Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 27 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.
“Do you think it’s a good idea for me to leave?” Rachel stood at the doorway to the porch, observing Chaiky and her mother. Chaiky was folding laundry with slow movements, and her mother was standing with her back to the door, taking the clothes off the line. “Because if your parents are here…”
“No, don’t go!” Naomi leaped out of wherever she had been, wearing a mask on her face, and hung herself over Rachel’s shoulders. “I like it that you’re here, even if Saba and Savta came.”
“You help me a lot, Rachel,” Chaiky said as she picked up a towel that her mother had just thrown into the basket. “You keep the children busy, give them attention, and take them to the park and shopping…right, Ima?”
Mira smiled. The ten hours she’d been here had been enough for her to get to know Rachel, the girl who had somehow found herself living in her daughter’s home—even though no one could pinpoint exactly when and how it had been decided. “Right,” she said tersely. The fact that she had bad memories of an ungrateful girl who had grown up in her own house didn’t mean that every girl who needed a home was ungrateful.
“The two of you make such a cozy-looking scene, you know?” Rachel noted. She stood bent over, jiggling Naomi who was on her back. “Mother and daughter together on the porch, chatting calmly under the moonlight, the mother taking down the laundry while her daughter folds it…”
“Who’s folding?” Mira Brodsky turned around and gasped. She quickly took the towel from her daughter’s hands. “Chaiky! I don’t want you to do anything now! Your son’s bris is tomorrow, for your information, and you’re not supposed to be working now. I feel guilty that because of me you are on the porch in the first place. I imagine that if I wouldn’t have come today, you’d be in bed by now, which is where you belong.”
“It’s good for me to be talking to you, Ima,” Chaiky said as she folded her arms. “I won’t fold the laundry if you don’t let me, but I do want to talk to you. I slept enough all morning, and this afternoon, really!”
“I can fold the laundry instead of you,” Rachel volunteered. “Or am I disturbing you by being on the porch with you? I can go play with Naomi, if you prefer, until the Saba comes back from shul with Dovi.”
Chaiky and Mira did not allow themselves to exchange quick glances, fully aware that there was little that evaded Rachel’s gaze. Of course they preferred to be alone as they analyzed Chaiky’s expectations for the phone call she was supposed to get from Shlomo in another half an hour. But they couldn’t say that to Rachel.
“It’s fine,” Mira said as she plucked the last shirt off the line. “Anyway, I think that even with all the rest that Chaiky is getting, she should still be resting up more. Chaiky, it won’t be too much, I guarantee it. Besides, it’s getting cold out here.”
“Okay,” Chaiky agreed and rose. She looked at her mother for another second, and then went into the house. Naomi, who had spent all this time with her arms wrapped around Rachel’s neck, slipped down and ran after her mother.
Rachel bent down to pick up the few items that Chaiky had managed to fold, and then said, “But Mrs. Brodsky, I don’t want you to feel like you have no choice but to let me stay, because you feel bad for me. I think that it really is a good idea for me to leave, so I can give you privacy with your daughter. You hardly see each other, right?”
Aha. She was no fool, this girl.
Mira picked up the laundry basket. “I really think it’s fine,” she said. “Because you are sensitive to Chaiky’s need for privacy, it’s a sign that you will only be a help for her, not a disturbance. But you’re right, it is very possible that there will be moments when Chaiky and I want to speak together, alone, because she might have important things to discuss with me now, with her husband so far away.” They entered the dining room, and Mira emptied the laundry basket onto the couch and sat down. “And it’s true, I don’t have too many opportunities to help her out from all the way in Be’er Sheva, except to talk to her on the phone.”
“So then I don’t think you should be folding laundry now,” Rachel said as she spread her arms over the pile, as if protecting it from enemies. “Go to her and continue to talk. I’ll fold everything here; I’m great at it. Ask Elsa.”
At first, Mira wanted to accept Rachel’s offer, but then decided not to. Rachel would realize that Mira hadn’t said the truth before; that they really did prefer to speak privately now, without Rachel around, and she might be hurt. Besides, everything Mira had just said to Chaiky had been true: The best thing for Chaiky now was to sleep and get her energy back. They had already discussed the subject of the bris and the name from every angle, and to go over all of it again would not do Chaiky any good.
“No, it’s fine. I really think it’s best for Chaiky to rest as much as possible,” Mira said, pulling a pillowcase out from between Rachel’s fingers with a smile. “So now tell me, who is Elsa?”
The phone rang ten minutes after the approximate time that Menachem had given them. Chaiky wasn’t sure if it was the long-awaited call or not, but still she instructed Dovi and Naomi to pick up the phones, Naomi in the bedroom next to her, and Dovi in the kitchen.
“Abba!” they both cried gleefully.
“I’m first!” Naomi announced. “Abba, it’s me! I didn’t talk to you in so, so long already! Ima said you only have a few minutes, so I’m just telling you that I miss you, Abba. Come home quickly, okay?” And she cheerfully handed the phone to Chaiky.
