Dance of the Puppet – Chapter 28

purple bookIsrael Book Shop presents Chapter 28 of a new online serial novel, Dance of the Puppet, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters. 

Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications. 

After the shiur klali, Rabbi Weinstock discussed the material with an animated group of shiur gimmel bachurim who would not let him go. Dovi Brim was not one of them, but at least during the shiur he had sat in the first row, and given the impression of being focused and alert. The rosh yeshivah wondered what Mrs. Levinsky had said to him that had already had such a positive effect. He hadn’t been wrong about her. The high school had really gained from the situation, despite the unfortunate circumstances.

There was a phone call waiting for him in the office. “Levinsky,” the secretary said, raising his eyes.

“Levinsky?” Reb Yeshayahu took the phone. “Hello?”

Shalom aleichem,” a male voice responded. “This is Elchanan Levinsky.”

Reb Yeshayahu was confused for a second, but then understood. “Aleichem shalom,” he said. “First of all, I have to say that Brim came to shiur today with renewed energy. It looks like your wife knew just what to say to him.”

Elchanan ignored the fact that his wife had abandoned the scene and left him at the forefront. “I really hope we succeeded,” he said politely. “I wanted to discuss the matter of Dovi’s music with you.”

“Music?”

“Yes. His flute-playing. Do you perceive it as a totally negative thing?”

“I didn’t perceive it as such in the beginning,” Rabbi Weinstock said, raising his eyebrows. “Until I saw where it was leading him.”

“We thought, my wife and I, that perhaps he needs to be given a positive way to channel it. Just like he played in the yeshivah on Purim, perhaps every so often, he needs to be given a chance to use his talents in this area.”

“Let him play at home on Motza’ei Shabbos,” the rosh yeshivah said. “At a family melaveh malkah, or something like that. I have no objection to that.”

“And what about at the yeshivah’s melaveh malkah?”

“No,” the rosh yeshivah said. “I don’t want to give this a place in our yeshivah. If he wants to play at the Chanukah and Purim mesibos, we will consider it then, but absolutely not on a regular basis.”

“We thought perhaps he could volunteer to play for people once every week or two.”

“How would he fit that in between sedarim?”

“He’d do it on Friday afternoons.”

Nu,” Reb Yeshayahu responded, not sounding pleased. “Why is this all so important?”

“Because it is possible that this issue is what’s causing his decline,” Elchanan said. He wondered whether he should say that Dovi felt he had paid too steep a price to be able to return to yeshivah, but decided against it. “He hasn’t really found himself, after this whole story.”

Nu, we’ll consider it,” Reb Yeshayahu said. He saw the mashgiach waiting for him at the door. “In the meantime, let’s see him settle down into routine, and then we can discuss it further.”

***

As the Chanukah parties drew closer, the high school looked less and less like a place of organized study due to the chaos that reigned. Sari was surprised at how much she’d matured since she’d completed her own schooling a mere several months earlier. How could she have ever liked the noise and the mess? Wasn’t the absolute silence of the corridors much more pleasant?

“Oh, Mrs. Levinsky! Regards from Ayala Schreibman,” she said when the new principal passed by her desk.

“Ayala Schribeman?” Yaffa repeated. “Schreibman?”

“Rosen, originally. She’s my sister-in-law.”

“Really? Ayala Rosen is your sister-in-law? How nice.” Until now, Petach Tikva had remained beyond the boundaries of the school. Apparently, that was about to end.

“Yes, she…was very pleased to hear that it’s you.”

“That what’s me?”

“That it’s you who are the one substituting for Mrs. Kotzker.”

“Oh. Very nice,” Yaffa said, glancing at a group of girls who had come into the office. They seemed to be waiting for her. “Please send her my best regards, too.”

“I will,” Sari said. She regretted bringing it up in the first place. Mrs. Levinsky hardly looked enthused. Who knew; perhaps she and Ayala hadn’t been good friends, because Ayala’s reaction at the wedding had also been a bit strange. Truth to be told, Ayala hadn’t specifically asked Sari to send regards. It could be that the two really hadn’t gotten along, and now, for no reason, she’d lost points with the principal. Too bad. Next time she’d think twice before delivering regards that had never been sent.

