Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 25 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.
“Binyamin?” Shabsi stuck his head into the room just as Binyamin’s balled-up socks landed in the laundry bag.
“What?” Binyamin yawned in response as he fluffed up his pillow.
“Oh, you’re on the way to bed already? Okay, I’ll find someone else. I came to you because you once asked me to offer you these types of jobs, remember?”
“Sure!” Binyamin jumped up. “They called you now?”
Shabsi nodded seriously. “You’re not supposed to be so excited,” he chastised Binyamin, whose hands were now deep in the laundry bag. “I know, after tonight you’ll be able to buy two good shirts, and start saving for a new hat, and maybe you’ll even have enough money left over for a bottle of Coke, but it would be nice to remember where we are going…” He concluded the sentence with a well-known singsong intonation.
“We have to remember that all our lives,” Binyamin agreed, ignoring the tingling at the back of his neck. It was a quarter to twelve at night. True, he was the one who had asked Shabsi if he could join him for these jobs. But that didn’t mean that the first time would be easy. “Oh, well, looks like all the socks in this bag are not really wearable. I’ll just take clean ones from my drawer.”
They walked together down the street, the streetlights casting macabre shadows of their figures every which way. But Binyamin just stared straight ahead. “What do I have to know?” he asked. His muscles were tense, and his shoulders felt pinched.
“Nothing special. With Tehillim and Mishnayos it’s one rate, and without them it’s another rate. But I’ll tell you that I always say Tehillim or learn. When it’s two of us, we can take shifts, with one of us going out to doze and the other staying in the room.”
“Where is it?” Binyamin remembered to ask.
“Rashi Street. The levayah is supposed to be tomorrow morning.”
“And they leave him in the house like that, for all these hours?”
“What does ‘like that’ mean? Can you think of something better for him now than having two yeshivah bachurim saying Tehillim at his side all night?”
“Um…I don’t know. Whatever.”
“So, yes. That’s how they leave him all night.” Shabsi was emphatic as he turned right.
Binyamin didn’t know what he expected to see when they arrived, but the building was silent. There was no wailing or keening from inside, and the wall was bare; there were no signs.
“We have to tell them to put up a warning sign for kohanim,” Shabsi said, scanning the gate.
“Who is it?” Binyamin asked as they climbed the stairs in the ancient building.
“A very old man, a Holocaust survivor. His grandson taught me in yeshivah ketanah, and he was one of the youngest of his grandsons. There are already great-grandchildren in the family who are married. Do you know a Greenzweig here?”
“No,” Binyamin said.
The door on the second floor was open. Shabsi knocked lightly, gently, and without waiting, walked inside. Binyamin followed, trying to keep his breathing even. He couldn’t look at the faces of the people who came forward to greet them.
Shabsi spoke to them, looking every bit like someone who knew his job well. Then he nudged Binyamin slightly with his arm, toward the narrow doorway on the right. They stepped into a room with a high ceiling; the walls were covered in old-fashioned floral wallpaper.
For the first minute it was terrifying. The flickering candles on the floor near the tallis, the dim room, the medical devices standing, abandoned and silent, on the side…
Binyamin’s eyes caught something: a small, black faded hat, hanging on a hook opposite the door. It was a narrow-brimmed hat, clearly purchased thirty or forty years ago. All those years ago, a hat manufacturer had sat and designed that hat, and then all the bachurim, and perhaps even married young men, had bought that style, because that was the “in” attire at the time.
Almost without realizing it, Binyamin raised his hand and touched his own hat. Shabsi was already sitting on the chair near the wall, swaying over a small Tehillim. He didn’t say a word to Binyamin, who was still standing at the door and gawking at the hat that remained hanging on the wall.
“What do you say about this doctor, Abba?” Elisheva Potolsky asked her father as the two of them walked out of the outpatient clinic at Beilinson Hospital.
“He’s good,” he replied.
“Yes, baruch Hashem. He gives a professional impression,” Elisheva agreed. “I’m happy we found him. If walking will become easier for you, then coming all the way here will be worth it.” As she spoke, she stepped up to the curb and flagged a taxi.
“To Bnei Brak, Chazon Ish Street,” she said as her father struggled into the front seat.
“You need to go to work,” he protested feebly. “You should get off there; I’ll continue to my place myself.”
“I want to talk to the management at the nursing home about the physical therapy that you need,” Elisheva said. “And it’s fine; I’m not losing a day of work. I switched my day off this week.”
He murmured something, and she closed the door behind him.
