Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 39 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.
Dina Struk tiptoed into the children’s room. She opened the upper cabinet silently to take out a new notebook for Yaakov. A rustle from behind made her spin around.
“Naomi? You aren’t sleeping?”
The girl rubbed her eyes. “I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so?”
“Maybe I slept a little earlier; now I’m not sleeping.”
“So first of all, don’t rub your eyes. If you slept, you need to wash your hands, so you shouldn’t touch your eyes with your fingers before you wash negel vasser, because they are tamei.” She approached the bed and sat down. “What’s the matter, sweetie?”
“Dunno.” Naomi looked at the notebook in her grandmother’s hand. “Is that notebook for me?”
“No, it’s for Yaakov. He just remembered that he needs a new notebook for tomorrow. Do you need one also?”
“No. We don’t even have notebooks in my class. We have a loose-leaf,” Naomi said, and then she closed her eyes.
“Do you miss them?” Dina asked carefully.
The girl’s eyes opened in a flash. “Who?”
“What’s there to miss?” Naomi hurried to deny. “I know she went away for a few days and then she’ll be back. You don’t need to miss someone who goes away for a short time.”
“And what about someone who goes away for a long time?”
“You mean like Abba?”
The girl sighed deeply. “I already got so used to missing Abba that I think I don’t miss him anymore.”
“So maybe you miss Yisrael Meir?”
“I barely know him.” Naomi shrugged one shoulder and fixed her gaze on the picture on the wall. “I mean, he’s very cute, but what’s there to miss about a baby who doesn’t know me and I barely know him? You don’t need to miss anyone, and that’s it.”
“But we don’t only do what we need to do,” Dina whispered, careful not to wake up Dovi, who was sleeping nearby. “Sometimes, we can also do what we want to do.”
“Well, I don’t want to miss anyone. It’s hard enough for me to fall asleep like this.” She continued staring at the picture on the wall. “Bubby, you don’t have any pictures from arts and crafts class, do you?”
“How should I have such things? You know we only have boys, right?”
“Right, so when I finish the project we’re embroidering now, I’m going to give it to you,” Naomi said, rubbing her eyes again, forgetting what her grandmother had said a few minutes before. “Since before Purim, we’ve been working on embroidering little chicks. It’s taking forever, but when we do finish, Morah Bluma promised we’re going to frame it, and then I’ll give it to you.”
“You’ll ask Ima first,” Dina replied. “If Ima says she’s willing to give it to me, then I’ll be very happy to take it. I would love to have a picture hanging on my wall that’s made by my sweet granddaughter.”
“Okay, we’ll ask Ima,” Naomi agreed. She closed her eyes again. Dina sat there for a few moments longer, careful not to move. When she thought that the girl had fallen asleep, she got up quickly, but Naomi’s eyes snapped back open.
“Are you going to bring Yaakov his notebook, Bubby? Isn’t he sleeping already? He’s only three years older than me!”
“Well, he wasn’t sleeping before, but I’m sure by now he is, and so is Yisrael.”
“Only I can’t fall asleep,” Naomi said, sighing in a manner way beyond her years, and then closing her eyes again.
“I’ll come back in a few minutes to see how you’re doing,” Dina whispered as she stroked Naomi’s cheek. Then she went back to the kitchen, cut up a salad, fried an omelet for herself and her husband who was due back very soon, washed the dishes, swept the floor, and then went back into the children’s room.
“Naomi!” The girl’s eyes were as large as they had been before. “You’re still not asleep?”
“No.” Naomi hardly moved.
Toward evening, Chaiky had called and spoken to the children for a long time. Dina had no idea what they had talked about, because she’d been in the kitchen, but maybe it was conversation that was affecting Naomi? Chaiky’s morale had been flagging recently. Was it possible that she was somehow conveying that pressure and anxiety to the children? Did she describe their father in prison? Or the hearing that had ended with no conclusions? Did she sound weak and weepy?
Dina sat down on the edge of the bed again. “Do you want to talk to Ima again?”