The four girls who had entered the main office hurried over to Yaffa. “Mrs. Levinsky—” they began in unison, and then tittered and fell silent. One of them continued, and Yaffa thought she recognized her as the one she’d allowed to photocopy the rough draft of the song on that first day she’d been in the school. “Mrs. Braun is in class now, and during recess she gave us permission to use the bomb shelter for practice, but now the girls from the other team, Afar, are there.”

“Which team are you on?” Yaffa asked as she walked back to her office. The ninth and tenth grades had been divided into four groups, Ruach, Eish, Mayim, and Afar. Yael had foreseen the fighting over practice space and had written up a clear rotation.

Eish,” one of them replied.

Yaffa perused the page taped to her desk. “It’s not your turn and not theirs,” she said solemnly. “Now it’s Mayim’s turn.”

“Oh, no!” one of the girls griped.

Another asked, “How can that be?”

A third girl took a step toward the desk. “No, Mrs. Levinsky!” she said loudly. “The chart goes widthwise, not down the length. It says that it’s our turn now!”

Yaffa looked at the girl for a second and then at the page again. If Malka or Yael would be here now, the girl would never have spoken this way. What could she do? After all, she wasn’t the real principal. Substitutes always have discipline problems, don’t they?

“You’re right,” she said, after looking at the chart for a long moment. “It’s your turn now.”

“Could Mrs. Levinsky write a note for us that we can show the Afar girls?”

“Fine,” Yaffa said, a bit impatiently, and tore a sheet off her memo pad. She scrawled a few words and handed it to the foursome.

“Thank you!” the first one said.

“I’m sorry,” the girl who had corrected her said. “I’m sorry that I screamed. The bomb shelter is very important for us right now.”

“There is a way to say things,” Yaffa said and turned to the door. That’s what her mother had told her when her teacher had sent home a note that Yaffa had spoken with chutzpah in class. What had her chutzpah-dik comment been then, that the test was too hard?

“There’s a way to say things,” her mother had said before signing the note.

***

“You said that Yaffa might be able to come visit you, Ima,” Malka pleaded. “Soon you’re going to move to rehab, b’ezras Hashem, and then, if you’re going to go to the place in Petach Tikva, it will be much harder to get to you. Yael is also almost going out of her mind, she wants to see you so badly.” Ima needed visitors. Desperately. She couldn’t just lie here for days on end, without seeing any of the people who had always admired her so much, or anyone else who could infuse her with a bit of good cheer.

“She doesn’t want to see me…” Adina Kotzker’s speech was heavy and slow. “She wants to see her principal, and that’s not me.”

“Yael’s not stupid, Ima,” Malka replied, sitting very close to her mother. “She’s mature enough to see not only the outer shell, which will, b’ezras Hashem, come off very soon.”

“So let her wait until that happens,” Adina said tiredly. “Call the nurse, Malka. I want…to lie down again.”

“And Yaffa?”

“Enough, Malky,” her father said from his perch on the other side of Adina. “It’s true that bikur cholim is important, but if Ima’s not interested, it doesn’t serve any purpose.”

“Then at least let Mimi come. She wants to bring her friend with her. She has a new friend; she’s so nice. You’re going to really like this girl, Ima.” Malka tried to sound enthusiastic, even though she was as far from being enthusiastic as the high school was from the hospital. “She’s very natural, pleasant, and unbelievably sympathetic.”

“Very nice.”

“Mimi is supposed to come today. Do you mind if Shuli comes along with her?” Malka stood up, adjusting the window blinds.

“Shuli?” Adina asked heavily.

“Her new friend.”

“Let her come.” Adina’s eyes closed completely. “Do what you want, Malky. And please, call the nurse.”

***

“What fun!” Shuli said. “We’re going to take a trip on the bus together. Are you serious, Mimi?”

“Very serious,” Mimi replied. “Just call your mother to make sure, so she won’t worry.”

“My mother won’t worry.” Shuli waved off Mimi’s concerns. “But I’ll leave a message on the answering machine for my brothers. They’ll be very happy to make themselves hot dogs and French fries in the microwave. So, when do we go?”

They left at three. First they ate a light lunch at Mimi’s house, and then boarded the bus.

“I’m sure there are tons of teachers visiting your grandmother,” Shuli said suddenly, with a thoughtful look that Mimi couldn’t read. “Scary!”

