Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 45 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.
Chaiky leaned her head on the headrest of the seat in front of her, reveling in these last few moments of being so far from it all. Yisrael Meir was resting on her lap, and she held his little hands, gazing at his tranquil, smooth forehead. Something about Reva Margulies’s warmth, natural demeanor, and pampering care still lingered, perhaps hiding among the containers of food she had prepared for their trip. Chaiky saw how caringly the sandwiches were wrapped in foil and the vegetables cut, and Reva had added two chocolate bars.
Just a few hours ago, they were still standing together, and Reva had spoken to her.
“Remember, Chaiky,” she said, and Chaiky had devoured her words as though Reva was twenty years her senior. In actuality, the age gap was only two years, as they’d discovered this past Shabbos when they had been sitting in the afternoon and reminiscing about their respective high school years. “Remember, Chaiky, that you can call me as often as you want. I’ll literally be waiting for your calls, and if you don’t call—I’m going to call you.” She smiled. “And there’s something else I want to suggest that you do sometimes.” She wrapped the food in Saran wrap and continued speaking, without looking directly at Chaiky. “Today, with all the nice words that people give everything, it sounds almost trite to say this, but it’s such an important thing: talk to Hashem. That’s what I do when the going gets rough for me.” She paused for a minute as she put everything she had prepared into an insulated tote bag. “It’s amazing how a few sentences—but real, sincere sentences—can help.”
If her tone had been the slightest bit schoolmarmish, Chaiky would have been annoyed. But Reva spoke with such candor, and made her feel so cared-for and close to her, that Chaiky had just nodded quietly.
Then they’d had to attend to the last few details before leaving the house, followed by their farewell at the airport and takeoff, during which time Chaiky hadn’t had time to think. When the plane finally reached cruising altitude, Yisrael Meir had begun to wail and fuss, exhausting his mother. When he finally fell asleep, she was so drained that within a few moments, she also fell into a deep sleep.
But now, she had twenty-five minutes left until landing, and if she didn’t want to land back into her life with a big boom, she had better look things in the eye and be prepared. Not too prepared, of course, because not much was left of all those nice, organized plans she had once had. But still, something. She felt a sudden urge to turn to Hashem, but she didn’t know where to start. Yisrael Meir gazed at her with his large eyes, and she hugged him.
“I’m afraid…” she whispered into his little ear, but she wasn’t speaking to him at all. “I’m afraid to go back. However much optimism I can muster up, I was now in Russia and I see what is happening. I also heard the lawyers. I know that You can do anything, but according to derech hateva, even the most lenient sentence will be something like ten years. And I have to think about the next few years of my life… Or maybe I don’t need to, if it frightens me. Maybe it is better for me to just think about the next twenty-four hours.”
Yisrael Meir turned his head to her, a quizzical expression on his face.
“You’ll help me,” she said softly. “I know You will help me. Help me with Naomi and Dovi, and with Rachel. Help me be a good daughter-in-law, and a good employee. Help me with Elka and with Noa, and with the house and with myself…”
Yisrael Meir finally lost his patience and let out a loud wail. Chaiky bent over to pick up his pacifier that had fallen right near her seat and stuck it into his mouth, receiving a big smile from him in return. She took a deep breath, leaned back, and gave him a smile of her own, just as the captain’s voice came over the PA system, requesting that the passengers fasten their seatbelts in preparation for landing.
She was led ceremoniously to the dining room and sat down on the couch. Yisrael Meir was sleeping in the carriage, and suddenly, it seemed as though she’d never left. Dovi sat down on her right, Naomi on her left, and they both just gazed at her and smiled.
“You are so cute,” Chaiky told them, “and I missed you so much!”
Her mother-in-law had given the children sandwiches for supper, and she offered Chaiky a plate with sliced cake and a drink. Chaiky inhaled the pleasant smell of the floor cleaner and suddenly felt like a guest in her own home. But she knew that it was only temporary. Very soon, her mother-in-law would leave, nothing would be left of the cake, thanks to Dovi and Naomi’s assiduous help, and the sheen on the floor wouldn’t last too long, either. She would be left to deal with things on her own, but for some reason the idea didn’t intimidate her as much as it had a day and a half earlier.
After the first square of her mother-in-law’s walnut cake, Chaiky suddenly sat up. “Hey!” she said. “What’s with Rachel? When I called this morning, she was here already. Where is she now?”
Dina sighed deeply. “She’s here, in her room. Kids, your hot cocoa is waiting on the milchig counter in the kitchen.” She sat down next to her daughter-in-law, keeping an eye on the kitchen doorway and the two children cavorting inside there. “I have no idea what you are going to think of me, Chaiky,” she said, “but I did something very foolish.”
Chaiky crumpled the cupcake holder in which the cake had been served. She’d never heard such a statement from her mother-in-law. Not that she’d ever heard the opposite kind of sentence, accusing her of being foolish, but she’d always gotten the impression that there was nothing like the Struk family in the whole world, and anyone who married into them—especially if they came from a simple, unknown Be’er Sheva family, and received an apartment from the husband’s parents—had to be thrilled with each and every minute of their good fortune.
Dina was looking at her and waiting.
“Foolish?” Chaiky tittered. “Can’t be!”
“When you hear about this, you’ll be less confident about your ‘can’t be.’ I have no idea how it happened to me, but I mistakenly blurted out to Rachel something about her family.”
“Her family?” Chaiky raised her eyes in surprise from the crumpled ball in her hand. “She is related to us?”
