The Cuckoo Clock – Chapter 14

July 15, 2019

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 14 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. 

 

“And then you’ll come, and you’ll give me more candies?” Edo asked as Emil led him along the darkened corridor. Emil put a finger to his lips and smiled at the little boy.

“And tell Gustav not to forget: before he comes, he should take his candies—you know, the ones you already gave him—out of the hiding place,” the child whispered. “He has a hiding place that’s only his, and only I know where it is. He keeps all kinds of things there, like food and candy. He always puts a little bread there for me, because there’s hardly any food, and once, the director caught him and beat him. So tell him he should bring the candies from there. He said that he’s keeping the candies for me also.”

“Shhhh…” This time, Emil placed his finger on Edo’s lips.

“Alright, I know how to be quiet,” the boy said, miffed, and fell silent.

Emil only smiled at him again. They reached the door of the building.

“Run to the gate,” the man whispered. “Quickly and quietly. A nice lady is waiting for you outside, and you should go with her.”

“Okay!” The boy forgot his injured pride and waved at the older man. “See you, Emil!”

Within three seconds, he was next to the well-trimmed tree just beyond the gate, and he stuck his head out to the street.

Ulush Cohen was there in a second. “Are you the cute little boy who is supposed to come with me now?” she asked. He nodded silently. “Come, let’s go to my house.”

They walked hastily, silently. Ulush lowered her eyes to the boy with the baby face. He was scratching his shorn head, looking very confused. She smiled at him again, but he didn’t return her smile. Had she taken the wrong child?

“Who told you to go to the gate?” she asked gently, stopping at the corner.

The boy’s eyebrows stiffened. “No one,” he said. “I just wanted to go because Emil said that you’ll give me candies.”

Her smile widened. Baruch Hashem, it was the right child. And thankfully, it was she who had asked the question and no one else. “That’s right,” she said, without knowing how she would procure candies. “I don’t have any at this moment, but afterward, you will come with me to a place where there are sweets, and good people who like you.”

He stared at her for a minute, and then shifted his eyes back to his shoes, taking step after step.

A car was waiting for them at the corner, as Janek had promised. Janek himself was seated behind the wheel, with one of his friends at his side. He waited in silence until Ulush and Edo were seated in the back seat. Only when the door closed and the car lurched forward, did he murmur, “Baruch Hashem.”

Baruch Hashem.”

“Was it alright?”

“All perfect.”

“No one saw you? No one asked anything?”

“No one asked a thing. Did anyone see? Well, I hope not. Tell me something.” She suddenly switched to Yiddish. “Who told you that he’s Jewish? His eyes, his hair… Is Emil positive that this is a Jewish boy?”

“Emil would not have put all of us, including himself, in danger if he wasn’t sure about it. He went into the office there and checked the documents. Edo is Jewish.”

The little boy smiled at the sound of his name, but a second later, his face grew somber again. “Jewish?” He touched his blond, closely-cut hair

“Yes, what do you say about that?” Janek asked him.

The question wasn’t worded clearly enough for the child, and he retreated into silence.

The man sitting next to Janek murmured something.

“He can come to us now, right, Ulush?”

“Yes, sure,” she said. “Do you want to come to my house, sweetie?” she asked the boy.

He nodded.

Again, Janek’s friend murmured something to Janek.

Janek turned to his wife. “The second one also, Ulush?”

“How old is he?”

“I don’t know exactly, and I don’t think there’s anyone who does know. Something like eight, maybe less, maybe more.”

“Fine,” she said. “We’ll find them a place to sleep.”

***

Ulush looked at the two children sitting quietly on her pair of floral armchairs. The younger one leaned on the side of the chair so that he was closer to his older friend. “You’re not brothers, are you?” she asked in a friendly tone.

“No,” the one who had introduced himself as Gustav said.

“Because you look a bit alike. Your eyes are the same color.” She served them a plate with a few slices of cake on it.

“I’m like his brother,” Gustav said, his mouth full of cake crumbs. “And I told Emil that he’s also Jewish, and that you should take him and find his mother and father also.”

Janek approached. “Yes, Emil told me how responsible you are.” He was holding two white papers in his hand. “He took this from the office of your orphanage,” he said. “These are the only documents you have. The orphanage gave you the name Gustav, right?”

“Yes,” the boy said, eyeing the cake plate “But I don’t remember how old I was when I came there.”

“Is it possible that this was your real name?” Janek placed another slice of cake in Gustav’s hand.

The boy’s forehead creased. “No,” he said slowly, “because Theodore once told me that he had a little son whose name was Gustav, and that he died a long time ago. The director told him to call me by that name.” He looked at the cake in his hand. “He found me near the gate and saved my life, and gave me a new name, Gustav.”

“Who, the director?”

