Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 53 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.
Ezriel and Dina Struk left the office of Martin Weber, a noted attorney who specialized in cases that dealt with the smuggling of valuable items. His office was on the seventh floor of the Tel Aviv Towers, and they hurried toward the elevator, hoping to be able to catch the eight o’clock train to Haifa.
Ezriel summoned the elevator, but the latter seemed to be working at its own pace.
“He actually sounded encouraging,” Dina said, just to cut the silence that filled the lobby where they waited, the air between them, and the entire floor.
“Well, what does he care?” Her husband was rather somber, and not interested in smiling. “As long as he is not actively managing the case, he has no problem making promises. But I don’t know how knowledgeable he really is in Russian law. Somehow, things sounded much simpler from him than they do when Shlomo’s lawyers present them,” he said, staring at the glass wall in front of him with narrowed eyes.
“But we clarified this point before we came to him. He is proficient, and these things are the same all over the world. In no normal country is it illegal to do what Shlomo did.”
Ezriel sighed. Go explain to women how each country acted according to its own laws, its own understandings, and the mood of its judges at any particular moment.
But she was right on that count; they had done a lot of research on whether Weber could correctly advise them on cases being tried in other countries, specifically Russia. They felt it behooved them to invest the time and energy into these inquiries about the lawyer, being that the privilege of a one-hour consultation with Weber cost no less than NIS 12,000.
“Well, let’s hope that you are right that he is right,” Ezriel said, still unsmiling. “And that Shlomo will get out of this mess in one piece, and fast.”
The screen showed that one elevator was coming up while the second one was on the tenth floor. Dina leaned against the marble-covered wall and thought about Chaiky, who hadn’t wanted to send Shlomo to Russia in the first place. It was specifically Chaiky, the lesser worrywart of the two of them. What did that mean? That she was less of a good mother than Chaiky was a good wife?
“In any case,” Ezriel said darkly, “even if he is optimistic, he is being hopeful that Shlomo’s jail time will be ‘just’ two or three years, and that the Russians will maybe allow him to be transferred to a prison in Israel. That is the best-case scenario that he was able to muster up for us.”
“He’s also only human, and can easily be mistaken,” Dina said, banishing the image of Chaiky from her mind. No, she was a good mother. The fact that she had encouraged Shlomo to travel to Russia didn’t mean that anything was wrong with her, that she didn’t care properly for her son. What did one thing have to do with the other? Hashem had decided to put the anxieties into Chaiky’s mind at this time, and tragically—and against all logic—those anxieties had turned out to be well-founded. She needed to tell Chaiky something about the fact that she had been right. She would do it eventually; really, she would.
But only after Shlomo was released. She was not capable of absorbing any more guilt from her daughter-in-law than she was already feeling from her own self.
The elevator arrived, empty. “Let’s decide that until we get home, we won’t discuss the trial anymore,” Ezriel said as he stepped inside. Dina nodded, more to herself than to him. True, she would have liked to continue analyzing their very expensive meeting with Weber now, but she had already learned that her husband sometimes needed these time-outs. She would wait to talk more about it until they got home.
When the elevator reached the sixth floor, someone entered in a wheelchair, pushed by a dark-skinned, husky foreign worker. On the fifth floor, an elderly man with a cane hobbled in, and on the fourth floor two more elderly people joined. Ezriel seemed to be perusing them with certain interest, although Dina could not interpret the expression on his face.
Only when the elevator stopped on the second floor, and all those who had joined the Struks began to file out, did Ezriel say, “Wait, there’s an old-age home here, isn’t there?”
“That’s right, Rabbi,” one of the elderly people said with a smile. “The Golden Garden. Do you know someone here?”
“I think I do,” Ezriel said, and stepped out of the elevator.
His very surprised wife followed behind him. “Who do you know here?” she asked quietly. “I don’t think this is a very religious place.”
“That’s right, unfortunately it’s not. But if I’m not mistaken, then the wife of my Uncle Menashe, alav hashalom, is here. She is probably quite elderly. But if we’re already here, it’s really a mitzvah to visit her. We recently were speaking about Uncle Menashe, weren’t we? I don’t remember exactly when or why…”
“Oh, yes…” Dina said, suddenly alert. “We were talking about that girl who is living with Chaiky. I told you about her, and I suddenly remembered that there was once a similar story in Menashe’s family.”
The receptionist directed them to room 240. The place was very luxurious, and only a few elderly people could be seen in the corridors. Anyone who Ezriel and Dina passed looked at them curiously, and Dina felt a mounting sense of discomfort with every step she took. She had no idea what physical or mental state Ezriel’s aunt was in. They hadn’t seen her in nearly fifteen years, and even before that, they had only met each other on rare occasions.
“Here,” Ezriel said, as he stopped in front of a door with a gleaming nameplate that read “Struk.” He stared at it for a long moment and then knocked.