“There isn’t a single teacher there, I can tell you that much,” Mimi said. She shrugged. “She doesn’t want visitors.”

“And me?”

“I guess my mother convinced her.” Mimi giggled. “Are you afraid of hospitals, Shuli?”

“No,” her friend replied. “The last time I was at a hospital was when by brother Eli was born, and I was five years old. It was nice. My mother was lying in bed in the middle of the day, something she never does, and she gave me chocolate.”

“And Eli?”

“Screamed and didn’t want to look at me,” Shuli said offhandedly. “Do we have to get off here, by any chance?”

“We do.”

Although Mimi had only taken two shifts so far, she knew the way to her grandmother’s room easily. She walked quietly and swiftly, and Shuli hurried to keep up.

“Ugh,” Shuli said suddenly. “Hospitals really are depressing. It makes you want to whisper and be very subdued.”

“Don’t you dare,” Mimi said, glancing at the room numbers on the right. “My grandmother needs the normal, cheerful Shuli.”

“I’ll try,” Shuli promised, but still felt a shiver of fear when Mimi stopped in front of one of the rooms.

Mimi stuck her head inside. “Savta?” she asked in a low voice. . Someone replied from inside, and Mimi entered and motioned for Shuli to follow her.

The curtain around the inside bed was pulled back, and Shuli found herself facing a large, metal-framed bed and a chair. The man who was sitting there stood up.

“Okay, I guess I’ll be going,” he said. “Feel good, Ima. Good luck, Mimi. If there’s any problem, chalilah, call me or your mother right away, okay?”

“Sure,” Mimi said. “Bye.”

“Is this your friend, Mimi?” her grandmother asked, and her eyes, which were hardly open, turned to Shuli.

“Yes, Savta.”

“Nice to meet you,” Shuli said, and took a step closer. “I’m Shuli. I just had to get to know the special grandmother of my special friend.”

The woman smiled. “Nice to meet you, too,” she said, looking the girls up and down. Despite Mrs. Kotzker’s wrinkled, pale face, her fluttering eyes, and her swollen hands lying on the hospital blanket, Shuli felt like she was being scanned by x-rays from head to toe. Apparently, despite the situation, power remains power.

***

Elchanan looked up at the tall building with interest. The entrance to the parking lot was on the right side, where there was a small guardhouse. He turned the car in that direction, and the guard came out to the car.

“I have a meeting with Mr. Gedaliah Korman,” Elchanan said, pushing the button to open the car window. “I’m Ehud, from Antiqua.”

“Wait.” The guard went back to his booth while Elchanan leaned back in his seat, waiting patiently. A few moments later, the guard waved to him from his window. “Okay!” he called. “Eleventh floor!” The steel barrier began to rise, and Elchanan was able to drive into the underground parking lot. He guided the car under the building, where he found an empty spot that was not marked as private.

He’d never liked these dark places, so he hurried to find an elevator. There was a bank of four elevators, and he pressed the call button for all of them. Fortunately, one arrived in seconds, and he entered with a sigh of relief, pressing the button for the eleventh floor.

A few minutes later, Elchanan stood in the large living room of Mr. Korman’s suite. Standing in the luxurious stairwell, Elchanan had envisioned elegant, grand décor; he was disappointed, to be sure. The room reminded him more of a secret cave full of items scattered around in no particular order, at least to an outsider. There were large sheets of parchment; scraps of strange-looking, engraved metal; pieces of stone pillars; and odd Judaica items. Countless boxes and cabinets with glass doors filled the large room, and all the periods, eras, and regions were grouped randomly; it was impossible to differentiate between them without extensive explanations by Mr. Korman himself. The Babylonian Exile artifacts lay near the ones from Egypt, and the Spanish region’s items were right near those from Germany.

“Estimating correctly, that’s the whole story,” Korman said as he observed Elchanan’s fascinated gaze. “You find something good, you buy it, and then you sell it and hit success. Mati sent you, right? So what do you want to do? Buy? Sell?”

“Buy and sell,” Elchanan said, forcing his gaze away from a porcelain bowl that had an inscription in rounded rows, each row shorter than the one above it.

“This is from an era where they couldn’t obtain parchment,” the collector said, noting Elchanan’s interest in the bowl. “It was cheaper to write on porcelain. So you want to sell and buy? What do you have?”

