Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 24 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.
Perhaps it is irritating to see a young woman who is still on cloud nine from her wedding, and forgets that somewhere there, down on earth, other people still exist. She talks only about herself, thinks only about herself, and is sure that aside for her and her new spouse, the world has stopped in its tracks. But it is far less pleasant to see that same woman shedding copious tears, blowing her nose over and over, and unable to utter a single word.
And to know that you’re to blame for it all.
With remarkable timing, Shmully woke up just then with a piercing wail, and Miri, who was so embarrassed she didn’t know where to put herself, forgot for a moment what to do with him. Pacifier? Bottle? Pick him up? She began to rock the carriage mechanically, peeking at Tzippy from the corner of her eye. Tzippy slid the album into a shiny bag that matched the leather cover. Her hands were shaking so violently that she could not grasp the zipper to close it.
What should Miri say now? “Tzippy, I want to invite you for Shabbos. Come, it will be nice; we’ll remember that we really are sisters who get along”? Tzippy would just glare at her with hard eyes. And besides, they were going to Yaakov’s parents this Shabbos. She couldn’t suddenly inform her mother-in-law that they were not coming.
Maybe, “Tzippy, I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to make you cry”? So what did you mean to do? Insult, scream, and say whatever you want to her, and then expect her to just keep on smiling?
Miri continued to rock the carriage vigorously, and soon the anger inside her—or perhaps it was the envy again—mounted and overpowered the resonant voice of her guilty conscience. Why should she have to pay rich Tzippy the measly one and a half shekels for a photo, when she lived in a hole in Pardes Katz, wracking her brains to figure out how to finish the month, while Tzippy—who had just been handed an above-standard wedding and all of sheva brachos on a silver platter—owned an amazing apartment in central Bnei Brak and was also receiving a monthly stipend, without her doing anything but sitting with her hands folded?! And all this simply because she happened to have been named Tziporah Genendel?!
Miri bent down to look for Shmuelly’s water bottle in the diaper bag. She raised her head just in time to hear the door click closed. Tzippy was gone.
“One second, Saba, I…just want to tell her something,” Miri said hastily. She left the carriage, dashing out to the hallway. From afar, she spotted her sister’s receding back being swallowed up by the elevator. With half an ear, she heard Shmully’s screams from the room. She would pick him up and race down the stairs. It didn’t matter what she would tell Tzippy—she really had no idea what she was going to say—but she couldn’t let her leave like this.
She entered the room again and picked up the baby, checking that he was wrapped well with the blanket. “I’ll be right back, Saba,” she said. Saba didn’t reply. His head was slumped down into his chest and he was sleeping deeply.
“I’ll be right back,” she said in a louder voice, just to be sure. She opened the door again—and emitted a shriek. Standing in front of her was a tall man with gray hair, and perched on his shoulder was—what was that black thing? A mouse? A skunk? A dog? It couldn’t be a dog. It was too small.
“I came to see who is crying and screaming like that, disturbing the whole floor,” the man said unsmilingly. “Where is Mr. Yisrael? I want to speak to him.”
Miri couldn’t bring herself to answer. Heart pounding, she retreated into the room and sank onto the chair next to Saba.
“Saba, Saba,” she wailed desperately, “the…this man came to talk to you. He—there’s an animal there!”
But Saba kept on sleeping.
Fortunately for Miri, the man didn’t enter the room, remaining in the doorway. “It’s not an animal,” he said. “It’s two little Chihuahua dogs. But Mr. Yisrael,” here he raised his voice, “do you hear me? Why are you sleeping now? It’s not good to sleep all day. At night, in the morning, at lunchtime, in the afternoon… You have guests, and they are bothering the whole floor, and only you are sleeping?”
A dog? That size? And why did he say there were two? Miri didn’t dare move, and didn’t look again. Saba opened his eyes slowly. He looked at her with his familiar smile, and with the same smile on his face he turned his head to the door.
“Good, you’re up,” the dog owner said. “So now, please, keep yourself awake. Talk, tell stories, share memories, look at pictures, but no sleeping, Mr. Yisrael. You’ll sleep later in the afternoon, alright? Anyway, who is this baby? Your great-grandson?”
“So teach him, Mr. Yisrael. We can’t have this noise here. It’s a good thing that I happened to be nearby taking care of something with the air-conditioners; otherwise, I wouldn’t have even known about this disturbance. There’s exercise now in the room at the end of the hall, and people can’t hear the instructor’s directions. Mr. Yisrael, you need to teach your great-grandchildren not to make so much noise. Remember how much noise my dogs made at the beginning? They aren’t easy, these Chihuahuas, even if they’re small and cute.” He burst out laughing and pulled another creature from his jacket pocket.
