Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 10 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.
“I feel bad for Tzippy.”
Yaakov raised his head from the electric bill he was studying. “Huh?”
“I feel bad for Tzippy,” his wife repeated.
“Which other Tzippy would I be talking about?”
He folded the bill. “I guess it should be obvious that you mean your sister, but why do you feel bad for her? She’s a kallah, isn’t she?”
Miri tilted her chair back a bit, a habit she had not been able to kick since second grade. “Yes, she’s a kallah, and I think she’s very happy, baruch Hashem. But when I think about the financial situation in my parents’ house, which has gotten worse than it was before our wedding, I feel so torn for her. And that’s even with my mother’s new job. I’m not sure they will even be able to rent in Bnei Brak, and they’ll have to go live in some remote hole in the wall right after the wedding. And there’s no way to know when or how they will ever get an apartment of their own. I know my parents are very stressed out about the whole subject.” She fell silent for a minute and stared at the table.
“I’m not sure they even started doing any shopping, you know, kallah kind of shopping… I wish I could take her to Berman’s sale with about four thousand shekel in my wallet.”
Yaakov smiled. “Four thousand shekel? What will you buy with that? Towels with golden tassels?”
“Oh, Yaakov, you have no idea,” his wife said seriously. “Not golden tassels, but do you know how much a good set of linen costs? Our blue-green set cost about three hundred shekel, and it’s not even an expensive one. And you need quite a few towels, and that’s only one category. I haven’t even touched on sheva brachos outfits and some good weekday clothes, and pots and dishes for a starter kitchen, and a broom and dustpan and mop and pail and an ironing board. Oh, and what about appliances and furniture?”
“So four thousand shekel really isn’t enough for all that.”
“Right.” She brought the chair back into place. “But that was the number on my paycheck, so that’s what popped into my head.”
Yaakov was quiet for a long minute. “Would you want to give her the ma’aser?”
“That’s an idea,” she said slowly, turning over his words in her head. “Because when I told my mother about the linen sale in our building, she told me that she’s leaving that shopping for next month; that’s how it works for her to spread out the expenses. I’d be so happy to help out by buying Miri a set of linen, let’s say, or something like that. Am I allowed to do that, Yaakov? Even if I just present it like it’s a gift from me?”
“I think that’s what real hachnassas kallah is about,” he said. He stood up and stuck the electric bill into their drawer of documents. “What time is the sale going on until?”
“Today is the last day of it, so it’s until twelve. What time is it now?”
“Ten thirty. Quickly, call her, if that will make you feel good.”
“It really will. Thanks a lot for the idea.” She smiled at him and stood up to get the phone.
“Shuki? Hi, it’s Miri. How are you? When did you come home from yeshivah? Yes, I barely noticed what time it is… How was your day? Baruch Hashem, I’m happy to hear. Tell me, can Ima come to the phone?”
“She’s not home,” her fourteen-year-old brother replied. “You want to talk to Tzippy instead?”
“Ima’s not home? Where is she?”
“Dunno. Not in my pocket.”
“Fine, so let me speak to Tzippy.”
Tzippy picked up the phone sounding so deflated that her older sister felt the rush of compassion overwhelm her yet again. “How are you, kallah? Why do you sound so exhausted?” As she spoke, she nodded to Yaakov, as if to say, I was right; there’s what to feel bad for her about.
“I’m fine, baruch Hashem. Just tired,” Tzippy replied slowly.
“When did you finish school today?”
“So that’s not too bad. It’s early.”
“Yes, but I stopped in to visit Saba on the way home. I try to do that on my short days.”
“How is he?”
“Baruch Hashem, the usual. He listened to my stories about school, about the courses I’m taking, and a little about the wedding plans. I straightened up his room and wiped the place down with some normal cleaning spray I had brought with me. I can’t stand the smell of the cleaning stuff they use there.”
“You’re a good granddaughter, I have to say.”
Tzippy only smiled, but Miri couldn’t hear it, and the quiet grated on her ears. “So if you’re tired today,” she said cautiously, “I guess you weren’t up to going out to take care of errands or anything?”
“Well, when I got home I went to sleep, and then, when I got up at about five thirty, Ima wasn’t home anymore.” She fell silent for a minute and then continued, “Last night she also went out with Abba; I don’t know where to. I only know—” she could hardly get the words out—“…that they came back very tense. I didn’t hear a word they said, but I do know that they were talking a lot…”
Miri bit her lip and tried to inject some cheer into her voice. “Tell me, Tzip, did you start buying linen yet? Towels?”