“No, the director wouldn’t have saved me. Theodore.” He took a big bite of the slice of cake, and then another one. When he’d finished the piece, he added proudly, “He also agreed to take Edo in, and to watch him. It was only because I begged him to take Edo.”

“Good for you!” Janek smiled warmly at him. “So you really are like Edo’s brother. You saved his life! But before we talk about Edo, tell me some more about yourself. You say that you once had another name?”

“Yes.”

“And how old were you when Theodore found you?”

“Theodore says I was about three.” Gustav gazed at him with his gray eyes.

“That’s what he writes on the form. Do you think that he ever met your parents?”

“Don’t know.”

“And do you remember anything…” Janek paused for a moment. Ulush hastily whispered something in Yiddish, and he answered her. Then he continued: “Do you remember anything about your father or mother? What they did? What your family name was?”

Gustav was very quiet for a long minute.

Janek leaned toward him. “Did you have sisters? Brothers?”

Still the boy was quiet. He stuck his hand out to the plate to take another slice of cake.

“Uncles? Aunts?”

“I don’t know,” he said finally, dully. Ulush said something again, this time louder, and Janek’s leathery hand stroked Gustav’s cheek gently. He stopped asking questions.

***

Something about the ringing of the phone heralded bad news as soon as it broke through the silence. Elisheva didn’t know why, but it made her freeze in her tracks. A moment later, the gears of her brain seemed to thaw, and she reached out to answer it.

“Hello?” Her voice sounded a bit tremulous.

“Hello, this is Chanan Braunstein from Bank Pagi.”

“Yes?” She could barely get the word out.

“Can I ask for an explanation about your exorbitant spending in recent weeks?”

“What?” she whispered.

He raised his voice. “I’d like an explanation for these exorbitant expenses. Large withdrawals, checks that we have no choice but to send back, and in four days, your overdraft has inflated to twenty five times your regular credit line. You realize that we will not allow this to continue even one more day. I am asking you to come in urgently, today, with at least eighty thousand shekels in cash, and to make order in this account so that we don’t have to take any measures that are unpleasant for all involved.”

“No…no!” Elisheva found her voice. “It…it can’t be!”

What can’t be?”

“Five days ago, one hundred and eighty thousand shekels were deposited in our account, and even with all the expenses, we should still have a nice amount of money left there.”

“What?” Something in the hardness of his voice and the intensity of his confidence wavered for a moment. She heard the tapping of a keyboard. “I see no such thing.”

“On…it was on Monday. No, wait, maybe it was Tuesday…”

“Ma’am, no such amount was deposited in your account, not on Monday, not on Tuesday, and not on any day in the last month or the last year. You’ve been hovering around zero for a long time already.”

“Maybe my husband withdrew the whole amount this morning?”

“No.” The bank clerk’s patience was wearing thin. “There was never any such sum, Mrs. Potolsky. No one withdrew it, because it was never deposited. It just didn’t happen.”

“But we called the bank ourselves and heard that it was there! It was a special grant, and yes, it was very unusual for our account, but I am sure that it was deposited there!”

“I don’t know who managed to hoodwink you like that—” something about his tone softened suddenly—“but it must have all been some kind of trick. Now I am asking you to come right away and take care of this mess.”

It’s a dream. It’s a dream. It’s a bad dream.

“It can’t be,” she muttered, in total shock. But Mr. Chanan Braunstein had finished saying his piece and hung up.

She had to call Eliyahu. And to reach Tzippy, who had gone out with the other girls to a gown rental. And the mechuteiniste. She wondered what was happening in the Stockhammers’ account.

She just had to remember not to mention specific amounts, because Peretz’s mother did not know that they had gotten three times as much as the Stockhammers had received. Actually, it seemed they hadn’t gotten anything, but you don’t take chances with your future mechutanim’s feelings. Resentment about the “imbalance” could fester for a long time.

And as she was planning the words that she would and would not say to her mechuteiniste, Elisheva woke up from the nightmare.


The Cuckoo Clock – Chapter 13

July 8, 2019

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 13 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. 

 

Bratislava 5708/1948

 

Ulush Cohen was wiping the small kitchen table when she heard her husband’s footsteps outside, accompanied by another set of footsteps. She quickly opened the pantry to see if they had enough ingredients for lunch.

When she heard the knock, she closed the pantry and hurried to the door. “Welcome,” she said, and then moved aside. Janek walked in with two guests; she knew them already from previous visits. He saw the look of distress in her eyes as she glanced at the pantry, and quickly murmured, “They won’t be eating lunch with us.”

“I can run down to the store,” Ulush replied quietly.

“No, no, this is really a short meeting relating to something we’d rather not discuss in the office.”

“I understand.” She went back to the kitchen and her wet rag, glancing over her shoulder. From the doorway she could look into the living room and see the edge of their floral armchair, as well as some of the dining room table. Someone sat down on the chair, and an ashtray was put on the table.