Aha. “Why not, Naomi?” Had the conversation been detrimental to the child?
“Because she’s sleeping now. She told us how Yisrael Meir was very happy in the morning to see Abba, and he was so happy that he danced all day for her, and she was hoping that now they could both go to sleep.” Naomi looked at her grandmother out of the corner of her eye. “When Ima says he was dancing, she means he cried—don’t get confused. Because he doesn’t know how to dance, you know. So now she’s very tired from holding him all day, and I don’t want to disturb her.”
“What else did you talk to Ima about?” Dina didn’t feel comfortable probing, but she tried to brush the unease away. She had no idea what her daughter-in-law had really been going through these past few months, and if she now had an opening to find out, then she was just doing her job as a responsible grandmother by asking.
“She told us about the little house that she sleeps in over there,” Naomi enthused. “It’s inside someone else’s house, and she has a very pretty rug there, with purple and maroon stripes, and a mirror with flowers, and pictures, and a little fridge with a small sink and a tiny counter. She said she’ll take pictures and bring them back for us.”
“She said she’d also bring pictures of Abba,” Dovi said, his voice muffled because his head was buried in his pillow.
“Dovi? Are you also up?!”
“I just woke up.” Dovi rubbed his nose and rolled over to the other side. “Because Naomi was screaming.”
“Not true, I didn’t scream!”
“In another minute you’ll also wake up Yaakov and Yisrael,” her brother said as he straightened his blanket.
“He’s just saying that…” Naomi whined. “Right, Bubby?”
“I’m not just saying it,” Dovi reiterated. “Look! You woke me up!”
Dina tried to calm them both down, but she didn’t know that when they were tired, that was easier said than done. When tired, Dovi became very sharp, to the point that it was impossible to believe that he was only six and a half, and Naomi became ultra sensitive to every word he said. Now Naomi began to sob quietly, but her tone grew louder and louder until Dina feared that indeed the twins would wake up in their room.
“I want to call….” she wailed.
“You said that Ima’s sleeping and you don’t want to bother her!” Dovi jeered.
“I want to call Rachel!” Naomi said, her eyes open wide. “She said we can call her whenever we want, and the nurses will pick up. If she’s awake, they’ll get her. Okay, Bubby? Can I call her?”
The last thing Dina wanted to do was call the Pediatrics ward in the hospital where Rachel was staying, but she found herself opening the Haifa and Northern District phone book, and sitting down next to the phone. Naomi hopped next to her barefoot, her eyes sparkling with expectation.
“Who are you looking for? Rachel Struk? Here she is.”
Dina cleared her throat as the phone in the hospital changed hands. “Hello, Rachel? I’m really sorry about the time. This is Dovi and Naomi’s grandmother. Naomi is having a hard time falling asleep, and she misses you and wants to talk to you.”
“Of course! Ask her if she wants a story.”
“Naomi, Rachel is asking if you want a story…” Dina glanced at Naomi. “Yes, Rachel, she’s smiling from ear to ear. Here, Naomi, take the phone. Sit here on the chair and listen to Rachel’s story.”
He knew that the boss would not be pleased, but he had no choice. This was the information he needed to impart. It was a shame that it was impossible to do it by phone.
The picture was the same one that had been etched in his mind from earlier visits. Rosenberg sat on his wooden chair, arms folded, with two bodyguards standing behind him. One spoke quietly into his phone, but still, the atmosphere in the room was one of heavy silence.
“So,” Rosenberg began. “What’s new with you? Still stuck?”
“Yes. There doesn’t seem to be anything there.” He played with his tie.
“There is,” the older man replied, his voice hard. “I’m sure that there’s something there. You just have to look.”
“The experts are looking, but…”
“They think they’re being as thorough as possible. It isn’t clear to them that there is something there, so if you know for sure that there’s something there, you’ll have to persuade them to search even deeper.”
“Me? I don’t think it’s worth it for me. If I start having too much of an overt connection to the matter…” He returned Rosenberg’s stare with a steady gaze of his own. “I work for you, but I’m not your servant. Take note.”