Her mother-in-law sighed again. “Maybe it’s a distant relation. My father-in-law, alav hashalom, had a brother, Menashe. We have nothing to do with his family, but you’ve heard of him, right?”
“Once or twice.”
“Unfortunately, his family is not frum. In short, he had a son, who as a young man took an interest in us, his chareidi relatives, but it was only for a short time.”
Chaiky mulled this over. “A cousin of Shlomo’s father.”
“Right. He was the only one in Menashe’s family who invited us to his wedding. He married late, when he was nearly forty.” She fell silent for a minute, and Chaiky followed suit. “A few years later, Tatty met him at some family simchah, and he told him that he’d had a daughter who wasn’t given much of a chance of survival, but she was followed by two healthy sons.”
“What does that mean, ‘without much of a chance of survival’? Did she live or not?”
“That’s what I don’t know. Based on what I remember, he presented the fact in this vague way, but when I think about it now, and I recall that the story happened about fourteen years ago, I ask myself if he could have been referring to…Rachel.”
“You mean she could very possibly be our second cousin?”
“Yes,” her mother-in-law whispered. “Now you tell me, could I start telling her about all this ‘mishpachology’?”
“Of course not,” Chaiky replied. “We’d have to consult with the welfare department first to find out if it’s true, and if it is, whether or not we are legally allowed to give Rachel this information, since she is a minor. And we have to see if this cousin and his family are aware of how their baby ultimately developed, if she indeed is their child.”
She stood up. “But before that, I have something more important to do.” She went over to the closed door. “Rachel?” she asked as she knocked twice. “Rachel? What’s doing? Aren’t you going to come out and welcome me home?”
Noa chose to take the supper that the hotel served to her room, afraid of unwanted eyes that might be searching for her. Without any appetite, she listlessly mixed her cherry tomato and corn salad with cheese, and after a few long minutes, she took a tiny bite, and then pushed the plate away. Was it her lack of an appetite, or was it the total lack of relation between the ingredients that the chef of this seedy hotel had decided to mix together? It made no difference, really; in a day or two she’d be gone from here. She would rent an apartment, find some work, and see if her grandfather would manage without her brains.
Without knowing why, she called Adi again. “Is everything okay by you?” she asked, without identifying herself.
Adi was quiet for a minute. Perhaps she wasn’t sure who the caller was. “Baruch Hashem,” she said finally. “And by you?”
“I’m certainly fine.” Noa chuckled. “My question was about you.”
“And my question is about you.” Adi looked at the couch that she had pushed against the broken front door to keep it in place. It was a temporary solution until the door would be replaced.
“Me?” Noa asked, slightly irritated. “What, are you really nervous about my family? I told you, they talk a lot, but it’s not—”
“I’m nervous about you. I didn’t think I’d meet you this way.”
Noa’s nerves were in tatters, and she had no interest in being preached to by a quasi friend from the distant past. Not even Adi. “Well, how did you expect to meet me?”
“First of all, I expected to meet a successful businesswoman, wealthy, established, not someone so alone, wandering around with a duffel bag like a homeless.”
The description was so accurate that it assailed Noa’s exposed nerves. She stiffened. “Life holds surprises, Adi. I didn’t either think I’d meet you as a young widow, in poverty, without a penny to your name.”
“At least I spent most of this time in the same area code,” Adi said with a laugh. “And you?”
“Where have I been all this time?” Noa also laughed, without meaning to and not knowing why she was cooperating with this interrogation of sorts. “I was in so many places, there’s no way I can remember them all. I managed the computer department at Hadassah Ein Kerem; I tutored girls at a school in Tel Aviv; I was a management team leader in the Community and Culture Foundation. I was a librarian in Yokne’am. Where haven’t I been in this country?”
“Sounds almost like the resume of a spy. Can I ask when you will rest up a little?”
“I guess when I find my place.” And when my grandfather stops sending me from place to place. No, there is no chance that he will stop, because that is the only way he can foster my dependence on him. But maybe now, in this new situation, there is a chance of it happening.
“And why do you even think that your place is here?”
“I mean here in Israel. It was never clear to me if you are Jewish or not, but I don’t see that things are particularly good for you here.”
“Oh, I actually am Jewish in the end,” Noa clarified. “But that’s not what will make a difference to me when I decide on my future. The truth is that I considered leaving Israel, but I need to decide where to go. My on-the-go nature is probably what doesn’t let me rest.”
Adi, who was leaning against a wall at home, opened her eyes wide at the telephone. “You’re Jewish?”
“Yes.” Noa was a bit offended by her disbelieving tone. “At least, that’s what my aunt and uncle tell me.”
“Then that completely changes your story. If that’s the case, then I think that—”
“It doesn’t change any story. I see no big difference between who I thought I was and what I know now. Anyway, can we stop talking about me, Adi, and talk about you instead? When are they coming to fix your door?”
Adi ignored the question. “If you are Jewish, then it is worth your while to stay in Israel. Try to think where it would be good for you here, from all those places you just told me about. An employment consultant once told me that a person who jumps from job to job and doesn’t know where to continue, should try to go back to one of those jobs he had already, instead of looking for something new.”
“Interesting,” Noa said slowly.
She could not go back to Yokne’am, because she hadn’t yet had the time to think about what to do with Elka. And everywhere else she’d been to…well, there was only one other place that she had good memories of. Maybe she should take advantage of the detail that she now knew about herself, and go back to that place for a time, until she’d find herself a more permanent place to settle?
After all, even this cheap hotel would turn out to be very costly if she would stay there for too long.