Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 16 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’ve never heard of a wedding held in a school gym.” Miri was standing in the middle of the gleaming kitchen, studying the central island that she was leaning on. She swiped a finger over the countertop. “Everything is full of dust,” she said with disgust. “It’s only from far that it looks so shiny. And look at that filthy floor there, in the space where the refrigerator goes.” She looked at the stained patch. It was a pretty big area. It didn’t look to her like the size of a regular fridge, but rather a double-sized one. Is that what they had bought for Tzippy? She didn’t really want to ask. It was enough that at first they hadn’t even told her about this huge grant, for fear that she’d be jealous.
“Peretz’s mother said yesterday that we’ll bring a cleaning company to tackle the kitchen before the appliances arrive.” Tzippy washed her hands, and then pulled out the faucet and used the spray setting to squirt the countertop, enjoying the novelty of the fancy faucet. “But I cleaned the bedroom with Ima yesterday, because we knew that the furniture was supposed to arrive this morning.”
“Let’s start putting your stuff on the shelves. That’s what we came for,” Miri said, trying to get a hold of herself. “So, what were we talking about?”
“The wedding,” Tzippy said lightly. “Of course people will raise an eyebrow, but I trust my mother-in-law to make sure the wedding will be elegant.”
“It’s true that even the shabbiest hall can be dressed up into something nice,” Miri agreed. “But it’s still strange to get married there. His mother couldn’t find any other place?”
“Everything else was booked. At first we thought we could make the wedding in a shul hall, but none of those ended up being available for the date we needed. The other option my mother-in-law suggested was some country club type of place near Rechovot, but Abba and Ima didn’t want that, and neither did I. How would my friends get there?” She paused at the door to the bedroom. “And Peretz didn’t want it either. We’re not looking to be the topic of discussion.”
“I hear,” Miri murmured. “So did you order invitations yet?”
“Of course! As soon as my mother-in-law called back with a final answer, I ran with Ima to Graffiti to order the invitations. They’ll be ready tomorrow morning, b’ezras Hashem.”
“And you’ll send them out with a private mail service, right? I can just imagine people looking at the invitation and being shocked when they see where the wedding will take place…”
“There’s nothing I can do,” the kallah said airily. “They’ll be surprised? So be it. They’ll talk? So let them. They’ll raise an eyebrow, like you said? So let them.”
“You said that.”
“What did I say?”
“That people will raise an eyebrow.”
“Could be. Doesn’t matter who said it.” Tzippy refused to get upset today. “We decided that we won’t hide the truth. If anyone asks, we’ll tell them that someone is helping us out in memory of his parents, and that the person gave us the money for the wedding on condition that we get married on Rosh Chodesh Teves, and this was the only option we had.”
“In less than a week and a half…” Miri opened the doors of the armoire, which was very similar to the one that had been purchased for her. Even for her Ima had refused to compromise on quality; she’d ordered a very good bedroom set. The only difference was that in the tiny bedroom in Miri’s rented apartment, there was no room for an armoire, and the order had been put on hold, waiting for the final okay before being filled. Right now she and Yaakov had a plastic closet standing in their hallway—and it blocked the big window.
“Right.” Tzippy unzipped the suitcase and pulled out hangers. “This isn’t really all of my new stuff yet, but I preferred to bring what I could now, rather than stuffing it somewhere at home. I’ll have to come and put away more things here before the wedding, after we finish all the shopping. And I’m putting the set of linen you bought me right here at the front of this shelf. It’s going to adorn my closet.” She grinned.
Miri pasted a broad smile on her lips and examined the drawers that Tzippy had opened. No, she wouldn’t have such drawers. As far as quality, the armoire was as good as hers; it had been purchased in the same store. But she had gotten the most standard design, without any expensive additional features like this one.
“Hey, where’s the dress bag with the sheva brachos clothes?” Tzippy looked around.
“I think you left it on the counter in the kitchen,” Miri said, and left the room to get it. She quickly scanned the spacious dining room, the other rooms in the apartment, and the afternoon sun that cast a reddish glow on the ceramic floors. Her linen set would adorn Tzippy’s closet. Her pity-infused ma’aser money.
“He doesn’t have what to do all day,” Ulush whispered to Janek. “Take him out a bit.”
“Out?” Janek looked at Gustav, who was pacing up and down the house. He opened and closed cabinets, sat on a dining room chair, then moved to the armchair, and finally plopped down on the floor next to Edo, who was scribbling something on a paper, his tongue sticking out a bit between his lips.
“Yes. He doesn’t want to color, and that’s the only thing I have to offer them. It keeps Edo busy, especially after I gave him your fountain pen. But Gustav…” She rolled her eyes in his direction. “True, there is a small chance that someone will identify him as the missing boy from that orphanage, but I think that a short walk outside, with a hat to cover most of his face, won’t do any harm. He’s getting crabby because he’s so bored.”
