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?”
“Is everything okay 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.”
“So what happened?” Miri leaned back in the chair a bit just as Gitty walked in with a stack of diapers in her arms. She greeted Miri cheerfully and began arranging the stack on the shelf on her right. “Because when Tzippy came back it was very late, and I didn’t want to call, but I thought…” She looked really miserable. “I thought that you would call me.”
“I really should have.” Now it was Elisheva’s turn to look sheepish. She felt even more uncomfortable than her daughter—both because Miri was right about expecting some warm words of appreciation for her gesture, and also because Gitty was standing right there and surely listening very attentively. “But that evening Abba and I had to sit down and have a serious talk with Tzippy about something, and when we finished it was even later than late.”
“I see,” Miri said slowly. “Tzippy told me that she thinks there’s something going on…”
Ima turned around to her suddenly, and she fell silent, getting the message from Ima’s eyes.
Shuki fell asleep on Elisheva’s shoulder, and she carefully transferred him to a crib. “That’s how it is; it’s just a really busy time right now, baruch Hashem.” She went from crib to crib, checking on each of the babies. “Have you really forgotten what I was like before your wedding?” She laughed, and Miri joined her. So did Gitty.
“Oh, my, it’s late!” Miri stood up quickly, and Elisheva noticed that she was not quite reassured. Of course, she hadn’t gotten satisfactory explanations for her very justified questions, but she would get them soon.
“I’ll walk you back. Gitty, can you keep an eye on my group for five minutes?”
“Sure, sure,” her colleague replied amenably.
“Then you didn’t answer my calls all day,” Miri continued as they walked to the door, as though there hadn’t been a gap in their previous conversation. “And in the afternoon Devoiry said you were resting, and then when I called back, you weren’t home, and no one knew where you had gone with Tzippy. You didn’t answer your cell phone even when I kept trying you on it…” Her voice fading out uncertainly.
“I want you to come over tonight,” Elisheva said by way of a reply. She would have to manage to find some time to talk to Miri. She would go out with Tzippy early, first to Sternbuch’s bridal salon to look at gowns, then to her father at the nursing home—which she hoped to get to in time for supper—and then to the Kurzmann real estate agency, and after that, maybe even to two home-based stores. That would be enough for one day. “Come for supper with Yaakov. But late, like eleven, okay? I’ll tell you about everything that’s going on. It’s not such a long story, but it’s incredible—and so full of siyata d’Shmaya.”
Reb Menachem Auerbach’s gemach officially closed each evening at ten, but in actuality, he only managed to get home after eleven.
Drained, he sat at the table and ate supper, leafing through his two blue notebooks and listening with half an ear to his wife and daughter talking. Rivka placed some more squash quiche and carrots on his place and sat down. She sat in silence for several long moments, until he raised his eyes.
“Everything is delicious,” he said, pushing the notebooks to the side.
“Thanks,” she said, but did not smile. “Avigail, do you want to eat something?”
“No thanks. After all that running around, I don’t have much of an appetite,” she said, and left the room.
“Look, Menachem.” Rivka sighed. “You know that I don’t usually get involved in the affairs of your gemach, and I trust you one hundred percent. But you also know that I have a good sense of intuition, right?”
He nodded; she had his full attention now.
“I’m the one who told you that Potolsky from Rabi Akiva Street is fine, before they came to ask for a loan for their oldest daughter’s wedding, a year and a half ago.”
“And three weeks ago he came again, for the daughter who is in Avigail’s class,” he noted.
“Right, she got engaged two days after Avigail, and I think they’re getting married around the same time, middle of Shevat or so. Before the Yamim Tovim I met the mother, and we were schmoozing. She started working recently, after being a stay-at-home mother for many years.”
“Right.” Menachem fought the instinct to open one of his notebooks. He knew that his wife could not stand his obsessive need to have his lists open in front of him at almost all times. “They are serious people, and they try very hard to make their payments on time.”
