Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 42 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 two sisters met at the vort of one of their nephews.
“Margalit! What’s doing? What’s with the grant? Have you heard anything?”
“Heard? Where should I have heard from?”
“From wherever you heard then.” Uh-oh, she was being evasive!
“You realize that I am not usually a partner to what is going on at the Culture and Community Foundation. Those were two one-time incidents. It’s true that the grants are entered into the list of figures that I receive, as their accountant, but first of all, I don’t always get the figures; sometimes another worker in the office does that work. And besides, it’s a report that is generated only once in several months. So I’m not constantly being updated. Tell me, does this cake look like it has peanut butter?”
Elka took a little coffee mousse cup off the sweet table, and then regretted it and put back in its place. “What did you hear?”
“About the kallah?”
“We’ll talk about the kallah another time. I’m sure she’s lovely and wonderful. Do you think Yaakov would do any other kind of shidduch for his Shloimy? I’m talking about the Foundation’s grant, and don’t change the subject.” Elka was usually pleasant and amicable. But there were times when she just couldn’t muster up much of that pleasant demeanor; it happened when something was bothering her very much and didn’t let her focus on anything else but that.
Margalit leaned against the wall. “The last time, the material did not go through me.”
“Margalit, would you stop playing games with me and tell me exactly what you know?”
Her sister sighed. “I asked Zahava, the other worker. I saw that before Pesach she got the balance sheets for the Foundation, and I couldn’t help myself. So I asked her.”
“The three grants were issued just before Pesach.”
“To who?” Elka put a hand on her chest.
“I don’t remember. But not to your center.”
Around them, the noise receded into a babble of talking, laughing, excited cries, and clinking dishes. “That’s so strange,” Elka whispered, her lips white. “Noa praised our center so much. I can’t believe she wouldn’t recommend us wholeheartedly.”
“Maybe she did,” Margalit suggested reasonably, “but they got recommendations from other places, too. You can’t know.”
Elka glared at a little cake, covered with white fondant. “Are you sure that you heard that the woman they sent to me was named Noa?”
“I saw it written clearly.”
“Among the reports that we got there was also a list that was faxed in by mistake, a list of all kinds of community centers. Next to the name of each one was a handwritten notation with a first name, and I saw your center there, and written next to it was the name ‘Noa.’”
“I’m going to call her now,” Elka said, feeling a bit unsteady. “I’ll be nice, but assertive, because I have to know why we weren’t chosen.”
“Call tomorrow morning directly to the Foundation’s offices and ask them about it. Just don’t tell them where you got the information about these grants from. It was a secret.”
“Maybe I’ll do that too, but first, I’m calling Noa.” Elka hurriedly slipped out the door before her sister-in-law, the chassan’s mother, would notice her sudden exit.
There was something strange about this whole story. She had been sure that she’d bagged one of the three grants, and suddenly everything had fallen through? She wondered what Noa would say. The time had come for them to speak openly about what they both knew, but had never discussed.
But Noa’s number went straight to a recording all evening, and the next day too.
At breakfast, Adi did not object to eating the items that Noa had put into the fridge during the night. She just checked the package of each one first. “Oh, the hechsher…” Noa murmured. She’d gone shopping once or twice with Elka, who had purchased everything only Mehadrin, as they called it. But she’d made her last shopping trip on her own, so she could not guarantee to Adi that all the food here was good for religious people.
“I think it’s just plain Rabbanut,” she told Adi, who had picked up the container of butter and planned to spread it onto her slice of bread. “So if you’re very religious, don’t eat it.”
“Do I look very religious to you?”
“You look mixed to me.”
“That’s what I am, mixed,” Adi said with a smile as she set the butter aside. The hours of sleep she’d gotten toward morning had done her good, and she looked more refreshed than she had last night.
“Is Racheli also mixed?”
“From the strong flasks.” Noa motioned with her head toward the front door. “You know, the one who sent you that strange note.”
“Oh, her.” Adi smiled again. “The note isn’t strange. She’s a real tzaddeikes from Bnei Brak, who I got to know after the accident. Her family also experienced a tragic accident, and my Rav and Rebbetzin sent her to me.”
“But what are strong flasks?”
“It’s a metaphor of sorts.”
“Yes. When the owner of a china shop wants to show how special and strong his vessels are, what does he do?”
“Do I know? He probably advertises it.”
“Anyone can do that, even if his merchandise will hardly last a week. You know how it goes in this world; everything is a lie, and you can convince people of anything without having any cover for those promises.”
“Right,” Noa said, shifting a bit uneasily in her chair. “So what does the proprietor do?”
“He bangs on the strongest of his vessels.”
“But they’ll break!”
“So that’s it—they won’t. They are so strong that they don’t break.”
Noa was quiet. “I see,” she finally said. “But what does all that have to do with you? Why are you a vessel or a flask, or whatever you want to call it?”
“Because Hashem wants to see how strong His children are in their faith, so He gives them a strong bang, in all kinds of ways.”
“You call it a nisayon, right?”
“Right. How do you know that?”
“A few months ago I did a report in Machsheves Yisrael, Jewish Thought,” Noa smiled. “I needed it for my job, and it was actually quite interesting.” She took two olives out of the bowl. “Okay, so now I understand that note. Who else sends you notes?”
“Other notes? What are you talking about?”
