Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 5 of a new online serial novel, Night Flower, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
She had just settled onto the couch, sefer in hand, when the phone rang yet again. How could she lower the volume of the ringer?
Elka. Oops, Shlomo’s fax really had banished the memory of her promised return call.
“Hi, Elka,” she said as she placed a slip of paper to hold her page.
“Chaiky, it’s not like you. I was waiting and waiting for you to call me back, and you didn’t.”
“Sorry, something came up here that made me forget.”
Elka was quiet for a minute. “Not that I see it as neglect, Chaiky, because I know you, and I know you’re very responsible and that you take your job seriously, but you should know that this kind of forgetfulness does not come from a good place.”
Sure, a fax from the prison in Russia couldn’t be classified as a good place.
“Right,” Chaiky said again, and without wanting to, she raised her voice. “It’s not alright that I forgot, but it was something important.” She’d better go out onto the porch or the children would wake up. On the porch, she’d also be forced to lower her voice, so that the neighbors above her didn’t hear. So it was a net gain. Even if Elka would irritate her now, she’d reply in a respectful, quiet tone.
“Well, fine. So what did we decide, Chaiky? When can you go with Noa?”
“It doesn’t make much of a different to me which day, as long as it’s in the morning when my kids are in school. Oh, and not on Tuesday.”
Elka said something in a low voice; she must be on the other line with Noa. Or was Noa with her? At this hour? “Why not on Tuesday, Chaiky?” Elka asked after a few moments of whispering. “Tuesday is a good day for Noa. She works the other mornings, or is in school.”
“But Tuesday is not good for me,” Chaiky answered placidly.
“So what should we do?”
Chaiky took a deep breath. “I really don’t know, Elka. You want me to go on my regular shopping trip and that Noa should come with me, and that’s fine. But Tuesday doesn’t work for me.”
“Is it not something you can postpone? You have to understand that Noa has school on Monday and Thursday, and on Sunday and Wednesday she’s at the library, as you know. Tuesday morning is ideal for her.”
“I understand.” It took effort for Chaiky to remind herself that it was beneath her dignity to unleash everything she really wanted to say to Elka. “And I’m telling you again, Elka, that I can’t go on Tuesday.”
“And you say that you can’t postpone it.”
“I don’t think so.”
“So maybe find out?”
“I really am not in the mood, Elka, sorry.” Something from the burbling cauldron inside of her overflowed, despite her efforts, and crossed the boundaries of the polite, well-mannered Chaiky. “I suggest that Noa”—it took effort not to say “your Noa”—“find out if she can miss a day of school, or you can decide if the library should be closed one morning. It’s not the end of the world. The mornings are not that busy in the library, as you know.”
Elka listened quietly, and even when Chaiky finished speaking she didn’t reply.
Chaiky also remained silent. She sat on the lounge chair on the porch, the sefer she had taken from the night table in one hand and her cell phone in the other. She waited patiently. No, Elka was not being quiet. She was talking quietly to Noa.
“Well, Chaiky,” Elka returned suddenly, “it’s too bad that you’re not even trying to make this work. But we’ll see how to manage this. Maybe I’ll go with Noa on Tuesday. I understand that you won’t be at work either then, that day?”
“Nu nu. Have a good night, then.”
“Thanks. You, too.”
“And you should really go to sleep, Chaiky. You sound like you’re so tired that you’re not really thinking about what you’re saying or doing.”
“I hear, Elka.” Again, that effort to keep her voice down, not only because of the neighbors on the second floor.
Apparently I’m not as tired as you think, Elka. Fact is—I’m succeeding.
If beforehand Chaiky had thought that the fax from Shlomo had sapped her of every ounce of energy, she discovered to her surprise that she still had some leftover energy to feel sapped of after the conversation with Elka. Had Miri, the secretary, heard this exchange, she would have exploded. The two of them suffered in silence from Elka’s strange preference of Noa over them, but Miri was having a harder time than Chaiky was, because while Chaiky was still in her position as the director of the center, Miri, as the secretary, was in a clearly inferior position to Noa, the librarian and high skilled computer expert.
But Miri wouldn’t hear about this conversation, certainly not now, at eleven o’clock at night. Chaiky really hoped she’d be able to restrain herself tomorrow as well, and not say anything about it then either.
But it was frustrating! So frustrating!
Chaiky tiredly opened the sefer again, but found that the interest she had felt earlier had totally dissipated. She would take the sefarim to work tomorrow and when it was quiet she’d work on the speech. She’d still have more than twenty-four hours until the event.
She got up and walked back to the porch door to go inside. She hadn’t even remembered closing it. She must have done it while she was talking so that Dovi wouldn’t wake up.
Hey! What was this? Where was the handle?
Just a gaping hole mocked her silently from the place where she’d automatically reached for the knob. But there was no knob!
