Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 41 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.
Noa double locked the door and ran to the window. It was a large window with a brown translucent windowpane, which she pushed aside as she pulled the yellowing shutters downward. The street was silent, but her sharp eyes discerned a figure walking down the sidewalk, growing more distant by the moment. Perhaps it was even the same figure that had been walking near her when she had arrived. Noa’s anger at herself mounted. How had she not taken into account that her grandfather would send someone to see where she was going after leaving the Haifa apartment?
She returned to the sheet-covered sofa and sat down. She felt a pang of hunger; the cookies had hardly satiated her. And after all this, she still hadn’t had that drink she had wanted.
She got up again and walked to the kitchen, passing the door, the peephole, the picture, and the note. Who were the “strong flasks”? Which cult did Adi belong to? Too bad that Racheli, who had written that she was available twenty-four hours a day, hadn’t left a phone number. Adi must have it written down elsewhere, or she knew it by heart. Maybe it was possible to call this Racheli right now to ask her a few questions.
The thought suddenly flashed through Noa’s mind that perhaps the note hanging outside was not even meant for her; maybe it was for Adi. She looked around. Where had she put it? On the sofa? On the small table?
After a few minutes of searching, she found it on the floor near the large window. It must have fallen out of her hand when she’d run to see what was going on in the street. She picked it up and smoothed out the wrinkles that had formed when she had clutched it tightly a short time earlier.
You’re not a baby, so please, no games. Deal with it now and we’ll finish nicely.
There was no salutation or signature. Perhaps it was for Adi and not her at all.
Noa went back to the sofa. Something inside her calmed, but at the same time, her heart clenched with pity for Adi. Noa would manage; she wasn’t afraid. Sooner or later she’d fulfill Grandfather’s wishes and move on, but Adi… It was terrible to live like this, and to have to suffer from someone else’s threats on top of it all.
Suddenly, a thin wail filled the house from end to end. Noa shuddered and squinted her eyes. Automatically she reached out and hit the switch near her head, and the light in the dining room went out. She stuck the note under the pillow that Adi had prepared for her and turned off her phone. Tomorrow morning she would try to nose around a bit more about what had happened to her friend.
When she raised her head again, the darkness coming through the brown tinted windows wasn’t quite as dense, and had taken on a reddish hue. She wondered what had woken her up. According to her watch, she’d slept less than two hours.
She sat up, listening. Yes, Adi’s baby was crying again. And if she wasn’t mistaken, Adi was sobbing along with her.
Noa lay back down, trying to take up as little space as possible in the old, heavy apartment, but then she heard dragging footsteps, and Adi’s sobbing drew closer to the dining room. The baby had fallen silent. Perhaps she calmed down when she was being held and rocked.
Noa closed her eyes tightly, thinking that Adi would surely feel uncomfortable knowing that her guest had heard her crying. She heard Adi’s slippers pattering on the floor, and then silence. What was Adi doing? Something connected to the fact that she belonged to the “strong flasks,” or whatever that thing was that seemed to have changed Adi’s life?
Suddenly the truth shone through, and it was so clear to Noa that she laughed at herself for not realizing it beforehand. Externally hardly anything had changed, and Noa still had no idea what “flasks” had to do with anything, but it was clear what exactly had happened to Adi.
Her sleeping act was apparently unconvincing, because Adi whispered, “Noa? Noa, are you up?”
Noa raised her head. “Yes,” she admitted, and fumbled for the light switch. “By the way, Adi, since when did you become a ba’alas teshuvah?” she asked.
“She won’t stop crying.” Adi gazed at her baby bleary-eyed, and Noa wondered if Adi had even heard her. “So I was wondering, if you’re here and you’re up…”
“I’m here and I’m up,” Noa confirmed. “So?”
“So maybe you could watch her a bit.”
“I’ve never held such a tiny baby, and even if I have, it’s been years…”
“I’ll put her in the carriage, and you can just rock her with the pacifier.”
“Okay.” Noa remembered to exhibit some friendliness. “Sit—you’re literally wobbling from exhaustion. Tell me where the carriage is and I’ll get it.”
“On the kitchen porch.”
The kitchen porch was a tiny rectangle that contained a host of random items, all organized in neat piles. The carriage, a blue and white structure, was near the door. It was old but very clean. As Noa wheeled it to the dining room, she noticed a sticker with the words “Chasdei Elisheva – Carriage and Cradle Gemach, Bnei Brak” on it.
Adi placed the baby into the carriage and put the pacifier right next to her. The baby howled.
“Chaya’le, Chaya’le, don’t cry,” Noa crooned as she stuck the pacifier into the baby’s mouth and leaned over her so that Adi wouldn’t see her wide yawn.
