Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 11 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.
The young man who regularly came to care for the trees on Ourdwe Street, including the branches at number 8, caught the attention of the children in the orphanage. He was blond haired, with sparkling eyes and a ready grin. He sang while he worked, and most importantly, he would toss small lollipops at the children at a time when there wasn’t a candy to be found in the orphanage kitchen. Slowly the children began to approach him. “What’s your name?” one little boy dared ask.
“Emil-Emil-Emil,” the children chanted as they sucked happily on their lollipops.
“What are you singing?” another boy tried.
“Nice songs,” the gardener replied. “And what’s your name?”
Some of the boys only nodded bashfully but didn’t say a word, especially the younger ones. The tree man would smile, wave at them, and move on to the next part of the street.
He continued coming at least twice a week, and in time Theodore noticed him and began observing him from the window of the office.
“I’m wondering about that man,” he said one day to Farash, who was seated behind him. “Since Lucio left, we have a problem with the evening hours. What do you say, should we try offering him a job?”
Farash raised his head from the daily paper. “You can try,” he murmured.
Theodore watched the man on the sidewalk for another long moment, and then stood up decisively from his desk and strode out of the office. He hurried down the path to the main entrance of the orphanage, and the children scurried out of the way for him.
“Who are you, sir?” he asked the gardener as he opened the gate, offering the man a firm and authoritative handshake.
“I’m Emil Bern.”
“And your job is,,,?”
“I deal with gardening and street cleaning for the municipality.”
“I see you have a way with children.”
Emil Bern shrugged and smiled.
“I’m Theodore, from the Lucius Jan Children’s Orphanage. I’d like to offer you a job as our evening supervisor. It might not be the easiest job, but it’s not a very difficult one either, and you seem to be the type who would really enjoy it. You would have to make sure that the children eat supper properly, get ready for bed, and go to sleep on time. And then you would need to supervise for the next two hours to make sure it stays quiet, until the nighttime supervisor arrives.”
The municipal worker fingered his lower lip. “Could be,” he conceded. “I think I would like such a job, but I have to find out if I can move up my shift on the streets to earlier in the day. The way it is now, sometimes it stretches into late evening.”
“So please, check and get back to me about it.”
“I like that Emil.” Edo, sitting on the windowsill, swung his legs and sucked hard on his lolly. “Do you?”
“Hey, he didn’t give you a lolly?” the younger boy fretted.
“Of course he did.”
At the same moment, Emil walked into the smoky office of the Jewish organization.
“Nu?” Benny asked from the desk.
“What nu? Nu-nu. Baruch Hashem! I didn’t think things would turn out quite this beautifully.”
“Well, I thought I would help out there with the gardening, and I would try to find reason to enter the actual courtyard and maybe even the building. I would befriend the boys a bit, and then slowly I would try to get out a bit of information from them. Instead, they handed me the opportunity on a silver platter! They offered me an evening job in the orphanage.”
Benny’s head snapped up. “Wow, that’s wonderful!” he said.
“Finally, I can see your face! Yes, so it is wonderful, but there’s only one problem: if I work there and become a familiar face, I won’t be able to remain in Pressburg after I get the boy out. They will look for me, and when they find me, the gardener’s certificate that Shimon’s Stachov arranged for me won’t help.”
“So we’ll send you to Budapest, or Vienna, wherever you want, to help the smuggling operations there. Eventually, we’re all planning to leave anyway. It’s not stable here; the vodka smells more and more Communist with every day that goes by.”
The next day, Emil returned to the orphanage with a positive answer: yes, he wanted the job. Theodore brought him into the large house and took him on a tour. The children cavorted around them and Emil winked at them, pointing to his full pockets and nodding with a broad smile, until Theodore sent them all off to their rooms.
Somehow, after another decisive meeting at Rosenblit’s office, the mood improved significantly. They all agreed that the best thing would be to open an account from which they would be able to withdraw funds as they needed. But because the whole process of opening the account and issuing checks and a credit card would take time, and time was a commodity they did not have right now, the lawyer made two bank transfers for sixty thousand shekels. One was to the Stockhammers’ account, and one was to the Potolskys’ account.
“For the wedding expenses and the shopping, even before the apartment,” Rosenblit explained. “What I am asking, of course, is that you send me itemized receipts once a week. That is my client’s very reasonable request. The money that is not used will be returned to him. Tomorrow, go and open a bank account, order checks and a credit card, and we’ll be able to proceed.”
After the Potolskys and Stockhammers left the office, and each of them called the bank and heard that the transfer had indeed arrived, their smiles grew wider, and less tense. Peretz’s parents, who were representing their son, returned to Petach Tikvah after announcing that they would take care of finding a hall and making the wedding arrangements. The Potolskys returned to Bnei Brak on the 161 bus.
