Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 23 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.
“Yes. Did you talk to him?” There was some interference on the line, and Josef pressed the handset closer to his ear.
“Yes, you could say so.”
“I don’t have any special news for you. I tried to draw him into an argument, but the Jew didn’t deny Rosenberg’s Jewish identity.”
“Yes. He also didn’t try to read the newspaper, even though I tossed it very close to him.”
“I assume he doesn’t know how to read Russian,” the investigator said impatiently. “So you have nothing juicier to tell me?”
“The only thing that might interest you is that he asked what was written about him.”
Podernick stared at the Formica desktop. “I see,” he said. “That doesn’t help me much, but I’ll think about it. Thanks.”
On the first wage slip, the amount was pretty regular. Of course; she had brought a sick note.
On the second wage slip, the amount was minimal. That made sense; she had hardly come to work that month.
And on the third slip, the number had risen a bit, but was still not the normal amount.
So how was it possible that there had been three almost identical direct deposits made into her account?
Chaiky turned the wage slips over, trying to find a hint that could solve the mystery, but she found nothing. It wouldn’t help to ask Miri about it, because only she—Chaiky—and Elka dealt with salaries and payments. And she really didn’t want to talk to Elka about this.
But something strange was going on here.
She returned the wage slips to her pocketbook and went to answer the door. Someone was knocking there.
“Oh, hi, Rachel,” she greeted the girl. “How are you? How was the trip?”
“It was fine.” Rachel set a small backpack on the floor. “Should I wash dishes or fold laundry or iron something?”
Chaiky raised an eyebrow.
“Elsie warned me that I should help you a lot. The truth is, I’m not great at ironing. The few times I’ve ironed, I did a lot of damage to the clothing. Not on purpose, of course, but I’m just not good at it. What can I do? I also don’t really like to iron, but that doesn’t mean much.”
“I happen to not like ironing much, either,” Chaiky admitted as she led her guest to the kitchen.
“So, do you want me to wash the dishes instead?”
“No, I want you to eat some cake.”
“Oh, that’s so nice of you!” The girl folded her arms and looked at the clean kitchen table. “I don’t think anyone ever invited me to sit in the kitchen for coffee and cake. It’s something that you usually offer to fancy ladies, right? Wait, you didn’t even offer me coffee, only cake. But cake by itself is also good.”
“Well, I can also make you coffee,” Chaiky said, rather amused.
“Really? Do you think I should have some? Elsie is very against coffee; she only drinks tea. But in the dorm we are allowed to have coffee. Anyway, I really don’t want to talk about the dorm right now, because it brings up a lot of unpleasant thoughts and feelings, if you know what I mean.”
“I understand that you don’t like it there so much.” Chaiky switched on the hot water kettle.
“Right. Or, to be more exact, I really, really, really don’t like it. I just don’t get along with the girls there. Elsie says it’s because for most of my life, I didn’t grow up with girls my age, but I’m not sure that’s the only reason. Well, whatever, that’s life. Are you really making me coffee? And are you going to serve it in a little porcelain teacup, you know, those really pretty ones?”
“Unfortunately, all the porcelain teacups I got for my wedding have long broken,” Chaiky said with a chuckle. “I drink my coffee in a disposable paper cup. Is that okay with you?”
“I love those little decorated porcelain cups,” Rachel said thoughtfully, watching the steam rise from the kettle. “I’ve never drank from one in my whole life. I’ve only imagined how it feels to hold one in your hand and have it touch your lips. You know, in the hospital and the dorm, like in all public places, there is no such thing as porcelain cups. They only give you plastic or disposable cups to use.”
“I’m sorry that that’s all I have, too, even though this is a totally normal house.”
“It’s not so bad. It even encourages me,” Rachel noted cheerfully. “Because I have no idea how regular houses work. It’s true that I lived in a few foster homes, but it was so long ago that I don’t remember anything from them. Do you want me to take the milk out of the fridge?”
“Yes, thanks. How much coffee do you want? And how much sugar?”
“It doesn’t make much of a difference. Put in for me however much you put in for yourself.”
“How do you make it for yourself in the dorm?”
“I don’t know. I just put in whatever comes out of the jar. Besides, there aren’t always clean spoons in the sugar container, so we take with our fingers or pour from the jar, and it’s hard to measure. But you know what? I like things very sweet, so if you take only two teaspoons of sugar, then give me three, okay?”
“I use artificial sweetener.” Chaiky stood with the open sugar container. “So how much sugar should I put in for you?”