Elchanan detailed, with a bit more than a shred of pride, the list of items he’d acquired.

“I need to see the clock and the menorah, as well as the letters. Sell the Shas to someone else, and the little table. Things that take up so much space—they’re not worth it for me to keep if they’re less than three hundred years old.”

Elchanan had all the letters with him, and he spread them on a little wooden table (which was three hundred and how many years old…?) that stood there. Korman perused them. “I can take these from you,” he said finally, picking up three of the letters. “Twenty thousand shekel. Does that work?”

“I’ll find out,” Elchanan said. “Meanwhile, I’ll go down to bring the clock and the menorah from my car.”

Menashe answered him on the first ring. “Sure, sure,” he said. “Korman’s fair. Give him whatever he offers, and whatever he offers you, you can buy.”

Fair? Elchanan wondered about that term. He had no reason to accuse Korman of lying, but something in the antique dealer’s overconfident tone, and the aura he generated, did not jibe in Elchanan’s mind with the word “fair.”

He went back up to the eleventh floor and rang the bell. He heard the collector approaching as he spoke—on the phone, perhaps? Elchanan heard the last few words, “Yes, I’ll pay well,” before the door opened.

Elchanan entered the large room again and placed the clock and menorah on the table. “This looks good,” Korman said. “How much did you pay for it?”

“Two thousand three hundred dollars. The year it was made is etched on it, 1796, Firenze.”

“Looks authentic,” the collector said, closely examining the imprint on the base of the menorah. “I’ll give you three and a quarter thousand. And the clock?”

“I paid six hundred dollars for it. It was made one hundred and twenty years ago, in Cairo.”

“I’ll buy it from you for nine hundred. And what’s this?”

“A sack for the afikoman that I forgot to mention before,” Elchanan said, spreading it out. “In the spring it will be exactly one hundred years old. Kollel Shaarei Hachomos in Yerushalayim sent it as a gift to donors from Hamburg. There are wine stains that have aged, and we all know that aged wine is very valuable…”

“I see you’ve got a sense of humor,” the collector said dryly. “How much did you pay for it?”

Is this how antique dealing worked? They found out how much you paid and gave more? “Two hundred dollars.”

“I’ll take it for three hundred, okay?”

“Fine,” Elchanan said, his surprise growing. But Menashe had told him to do this, so that’s what he was doing. He really hadn’t learned all that much about the trade. He had a lot to learn if he had a dream of becoming independent one day. There was no doubt about it, the atmosphere in this room captivated him, but it was hard for him to believe he’d be able to amass such an empire in his house. Yaffa would be none too pleased about it either, he was pretty sure.

Korman pulled out a calculator, which looked modern among all the antiques, and figured out the total. The calculator printed out the sums on a slip of paper, and Korman handed it to Elchanan. He disappeared for a minute and then returned with a wad of bills, which he proffered it to the young man. “Count,” he ordered.

Elchanan counted twice and then nodded. He put the bills in a bag in his inside suit pocket.

“Okay, come, let’s see what I can give you,” the collector said as his eyes scanned the room. “Copper candlesticks, five hundred years old. Of interest, right?”

“Perhaps,” Elchanan said politely, and the dealer hurried to a corner and pulled out two candlesticks, which he placed on the table. “From Fez, Morocco,” he said. “The one who sold them to me said they belonged to the Rif’s family, but I have no proof other than his rich imagination. A Byzantine jug, you’ll take?”

“Why not?”

The dealer led Elchanan along paths that had been forged among the piles of objects. “This jug was made in the year 650 CE,” he noted. “The designs match that era perfectly. Once, such things would go from hand to hand for two hundred dollars, but the Arabs began to deal with antiques, and they opened museums and hiked the prices. I’ll give it to you, as a favor to Menashe and Mati, for fifteen hundred dollars.”

They went back to the table to tally the bill. Elchanan bought the items and paid with the same bills he had just received from his host. They parted without shaking hands, because Elchanan’s arms were loaded. In his pocket rested two hundred and fifty dollars. His head was spinning. Was this what Menashe had meant? To go to the trouble of the long trip, to sell and buy like this, when the profit at the end was so measly? If so, he had a lot to learn.

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