There was something hollow in his laugh, and Miri shrank back in her chair, eyes staring blankly at Shmully, who was still whimpering quietly. Was this man one of the residents here? It didn’t seem so. He appeared too young, and based on what he had said, he worked here. Did they let him bring his animals here? Wasn’t it dangerous for the old people? She wondered if Ima had ever met him.
Saba nodded and raised his hand toward the door in greeting. Miri didn’t dare look at what the dogs were doing. She just hoped the man didn’t interpret Saba’s motion as an invitation to come in, because if so… She shuddered. Poor Tzippy. She hoped her younger sister hadn’t met this guy and his animals on her way down, because Tzippy detested animals even more than Miri did. It would be a total trauma for her.
In case the trauma incurred by her older sister hadn’t been enough.
“She’s not answering me.” Miri slowly lowered the handset. “You would think I did who-knows-what to her… What did she get so insulted about? It was just a little thing…I honestly don’t get her. She has an income of thousands of shekels a month, and a perfect house, and she’s not embarrassed to ask me for a measly one and a half shekels for a picture of Shmully?! So, I told her that.”
She rubbed a fingertip on the handset, in the middle, where it had gone gray from being gripped so much. “Maybe I was a bit nasty. But I just couldn’t control myself, Yaakov. We’re usually such good sisters. But suddenly, since she got caught up in the whirlwind of the wedding and all that, she’s became so focused on herself and all the abundance raining down on her…”
“Don’t all young couples, in the beginning, focus only on themselves?” Yaakov asked.
“You’re right, I was also in the clouds after my wedding, but you can’t compare. You know how considerate I was of her? How I included her in all my preparations? We…” She toyed with the telephone wire. “My mother called, but it didn’t sound like she knew anything about this. Tzippy must not have said anything to her.”
“Umm…” Yaakov hemmed. Were all women like this? Long discussions about who said what to whom, who got offended by whom, who relayed it further to whom? He didn’t remember this from his mother, and his sisters were still too young. “Do you want to bake something for Shabbos to bring to my parents?” he asked, getting back to the practical side of things. He had listened attentively to Miri’s frustrations at lunch, and then in the evening again, but it didn’t look like his attentiveness and his empathetic expression were making things better for her. She kept going back to the same subject, and still had that pained look in her eyes.
“Yes, sure,” she replied distractedly. “But what I really want to do is invite them to us for Shabbos.”
“To show Tzippy that I’m still a good sister.”
“But she doesn’t need your food.” Yaakov was very practical. A bit too practical, if you asked Miri. “Even if you are a much better cook than her, they can afford to buy takeout without a problem, if they get stuck.”
Miri looked at Yaakov. Was he joking? Trying to show her how silly she sounded with all her comparisons between herself and Tzippy? No, he sounded serious.
“You cared about her, you bought her an expensive set of linen for the wedding, and you saw that it got swallowed up in everything else she received… I don’t really want you to invite them for Shabbos.” He stood up near the milchig sink, glancing at the few dishes inside it.
“I know I sound selfish,” Yaakov said, “so let me explain what I mean: You’ll invite them, and you’ll work very hard to cook and to host, all to make them feel good. But then you’ll hear, just incidentally, that they went to a hotel for a different Shabbos, and another week they hosted a slew of guests and bought tons of food for them, and again you’ll feel like the gift that you exerted yourself so much to give her was foolish and so unnecessary. Do you see what I’m saying?” He turned on the faucet and wet the sponge under the stream of water.
“Yes,” Miri replied, gazing at the strong stream of water. No, she didn’t mind that the counter was being splattered with droplets. Something else was niggling at her, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Look, Yaakov understood her so well. At lunchtime she had thought he didn’t, but now she saw that he did. So what was bothering her about what he said, if he understood her so well and agreed with her sentiments?
That was it—the fact that he understood.
He was feeling the same frustration.
And she really didn’t mean it! Not at all.
She’d always dreamed that her husband and Tzippy’s husband would be the closest of brothers-in-law. She was allowed to complain a little about Tzippy, to get annoyed at her, even to be a tiny drop jealous of her. They were sisters, and b’ezras Hashem the tensions between them would pass, and they would remain on good terms, for sure. But Yaakov and Peretz were just brothers-in-law; they hardly knew each other yet. Why did she have to ruin their start? She still remembered how, before her wedding, her kallah teacher had told her, “Think eighty times before you complain about your family to your husband. Because even when you forget and move on, that stain will remain indelible in your husband’s mind, and it will be hard to persuade him later that it was just a temporary tiff and that it had all passed.”
Miri swallowed. Yes, she was jealous. There were moments when she was so jealous of Tzippy that she could hardly admit it to herself.
But Yaakov must not envy Peretz.
She could not cause that to happen.