Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 1 a new online serial novel, The Cuckoo Clock, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
“I’m going to warm up the bottles. Should I make you a cup of tea, Elisheva?”
Elisheva stopped rocking the playpen for a moment. “Yes, Gitty, thanks.”
“In a minute she’ll fall asleep, and then we’ll be able to sit down for a few minutes together,” Gitty, her coworker, said. “How much sugar in your tea?”
“One teaspoon.” Elisheva flashed her friend a grateful smile, which did not convey the fact that she didn’t have too much patience today to sit and chat about this and that.
Gitty had been right. After another minute of Elisheva rocking the playpen, she began to hear deep breathing sounds coming from it, indicating that Ruchie, the fifth baby under her care, had fallen asleep.
In the second row, where Gitty’s charges lay, it had been quiet for more than five minutes already. Only she, Elisheva, was still running around, putting in a pacifier here, picking up a baby for a hug there, rocking lightly, or tucking in a blanket. It wasn’t so pleasant, taking into account that Gitty was at least seventeen years younger than her and had only one little boy of her own, while she, the mother of thirteen children, was having trouble coping with the multitude of tasks that were part and parcel of taking care of several little ones at the same time.
“It’s all a matter of getting used to it,” Mrs. Gottlieb, the day-care center director, had told her when she’d hired her. “You have the experience, baruch Hashem, but dealing with several little babies at once is something that even experienced mothers find difficult. Ask anyone who has triplets…and I’m talking about a group of five babies here!”
Elisheva had replied that yes, sure, she understood, and b’ezras Hashem she would make every effort to integrate and to invest her all into taking care of each child.
Baruch Hashem she was doing well—that was true. But next to Gitty, who was already working here for four years, though in terms of age could almost be Elisheva’s daughter, she sometimes felt a bit strange and inferior.
The younger woman came back from the kitchen with a small tray containing two cups of tea and some cookies.
“That’s it?” she asked. “She fell asleep?”
“Baruch Hashem,” Elisheva replied as she sat down at the table in the corner of the room. “Thanks, this was so nice of you…”
She slowly made a brachah and sipped the tea. It was hot and sweet, just the way she liked it. She glanced at her watch. It was 11:15 a.m. already.
“My Baruch has a virus,” Gitty shared with her. “My husband took him to kollel with him; I had no other choice. I hope it will be alright… Just this morning his developed a fever and was throwing up. I couldn’t tell Mrs. Gottlieb that I wasn’t coming in, just a few minutes before I was supposed to be here. I also couldn’t bring a sick two-year-old child here with me.” She broke her cookie in half. “I hope everything is okay.” She glanced at her phone and shook her head. “No missed calls.”
Elisheva, who did not usually like it when people fiddled with their phones while they were having a personal conversation, was relieved that now she, too, could glance at her phone and check for missed calls. But no, her phone did not indicate that anyone had tried calling her.
She put the phone down on the shelf. “It’s one of the things that I found hard about going back to work,” she said as she sipped her tea. “The fact that I’m not in charge of my own time anymore. Suddenly there are urgent things that need to be done, things I need to take care of…but I can’t, because I’m here instead.” She smiled. “I don’t want to say I’m stuck, because I feel like I shouldn’t complain. Baruch Hashem I found a good job that I’m happy with; at my age it’s not so simple to go back to the workforce, especially when my training in most fields is about zero.”
“You used to be a preschool teacher, didn’t you?”
“A thousand years ago,” Elisheva said with a laugh. She glanced at her phone again. She didn’t want to call them, but why weren’t they calling her yet?! What was going on there?
“How many years were you a preschool teacher?”
“Ten years. When my oldest was ten and I had eight children, the school I worked for closed down. It worked out very well for me to stay home and live off the severance pay I received. Then, eventually, I began to look for work. I didn’t really find anything, and my husband and I saw how good it was that I wasn’t working out of the house. So I lowered my job search to a minimum. Then, baruch Hashem, the next few children were born quite close together, and by that point, I was staying home by choice.” She smiled. “Today, I’m trying to be young again.”
Gitty was tactful enough not to ask why; it was possible that the simple answer rose in her mind even without her asking. But even if she would have asked, she wouldn’t have gotten an answer, because at that moment, Elisheva got the call she had been desperately waiting for.
“Hello?” she said tensely. “What’s going—a boy? A boy! Mazel tov! Baruch Hashem! How did it go? You sound great, Miri! How do you feel? How is the baby?” As if of their own accord, tears began rolling down from her eyes. “The kids will be thrilled…I’ll see when I can leave, and as soon as I can, I’m coming over to you… Feel good, Miri!”
“Your daughter?” Gitty asked as Elisheva hung up.
“Yes. She had a boy. Our first grandchild!” Elisheva’s eyes sparkled.
