Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 16 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.
The children fidgeted excitedly near the counter. It was no wonder; when was the last time they had seen their mother take out the mixer? Eight eggs, separated. One and a half cups of sugar into the beaten egg whites. A cup of orange juice. A cup of oi—no oil.
“Oy.” Chaiky closed the cabinet. “We’re out of oil. Umm…what should we do?” This never used to happen to her. She couldn’t remember herself ever taking out the mixer before making sure she had all the ingredients she needed. But for this cake she had just mentally reviewed the recipe in her mind and decided that there was nothing she should be out of. Apparently, though, there was no more oil in the house.
“So I won’t have a cake for my siyum?” Naomi’s face fell.
“There will be a cake, b’ezras Hashem, don’t worry. Dovi, go down to the Pessermans and ask them for a cup of oil.” She lowered the speed of the mixer. One of her aunts had once taught her that beating the eggs at the lowest speed was the same as folding them with a spatula.
He returned after a few minutes. “They don’t have any,” he said.
Chaiky glanced at Naomi’s face and then at the foamy eggs that wouldn’t stay stiff much longer. She switched off the mixer and quickly untied her apron. “Wait here nicely, kids, and don’t touch anything. I’m running to the corner grocery to buy oil, and I’ll be right back. Naomi! If you lick too much of the batter, the sefer cake is going to be very low.”
“I won’t lick it,” the seven-year-old promised. “Morah already told me that she’s waiting to see our cake. I told her that you’re going to write ‘mazel tov’ on it in red frosting. She was so excited—she said we’re going to put it in the middle of the table so that all the mothers and grandmother should see it!”
They would see it and be able to cluck with pity about poor Mrs. Struk, and good for her that she was keeping herself busy baking cakes, and such nice ones to boot. Interesting, Chaiky could almost hear them say, we heard that the house isn’t functioning that well…
Chaiky was on line, waiting to pay for the oil, when her cell phone began to ring. Must be Dovi or Naomi, she decided. They probably wanted to know when she’d be home already. In a few more seconds she’d call them back and tell them that she was on her way.
But Dovi or Naomi kept calling without letup, even when the ten-shekel coin that she wanted to pay with rolled under the counter, and when a young boy kindly volunteered to get down and fish it out for her, and even as the cashier got confused with the change and asked her to give it back.
Had something happened to them, chas v’shalom?
She pulled a bag off the hook and hurriedly answered the phone. “Hello?” she said hesitantly. “Naomi?”
“Hi, Chaiky. It’s me, Elka. Listen, Noa reminded me today about the computer that you have at home, which we spoke about. We want to move it to the library. Maybe the program will work better on it.”
“I hear.” Chaiky walked briskly out of the grocery.
“So I’m on my way over to you in a taxi. I’ll be there in a minute or two, okay? Get the computer ready and I’ll take it.”
“I’m not home right now—I should be there in a couple of minutes, b’ezras Hashem.” Chaiky looked left and right before crossing the street. “But Elka,” she continued, “I need a few minutes at the computer to make sure that there’s no personal material left on it. It’s a shame you didn’t tell me ahead of time that you were coming.”
“Personal material? How do you have personal material on the Center’s computer?”
Chaiky nodded quickly at Rabbi Pesserman’s wife who passed her by. “I asked for your permission to use it,” she clarified. “I asked you right at the beginning if it was okay to send the letters that my husband wrote, you know, for the yeshivah—’’
“Oh, yes, sure.” Maybe the mention of Shlomo awakened, along with the pity, Elka’s memory. “Yes. But now he, I mean you, don’t need it, right? So Noa will use it, okay? I’ll be there in a minute or two.”
“But I need to back up the material and erase it. It takes time.” And you can’t inform me from one minute to the next that you’re landing in my house, especially while I’m in the middle of baking a cake in the kitchen and the place looks like it does. It’s simply not, not, not a good time for me!
“Fine. I’ll wait. No problem.”
“It could take quite a while.”
“Oh, you know what? I anyway planned to pop in to the Center to see how the new gardener is managing with the hedges, so I’ll do that first and then I’ll come to you. So instead of two or three minutes, you have about ten, alright?”
“Ima!” Naomi ran over to Chaiky as soon as she walked through the door. “Great, you bought the oil! Dovi and I went out of the kitchen and closed the door so we shouldn’t by mistake lick. Can we put it in now?”
“One minute, sweetie.” Chaiky put the bottle of oil down on the table in the dining room. “I’m just turning on the computer for a few minutes.”
“What? But aren’t you making my cake now?”
“I will make it, but I first have to do something urgent…” She was about to enter the other room but then stopped and looked around. “Naomi, please take your math notebook to your room and pick up the crayons from the floor. Dovi, you take the riding toy and the shoes and…you know what? I won’t say what each of you should clean up. I’m just going in to my room to do something on the computer, and meanwhile you’re going to make a surprise for me and clean up the whole dining room, okay?”
