Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 44 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.
“Adi?” Noa stood on the balcony of the cheap hotel room, the phone pressed to her ear. Even if someone had tapped Adi’s phone wires, which did not seem to have happened, he would not be able to obtain Noa’s new phone number. She had purchased the telephone from her personal and secret account, without even bothering to check if her grandfather’s credit card was still active. First, it was likely that it had already been frozen, and second, even if it was still active, she had no interest in her grandfather receiving information about her purchase, with all its details.
“Yes, Noa?” Adi’s voice trembled a bit.
“Two people knocked here before.” Adi’s voice shook even more. “I didn’t open the door, but they broke it down. You saw it, right? It’s a pretty rickety door. You have no idea how they screamed and howled that they have to speak to you. They didn’t touch my things and didn’t take anything, but…” The tremor turned into a little sob that lasted a second and a half and then stopped. “It was very, very unpleasant. I know that ‘not pleasant’ is just ‘not pleasant’ and not more than that, but…”
“But it’s terrible,” Noa said forcefully. “You and your daughter should not have to suffer from the fact that you hosted me for a night. You just wait and see how they are going to regret scaring you like that.” She didn’t know why she was trying to sound so eager to help, perhaps because when they’d parted, Adi had looked so forlorn and frightened. “I’m going to call them in a minute. But tell me, who lives opposite you? The neighbors didn’t see anything? Hear anything? They didn’t try to help you?”
“I have no connection to the neighbors,” Adi whispered.
“I see. And tell me, do you think they are still on the street, downstairs?”
“I don’t think so. They wanted to speak to you. After it became clear to them that you’d left and weren’t coming back, they had nothing more to look for.”
“Okay. I’m sure you don’t want to stay in the apartment now with the broken door… Do you want to come live with me? Maybe we’ll meet at the last place where we worked together, and I’ll take you to—”
Adi cut her off. “If this is what happened after you were here for one night, Noa, I’m not sure it would be responsible for me, as a mother, to become your permanent roommate.” She sounded again like the confident, unhesitant Adi. “I’ll get a new door, and that’s it.”
And I’ll pay for it, Noa wanted to add, and we’ll be in touch, but she didn’t think that would be so wise to say. She doubted that anyone was listening to her conversation with Adi, but on the slightest chance that someone was, it would be a shame to give them any reason to continue doing so.
As cheap and simple as the room she had rented was—it bordered on shabby—the view of the sea from the tiny balcony was definitely a worthwhile compensation. Noa stood with her lips pursed for a few minutes, facing the waves that kept crashing turbulently onto the beach, and picked up the phone again. Before dialing, she blocked the caller ID.
The phone rang for a long minute before someone answered.
“Hello?” said her aunt’s familiar voice.
“It’s Noa,” she said calmly. “And it’s a good thing you’re answering.”
“And it’s too bad you are not answering us.”
“That phone is long out of my possession; it’s a waste of time for you to keep calling it,” she said, her eyes fixed on the restless sea. “Now listen. I will not allow you to terrorize my friend, is that clear? Everything I said earlier, about what I will tell Grandfather if you don’t leave me alone, applies to her as well. Leave her alone. I came to her for one night, and she has absolutely no idea where I went.”
“Listen, Noa, or however you want us to call you.” Irena’s voice was dry and indifferent, or at least she was trying to sound that way. “First of all, you know that Grandfather is demanding what is coming to him, and we are just his emissaries. Besides, there is a limit to how much you will be able to achieve with your threats on us, and it would be a good idea for you to realize that sooner rather than later.”
“It would be a good idea for you to realize other things sooner rather than later,” Noa shot back. “Because I will not wait. I know Grandfather’s personal number by heart. I have no problem with calling him, even if he’s angry at me.”
“Since when do you have his number? Since you were sixteen, when you insisted on changing your name, and if it wasn’t for us, he would have thrown you to the dogs?” The dryness rose an octave and was replaced with an impending storm. “Do you really think you can spend your whole life playing with everyone based on your moods? Grandfather has finally realized that with you, there is no such thing as real loyalty, and that you work only based on your own interests.” The storm had arrived, over Noa’s head, and it was a tornado.
“So now you’ve decided that we are your toy soldiers, but it won’t work like that for you. Grandfather will not give up on the work you promised him and did not complete, and all the stories you will tell him about me and Victor won’t move him a bit. It’s an old case, so to speak. So please, do what you have to do like a good girl, whether you want to or not. If you’re not interested in anyone following you and searching for you, then all you have to do is come here and finish what you began, without this whole mess!”
“Why do I have to come to you?” Noa asked lightly. “My laptop is with me. A few clicks, and I can finish the whole Struk thing.”
“So, do it already!” Irena screeched. “What’s with your ridiculous games? You got full payment, up front, for this work, you know!”
“Yes, but the way I was treated in Russia made it clear that I am someone’s toy soldier, to use the same metaphor as you did. And I want to put an end to it.”
“Oh, so you’re punishing Grandfather?” Irena sneered. “Or are you trying to teach him a lesson, baby that you are?”
“Maybe.” Noa ignored the insults. “And maybe I’m trying to teach you a lesson also, not only him.”
“Us? What do we have to do with this? Let me remind you again that Grandfather is the one who is now seething with fury, not us!”
“I will sort things out with Grandfather as soon as I decide it is the right time. The question is where you are in this whole story.”
“What does that mean?” Her voice reverted to being cold and dry again, like the wind blowing at Noa’s face from the direction of the water.
“You are accusing me of opportunism, but it’s hard for me to believe that all of your interest in me is out of so much love. Certainly not now, but not in past years, either.”
