Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 63 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.
“Today we went swimming in camp, and the house is all decorated! Did you see the massive sign hanging on the door outside?” Naomi swung her legs, looking around wide-eyed. “All these good things, happening at the same time! Oh, I can’t wait to have a piece of that cake!”
“You’re so funny,” Dovi said. He waved a rattle in front of Yisrael Meir’s face. “The main thing is not that the house is all decorated, or that so many people brought over fancy cakes. The main thing is that Abba is coming home!”
“You’re funny yourself. He’s not even coming home.” Naomi continued to look hungrily at the cake, adorned with blue and pink flowers, courtesy of Yehudis Pesserman’s baking. “He’s coming on a plane, and he’s going straight to prison, without even coming home. So what’s it worth anyway?”
“Of course it’s worth it; you don’t even understand!” Dovi said scornfully. “Didn’t you hear Ima say that he will be able to come home sometimes for Shabbos? And besides, it doesn’t matter—we’re going to see him today!”
“I think you two should stop arguing like this. And besides,” Chaiky abandoned the refrigerator, where she was trying to organize all the boxes and containers of food so they could fit inside, and lifted her scowling daughter’s chin, “it’s only for three months that he’ll be in prison here. Three months is not a long time.”
“Sometimes it feels like a very long time,” Dovi said.
“True, it does feel like that sometimes.”
“So why are you already happy now, Ima?”
Why? Because you don’t know what his lawyers told us to expect eight months ago; three months is nothing compared to the sentences they predicted. It isn’t even a hundredth.
“Because b’ezras Hashem these months will pass very quickly, and before you know it, Abba will be back home with us for good! Now, do you want a toffee flower from this cake?”
The candy flowers silenced all discussion on the subject of the three months and their relative length, and Chaiky went back to the fridge. The house really did look ready for a party. Everyone was acting as though Shlomo was being released, but that wasn’t really the case. He had been sentenced to almost a year in prison, and some of those months were deducted because of the time he had served in Russia. The Russians had agreed—after endless negotiations—to allow him to serve the rest of the time in an Israeli prison.
“Ima, when we go to the airport to meet Abba, will his hands be in handcuffs?” Dovi asked. “Is that how he will get off the plane?”
“No, of course not,” Chaiky said confidently, without even knowing what her promise was based on. “He might be escorted by a few policemen, but you don’t have to be afraid of them. They won’t do anything.”
“Wow, I can’t wait for 5:00, when we get to go!”
“Me neither,” Dina Struk said, as she entered the kitchen together with Rachel. “Look what they did here!” she exclaimed, truly impressed. “What a wonderful community we have in this place, Chaiky, no?”
“Yes, the people here are very special,” her daughter-in-law agreed, and went back to the cakes, trying to decide what to freeze and what to bring for Shlomo. Enough. She’d heard enough about the wonderful, unified community her in-laws had helped establish in Yokne’am, and how everyone wanted to come to the airport to welcome Shlomo. As if that was what she needed now.
Besides, she was still waiting. She was waiting for a mention from her in-laws of how she, Shlomo’s wife, had never wanted him to go in the first place, and how they had refused to listen to her gut feeling. She was waiting for a word from them that, even if it would not be an outright request for forgiveness, would express something, a shred of recognition and a hint of an apology. She was waiting for a word of appreciation for the wife of their son, who had faced, and was still facing, so many challenges alone. All the help her in-laws had given her notwithstanding—and she suspected that they were the ones who had inflated her salary during the hardest weeks—no one could be doing what she was doing in her home.
And she was still waiting.
But it was alright; she had patience.
“Everyone is very special,” she repeated aloud, perhaps to banish the thoughts that were invading these festive moments.
“Everyone is so very special…” Rachel murmured and sat down on one of the chairs, gazing at the words “Baruch Mattir Assurim” on Mrs. Pesserman’s cake that rested on the table. Chaiky was tempted to lift Rachel’s drooping chin like she had done a few minutes earlier to Naomi, but instead, she just said, “You want a toffee flower, Rachel?”
“Hey, don’t be so morose, okay? You just came back from your high school’s summer overnight trip yesterday on top of the world, with so many fun stories to tell us. The day after tomorrow you will finally go visit your grandmother at the old-age home and get to meet her. She’s a very warm woman; I told you that when I met her myself. So I’m not letting you be sad, especially since…” She sat down next to Rachel, who had picked up Yisrael Meir from the blanket he had been lying on. “Especially since I promised you something about the day my husband comes home. You remember?”
“Of course.” Rachel smiled. She made a brachah slowly and began to eat the toffee flower. Yisrael Meir gurgled happily at her.
Again the shelf in the room was empty. Everything that had been there in recent months was now on Rachel’s messy bed, next to her large suitcase. Naomi sat on the floor, carefully leafing through the goodbye album that Rachel’s classmates in Haifa had prepared for her. It had a floral motif, and between the pages the girls had pressed many flowers.