Naomi paused for another moment, her face mournful as she looked wistfully at the kitchen door.
“And keep the kitchen door closed. Uh, Dovi, just go in to put the oil I bought on the counter, and then close the door again.”
The computer had lots of patience, especially as she was in a hurry. It took forever to log in, finish the antivirus scan, and open the files.
The knocking at the door came before Chaiky was finished. “Naomi! Ask who it is!” she called from her room.
“Ima, it’s someone named Elka!”
“Oh, probably the lady from Ima’s work,” Dovi surmised. “Should we open the door, Ima?”
“Yes, and tell her I’ll be there in a minute.” Chaiky’s fingers worked feverishly. She heard the key turn in the lock, and Elka’s cheerful, “Hello!” She hoped the children had straightened up the dining room so that it looked presentable, but she didn’t have a spare minute to think about it. A few more things and she’d be done…
“You cleaned up so nicely!” Elka exclaimed sweetly. “Do you always help Ima like that?”
“No, and a lot of times it’s really very messy,” Dovi announced. “But now we cleaned up nicely.” The two children burst into mischievous giggles, and Chaiky, who was bending under the desk to unplug the wires, stopped for a second and listened.
“Why are you laughing?”
“Because we made up a plan,” Naomi divulged. “But we’re not telling it to anyone.”
“A plan? On how to quickly clean up the house? And you don’t want to share it? Not even with me?” Elka knew how to be uber friendly; she had a reputation for being just that.
“No, it’s not for mommies. It’s only for kids,” Dovi noted, and then had second thoughts. “Actually, sometimes it’s a good plan for mommies who are in a very big hurry.”
Chaiky, smelling the danger, bustled into the dining room briskly. “Hi, Elka,” she said. “Dovi, can you come help me with the keyboard and the mouse?”
“Sure!” the six-year-old cried happily and ran to his mother’s room.
“How did you clean up the dining room, Dovi?” Chaiky whispered, straining to lift the computer tower with one hand and the screen with the other.
“Everything is under the couch, but you can’t see anything,” he promised her candidly. “Because we saw we wouldn’t have enough time. You also do it; on Friday when you don’t have enough time, you sweep all of our toys into the spare room and close the door, right?”
“Oh, Chaiky!” Elka rushed over with concern. “Why are you schlepping? Don’t you have a carriage or something?”
“No, it’s fine,” Chaiky said, a bit breathless. “Do you want to take the screen from me? It’s not that heavy.”
“Yes, yes, give it to me. The taxi is waiting.” Elka carefully took the flat screen, and then said, “Your children are so lovely, Chaiky. But I think it would really be very good if someone would come live with you. You know, sometimes you can find a boarder who is willing to do some light housework. Look into it.”
“Yoel, did you say something to someone from the Struk family about finding someone to come and live with me?”
“Hello, Chaiky, and how are you?”
“Don’t teach me manners now, Yoel. I want to know, did you tell someone?” She had promised the children that she would make meringues from the beaten eggs that had fallen, and they were thrilled. Now she was cracking fresh eggs for a new cake, and had sent Dovi and Naomi to the dining room to clean it up properly. She had to have this conversation right now, this second.
“Yes, I did.”
“Who did you tell?” A yolk burst in her hands and dripped into the bowl full of clear egg whites. Well, this egg would be for the children’s omelets for supper.
“Menachem? Why?” Another yolk burst. “Why do the Struks need to know about my plans?”
“So that they can help find someone.”
“But Yoel, don’t you understand that they are the last ones I need interfering with this? My mother-in-law will start thinking whether it’s good for the kids or not, Menachem and Goldie will offer their opinions about anyone I choose, my boss—who is probably already giving a report from the scene of the crime, so to speak—will add a bit more salt and pepper, and everyone will start talking about what happened and how I can’t manage,” another yolk burst, “to explode myself! Do you understand?”
“Explode? What are you talking about, Chaiky?”
“Oh, sorry, my mistake. An egg yolk just exploded here, that’s all. This cake is driving me out of my mind!”
“Cake? Why are you making a cake?”
“For Naomi’s class’s siyum. I have enough batter here to make a huge omelet, and you can come to us for supper if you want…”
“Yes, I want to,” he replied, to her surprise. “And I’ll bring a cake for Naomi, okay? Don’t stand there and bake.”
As suddenly as it had come, the anger began to seep out of her, like air from a leaky balloon. “You don’t need to, Yoel,” Chaiky said wearily. “I’ll make it for her because I promised her that I would, but I’m afraid that my dream about Noa is going to come true, and I don’t have an ounce of patience to bring that nuisance into my house, because I have more than enough of her at the community center, you understand?”
Needless to say, Yoel didn’t understand a thing.