As they were driving into Bnei Brak, Eliyahu got a call from the lawyer. “I’m sorry, Rabbi Potolsky,” he said. “I misunderstood the fax that Korman sent me. I was supposed to put more money into your account, because you have more expenses, naturally. I hope that you’re not angry with me. I put the extra money into your account now.”
“I was actually surprised,” Elisheva said quietly, after Eliyahu had concluded the conversation with effusive thanks. “Even without the apartment, marrying off a daughter is much more expensive than marrying off a son. I was wondering about the identical sum.” Tzippy was quiet, completely overwhelmed.
Eliyahu called the bank again. “One hundred and eighty thousand,” he uttered slowly, as his lips turned up in a dazed smile. “Three times as much as them. The question is if the mechutanim have to know that we got more, or if he played this out on purpose like this to prevent tension between us.”
“We don’t have to run to tell them,” Elisheva said sagely, after she recovered from the news. “We can always say that he gave us more, later. We don’t have to report it right now.” Yes, it was clear that “paying for the wedding expenses” meant just that, but to clearly hear these astronomical sums being credited to their account was a whole different story.
Eliyahu got off near the kollel, while Elisheva and Tzippy continued on toward the house. “One second,” Elisheva said, as they passed by the Hatzorfim window. “Maybe we should get off and buy the chassan a menorah here? Look, the Chanukah sales are starting.”
Tzippy certainly did not object.
They got off the bus and walked into the store.
“Are the presents during the engagement included in the deal?” Tzippy asked as they meandered among the glistening display cases. Her eyes were actually glued to the candlestick display.
“Yes, that was clearly written in the agreement with Korman.” Elisheva followed her daughter’s gaze. “There are gorgeous candlesticks here,” she said. “Though I have no idea what size your mother-in-law wants to get for you… Look, I think we’ll buy a nice menorah, maybe a bit more than what we would have been able to allow ourselves, but we shouldn’t go overboard. You understand what I mean?”
“On the other hand, if your mother-in-law decides that if she can, then she is going to choose, let’s say, this style of candlesticks,” she pointed to a huge set, “then our menorah might look very puny next to their gift, right?”
Tzippy considered this. “I guess so.”
“It could be embarrassing for us, and also, they might be hurt or angry about it. Like, I could hear them saying that as long as we couldn’t afford it, they’d be fine with any gift we got them, but now,” Elisheva had trouble saying the words, “now that we are not paying for it, why are we still doing only the bare minimum? What is this; we don’t think the chassan deserves more? You hear what I’m saying, Tzippy?”
“Yes, Ima, I do, and I think we have to speak to them directly about this,” Tzippy said.
“Right.” And although Elisheva did not really feel like doing it, she took her phone out. “Hey, I didn’t switch the ringer back on from after the meeting at the lawyer. Nine missed calls! Two from home, and based on the time, they’re from before Riki and Devoiry came home; one from someone at the day care center; five from Miri; and one from your mother-in-law. Let’s call her back first and see what she wants.”
“Maybe she wants to ask us about candlesticks that she happens to be looking at right now in a store in Petach Tikvah!” Tzippy grinned at the thought.
They walked out of the store without buying anything and called Tzippy’s mother-in-law back. No, Peretz’s mother did not want to ask them about silver; she actually wanted to talk about towels. She was in a linen store now, and they had some great sales going on, and would Tzippy let her buy some gorgeous towels for her on her own? And it was funny how they were all still automatically looking out for sales, wasn’t it? So, was Tzippy okay with it? Yes, Tzippy was fine with it. Oh, and there was also a really nice set of oven mitts and a beautiful trivet; could she buy those, too? Great. And after this store, she would be going home to get on the phone with some halls, and they’d see if they could find a good hall still available. If not somewhere close by, maybe they could try a hall in Yerushalayim or Modi’in Illit.
What, silver? Oh, they should stick to the regular standards that everyone bought; no, she didn’t know what the price range was today; her youngest daughter had gotten married quite a few years ago, and the price of silver changed all the time. But she knew the sizes. And with gifts for the chassan, she also felt that they shouldn’t buy anything too fancy and eye-popping, because someone was giving all this to them as a gift, and it just wouldn’t be right to overdo things.
“At least no one will be ashamed to exchange any of the gifts, if they don’t like it,” she said, laughing, at the end of the conversation. “And the other side will just add some money, if necessary, and choose something else that they do like. We can afford to be generous now, can’t we?”
Right, right. How pleasant it was to converse with the mechuteiniste without the issue of money hanging over their heads like a black cloud! Elisheva was so engrossed in the conversation that she did not even notice the call-waiting beep from Miri.