Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 9 of 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.
“A wedding on Rosh Chodesh Teves. That is the only thing you have to do,” Rosenblit said as he took a binder out of his drawer that had apparently been waiting for this very moment. “He would also be happy to receive an invitation to the wedding, but it would be purely honorary. His health precludes him from traveling to Israel.” He pulled a page out of a sheet protector. “This is a copy of the contract,” he noted, and pushed it toward them.
“What about after the wedding? Is he going to have any other demands then?” Eliyahu examined the photocopied page. Elisheva also looked at it, but she couldn’t read anything. This was impossible. Actually, it was possible. It was a scam. It was real. Someone was deceiving them. This was the answer to her tefillos. It was too delusional to be real. It seemed reasonable and well founded. Rosenblit had even shown them copies of the Australian man’s ID documents.
“For example, will he want them to keep in touch with him?” Eliyahu, who was very grounded, and remained so now, was trying to choose his words carefully. “Even if he is Torah observant, as you say he is, I wouldn’t exactly want him to ‘adopt’ our couple. He won’t wake up one fine morning and demand that they fly out to Australia to him?”
“Nothing,” Rosenblit declared. “What’s important to him is the date of the wedding and the documents that affirm that. Everything is clearly stipulated here. If you ask me, it would be nice for the chassan and kallah to write him a nice thank you letter, but that’s a side point. He is not demanding it.”
“A thank you letter is the most basic decency. That’s not what we’re talking about. The question is if he is going to want to be involved in the young couple’s life or intervene about matters like buying the apartment, for example.”
“Look, Rabbi Potolsky.” The lawyer smiled. “I don’t give my children apartments. That’s not what we do in my circles. But if I was supposed to do that, and someone who is ninety years old generously offered to help me with it, I wouldn’t mind for him to get as involved as he wants! I mean, what can he ask already, at his age? That you send him pictures of the wedding? That you consult him before buying furniture? Speak to him before naming a child? And another point—and I’m not sure how proper it is for me to say this, but—for how many more years do you really think he’ll want to be involved?”
Eliyahu smiled and wanted to say something, but the lawyer continued. “But none of this is relevant anyway, because he isn’t demanding anything except for an accounting of expenses for the apartment, clothing, the wedding, and the rest. Take this contract, show it to whomever you want, consult with them, and with your mechutanim, of course, and let me know what you decide.”
“Stockhammer, your father is looking for you.”
“On the phone?” Peretz turned around to the row of public phones. How had his father been able to get through at this time of day, when all the bachurim were vying for a phone?
“No, outside.” Nosson Berliner motioned with his hand to someplace behind him. “I offered to take him to our room so he could wait for you there, but I think he wants to speak to you privately.” He chuckled. “That makes sense, doesn’t it?”
“I guess so,” Peretz said. He pressed his lips together. Since his first year in yeshivah, when his father had visited him once a week for the first six months, until he’d pleaded with his parents to stop, how often had his father come all the way from Petach Tikvah to see him in yeshivah? And at eleven at night?! A jumble of horrible thoughts, nightmarish stories about other chassanim that he had heard of, flashed through his mind—and all those scenarios had begun with the father coming to the chassan’s yeshivah to deliver the news about a catastrophic turn of events… Without his noticing it, his footsteps picked up speed, and less than a minute later, he was outside on the Jerusalem street, looking left and right. Where was his father?
And…oh, my, Ima had come along! She was standing at Abba’s side, with her ever-present large brown pocketbook, curiously surveying the street.
“How are you, Peretz?” Abba clapped him on the shoulder, and Ima waved to him. No, they did not look like they were being crushed by a terrible burden that they had come to share with him.
But they did look somewhat tense and preoccupied.
“Baruch Hashem, I’m doing great… I got scared when I heard you were here,” he said honestly.
“We should have visited you more these past few years, so that such a visit wouldn’t scare you,” his mother remarked, and then added a veiled barb: “Too bad you were embarrassed when Abba used to come…”
He smiled. “I’m happy whenever you come,” he said.
“Let’s sit down in a park somewhere,” his father requested. “Is there a place nearby, Peretz? Somewhere calm, quiet, where we can talk?”
“Sure. But what do you want to talk to me about?” Peretz led his parents over to the next block. It was hard to call the space a park, and even harder to deem it quiet, but that’s what there was in the area.
“I can take you someplace nicer,” he said as his parents sat down on the bench and his mother put down her bag. “But it’s further away. And I’m in too much suspense right now.”
“Oy, why?” his mother exclaimed. “You don’t have to be in suspense. What do you think we’ve come to tell you?”
“I don’t know.” Peretz sat down on the bench across from them.
Abba looked at Ima; she looked back at him. “Look, we’ve received a proposal and we’re deliberating whether or not to agree to it.” She was the one who began. “You know that I want you to have the nicest wedding in the world, right?”
He must have smiled without realizing it when he heard the familiar refrain, because his father’s eyes narrowed.
“Peretz,” he said in rebuke. “Yes, for years we have waited for this wedding. Ima is entitled to want to plan and wait for the wedding of her youngest child and only son. Why are you laughing?”