Her cell phone rang just as she settled into the back seat. She ignored it at first; she didn’t like speaking on the phone when she was with her father. But it continued ringing over and over again, and she saw the driver glancing at her quizzically through the mirror.
She hastily pulled the phone out of her pocketbook, making sure as she did so that her father’s insurance card was there. Rosenblit’s number was on her phone’s screen. What did they want from the lawyer’s office now? Hadn’t Eliyahu tied up all the loose ends with them?
“Hello, this is Rosenblit. Am I speaking with Mrs. Potolsky?”
“Yes. Is there something I can help you with, Mr. Rosenblit?”
“Well, your husband isn’t available right now, and I wanted to find out what was going on.”
“What do you mean?” she asked warily. Of course Eliyahu wasn’t available now; he was in kollel.
But what did Rosenblit want? As far as she knew, they’d had a bit more than fifteen thousand shekel left in the account after all the wedding expenses, and Eliyahu had wired the money back to the lawyer.
“You made a bank transfer to us yesterday for 15, 350 shekels.”
“So, what is that money?”
“What do you mean? It’s what was left over from what we got from you.”
“But the receipts that you sent in show that there was a smaller amount remaining.”
“Oh,” she said. “Yes, there were a few small things that my husband felt were not covered by the agreement with Mr. Korman, but they were on the same receipts so the sum was higher. But we returned that money.”
“What kind of things did your husband feel were not covered by the agreement?”
Elisheva tried to remember. “Like three new shirts for my son, when he only needed one for the wedding. And there was something else there…oh, right, he had a voucher for a discount on a hat, which he got from yeshivah, so the amount we paid for the hat was less than what the receipt showed. There are a few other clothing items for the family with the same story.”
She didn’t tell him about the shoes she’d bought Miri when they went to buy Tzippy her wedding shoes. Miri had remarked several times that she liked a certain pair. They were weekday shoes, so they couldn’t be for the wedding. And Elisheva had bought them for her.
She also didn’t tell him about the new towels she had chosen for herself, as per Eliyahu’s request. When he’d seen the tower of new towels and linens growing in the closet in the girls’ room and on the shelf in their room, he’d asked her to buy something new for herself, for their house.
At first, he’d wanted her to buy a good set of linen. “You’re always replacing one shmatta piece with another,” he’d said. “By now the sets aren’t even sets. The pillowcases don’t have matching sheets anymore, and the sheets don’t have matching pillowcases. I want you to also have something nice and new out of all this shopping. We’ll manage with the expense, b’ezras Hashem.”
But when she saw the sky-high prices in the high-end linen store that Tzippy had buoyantly marched into, choosing three sets for herself—well, Elisheva’s heart just didn’t let her follow suit. She sufficed with four good-quality, soft towels, the type she hadn’t allowed herself to buy for more than twenty years, and they had paid for it with a check that included everything.
Eliyahu had carefully kept a list of all these additional expenses and had deducted them from the final tally. She wouldn’t be detailing those things to the lawyer.
“Those little purchases don’t make a difference to Korman,” Rosenblit said, sounding somewhat impatient. “Actually, he sent me a message this morning that he doesn’t want any of the change.”
“What? Which change?”
“The change from the amount we originally gave you. If even a small amount like this is transferred back to his account, he could have trouble from the tax authorities. So he doesn’t want it.”
Elisheva recoiled. “What…what does that mean?” she asked, eyes fixed on the red light ahead of them. “I’m sure that you can transfer the money to him somehow.”
“This is what he wants,” the lawyer declared resolutely. “And as I told you already when we met, you don’t quibble with millionaires’ idiosyncrasies.”
Elisheva wasn’t sure she remembered that statement, and she was even less sure that she agreed with it. “What about the Stockhammers?” she asked. “How did they react to the fact that they didn’t have to return the change?”
“They didn’t have any change,” Rosenblit said. “And based on their receipts, they even exceeded the amount that they received by a bit.”
Well, Elisheva certainly had no intention of discussing Peretz’s family’s finances with the lawyer. “I’ll speak to my husband,” she said hesitantly. They didn’t need tzedakah money! “I don’t know if we would want to receive money that isn’t included in the agreement. We’ve finished with the wedding expenses.”
“So just give it to the young couple as a gift,” the lawyer said, sounding rather disinterested. “And that’s not Korman’s demand; he said you should keep the money. It’s just my suggestion. Your daughter doesn’t work yet, right? And the kollelim don’t give much. What do they live off?”
Whatever all the other young couples in their situation live off, Elisheva wanted to say, but didn’t.
Because Tzippy really wasn’t having an easy time right now.