
And who said that then it had all come from the place you thought it came from? You’ve grown old enough to discover that you’re not always right. After all, you made a mistake about Yerachmiel fourteen years ago.
“Even if misunderstandings sometimes happen, Yerachmiel,” she said casually, gathering the fragments of the broken plates into her new blue dustpan, “in the end we always realize that everyone’s intentions were really good, but we just misread the map. At the end of the day, our family always does get along.”
Toward the end of the conversation, Zevi knocked on their door, smiling apologetically at having intruded on the young couple. “I didn’t want to disturb,” he said. “But Savta sent the fish you forgot.” Only then did they realize that Yerachmiel had forgotten to take the container of fish with him.
Chasida hurriedly sliced another piece of cake for her nephew, enjoying hearing her husband urging Zevi—who had suddenly grown very shy—to sit down and eat something. It was the first time she’d seen Eliyahu speaking to Zevi from up close, and she watched them with interest out of the corner of her eye. They conversed amiably, and there was no sign that there were any barriers of discomfort or pain between them.
They spoke about the compensation Zevi was supposed to be getting in two more months, along with the soldiers who had been affected by the forged products.
Yerachmiel, who was now in on all the details of the story, asked what a young man like Zevi was planning to do with such a large sum of money. “Will you do something about your foot?” he asked in a friendly tone.
Zevi swallowed. He had been working on being natural about his situation with his left foot, but it was much easier to do that with Yehuda and his roommates, who knew him for more than a year; it was much more complicated to talk about it freely with his new uncle, who, friendly as he was, was still a stranger to him.
Chasida was observing him closely. “Zevi,” she said, “should we change the subject?”
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s not a secret anymore. I was quiet…just because.”
“That’s smart. Ask Yerachmiel. He has experience with secrets that would have been better off being revealed.”
Her nephew smiled but didn’t respond. “As for the operation, I really don’t know,” he said finally. “We’re not sure if it’s worth flying abroad, with everything that involves, in order to do the surgery, when it’s unclear what the chances are. The only consideration is that perhaps the surgery will help my balance, which might be affected.” He chewed on a bite of cake. “I never knew why it was that I fell relatively often. I thought it was just the way I was born. I thought that other things happened to me because of this. Well, it’s encouraging to know that it’s all only because of my foot, and not because of the way I am.”
Chasida stopped, her hand on the handle of the refrigerator. She didn’t say a word when Zevi glanced at Eliyahu and hurried to add, “Not that it really bothers me, but among all the other things, that’s the most significant consideration for me.”
He wondered if this was the place to mention that he forgave Eliyahu completely and that Eliyahu didn’t have to take it so hard. But he ended up not saying anything. True, that’s what he really felt, but when he thought about Eliyahu, it was very easy to understand him and his desire to erase and rectify whatever was possible.
Perhaps he should be honest with himself and admit that it wasn’t his good middos that made him righteously insist that everything was fine and that he didn’t need this surgery or anything, but rather, it was selfishness and a desire to see Eliyahu try to rectify whatever he could?
He looked at Eliyahu, smiled, and said, “And you. I mean, you’re also a serious consideration for me. I want you to be able to put this all behind you.”
“I’m happy to hear that.” Eliyahu smiled back and placed his cup on the counter. “It’s nice to hear, of course, that I weigh a lot in your eyes…”
Yerachmiel and Zevi laughed, and Chasida shifted before she finally opened the door to the refrigerator. From her vantage point, she could clearly see the long red scar on Yerachmiel’s hand, the souvenir from the cut he’d gotten on their third date. At the vort, he had proffered his left hand to accept the hundreds of handshakes, because his right one was bandaged, and every touch was painful to it.
During a lull toward the end of the evening, Chasida had noticed her mother standing beside the mechitzah, observing the goings-on with a creased forehead. Chadia knew what her mother was thinking, but each time she took a step in her direction, she was intercepted by people who had come to share in her simchah. Cousins, old friends, relatives of her chassan, and a woman who introduced herself as Shevi Auerbach’s mother-in-law and claimed she deserved a lot of gratitude for her role in the shidduch.
Only at one-thirty that night, when they’d finally arrived home, and it was very quiet—like it had been almost every night in the previous month, two years, eight years—had her mother asked, “Did you have a chance, Chasida’le, to see how he accepted mazel tovs from people?”
Oh, my, Hashem, help me. “…Sort of.”
“With his left hand, right?”
Chasida had nodded. “Well, he has a bandage on his right hand,” she’d said defensively. “What could he do?”
“I actually think it’s a good thing,” her mother had replied slowly. “It was such a beautiful vort; tons of people came and were so happy for you. I thought it was good that there was something against ayin hara. You know, that it shouldn’t be too…” Her mother had groped for the right word, and Chasida found it for her.
“Too perfect,” she’d said somberly and nodded. At the vort, many people had remarked how “grounded” she was. Not that she understood the young-kallah-dictionary language, but as long as the word “grounded” did not contradict with the wod “thrilled,” she didn’t mind agreeing.
There was once a girl named Chasida Dresnick. Today she’s called Chasida Blum. She likes order and cleanliness, even though the things she left in her parents’ house are quite messy. She knows that she has to organize them, because the house is about to be demolished and her parents are packing everything up, but she doesn’t know where to start. Her husband says the most important thing is to start, and then, it will just continue on its own. But when she comes to the house, she prefers to go down to the store and help her parents plan the layout of the shelves in the new store that they’re going to have, b’ezras Hashem. Sometimes she also knocks at Shevi Auerbach’s door, to help her pack, because it’s always easier to organize someone else’s mess than to deal with your own.
In the end, Chasida crams forty years’ worth of stuff into three boxes, without organizing anything. She’ll get to it eventually, maybe when she’ll be an old lady. In the meantime, she’s fully satisfied with being busy with her new house, and everything that has preceded it could wait patiently.
On Fridays, Zevi also comes to help pack. He isn’t particularly excited about his upcoming trip abroad in two weeks, but he’s at peace with his decision and the blessings he’s received for the success of the surgery. Whenever he comes, Savta embraces him tearfully, before Zevi gently disentangles himself from her and goes to see what he can do to help out. Once, on his way to the dining room to help pack the silver items, he trips on a chair, but doesn’t fall. The fact that he’s an Aquarius, with signs of an Aries and a Capricorn, doesn’t mean he has to fall.
On the day the moving truck arrives, Shoshi, Yitzchak, and Eliyahu and his wife are all there. Chasida is there, too, of course. The house is suddenly full of people talking, urging the workers on, and looking at the walls for the last time. And Chasida escapes into the back yard, because she doesn’t like farewells.
She’s looking for the old pile of trash that will disappear shortly, along with everything else there, and tries to find the white edge of a refrigerator door. She remembers her engagement, and that’s a good reason to shed a few more tears.
“Aren’t you going to stop crying already?” someone asks from behind her.
Chasida turns to find Shevi standing alone, her eyes tear-filled, too. “Aren’t you going to stop crying yourself?” she returns to her old neighbor. “Hey, where’s Miri?”
“At my mother-in-law’s. Will you come up to me one more time? We’re leaving the day after tomorrow.”
But Chasida says it’s not nice to disappear when everyone else is working. Shevi offers her assistance, and they walk around to the front yard and into the house. One mover is schlepping the parts of the big table, but a second before he reaches the door, the biggest piece slips from his hands and falls, leaving a long, ugly mark as the paint peels away near the door.
Who knows what that means?
Chasida’s mother is standing there, and she opens her mouth for a second, but then clamps it shut.
It makes no difference right now to anyone, anyway.