“This.” She stood up and walked to the dining room, talking over her shoulder as she went. “Late last night someone stuck a note on the outside of your door.” She took it from its hiding place under her pillow and returned to the kitchen. “Do you have any idea what this is about?”
Adi read the note and raised her head to Noa, who remained standing next to her. “No,” she said. “And it doesn’t sound like a very friendly note at all.”
“That’s right,” Noa said as she folded the note into a tiny ball and hurled it into the garbage. “So it’s not for you?”
“Not as far as I know. I’m not supposed to be taking care of anything for anyone right now, and I’m not playing games with anyone either.”
“So it’s for me,” Noa said. “Okay, it’s better this way. I wouldn’t have wanted to think that in addition to your life in this hole, someone’s threatening you.”
“This hole isn’t quite as miserable as you think.” Adi smiled neutrally. “It’s worth more than it looks.”
“So why don’t you renovate it?”
“I don’t have money for that right now, or energy,” her friend answered simply. “My husband got the apartment from his grandmother. When we got married we lived in a much more upscale neighborhood, but after everything happened, I couldn’t allow myself to commit to the high rent, so I came here.”
“Oh,” Noa said. She quickly finished her food. “I’m going out to see something on the street, okay?”
“Be careful, Noa. It doesn’t look good,” Adi said anxiously. “It’s quite a threatening note.”
“Nonsense, it’s just a bark. No one will really do anything to me.” Noa went to the door. “Hey, another note.” Instead of going out into the stairwell, she stepped back into the apartment.
“Adi, can I use your phone? I’ll pay you for the call. I don’t really want to switch my cell phone back on; they’ll probably be nudging me constantly.”
“Are you calling the police? What does the note say?”
“No, not the police. I have my own ways of silencing them.”
“Here you go.” Adi was a bit nervous as she handed over the phone. What had she brought upon herself by agreeing to host Noa? She bentched with a lot of concentration, and when she finished, she emerged into the dining room, where she heard Noa conversing on the phone in Russian. Adi didn’t understand a thing, only the tone of Noa’s voice.
“It has to stop.” Noa stood with her back to the room. “And the first thing you have to do is get rid of the person standing downstairs. This is not Russia, and I will not stand for being followed. No, no!” Here she raised her voice a bit. “Now. Otherwise—” Her tone dropped. “I’ll answer my grandfather next time he calls me, and instead of speaking about what I did or didn’t do now, I’ll tell him a bit about the past. What? Yes, about the past. For example, I can tell him where the money he sent between the years of eighty- five and ninety-two, to pay for the prestigious boarding school where I ostensibly studied, really went. I’ll tell him what was really being done to me then. Okay?” She fell silent for a moment, and then her tone grew threatening. “I’ll wait ten minutes. If the man downstairs doesn’t leave, I’m switching on my phone and will answer Grandfather on the first ring. Get it done.” She hung up and turned around.
“You look worried, Adi,” she said, switching back to Hebrew. “Everything will be fine, don’t worry.”
Adi sat down on the sofa and clasped her hands. “It looks like you’ve also been selected to be a flask of sorts, Noa.”
“Me?” Noa laughed, but stopped in mid-laugh. “Come on, that’s not what a ‘nisyaon’ is. This is really nothing serious. Here, you can come to the window and see for yourself how the guy downstairs is leaving. He probably got an urgent call that instructed him to scram. The problem is,” she had no idea why she was saying what she was saying, “that I think your G-d is now sending me to be the stick to knock on one of those flasks.”
“Which flask are you going to knock on?” Adi looked at Noa through narrowed eyes, and then rubbed her chin with her hand. “I mean, is that a joke or something?”
“Do I sound like I’m laughing?” Noa sipped from her cold soy milk.
“If so, it’s a really bad joke.”
“I don’t usually tell bad jokes. I was talking about something real, but forget it—it makes no difference to you.”
“Who does it make a difference to? The flask that will break?”
Noa smiled. “If it’s strong enough, it’s not supposed to break, right?”
“What happens to it is really not your business, but it’s not worth it for you to be the stick.” Adi rose. “There is justice with the Creator. When a person harms someone else—then that someone is deserving of it, but the one who was the stick is not going to get off scot-free either.”
Noa nodded blandly. “I have to run now, Adi.” She pulled her phone out of her pocket and stared at it. “I don’t want to take this with me, because then they can find out where I am, even when it’s off.” She put it back in her pocket. “Fine, I’ll throw it into the garbage downstairs. Give me your number, Adi, and I’ll call you as soon as I have a new phone.”
“To tell me what a pleasant noise it made when you knocked on someone?”
Noa chuckled. “I see you’re taking this quite hard.”
“Right.” Adi avoided her gaze. “I gave you a place to sleep, Noa, even though I haven’t really interested you in the last few years. You landed here in this strange way, and you are involved in something, and might even be involving me a bit—I certainly hope not a lot. But I would manage with all that. What you said before, though, disturbs me even more.”
“Well, it shouldn’t disturb you. It’s nothing. I take back what I said.”
“It doesn’t work like that,” Adi said quietly.
Noa was standing at the door with her things. “What’s in the refrigerator is yours, along with all the disposable stuff in the cabinet,” she concluded the argument magnanimously. “I’m going out now before they send someone to follow me again, okay? We’ll be in touch.”