“Yes?” The voice was sharp and clear.
Ezriel pushed the door open a bit and said hesitantly, “Aunt Gisella?”
The room was partially dark. They entered, and a delicate tinkling of bells could be heard as a mobile hanging from the ceiling swayed slightly with the movement of the door.
At first, Dina did not see anyone; all she could make out were the huge paintings that covered the walls. The colors were harsh and sharp, but they didn’t actually depict anything.
“Ezrieli!” Aunt Gisella exclaimed. She was seated in an armchair in the corner of the room. “Ezrieli, you haven’t changed. You’ve just grown a bit up and a bit out, that’s all. There’s no time to visit old aunts, huh? Nu, so how are you? Looking at my paintings, are you?”
The last question was directed at Dina, and she approached the large armchair with a smile. Apparently, Aunt Gisella did not remember her name.
“Baruch Hashem, we’re both doing well. Your paintings are very nice.”
“They are also very expensive.”
“Yes, you can see that,” Dina said. “And how are you doing?”
“Fine,” the woman said without a smile. “If that door would open a few more times, it would be better. The problem is that everyone is so busy these days. Sit, sit. Should I ask them to bring you some water? In a plastic cup?”
It was clear from Ezriel’s face that he was going to reply, “No, thanks,” so Dina hastened to preempt him. “Yes, thank you,” she said.
The older woman pressed a button on the wall and spoke. “Mineral water and plastic cups. I have guests.” There was a beep in response, and then the panel on the wall went silent.
“The water will come soon,” she said, looking pleased. “It’s actually kosher here, just so you know, Ezrieli.”
“Good, I’m glad to hear that.”
“And I also light candles each Friday, before sunset.”
“That’s really wonderful!” Ezriel said. “It’s a big merit.”
“Of course. Menashe and I always kept to tradition. Our children, on the other hand, well, you know… So, how are you? How are the children?”
“Baruch Hashem. Everyone’s grown up… And tell me, how are my cousins?” Ezriel sat down on one of the wooden chairs that were there, his mind working feverishly as he tried to recall his cousins’ names. He didn’t want to admit it to his aunt, but he could only remember two of them, Eliyakim, the oldest, and Amichai, the youngest. Who came in between them? Two sons and a daughter, if he remembered correctly. He was pretty sure Uncle Menashe had had five children.
“You’ve probably forgotten them.” His aunt waved off the question. “Maybe you remember Amichai a bit. You remember how he wanted to learn? He came to you, and you learned a bit of Torah together, didn’t you?”
“That’s right. I have good memories of the time I spent with him. He has a good heart and a good head. How is he doing?”
“So-so.” She sighed. “G-d decreed a difficult life for him. First of all, it took him a long time to get married—that you know. I remember that you called to wish us mazel tov when he finally got engaged. Besides that, after a few years he had that baby, and he and his wife left her in the hospital and asked that they not be informed about what would happen to her. Then they had two sons. But his wife is not well; she hasn’t been well all along.”
“What’s wrong with her?” Ezriel asked, and Dina listened carefully. “What’s she ill with?”
“It’s not physical.” Aunt Gisella motioned with her hand. “It’s emotional, mental. And poor Amichai, they took his children away and placed them in foster care, with other families. Amichai himself is not so healthy, you know. He’s got his father’s heart, and the blood sugar problems, even though he’s so young. He turned fifty just two years ago.” She sighed again. “Not simple, his life. Now he is in South America… Who knows if he will ever come back here?”
“How long ago was the girl born?” Dina asked cautiously.
“I don’t remember.” The woman shrugged. “Maybe ten years…no, that can’t be. His son is ten, and there were a good few years between that terrible story with the girl and when his first son was born. But what difference does it make? She’s probably not alive anymore; she didn’t survive.” She lowered her voice. “She was in terrible condition, really awful.”
“Did you see her?”
“No. I didn’t want to. I’m not such a strong woman, you know.”
“Which hospital was she born in?”
Aunt Gisella was quiet for a long moment, and Dina was sure she was going to scold them for being so nosy and opening up old wounds. But after the quiet came a hesitant response. “I think it was Rambam Hospital, in Haifa.”
Dina decided not to ask even one more question about the anonymous—or not so anonymous—baby. But suddenly, the woman said, “I have an album with pictures. There. Yes, yes, on the shelf near the candlesticks. Take it down, please. Yes, thank you.” She opened it to the first page. “Here, look. You asked about Amichai, so here, take a look at this picture. This is from his wedding. I actually thought she was a good woman, but poor thing, what can I say? It’s not her fault.”
“That’s right,” Dina murmured, and swallowed, gaping at the page that her aunt had put into her hands.
What could she say? That the face of the bride in the picture was a carbon copy of Rachel’s?