“Love…” Noa could just imagine her aunt’s lips curling in disdain. “To you? We have never known who you are. Snake.”
“You’re calling me a snake? You?” Noa’s mouth contorted cynically.
“Yes,” the woman on the other end rasped. “One who thinks she can wind the whole world around her pinky finger. Believe me, you’re like all the rest of the Jews.”
“The Jews, huh?”
“Yes, the Jews. Grandfather would prefer you didn’t know, but he figured that it wasn’t for naught that you tried to steal your personal file. You obviously had gotten a hold of some piece of information that you wanted to see with your own eyes.”
“Which information are you talking about?”
“As if you don’t know. If not, why all this interest in the Jewish people? What was your story with celebrating their holiday in Russia? Why did you so insist on going back to your Jews in Yokne’am? Who did you think you were fooling?”
“What you’re telling me is very interesting, but this information is new to me. I didn’t know there was anything Jewish about me. Who was Jewish? My mother? And is that what is says in the file?”
“When you’ll fulfill your obligations to the family, then you’ll have the right to ask me questions,” her aunt spat. “Meanwhile, all your talking is completely useless to me. Do what you have to do. We’ll talk afterward.”
“Mrs. Struk…” Rachel abandoned the bag, sat on a chair, and leveled her gaze at Dina. “Do you know something about my family?”
Dina opened the refrigerator and put the milk inside.
“Mrs. Struk…Dovi and Naomi’s Bubby.” Rachel’s voice rose. Dina wasn’t sure if it was a plea or impending hysteria. “How do you know that I have siblings? Do you know my mother?”
Dina closed the refrigerator door and straightened up. She hadn’t yet found the words, but she knew she was going to utter them, even if she didn’t know what they were. The main thing was to say them.
Or not? Maybe what she had said in a moment of distraction, without thinking, was enough? Now she had to weigh each word carefully. “Look, Rachel,” she said slowly, but Rachel interrupted her.
“Am I your daughter, even though Chaiky said I’m not?”
“No.” At least Dina didn’t have to get into a mess about this. “I’m not your mother, Rachel. I’ve never given birth to a girl. Only boys.”
“Are you sure?”
Dina smiled faintly, clearly remembering the birth of her twin boys at quite an advanced age. And that fleeting moment when she’d forcibly tried to swallow the bitter taste of disappointment. “Positive.”
“So how do you know that I have siblings if you don’t mean your own children?”
Naomi and Dovi came bouncing into the kitchen, holding aloft the sign they had prepared for their mother, and Dina knew that it was time to end this not-particularly-productive conversation. “Look, Rachel,” she said. “I didn’t say that I know if you have siblings or not. I said I think you do have siblings.”
“Yes.” The girl gazed at her, completely ignoring the orange oak-tag that the children were waving in the air. “But what makes you think that? That’s what I want to know.”
“As I explained to you, Dovi and Naomi are really like your siblings…” Dina wanted to continue, but Rachel’s inscrutable look meant that she would be wasting her words now. The girl was very focused on her goal, and all of Dina’s efforts to gloss over the words she had let slip, were useless.
“Rachel!” Dovi shouted in surprise. “You’re not even looking at our sign!”
“I’m looking at your Bubby,” Rachel replied, without taking her eyes off Dina.
“Our Bubby?” Naomi asked. Now she and Dovi also turned to look at Dina, who found herself being stared down by three pairs of piercing eyes. “What’s so interesting about our Bubby? I mean, she’s great, but why do you have to look at her so much? You’ve seen her a million times!”
“And you also talked to her a million times,” Dovi added solemnly.
“But now she told me something very important, for the first time.” Rachel got up from her chair. “Mrs. Struk, you’ll tell me this, won’t you?”
Dina sighed. “Rachel, dear,” she said quietly, “let’s leave this for another time, alright?”
“Leave it for another time? You know my mother, and I don’t—and you want me to leave it for another time?!”
“I don’t exactly know your mother.”
“So you sort of know her,” the fourteen-year-old insisted.
Dina took a deep breath. “Rachel, I’m not sure at all that I know your family. I just made a remark, and it’s a shame for you to get your hopes up for nothing. Let’s finish getting things together over here, and later we’ll see…what to do.”
For the first time since Dina’s unfortunate slip of the tongue, Rachel looked at her less accusingly and more hopefully. “We’ll see what to do?” she echoed. “Do you mean that you will tell me who they are and where they live?”
“No,” Dina said, bending down to collect the empty shopping bags from the floor. “I mean that first of all, I will check if you are even connected to them in any way.”
“And if I am?”
“If yes, then I will ask Chaiky what to do. And I believe that whoever is responsible for you will also have what to say on the subject.”
“Chaiky is not responsible for me,” Rachel said in an injured tone. “And neither are you.” She slowly walked out of the kitchen. A moment later, she seemed to reconsider, and returned. She took the big sign that the children had prepared and gazed at it for a long moment, in absolute silence, as they watched her closely. Then, still without saying a word, she hung the sign on the kitchen door.
When she finally spoke, her voice was strained. “I’m going to rest now, okay?”
The children wanted to protest, but the ringing phone sent them dashing outside to Yoel’s car. Squealing with excitement, they climbed in for the trip to the airport.
Dina remained with Rachel in the house. She was afraid that the latter would take advantage of the children’s absence to press her further, but her fears were groundless. For the three and a half hours from when Dovi and Naomi left, until they returned home with a tired, smiling Chaiky, the door to Rachel’s room remained closed.