Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 12 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.
Chaiky’s father-in-law finished singing Shalom Aleichem, made Kiddush, and poured wine into the small cups.
“Nu, uh!” her mother-in-law said as she passed the cups.
“Yisrael and Yaakov!” she scolded, after drinking her wine. “Can you stop being so wild? You’re supposed to set a good example for Dovi and Naomi, not the opposite!”
“But we’re so happy that they finally, finally came to us!” Yisrael said as soon as he’d swallowed his wine, and tickled Dovi in the ribs. Dovi giggled and stuck his hand out to get his little goblet.
“Well, that’s children for you…” Shlomo’s mother sighed as she smiled at Chaiky, who smiled in return. The happiness and energy that enveloped the children here served her quite well. It somewhat blurred her discomfort and the long silences, although she did have to make sure that her kids’ unruly behavior did not become all-out chaos.
As soon as she’d entered the somber-toned, closed-in dining room, she’d felt that familiar sensation of being stifled. She had never liked the heavy velvet curtains, tied with gold ropes; the elegantly carved bookcase that gleamed to perfection; or the two black velvet chairs in the corner of the room. When she’d first come to her in-laws’ home as a kallah, she’d mused that she and her mother-in-law just didn’t share the same taste at all, but as long as Shlomo had been at her side, it hadn’t bothered her so much.
Now, here she was at her in-laws’ Shabbos table, alone, and she needed to keep an eye on her kids’ behavior, help serve, and be friendly enough to her mother-in-law, brothers-in-law, and the nephew and niece who were there—all while feeling stifled by the décor. She did not understand why her sister-in-law Goldie had to send Moshe and Racheli over, but perhaps their mother-in-law had been the one to initiate it. Perhaps she was also afraid of a tense Shabbos table, with just three largely silent adults and four children who could never be predictable.
By the time all the little wine cups had been emptied and they moved into the kitchen to wash, the childish exuberance had morphed into real rambunctiousness, and Chaiky couldn’t decide if she preferred some of the heavy, enclosing silence over this. As they washed, Dovi squirted water at Yisrael and Yaakov, laughing and dodging them as they tried to get him back. The six-year-old whooped wildly, and ten-year-old Yaakov led him back to the dining room and pushed him into a chair.
“Don’t you dare get up before I finish washing and come back!” he scolded in a deep voice, trying to sound authoritative. “Otherwise I will have to use handcuffs, my prisoner! You understand?”
Chaiky didn’t like the charade, but Dovi was actually laughing. Laughing! And he was sitting nicely near the table now, anyway.
After the challah was cut and distributed, her mother-in-law went into the kitchen to serve the fish and salads, and Chaiky stood up to follow her. But then she saw Naomi climbing onto the sofa and raising a cushion threateningly at Dovi.
“Naomi!” Chaiky called in rebuke. “What’s with you?”
Naomi scrambled down quickly, and the grandfather called his children and grandchildren to the table and began to tell them a mashal on the parshah. Goldie’s children actually sat and listened, along with Chaiky’s brothers-in-law, as appropriate for their ages. Only her children continued acting in an embarrassing way.
“Dovi!” Chaiky called from the entrance to the kitchen, shaking her head warningly. “Zeidy is speaking about the parshah; listen nicely! Maybe afterward you can even tell him what you learned about the parshah. You learned a lot in cheder, didn’t you?”
At home, the kids never behaved like this. What would her mother-in-law think? That the children were out of control because their father wasn’t around? That was exactly what it looked like now. But it really wasn’t so!
“Forget it,” her shvigger said as she sliced the fish. “Let them be happy for a bit.”
Be happy? Chaiky took the tray with the little bowls of salads and dips and walked to the table. She looked at her children. Dovi was sitting on his grandfather’s lap, as his zeidy jiggled him on his right knee, and Naomi stood near her cousin Racheli’s chair, giggling with delight. Yes, she had to admit. The children looked much happier here than they did during their Shabbos meals at home these days.
Happy or not, though, by the time the first course was over and it was time for the soup, even their grandfather had lost his patience one and a half times. Once, he really scolded Dovi, and the half time was when he knitted his eyebrows and was about to chide him again—but then Bubby said something to him in Yiddish, so he held himself back.
It was a good thing Chaiky didn’t understand Yiddish, because she had no strength to deal with whatever her mother-in-law had said about her or her kids. She could only imagine what it was: “Leave him alone, poor child whose mother can’t control him,” or “Enough; they’ll be going soon! Let’s just get through the next hour,” or maybe, “That’s how it is when our son isn’t around; you can see he’s the figure of authority at home, and without him…”
Chaiky rose from her seat. “Dovi! Come! Bubby made soup just the way you like it!”
“But I’m not hungry,” the boy protested. “You gave us lots of chocolate before Shabbos, and also cornflakes and milk. Soon my stomach is going to start hurting! Ow!” Then he climbed onto the sofa, and stretched out in a reclining position.
“I’ll bring him to the table,” Yisrael volunteered, and went over to Dovi. “Come here, escaped prisoner!”
But the “prisoner” jumped up and scooted to the edge of the couch. “You think you can catch me so easily, like the policemen in Russia caught my father?” he taunted and climbed up onto the back of the couch. “I’m escaping!” And he jumped off…right into the corner of the carved coffee table that Chaiky had always so disliked.