“You were their friend for such a short time,” Naomi marveled, “and they gave you such a nice present!” She turned another page, studying it closely. “But I don’t know why you have to leave today already. It’s going to take a long time till our father comes home, you know. Don’t you realize that my mother still needs help?”
“I realize, and from today on, I appoint you to help her in my place, okay?”
“But it’s not fair that you’re going to live with our Be’er Sheva savta, who we hardly go to because it’s so far away. We’re going to miss you so much. Why can’t you live by your grandmother who they found?”
“Because she’s very old, and also she’s not so frum.”
“Oh. But why are you leaving today already?”
Rachel sat down on the floor near the child. “Because school starts in two days, Naomi. You’re going into third grade, right? You’ll have a new classroom and a new teacher. I am also going into a new grade, and it’s not good to start a class in one place and then move. So we decided that I’m going to go now.” She patted the second-grade graduate on the shoulder. “And I’m going to miss you, too. But we’ll think together about things that will send the thoughts of missing each other far away.”
Chaiky entered the room, carrying a stack of folded laundry. She set it down on the bed and sat down. “I also can’t believe you are going, Rachel,” she said. “It will be so hard for me to get used to it. The house won’t be the same without you.”
“You see that sentence a lot in books, when the characters say goodbye to each other,” Rachel said. “You must have gotten it from a book. But that’s okay; it’s a nice sentence. Especially since no one has ever told me before that it makes a difference to their house if I am there or not.”
She stood up from the floor and moved to the bed, sitting down next to Chaiky. “Do you think it will make a difference to your mother that I am staying there, like it does to you?”
“Of course it will. That’s why she invited you to come to her.” Chaiky looked at Rachel. “Look, my brother and I both live far away from her. My father teaches in the yeshivah and is hardly home all day. He comes home late in the evening. She was the one who thought of the idea; you know she likes you. You clicked together beautifully.”
“Right,” Rachel agreed. “I like her a lot, too.” She played with the zipper of her suitcase. “Someone else once lived by her, right? Was it Noa?”
“Yup. And she hasn’t forgotten her to this day.”
“Who hasn’t forgotten whom?”
“Both of them, actually. My mother has never forgotten Noa, and Noa didn’t forget my mother. You know that the all-important code that Noa had her friend give to us, the computer code that baruch Hashem helped prove at the trial that my husband is innocent of most of the accusations—she based on the gematria of the letters of my mother’s name?”
“That’s so interesting.”
Dovi walked in. “Rachel didn’t leave yet?” He breathed a sigh of relief. “I was afraid you’d leave while I was still in cheder.”
“Do you think that I would leave without you telling me goodbye and wishing me hatzlachah?”
Dovi grinned. “I’ll say goodbye and wish you hatzlachah, but I also wanted to make sure that you don’t forget your flowerpot! Did you pack it?”
“I knew you’d forget it!” he crowed triumphantly. “So I ran all the way home to remind you.”
“For now, I don’t think I’m going to take it with me, Dovi,” Rachel said. She got up from the bed and put the pile of linen Elsa had bought her years ago into her suitcase. “It’s too complicated to schlep it to Be’er Sheva, and now it’s not flowering anyway; it’s not the season. But I’ll tell it goodbye, now that you reminded me.”
She opened the window; she’d moved the flowerpot to the sill a few weeks earlier when she was looking for a shadier spot than the porch.
“There’s a smell of honey here!” Dovi cried excitedly. “Don’t you smell it? It’s a very strong smell, like in your story, Rachel! Show me—I want to see it! There must be lots of nice flowers there, like in the story with the man with the flashlight! Remember? When he finally found the little tree where the honey smell was coming from, and he saw that all these beautiful flowers had grown on it?”
He rose up on tiptoes and then dropped back onto his heels. “There are no flowers there,” he said, disappointed. “So what is that smell?”
“It’s from the honey cookies in the oven,” Chaiky said, and hurriedly stood up to go check on them. “I baked them for Rachel to bring to Savta. I know she likes these cookies.”
“Besides, the plant with the smell of honey is called the nyctanthes, or the night-flowering jasmine, and that’s not what your mother bought me.” Rachel looked closely at the flowerpot. “Flowers are only going to bloom in this planter when it’s the spring of next year, b’ezras Hashem. That’s how it is, Dovi; each flower blossoms at its own time. Some only in the spring, some only in sun, and some, like the night-flowering jasmine from that story I told you, blossom specifically at night.” She slowly closed the window.
Chaiky was in the kitchen, busy with her oven mitts and the glaze for the cookies, and she didn’t hear these final words. But she didn’t need to. Dawn was finally beginning to rise for her, and with it her hopes that she would never forget the pleasant scent of her very own night flower.