Rachel sighed deeply. “Oh. But I’m embarrassed to take so much sugar. So just put in two teaspoons, and I hope it won’t be too bitter. I mean, coffee is just not such a delicious drink; chocolate milk is so much better, don’t you think?”
Chaiky took the box of chocolate powder out of the cabinet. “I’d be happy to make you chocolate milk,” she said simply. “How many spoons of powder do you like?”
“No,” Rachel said firmly. “I have to give up the chocolate milk. It’s not mature. Who said that it’s easy to grow up?” There was a smile twinkling at the corners of her eyes.
“I don’t think that the type of drink we take is what determines whether or not we are big,” Chaiky said, not knowing what to prepare for Rachel after all this talking.
“Fine. So then make me chocolate milk, please,” Rachel conceded. “Two spoons of powder, thanks.” And she sat at the table, quiet for a change, as she rubbed her finger over the smooth surface. The quiet lasted until Chaiky put the two cups down on the table, along with a plate containing a few slices of cake.
“So now it’s called ‘talking over a cup of coffee’? Rachel asked curiously.
“Something like that!” Chaiky laughed and sat down across from the girl.
“What should we talk about?”
Chaiky slowly made a Shehakol. She was really trying to make this brachah with as much kavanah as she could. “Tell me about yourself,” she suggested after taking a sip.
“No, I want you to tell me about yourself,” came the reply. Rachel held her cup of chocolate milk with both hands, but didn’t yet take a drink. “I want you to tell me…how you were raised to make such nice brachos like that. It just doesn’t come out for me, you know? It’s such a shame that you are not my mother and that you didn’t raise me. I would probably be making brachos with kavanah just like you, and also I would daven like that, and do all the mitzvos eagerly… I’m not even talking about my friends in the dorm who barely say a brachah before eating, and if I try to say something with a bit of kavanah, they just make fun of me. You’re so lucky you were born into a really frum house, and that that’s how you’re raising your kids. By me, the way I keep mitzvos…it’s really sad. It’s just all very technical, barely thinking about what I’m doing, you know?”
Chaiky nodded quietly but didn’t say a thing. She understood, absolutely.
“But maybe the two days that I am here will have an influence on me,” Rachel said. It sounded like an attempt to encourage or persuade herself. “Maybe you’ll be able to give me a bit of chinuch, even if only a drop.” She picked up her cup again, and then put it down. “Before the chocolate milk, we make a brachah on the cake, right?”
“So why did you make a Shehakol first?”
“Because I’m not planning to have any cake.”
“Fine.” Rachel took a slice from the plate, made a Mezonos slowly, and took a small bite. “It’s delicious,” she said after a minute, and then wiped her mouth. “And what do you say about my brachah? Did it meet your criteria?”
Chaiky swallowed. “It was a very clear brachah, Rachel. Word for word.” What more could she say? That she wasn’t sure that her other brachos would meet the criteria that Rachel was so sure she had? That even her Shehakol brachos she didn’t always remember to say properly? Not to mention what had been before Shlomo’s arrest…
After the cake, Rachel made a very solemn brachah on her chocolate milk. “Wow, two days with you and your children, and I’m going to be a real tzaddeikes!” She giggled, and then finished her chocolate milk in a few long sips. “And then Elsie will finally realize that there is nothing for me to do anymore in that boarding school in Tel Aviv. As it is, she says that with such a shirt my friends for sure make fun of me…”
Chaiky glanced at Rachel’s button-down shirt, closed to the top, and was quiet, nodding. “You really are dressed very tzniusdig,” she said after a moment. Rachel smiled and took another slice of cake, and they both sat silently.
“We’re not even talking about anything,” the fourteen-year-old said suddenly, with some disappointment. “Did I tire you out with all my talking until now?”
“No, not at all,” Chaiky reassured her, thinking at the same time that there was something very cute about this girl. “I must be tired; nothing to do with you. I am actually enjoying sitting here with you.” What I’m less enjoying is hearing your expectations of me and my children. I am very afraid that you will be disappointed.
And that must not happen.
There was a light knock at the door, and the knob turned. “Hellloooo!!” Dovi was home.
“How cute!” Rachel gushed. “You can see how well raised he is. I saw it in the hospital already!”
Chaiky left the kitchen. “Hi, Dovi!” she greeted him and then bent toward him. “We have a guest, Dovi,” she whispered hastily into his ear. “And…she was sent here to see how we behave: if we make brachos properly, and daven with kavanah, and if we always remember how Hashem wants us to act, and…in short, if we are being good. And if she’s impressed, then…you’ll get a prize.”
“Who sent this person here?” her intelligent son whispered back.
Chaiky looked toward the kitchen door. “Hashem,” she replied.