“It’s two days already…”

“The lists are closed….”

“…Cooperating nicely.”

“Another child…”

She tugged at her kerchief, opened the window to try and ward off the cigarette smoke that would inevitably waft in very soon, and took a few potatoes out of the pantry. Her husband didn’t share information about his activities and various smuggling operations, and it was better that way. He explained to her that this way, both of them were safer. But now things sounded really serious. They’d never come here to plan their next operation.

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NEW RELEASE: Highways and Byways

July 2, 2019

Highways and Byways

 The phenomenon isn’t a new thing: an elderly person retires, and that’s when he starts to deteriorate. His health declines; he becomes withdrawn; his energy seems to wane… As much as waking up early and running to your job each day can be stressful and exhausting, it’s no secret that the sense of purpose and accomplishment that hard work perpetrates is what helps keep many people young and energetic.

But it’s not always the person who retires himself. So often it’s the employer or company who wants young blood, which ultimately results in the old zeidy finding himself summarily fired from the position he’d held for decades…

That’s what made me so overawed when I read the story “Bubby at Work,” in C. Rosenberg’s newest book, Highways and BywaysThis is a book of true short stories, so I knew that the account that I’d read really DID occur.

Yaakov was an administrator of a busy institution, whose elderly mother worked for him. As his mother entered her eighties, she developed dementia and began to make many mistakes at work, but Yaakov nevertheless kept her at her job, no matter what those mistakes cost him. And this setup continued for years. Yes, it entailed endless damage control on Yaakov’s part, but his sense of kibbud eim would not allow him to have it any other way.

In Yaakov’s own words (excerpted from the book):

 I cannot, and will not, hire someone to take over Ma’s duties. That will be a slap in her face. However delicately it is done, Ma will know that someone is stepping on her toes. Even I, who have taken to checking in on Ma’s work, run circles to make sure that she doesn’t catch on that I am looking over her shoulder. When she is at her desk, I go to the kitchen; when she is in the kitchen, I speak with vendors.

My workload has doubled—perhaps even tripled. I have my own work, Ma’s work, and damage control in areas where Ma’s dementia messes up… But there is no way to convince Ma to retire; she refuses to take even one day off.

So faithfully, I continue bringing Ma into work every day. Day in, day out. So that she can continue doing what she loves most—feeling useful.

Reading this story, all I could think was—Wow! What a kiddush Hashem. What a paradigm of how to show proper respect to one’s parents.

And then I turned the page and read the next story—“Stranded.” This one was about a chassan and kallah who couldn’t make it to their out-of-town Shabbos sheva brachos in time due to terrible traffic on the highway, and had to stop in a random city for Shabbos. The family they stayed at turned out a magnificent Shabbos sheva brachos for them, even on such short notice. The chassan and kallah were truly made to feel like the celebrities they were, even without having their parents, families, and friends in attendance there.

Another mi k’amcha Yisrael story!

The more stories I read in Highways and Byways, the more inspired I became. Again, because these are all true stories, some of them thought-provoking, some of them incredibly uplifting; but all of them good, high-quality reading.

If you’re looking for a good book to read during these long, lazy summer days, Highways and Byways is an excellent choice!

 

Click here to purchase online.

 


The Cuckoo Clock – Chapter 12

July 1, 2019

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 12 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. 

 

As Elisheva was cajoling Shuki Rosen to finish his bottle, Miri appeared at her side.

“Miri!” Elisheva exclaimed. “What a surprise! What are you doing here? Where is Shmuelly?”

“I left him with my neighbor for half an hour. I just needed to come and talk to you face to face.”

“What?” Elisheva looked piercingly at her daughter. “Why? Did something happen?”

“That’s what I came to ask you, Ima.” Her oldest smiled sheepishly as she sat down on a nearby chair. “Please, just tell me the truth, okay?”

“What truth?”

“Is everything okay at home?”

“At home?”

“You know, with Tzippy, with you, with Abba, with the rest of the kids…”

Baruch Hashem, everything is absolutely fine.” Elisheva put the now-empty bottle down on the table, picked up Shuki, and lay his head down on her shoulder. “Totally fine. And I have a few interesting things to tell you about, but I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.” She smiled again. “I saw that you tried reaching me yesterday, but we got home late and it was just so hectic. You know how the house looks in the evening, especially when I come home after being out for a few hours…”

“I know,” Miri replied quietly. After a pause she asked, “You…were you…offended by my gift to Tzippy or something? Was something not right about me calling her up and taking her out to a sale without asking you?”

“What? Of course not! Tzippy was so happy, and it was so very nice of you.” Elisheva stood up with Shuki in her arms. “The linen that you bought looks like it’s very good quality, and the towels are beautiful.”

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