Janek approached the two children who were hunched over the brown paper that Ulush had given them. He sat down on a nearby chair. “What are you drawing, Edo?”
“A bed.” The younger boy examined his creation replete with blobs of ink, and in his heart, Janek resigned himself to the loss of his pen.
“Whose bed is it?”
“So where are you?”
The boy smiled sweetly up at him. “I’m not going to sleep now.”
“Oh, of course not. So what is that next to the bed?”
“Gustav made that. He also wanted to draw with the nice pen.”
“What did you draw, Gustav?”
“Nothing,” the boy said. “I tried to remember if I know how to write the Jewish language.”
Well, it did not appear that he remembered.
“If you were only three when you came to the orphanage,” Janek said gently, “I don’t think you knew how to write already.”
“But you told me that they take three-year-old children with a big white cloth to a Jewish school and show them letters with honey.”
Yes, yesterday he had sat with Gustav and tried to recreate any possible memory that was stored deep in the recesses of the boy’s mind from when he was three years old. But he’d encountered only a white fog. Perhaps Gustav came from a family that did not observe Jewish tradition? That was also possible.
“But those three-year-olds still don’t learn to write, usually. They just get to know the letters a bit.”
“Oh.” Gustav’s voice was flat, and Janek’s heart went out to him.
“And you don’t know who my father and mother are?”
“So maybe I should just go back to Theodore?”
“To Theodore?” Janek controlled his voice so it didn’t sound any more astonished than it had to. “Why to Theodore? He does know about your parents?”
“No, he doesn’t. But if you also don’t know who or where they are, why do I have to be here?” It wasn’t an attempt to be critical of the failing efforts of the searchers. The question was sincere and innocent, and that’s exactly why it made Janek’s throat sting.
“Because we are Jews, and so are you,” he said softly. Edo sat quietly, coloring his thumbnail in blue.
“So what?” Gustav asked.
“I don’t know who your parents are, although we are hoping and praying that we find them. But I do know one thing; your parents didn’t want you to stay with Theodore.”
“Who told you that?”
“Because Jews don’t want their children to grow up like gentiles.”
“But Theodore is a good person.”
“He was nice to you, and I’m happy about that. But I’m sure that your parents would not have wanted you to stay with him.”
“But Edo’s mother wanted that. She brought him there herself.”
“Edo’s mother?” Janek slid down to the floor next to the boys. “How do you know? Did you see her?”
“Yes. And she was crying. Theodore didn’t want to take Edo, but…” He smiled, and his words were laced with pride. “I promised him that I’d help take care of Edo, and that I wouldn’t cry at night anymore. You see,” he said sheepishly, “I was little then. I was only about five.”
Suddenly Ulush was also standing there. “You told us that,” she said quietly. “It’s so special. You saved Edo!”
“Right.” He kept smiling.
“Did his mother tell you that also?”
“I don’t think so. She was just crying.” He scratched his forehead. “But I think she asked me if I’m Jewish…” He stared at Janek. “You didn’t find her either?”
“Not so far. But we are looking.” Janek stood up decisively from the floor. “Do you want to come for a walk with me, Gustav? We’ll buy a new pen for me, and maybe for you as well. Do you want me to start teaching you the letters that you learned,” maybe, “when you were three?”
“Yes.” The boy stood up, too.
“Wait,” Ulush said. “Give me your scarf, Janek. Not the thick one, the thin one. It’s not so cold this evening. Wrap it around his head somehow, so his face isn’t too visible.”
The walk with Gustav was productive. The boy returned with a sparkle in his eyes, and he stroked the stylus pen Janek had bought for him. Ulush gave him brown paper like Edo’s, and he sat for hours sketching abstract figures. Edo, by contrast, was getting better at drawing. He was also eating better, sleeping better at night, and within a week, his face looked much fuller.
Extensive discussions were held regarding the best way to get the boys out of the city, where they would live after they left town, and where they would go from there. There were lots of people present at these discussions, and the two children were also fully aware of them.
“I’m going to the land of the Jews,” Edo said to Ulush one day as she smeared butter on his bread. “I’m not afraid of Jews anymore, because you’re Jewish and you’re good.”
“I also want to go,” Gustav interjected. “But what will we do there? We don’t know anyone in that place.”
“You’ll get to know lots of good people there.” Ulush pressed the two slices of bread together. “I don’t know anyone there either, but I also would love to go to Eretz Yisrael. There are good people there whom all of us would be happy to meet, even if we don’t know them yet.”
“You have Janek,” Gustav said, playing with his pen. “Edo and I don’t have anyone.”
“Maybe we’ll find someone,” Ulush said. “Gustav, do you also want some bread and butter, like Edo?”
But Gustav wasn’t paying attention to her question.
“I need to get the paper out of my hiding place,” he whispered, but she didn’t hear him. “The paper from Edo’s mother.”