Chaiky had never heard Dovi shriek like this, and she panicked; but when she helped him up and saw the ugly swelling beginning over his ear, she panicked even more.
“Come, let’s put some ice on that,” Dina Struck said. She was no less alarmed than her daughter-in-law, but as the older of the two women, she tried to put on a brave front. “Sit on the couch, Dovi’le. Chaiky, sit with him and calm him. B’ezras Hashem he’ll be fine. It’s a localized bruise, not more; look, it’s hardly even bleeding.”
Chaiky sat Dovi down on her lap as he continued to wail. “Poor thing,” she murmured soothingly as she tried not to burst into her own sobs. The area of the bruise didn’t look good at all, even though, as her mother-in-law had noted, it wasn’t really bleeding. There was a small surface scrape down the middle of the frightening bruise, with just one drop of blood oozing from it. “The boo-boo hurts you so much, I know… Soon we’ll put ice on, and daven to Hashem that it should make the pain go away.”
Her mother-in-law came in with ice cubes from the kitchen. “One minute, let me bring a clean towel or something,” she said hastily. “They say it isn’t good to put ice directly on the skin; it might stick.”
Dovi continued to scream as Chaiky pressed the wrapped ice to his head, and Naomi cried in fear in the far corner of the dining room. Her cousin, two years older than her, tried to soothe her, without much success.
After a few minutes, Chaiky withdrew the ice.
“Did it help the swelling go down a bit?” her mother-in-law asked nervously.
“No.” Chaiky studied the bruise. It only looked worse.
Her father-in-law inspected it. “It doesn’t look good,” he said. “It’s in a very sensitive spot, on the head. I would call Mr. Kovner from building number 21. He’s a licensed paramedic. I think a professional should see this bruise.”
The twins were sent to call Kovner, and less than seven minutes later, they were back with him. He examined the swelling, which was now turning blue, on the side of Dovi’s head. Then he turned to Chaiky’s father-in-law, who was standing near the wall.
“Go straight to the hospital, immediately,” he said quietly. “It looks to me like a fracture of the skull in a very delicate spot.”
“The hospital?” Shlomo’s father glanced in alarm at his crying grandson. “Now?”
“Now. We have to check what’s going on inside.”
“Rambam. Order an ambulance and go.”
When Vasiliy Antonovich, a writer for the Segodniya newspaper, was assigned to write an expose about the life of one of the oligarchs of Saint Petersburg, he chose Nikolai Rosenberg. And because the writer was an ardent anti-Semite, he described “the Jew Rosenberg who rests on piles of gold, together with his Jewish friends who are slowly eating away at the natural resources of Mother Russia” in a very negative light.
He included incriminating photos of huge swaths of land behind the Rosenberg estate, the magnificent gardens at the front of the mansion, two swimming pools, the fully outfitted fitness room, two massive kitchens, and three tremendous banquet rooms that, together, could host up to 2,000 people. He succeeded in photographing Rosenberg’s collection of 200 golden miniatures, his three luxury cars, and even (without them knowing) the four bodyguards who regularly protected the billionaire.
What the journalist didn’t know was that Nikolai Rosenberg wasn’t even Jewish. He was descended from a veteran German family that admired the Communist ideology and, between the two World Wars, settled in the large German community in Russia, near the Volga. True, Rosenberg was a common Jewish name, yet no one understood how the reporter had made such a mistake.
Nikolai Rosenberg filed a defamation lawsuit against the newspaper and its insulting lies. The paper had to print an apology, admitting that the Rosenberg family had no connection to Jews or their activities, and the writer Antonovich was summarily fired.
“We thank Mr. Nikolai Rosenberg,” Mr. Yedidya Singerevitz, the head of the Adas Yisrael community in Saint Petersburg, said wryly to the media, “for proving to the world that it doesn’t pay to be anti-Semitic, even when it’s a mistake.” And Nikolai Rosenberg…laughed.
Less than three months later, the unemployed reporter climbed the stairs of his former workplace. The deputy editor scowled. “We won’t hire you back,” he said, not even looking at the visitor’s face. “You got us into a real mess with the Rosenberg family, so take your two feet and get out of here, you understand?”
“Not before you hear what I have to say,” Antonovich said, and before the deputy editor could say another word, he sat down across from him. “Rosenberg shouldn’t complain that I mistakenly identified him as a Zhid. For the last two months I’ve been investigating, and he has relatives from Israel who forged documents in order to be called Jews. And that’s just the beginning. I have even bigger news than that.”
The deputy editor raised his eyes from his keyboard. “Really?” he said. “Come, take your information to Sergevsky; perhaps it will interest him. Although I’m not sure he will want to openly take on Rosenberg again, even if we have proof that the defamation suit he filed was not baseless.”
The reporter sat in the editor-in-chief Sergevsky’s room for forty minutes and presented the information he had unearthed.
“Interesting…very interesting,” Sergevsky murmured. “Yefim!” he called in the direction of the outer room. “Try to arrange a meeting with Rosenberg. We have some very interesting things to show him.” He clasped his fingers together and gazed at them. After a moment, he raised his eyes to Vasiliy.
“If you are right, we will hire you again,” he said. “But if not, don’t ever step foot in here again, not even if you have solid proof that the Israeli prime minister is Nikolai Rosenberg’s twin brother. Is that clear?”
It certain was clear to Vasiliy Antonovich.