“Yes,” he answered. “Why?”
“So, it’s like this…” She groped around for the right words. “When I was with Avigail this evening at her gown fitting, we met them there, Tzippy Potolsky and her mother. And…they were going for a top-of-the-line gown, nothing less.”
“Yes. Not that they were purposely looking for that standard, but they didn’t even react when the owner told them that one of the gowns they were interested in is a very expensive piece.”
“Like we did,” Avigail said from the door.
“Avigail?” her father chided, the rebuke evident in his voice.
“I think that it’s l’toeles, Abba. And I wasn’t eavesdropping on purpose.” His daughter walked into the kitchen. “I just want you to understand the situation. Tzippy really gets by with very little, but she has good taste, and somehow, even with her family’s limited means, she manages to look very good.” She pulled over a chair.
“So what are you trying to say?” He opened the notebook. “That they have money, and they’re just taking loans from the gemach for no reason? That they don’t have money, and they are wasting the gemach money and won’t repay the loan? Tell me—what?”
“All I want to say is that something is strange here,” his wife said quietly. “I don’t think that with all of Tzippy’s good taste, Mrs. Potolsky would let her take a dress at such an exorbitant price if she couldn’t afford to pay for it. I know her; she is someone who, with a lot of good sense, is able to manage her house very well on an extremely tight budget. I mentioned already that I recommended that you approve their loan.”
“Nu, so what?” Women! They talked so much. What did they want from him if there didn’t seem to be any danger to the loan? “Maybe,” he had a sudden idea, “maybe the chasan’s mother is paying for the dress, and she gave the kallah a big budget!”
“Maybe,” Rivka said doubtfully. “But I don’t think so, because their mechutanim are the Stockhammers from Petach Tikvah. They are also mechutanim with Brander from Har Nof, and I don’t think that they have enough money to enable their kallah to rent the latest, most expensive gown at the store.”
Menachem perused the P page. Potolskly. A year and a half ago, Rabbi Potolsky had taken a loan, and he had returned it in four payments, on time. Three weeks ago, he’d come to take another loan, and had received one for a period of twenty months. The guarantors were Betzalel Cohen and Gad Sklar. Everything seemed to be fine with the whole thing.
“There’s something else that I just remembered,” Avigail interjected suddenly, looking very worried. Her parents looked at her. “Tzippy told me that after the gown place they were going to her grandfather in the nursing home, and from there to Kurzmann’s real estate agency.”
“Kurzmann?” Menachem stared at the notebook again, and then raised his eyes to his daughter. “Kurzmann? What, for an apartment?”
“Why else does someone go to a real estate agency?” his wife asked logically.
“Do their listings include apartments in places besides Bnei Brak?”
“I don’t think so, but it does include apartments in Pardes Katz.”
“Where did they buy an apartment for the older one?”
“I don’t know, but certainly not in Bnei Brak—and not even in Pardes Katz. Yeruchem, or Dimona, or Metullah or Be’er Sheva…” His wife shook her head. “Today young couples go everywhere. Avigail, are you sure she said Kurzmann?”
“Yes,” Avigail said. Despite her earlier declaration about her lack of an appetite, she sliced a big piece of quiche for herself.
“Kurzmann is considered quite a high-standard agent,” Rivka remarked.
“I’m sure they have all kinds of apartments, in a wide price range.”
“Yes, starting at four million shekel and going down as low as a million.”
“I’m sure there are some for less.”
“Eight hundred thousand?”
Menachem suddenly recovered. “I hereby close this discussion,” he announced with a tired smile. “The Potolsky family has met all its payments and complied with all of our rules, and as far as I’m concerned, they can buy their daughter an apartment on the moon, as long as they make their payments on time.”
“That’s it; if they invest in an apartment on the moon, they won’t repay on time, because the chances are they won’t repay at all,” his wife predicted.
He knitted his eyebrows, and they remained that way until he went to sleep—and even afterward.