Rosenberg delicately tapped his thumb on the arm of his chair. It was made of heavy wood—rough and not even lacquered. “Of course,” he said, “it needs to be done wisely. I didn’t think otherwise.”
The man nodded. “And wisely means not through me. I have already conveyed to them the information that there is supposed to be computerized proof, and I don’t want to stick my head into this issue again. What I don’t understand is why it is really so hard to find this proof. I understood from you that these are plain, open documents, not something particularly encrypted.”
“It really doesn’t have to be encrypted,” Rosenberg snapped angrily. His thoughtful tapping stopped. “But whoever did the work didn’t coordinate with us. He planted the letters in a way that only he, remotely, could release them, through some type of key code or something. I’m not ashamed to admit that my knowledge of computers is nearly nil, but I know that that’s the situation.”
“So let them give us the code.”
Rosenberg was silent. “He will give it,” he finally said. “He will, but it will take time. And what’s in the meantime? According to my sources, Struk’s trial is not going well for us. It’s not taking on any clear direction.”
“It’s not good for him either,” the man replied. “He was rather stunned to discover that you are not Jewish, and it seems that he is still sure that he is being lied to.”
“And that I am Jewish.” Rosenberg laughed, seeming to forget his displeasure for a moment. “And what does the prosecution say?”
“They showed him a photograph of your ID card, where it’s clear that you are not Jewish, but he insists that you presented yourself to him as a Jew, and as far as he knows, you have no connection to these illegal diamonds.”
“Was I too cautious, or what?” Rosenberg stopped laughing.
“I think you did everything in the best way possible, Mr. Rosenberg, but with the Jews, there’s this unity, and the minute he is sure you are also Jewish, he will not incriminate you.”
“Not among all Jews.”
“Well, with him, at least, it is that way.”
“I needed to do a better job of investigating who I was framing here. I sufficed with the fact that he was coming to Russia for a short time. I was happy to discover that he is a Zhid, and I didn’t think much past that…” Rosenberg shook his head, but he accepted the hot drink that was served to him.
His visitor also received a steaming cup, and he examined the light brown drink. He’d long learned that here, no one asked him what he wanted to drink. It was all according to what the host preferred. He already was familiar with the array of drinks served in this place. And today, it seemed, he would have to drink this cloyingly sweet tea.
An hour is certainly a long time to think and draw conclusions, and at the end of the hour that Noa spent leaning on the gate and waiting, it was pretty clear to her that once again, a chapter in her life had more or less come to an end.
The landlord arrived, pressed a few digits on the door’s combination, and it opened. “Fifteen minutes,” he said tonelessly. “Twenty minutes, tops.”
Noa entered the little apartment that had served her for the past few months, knowing this would be the last time. She pulled the linens off the bed and stuck them in her suitcase, along with the rest of her clothes and personal items that she’d tossed inside. She didn’t even deign to give the elegant room a last glance as she moved on to the small but well-equipped kitchen. There, too, she had little interest in the room; she went straight to the refrigerator and pantry, which she had just filled two days ago. She opened two bags, filled them to capacity, and placed them near her huge duffel bag.
One last walk through the house—oh, there was her toothbrush, shampoo, and telephone charger. Her personal computer, the box of cookies she’d been eating last night near the window overlooking the sea…and that was it. She didn’t have to sweep the floor or empty the garbage, right? There was a limit.
“One second.” The landlord and his wife stopped her near the door. “What about the water and electric bills?”
“Talk to the one who rented the apartment from you.” Noa was irritated. It wasn’t enough that they were throwing her out onto the street; they still had demands of her? “Don’t you see that I have no connection to this apartment?”
“Aside for the fact that you lived here for two months, and used the electricity and water without any limits, and you’re living it dirty and neglected.”
“Sorry,” Noa replied. “Speak to the person who rented it.”
And she rushed past the couple, on her way to the next stop in her life.
Onward, to Tel Aviv.