“Wow, mazel tov! Today’s grandmothers are so young… Now I understand what you meant before about having a hard time not being in charge of your own time. You weren’t with her, huh?”
“I was there until 7:30 this morning, and then I ran over here,” Elisheva said, gazing into her cup of tea. “But like I told you before about work, I really can’t complain. Look, my daughter Miri had a boy, a healthy child, baruch Hashem, and I…” A tear fell right into the teacup. She laughed and pushed the cup away. “I got something so sweet! There’s no way I’m going to kvetch if there was a drop of saltiness that got mixed into it.”
“What happened, Elisheva? You sound really excited about something!” Mazal, the teacher of the toddler group, was standing at the door.
“She just had a grandson!” Gitty explained in a hushed voice. If Mazal had heard the minor commotion on the phone, then talking any louder was certainly liable to wake up some of the children.
Within a few minutes, the whole staff heard the good news, and a flurry of hugs and warm wishes followed, as one by one each woman found a free moment to come and wish mazel tov to the new grandmother. True, Elisheva was new at the day-care, but she’d been there long enough for the others to see what a pleasant and relaxed personality she was, and she had quickly become well-liked.
Even Mrs. Gottlieb came in to say that if things were calm, and Gitty was willing to take over for her, Elisheva could leave five to ten minutes early. Elisheva thanked her gratefully—and right at that moment, the Dvir twins woke up together. Elisheva hurried over, mentally saluting their mother, for the hundredth time, for managing with these babies at home. At the age of eight months, the twins still didn’t sleep more than two hours straight, and when they woke up, it was always, always together.
So she would leave a few minutes early and run to the hospital, and before that, she’d call the house to tell the news to whoever came home first…was it Chani today? And she would ask her to warm up lunch for everyone. She would also call her father; she hoped he would be able to hear her well through the phone. He would surely be excited. And the children would be ecstatic, and would start making plans about the shalom zachor, and the bris, and everything else that was involved in the birth of a new baby…
She passed a hand over her forehead, and without noticing, her movements grew slower and more sluggish.
“So, is there a name in the family that everyone’s expecting the baby to receive?” Gitty asked. Her little break was also over, and she was feeding a blue-eyed, very alert little boy.
“Yes, there is someone,” Elisheva said tersely.
“My father-in-law, alav hashalom.”
“So your husband will surely be very excited about this, huh?”
“Sure.” Elisheva smiled, but the smile didn’t iron out the creases on her forehead. “Baruch Hashem.”
Gitty looked at her for a long moment and then decided to back off. She continued attending to the children, who were waking up one after another, but every so often she glanced over at Elisheva. Something had changed suddenly; she seemed tense and preoccupied. She was acting normal, or at least almost normal—she sang to the babies, fed them, and laughed at their antics—but the crease between her eyes didn’t move from its place.
In the end, Gitty just couldn’t contain herself. “Elisheva!” she said, sounding almost like she was scolding her. “You just had a grandson!”
“I didn’t forget.” Elisheva smiled, but the smile wasn’t completely happy. There was also rebuke in her tone—and a warning: Don’t preach to me, young lady, whose whole life is still ahead of her.
The warning didn’t help. “I’m glad you didn’t forget—because it sure looks like you did.” Gitty approached Elisheva, wondering how to sound supportive but not nosey, and asked, “Is everything okay?”
“Baruch Hashem. The baby is healthy.”
Elsiheva waved her hand, trying to appear nonchalant. “If it was a girl, it would have been easier for me, that’s all.” She picked up the Dvir twin who was crying again. “But baruch Hashem, we are only grateful, believe me.”
Gitty didn’t understand why having a boy first in the family was less preferable than having a girl, but decided now that she’d better clamp down on her curiosity. She didn’t say anything, and Elisheva, who already regretted her revealing remark a hundred times, was relieved at the pause in the interrogation, and didn’t offer another word. What would Gitty think? That she wanted a girl so they could name her after her mother, aleha hashalom? Elisheva would have been very happy if that would have happened, but she hadn’t exactly pinned high hopes on Miri that she would call a daughter of hers Treina.
So they would name the baby Shmuel, after her father-in-law, who had passed away seven months ago. He had been a good man, a generous person, known for his placid nature. Eliyahu would be overjoyed.
And she? She would suppress all her worries, because as Eliyahu told her, worries wouldn’t solve the problems anyway. If Eliyahu was always able to be as placid and tranquil as his father, then she could also make the effort. Especially in light of the fact that little Shmuel would surely remind her, with his very presence, of what her father-in-law would always say: Hashem planned our path in life in the best possible way. We just need to daven so that the miracles can come down to the world.
A generation goes, and a generation comes, and now new Shmuels were coming down to the world.
behind the red wooden door.