“Abba!” Dovi shouted from the kitchen. “Abba, we’re already up to Parshas Lech Lecha, and the principal tested me, and he says I’m a talmid chacham and that you should have a lot of nachas from me. Abba, you know we had a baby? What? Right, mazel tov! Bye!” And he slammed the phone down into its cradle. “I didn’t keep Abba too long, right?” he asked his grandfather with satisfaction. “Ima said to plan what I wanted to say, because he would hardly have time to talk. And he told me mazel tov!”
“And he told me that he will come back as soon as he can, and that he loves us!” Naomi appeared from the bedroom. “Now Ima is talking, so Savta told me to go out, and she was also going out.”
But Chaiky wasn’t talking just then. She simply listened as Shlomo spoke, and wept quietly. “Amen, amen,” she finally replied to the brachos he wished her, in a choked voice. Then she berated herself: Enough! You haven’t spoken to your husband in so long, and they worked so hard to get an approval for this phone call—and now all you can do is waste the time by crying? She took a deep breath.
“My father is taking care of the halachic parts of bris,” Shlomo was saying. “Through him, I am appointing the mohel to be my shaliach. I didn’t speak to him directly, only with my lawyer, because I knew I would only be allowed to make one phone call.” He paused. Loud talking in Russian could be heard in the background. “Will we name him after your grandfather, Chaiky?”
“Yisrael Meir? For Saba Brodsky?” Naomi was named for the date she was born—on Shavuos. Dovi was named for Shlomo’s mother’s father, and now it was Chaiky’s turn. She was happy Shlomo remembered this, because it had been clear to her even before the conversation that whatever name Shlomo would suggest, she’d agree with. And she wasn’t sure that he would remember whose “turn” it was. When they’d discussed it here and there in the past, he’d always claimed that the whole turn thing was just a way to make some basic order, and there was no particular significance or holiness to following it.
“Yes, Yisrael Meir. It’s a very good name; it was also the Chafetz Chaim.”
“Fine. My father will be very happy. And what should we call him? Both names?”
“Whatever you want, Chaiky.” Suddenly Shlomo sounded like he was in a hurry to finish. “So, it should be with mazel, and may he enter the bris of Avraham Avinu at the right time, and…”
The call was cut off.
“Who is the sandak, Chaiky?”
The small meeting room was still empty. Aside for Chaiky, her parents, the children and Rachel, and Yoel and Shifra who had just arrived, no one was there.
“The sandak? How should I know?”
“What do you mean? You’re the mother.” Yoel leaned on a nearby table; Chaiky hoped it was a real table and not just a board on a metal frame that would collapse if too much weight was put on it. Her mother sat next to her, and on her other side, Rachel and Shifra introduced themselves to each other. The children ran exuberantly around the tables that were set up for the seudah.
Her father had disappeared.
“Since when does the baby’s mother decide such things?”
“Well, since the baby’s father is not around.”
“Oh,” Chaiky waved her hand, “so he gives his father the responsibility for all the halachic matters, appointing the mohel as a shaliach and all that.”
“Okay, so that’s fine with the halachic matters. But not with the kibbudim!”
“What’s the matter, Yoel?” she asked, a small smile playing on her lips. “Do you want to be the sandak?”
“Come on, you know that’s not what I want. I just want to make sure Abba will.”
“Why are you afraid that he won’t be?”
“Because with the first son, you give sandaka’us to the grandfather on the father’s side. The second son is given to the mother’s father, but by Dovi, I’m not sure if you remember, but Shlomo gave it to his grandfather—your father-in-law’s father. I hope that it’s clear to Menachem that Abba deserves to be sandak now, even though Shlomo’s father hasn’t actually been sandak by you yet.”
“Yoel, can you do me a personal favor?” It was Ima. “Please, leave Chaiky alone and don’t involve her now in these things. I’m sure Abba prefers not to be sandak if it means his daughter will be more relaxed.” She turned to Chaiky and changed the subject. “They really set things up nicely here, Chaiky. Who’s the caterer?”
At that moment, the Struk family appeared at the door, and Chaiky stood up to greet her mother-in-law. But Rachel beat her to it.
“Mazel tov, mazel tov!” her mother-in-law responded warmly to Rachel’s greeting. “We met yesterday at the ‘Krias Shema leining,’ right? Oh, you want to be introduced to our family? I’ll introduce you to everyone who’s here. One minute, first, mazel tov to Chaiky…”
Everything worked out well. There were no arguments and everyone was happy.
Chaiky’s father was the sandak, while Shlomo’s father took the place of the baby’s father. Yoel and Shifra were kvatter, and Menachem received Kisei shel Eliyahu.
Little Yisrael Meir hardly cried, and the seudah was beautiful.
Everything was fine. Except for what was not fine at all.