“Chaya’le? Her name isn’t Chaya’le—it’s Chana’le.”
Noa stopped rocking the carriage and, forehead creased, stared blankly at Adi for a moment. Then she re-focused her gaze and smiled. “Chana’le. Right. I got confused for a second. Of course,” she said. “Anyway, go to sleep, Adi. She’ll be fine; I’m watching her. Good night!”
“Good night,” Adi replied quietly. “And I began to get closer to Hashem at one point after my wedding. Anyway, wake me up in an hour and a half, okay? It’s four thirty now.”
But Noa didn’t wake Adi up at six. She was sleeping deeply, sitting up, with her hand resting on the handle of the carriage. Little Chana was also sleeping, as was Adi, in her room. And even at seven o’clock, as someone again crept up and posted another note on the door, the three slept on.
Chaiky’s movements were as brisk and swift as they used to be as she put her things into the suitcase in the perfect order she so loved. She then gave the room a thorough once- over to make sure she hadn’t left anything behind. Aside for a few final items that she would still need, and would pack when she got up in the morning, everything was packed and ready to return to Israel—home.
The intercom in her little unit buzzed twice. “Chaiky? Can I serve you something hot for supper, or do you prefer something light?”
Initially after her arrival, Chaiky had pondered about the strange way to ask this question. As if someone thought she’d reply, “Something hot.” Would a guest ever demand that her hosts start cooking for her? Go out of their way for her? Did they really think she would answer the truth to this question, or did they merely expect her to reply what was deemed good manners to reply?
But here, in Reva Margulies’s home, the rules were different. All acts and masks were totally superfluous, and all she had to do was flow with her challenges in the way that seemed best for her. Chaiky didn’t know if Reva was responsible for this, and it was always like this in her home, or if it was just Chaiky and the sensitive situation that had brought her here, a situation that left her no energy for masks. Chaiky had no interest in wearing a mask here, and therefore no one was familiar with any of the masks she usually wore. The one that portrayed her as the successful Chaiky had fallen off, and here she was, in all her true glory: the poor wife of the poor prisoner, the sad and overwhelmed woman who had come to visit her husband in jail. And as such, she was sometimes confused, weepy, very quiet, or overly talkative. Sometimes she was in the mood of listening, and sometimes she also smiled or laughed. She didn’t bother fighting her feelings.
The Margulieses did everything for her here. They took her from point A to point B and back, they cooked for her, cleaned up after her, procured Hebrew reading material for her, made sure she slept and ate well and got fresh air and was comfortable.
And tomorrow, she had to go back.
And she was afraid, so very afraid, of the landing.
Not of the physical landing, but of the landing back into the world where she had to be a strong mother, a calm daughter and big sister, a coping daughter-in-law.
She had no energy for all those masks. Just thinking of the full functioning that would be required of her from tomorrow on, she felt like crying. Screaming. Getting under the blankets and not getting up again. If only she could stay at the Margulieses’ home forever…
The intercom buzzed again. “Chaiky? I’m bringing you in something light and something hot, okay? I have delicious roast with some really tasty side dishes, and I want you to rate them for me.”
Chaiky remained silent. Only when the bell at the door rang did she go over to open it, smiling. There, she was wearing a mask here, too—but here, it was different, perhaps because she felt that her hostess wasn’t looking at the mask in any case.
Reva set down the covered tray on the small counter and straightened up. “What’s doing, Chaiky?” she asked convivially. “Oh my, you’ve already packed? Wow! You are so efficient.”
“It doesn’t help me, being so efficient,” Chaiky said, waving off the compliment. “What will be, Reva? I have no desire to go back, and that scares me.”
“What scares you about it?”
“Well, what kind of mother doesn’t want to go back to her children?”
“A mother who is weighed down by significant matters that are taking up all her headspace right now, that’s who. What else scares you?”
“I guess it’s mostly that.” Chaiky sat down on the bed, hugging the little velour throw pillow tightly to her chest. “And I’m not sure that your explanation is a hundred percent right. It could be that what I’m feeling now is that getting-back-from-vacation syndrome.” Her eyes smiled. “With the prison and the trial and this whole mess, I can’t say my coming to Russia was much by way of a vacation, but as far as the domestic part, the food, the pampering…you really made me feel like I was on vacation.”
“The pleasure is all mine.” Reva lifted the cover from the tray. “And I hope they will release your husband very quickly, and that you won’t need to come back here. But whenever you do want to visit Russia, no matter what for, remember that I love to host guests of your caliber—so I’m waiting for you.”