Chaiky tried to grope around on the floor, but suddenly, a scene from earlier that day rose dimly in her mind. Wasn’t the metal handle sitting on the dining room table? Hadn’t Dovi said something in the afternoon about how, “The handle fell—it needs to be fixed, Ima”? So the handle was there, but she was here.
Chaiky tried to give the heavy door a gentle kick, but she knew there was no chance of it giving way. Of course, the door stayed tightly shut. Right after their wedding, Shlomo had replaced the wooden door that the contractor had installed with a heavy steel door. He had also raised the bars that surrounded the porch. There weren’t a lot of robberies in their neighborhood, but it still wasn’t pleasant to live on the ground floor with a quiet porch that faced the backyard and only a high railing and nice, little wooden door separating that yard from the house.
She had never understood how her parents hadn’t thought about this back when they purchased the apartment, but they had invested so much that she felt she really had no right to complain. Shlomo had agreed with her. “We’ll do the job ourselves,” he’d said. And they had. Now the porch was ringed with very high bars—which reached to just a few inches below the ceiling—and the door that separated the porch from the house was the same type as their heavy front door.
“You don’t need both the bars and a heavy door,” the aluminum man had laughed at them. “With such high bars, no thief will be able to get in anyway.” But Chaiky had insisted, and Shlomo had been good-naturedly compliant. And of course, the aluminum dealer hadn’t minded making the extra profit.
So now she had exactly what she’d asked for: a porch ringed by bars and a heavy steel door.
Chaiky sat back down on the chair, forcing herself not to panic, but rather to think rationally. After all, it wasn’t so frightening. She had a few options: She could scream until one of the neighbors would hear; she could call her sister-in-law Goldie to come to the house with the key that they had and open the porch door; or she could call the house, so either Dovi or Naomi, or both, would wake up and come rescue her.
The last option, the one involving waking up the children, made the most sense. If she did that, everything would end calmly and quietly, and no one outside their family would know anything. The neighbors here had enough to talk about her if they wanted. She didn’t want to be the subject of anyone’s tongue-wagging more than she had to.
And to call Goldie? She hadn’t spoken to Goldie in nearly two weeks, and even then, the conversation had been purely technical and not very friendly. Her mother-in-law? Her mother-in-law hadn’t called in two months, and she, Chaiky, hadn’t called her either, except for maybe once. It was nice that they sent her Sebelia and tried to be kind to Chaiky, but too many things were weighing down too many hearts, and it made them all minimize the conversations with each other to only that which were absolutely necessary.
Besides, that was all she needed, that Goldie or her mother-in-law should see her house in its present state! Her pedantic sister-in-law would surely faint if she’d see how things had deteriorated. Goldie, on her busiest and most stressful days, didn’t allow her house to become half as messy and dirty as Chaiky’s house was now, of that Chaiky was certain. Goldie would be sure that things had gotten so bad, she might even suggest that the children be taken out of the house!
Not that Chaiky was still contemplating her silly suspicions that Noa was really a social worker whom Goldie and Elka had sent over. Elka had clearly developed a personal friendship with Noa; it was foolish to think it was all being done out of sincere concern for Chaiky. But if Goldie would drop in here now, she would surely come up with a similar idea.
So the only option left was to wake up the children, with the hope that they wouldn’t become too alarmed by the idea that their mother was alone on the porch, and with the hope that the handle that fit on the inside of the door was in one piece, in its place.
She tried calling her home number. One ring. Then another, and another.
Chaiky bit her lip. Earlier, when the fax machine was squeaking away, she’d closed the door to the children’s room. Apparently they weren’t as light sleepers as she thought they were. Even with all of her ringing, they continued to sleep.
She tried calling again, and as she did, she stood up and walked to the door. She faintly heard the phone ringing through it, ringing and ringing, with no answer. Only if someone would get up to take a drink, and come out of the room, would there be a chance that he or she would discover her disappearance, and would then start searching for her. But until then?
Until then, she’d stay here.
Yes. What was wrong with that? Her lounge chair could be like a bed, and no one on the outside had a way of seeing what was happening on their porch unless they suddenly decided to take a nocturnal walk to the building’s dark backyard, climb the stone wall of the porch, and peer through the bars. Since there was no chance of anyone doing that, Chaiky was pretty much guaranteed absolute privacy.
Even if Dovi and Naomi would only wake up in the morning, she could last the night here. It really wasn’t a big deal.
It was better than asking people for favors.
“Yoel? Did you hear that ringing? Is it real?” Shifra Brodsky was alarmed. She was in the middle of a lovely dream about their most recent summer vacation to Turkey, and the phone’s annoying ring had awakened her. The time? Twelve-thirty at night.
Her husband sat up. “A telephone ringing?” he asked groggily. “It took me so long to fall asleep, I was sure it was a dream.”
“So did I,” Shifra said as the phone kept on ringing. “But now it sounds very real.”