“Chas v’shalom!” Peretz shook his head. “I didn’t laugh. I just smiled, because we have been hearing about my wedding ever since I’m a little boy. But I so appreciate everything you do for me, Abba and Ima.”
“You’re a good boy,” his father said.
“Yes,” his mother murmured. “And your kallah is also a good girl, a very good girl, but there’s no way I can agree for you to get married in a shul. There’s nothing to talk about.”
“Get married in a shul? We booked a hall, didn’t we?”
“Yes, a cheap hall,” his father replied. “But they agreed to it. They are very special, these mechutanim, and you know that we didn’t have a lot of demands from them. We have experience with your three sisters, may their husbands be well. Thirteen years, and I’m still paying off the debts from Gitty’s wedding!”
“So if we’ve already booked a hall, why are you suddenly anxious that they want us to get married in a shul?”
“I wouldn’t call it anxious; it’s actually a very serious matter,” his father said. “We’ve just come from a meeting with the mechutanim.”
“They want to push up the wedding and make it in four weeks, and we’re not sure there will be a hall available for then. Tzippy’s mother suggested a small shul hall in their neighborhood.”
Then his mother interjected, “It would be one thing if I felt like their story is true, but something here…” She took a deep breath. “Something smells fishy to me.”
“And not that we think they are liars, chas v’shalom,” his father made sure to note. “But maybe they don’t realize themselves that this whole fantastical story is just one big scam.”
“Tell him,” his mother said. “He has daas Torah, our Peretz. Let’s see what he says.”
And that’s how Peretz heard, for the first time, the unbelievable story of Alexander Korman, the son of Peretz and Tziporah Genendel, Hy”d.
“It really does sound strange.” Peretz picked at a loose piece of paint on the bench. “That his parents had exactly the same names as us…very interesting. Tzippy’s parents are pretty reasonable people; they just accepted this so matter-of-factly?”
“Look, after everything is said and done, there is proof to all this,” his father said. “But what can I tell you…I still don’t fully buy it. They consulted Rav Gedaliah Weiss, they showed him the contract that we are all supposed to sign, and he said that it’s kdai and that there doesn’t seem to be anything to lose. There’s no risk here.”
“In my opinion,” Ima said, opening her bag and taking out a thermos and three paper cups, “getting us to speed things up and have the wedding in just a few weeks, and especially if that means that my son is going to get married in a shul…well, that sounds like a big risk to me.”
“And I personally don’t believe that a person would pay such a large amount of money without expecting anything in return. I’m not sure what he will want in exchange, and under which words in the contract he is hiding it.”
“In other words,” his mother said, “we don’t think so.”
Peretz looked first at his father and then at his mother. “Fine,” he said. “If you don’t think so, then no. I really don’t understand these things.”
“But do you think it’s right to reject such a good offer?” Bayla Stockhammer handed her son a cup of tea. “I mean, we’re talking about an apartment for you, a much better one than we and Tzippy’s parents can afford to give you.”
“And it would be in a great location, too,” his father added, almost as an aside.
“Sure, sure.” His mother filled a cup of tea for herself. “The problem is that I don’t believe the whole story. Avraham, I’m afraid that we’re going to get excited, and rush to marry them off in some miserable hall, and then we’ll be left with nothing to show for ourselves. I don’t know who this prankster is, but that’s what it sounds like to me, a prank. Drink, Peretz. Why aren’t you drinking? You, too, Avraham.”
Father and son made a brachah and sipped from their cups.
“If it would be possible to buy the apartment that he is promising even before the early wedding, I wouldn’t be so opposed,” Rabbi Stockhammer remarked. “After all, Bayla, the 200,000 NIS that we promised is sitting on my head like a tractor. Don’t listen, Peretz. But I wouldn’t object if someone would help me a bit with this. Not tzedakah,” he added hastily when he saw his wife’s scowl. “But what we’re talking about is a good thing, in memory of Jewish souls…”
“How do you want us to also buy an apartment in these few weeks?” She screwed the thermos cover back on. “I need to speak to the mechuteiniste. I want to tell her about an idea that just popped into my mind.”
“That instead of looking for a shul hall because the regular halls are all taken, let her find a hall that is not so booked with weddings. There are such things—very fancy halls, like where Greenzweig’s granddaughter got married.”
“That hall in Givatayim?” Her husband waved his hand. “Shoin, really. We’re going to bring in a special caterer and start schlepping all the guests to there?”
“What’s wrong? We’ll offer transportation. And you’d be surprised to see how many people will come just to see a wedding in such a gorgeous place.”
Peretz was quiet; he was well-raised enough to know not to interject into a discussion between his parents.
“They won’t agree,” Avraham said.
“Then I don’t agree to the whole idea of an early wedding, and goodbye to the whole thing.”
“For a wedding, one night, we should lose the whole deal?”
“Our Peretz is not a ‘deal.’” Bayla looked at her son’s pale face with a mixture of irritation and love. “And you also agreed that it’s a strange story.”
“That’s right, but I also say we have to look into it seriously. And you think that way, too, Bayla,” he added softly, “because otherwise, we would not have come all the way out to Yerushalayim and kept Peretz up until a quarter to twelve at night, right?”