“Because my neighbor downstairs is having a three-day sale in her house. I told Ima about it at the beginning of the week, and she said that she is planning to buy these things later on. But in the meantime, I want to buy you something, a gift from me. It will also be nice to give my neighbor the business. Are you up to coming over now?”
“Why not? Tonight is the last night of the sale, and she’s open until midnight. Check when you have a Number 2 bus, and come on over.”
“That’s very nice of you,” her sister replied, and Miri was relieved to hear that she sounded much more alert now. “Riki isn’t here, but Devoiry is. She can stay with everyone.”
“Great! I’m waiting for you!”
Nearly two hours later, Tzippy walked into the house with a large shopping bag. She found her parents in the kitchen, conversing quietly. They raised their eyes when she walked in.
“What’s doing?” Elisheva asked her daughter. Devoiry had filled her in on where Tzippy had gone. She felt a stab of remorse when she saw the sparkle in Tzippy’s eyes, the smile on her face, the spring in her step, as the kallah who was finally holding the beginnings of a trousseau in her hand. But it wasn’t the kallah’s mother who had generated that new burst of excitement… “Nu, did you find anything nice?”
“Yes, baruch Hashem!” Tzippy replied, and somewhat flustered, she pulled out the linen package from the bag. She showed her mother the pretty cream-and-mocha set, as well as a pair of beautiful rose-colored towels.
“Gorgeous!” Elisheva enthused. “That’s a very expensive gift, to the best of my knowledge.”
“Yes, I told Miri that I didn’t want to buy the towels too, because the linen cost enough; I heard the amount that her neighbor whispered to her… But she insisted that she had set aside a certain amount of money as a gift for me, and that she wouldn’t spend any less.” Tzippy stroked the satin edging on the towel. “So she didn’t give me much of a choice.”
“Are those towels Egyptian cotton?” Elisheva checked the label. The remorse she had felt had dissipated; it was no match for Tzippy’s smile. And if this whole Alexander Korman story was true, then she would have to start getting ready for Tzippy’s eyes to be constantly lighting up—even if she, Elisheva, was not the actual source of it. “Good. That’s very good quality stuff. Put it all in a bag on top of the closet in the bedroom, where no one can get to it.”
“Sure, that’s a good idea.” Tzippy packed the items back into the bag as Elisheva gazed at her lovingly. What difference did it make who did what, as long as her child was truly happy?
“What do you say, Abba?” Elisheva asked. “It’s a nice gift, isn’t it? Good for Miri.”
“Is this a professionally-run store? Do they give receipts?” Eliyahu asked in lieu of a reply.
Shimon walked into the small apartment and wiped his brow. None of those present noticed him through the thick cloud of cigarette smoke that hung in the room. Sitting at a desk at the entrance was Benny, scanning page after page, and storing all the information that was written there in his brilliant brain.
“Nu?” Shimon asked.
“Are you back?” Benny raised his eyes and then went back to his papers. “Good. Tomorrow night we need to get to the border again. Akiva says it’s a group of eleven children.”
“From a convent?”
“Yes, near Lublin.”
“Lublin! How are they getting a group from there to our border?”
“Don’t know,” Benny murmured. “I’m just thinking about the work we have to do here; I can’t think about how they are managing there. But so far they seem to be doing just fine, baruch Hashem.”
“Now tell me, how have we done twenty six transfers with Slovakia, but we missed one place here?”
“We did?” Benny put down his papers. “What did we miss?”
“The former Catholic orphanage, named for Lucius Jan.”
“Oh, that? Farash’s place? He’s a real anti-Semite and very pro-Nazi; there’s no one there. He refused to hide a single Jewish child; Bruno told me that. The Underground contacted him twice during the Nazi occupation, and he firmly refused.”
“But it’s worth checking into.” Shimon sat down and put his wallet on the table in a prominent place.
“Oh, your Communist friend! I forgot about him. What news does he have?”
“I’m coming from town hall. He told me last week about an inspection they were planning at the orphanage. I wasn’t familiar with the name of it, and I asked him to nose around a bit for me.”
“It’s possible that there is one Jewish child there.”
“How will we check it out?”
“Stachov will help us.”