Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 27 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.
“That’s right,” the nurse agreed with Ulush. “I wanted to check if you knew what you were talking about, or if you were just disoriented. The child that you are looking for is here, near the window.”
Ulush’s eyes turned to the bed the nurse was pointing to. She gazed at Gustav’s white face and his half-closed eyes. “Yes,” she said, a lump in her throat. “Yes, that’s him.”
“What’s his name?” the nurse asked.
“Gustav,” Ulush said. She bent over the child. “Gustav? Gustav, it’s Ulush. Do you hear me?” The boy’s eyelids flickered a bit, but didn’t rise. She studied the tiny part of his pupils that she could see. It was hard to figure out what he was looking at, but it certainly wasn’t her.
“Gustav?” she whispered a third time.
He coughed in response.
She turned to the nurse who was standing behind her. “Can he speak?”
“Until now he hasn’t said a word.”
“And…what is his condition?”
The nurse shrugged. “Not good,” she said, and lowered her voice. “If he comes out of this, it will be a big miracle.”
Ulush turned back to the bed, fearfully looking at Gustav’s white face. “Do you know how worried I was about you, Gustav?” she whispered. “Where did you go? Why didn’t you come home that day? Janek went to look for you, and other people did, too… Edo was so sad that you disappeared on him. Do you know how much he loves you?” She blinked.
“Then Edo also left. Do you know where he is? He’s sailing on a ship now to Eretz Yisrael. You will also get well and go to Eretz Yisrael, right? Maybe you will come with us, with me and Janek. And there we will meet Edo and lots of other good Jews. You want to go, don’t you?”
The boy coughed again, deeper this time than before.
“In Eretz Yisrael there are beautiful houses that glitter, as if they are made of gold. And they have shiny red roofs, like ruby stones. They have big fields with wheat and barley and all the shivas haminim, and children can run in the shining sun and pick lots and lots of golden apples. Do you know what a golden apple is?
“And the sky is so blue…and the wind sings beautiful songs of holiness… Anyone who lives in the Holy Land has to be a tzaddik, because it’s impossible to be in the land of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, near the Kosel and Yerushalayim and Kever Rochel, without behaving.”
The boy’s face grew red, as if he was trying to cough again, but couldn’t. The nurse brought over a cup of water, and Ulush fed the water to him with a spoon. His eyes remained closed, even tighter perhaps than they were before, but he slurped the water thirstily.
“And the water there has such a wonderful taste, because it is a blessed land. The bread and the fruit and everything that is there are the most special in the world. You want to get better and come with us to Ertz Yisrael, don’t you, Gustav? To drink the water there, to eat the holy fruits, and to play with our new baby?”
In the end, little Edo didn’t come to sail boats on the water with him in the rubble of the destroyed house. Too bad. He had to give him the paper. It said that Edo’s name was really Yosef Ludmir, and that he had uncles in Eretz Yisrael. But now Edo was already on a big ship—a real one, not a paper one—on his way to Eretz Yisrael. How would he find his uncles if he didn’t have that paper?
The paper may have gotten terribly wet in the water, because it was in his pocket. He was not sure that anyone could still read what it said. Maybe Edo would be angry at him. But Edo couldn’t be angry at him. If he wouldn’t have asked Theodore to take Edo in, then Theodore would have left little Edo in his mother’s arms, and the Nazis would have killed him.
Anyway, he thought the paper might still be alright, because the water didn’t get all the way to his pants pocket. His feet had gotten dreadfully wet when he had sat on the floor in the rubble, but perhaps the inside of his pocket had stayed a little dryer. He would continue to take very good care of the paper, and would bring it to Edo. Yes, he would also travel there, to Eretz Yisrael, together with Janek and Ulush. He would go with them on a ship, and he would be able to see the beautiful skies of Eretz Yisrael and the houses that glittered like gold. And together with Edo, he would pick all the different fruits and species that Ulush was talking about, and the golden apples.
Now he just had to get well.
The week after, Miri invited Binyamin for Shabbos. Tzippy had actually answered the phone for her—finally!—and they had chatted briefly, without either of them mentioning the visit to Saba. The conversation was decent, but Miri still couldn’t bring herself to invite Tzippy for Shabbos. After all, Yaakov was right. How could she invite her sister and brother-in-law for a standard Shabbos seudah in a kollel home, knowing that they ate gourmet meals on a much higher standard on a daily basis? She just couldn’t.
Ima hadn’t been feeling well, and she’d apologized that she wasn’t inviting anyone for this Shabbos. But Miri had decided that she wanted to invite someone. She didn’t even know why it was so important to her, but Yaakov was pleased with the idea of having guests.
And so Binyamin was chosen.
He also liked the idea, and showed up half an hour before Shabbos with a small bag, smiling a bit sheepishly.
“Come inside,” his sister invited him in warmly. “You’ll sleep in the dining room, okay? Usually the light stays on there all night, but now Yaakov put on a Shabbos clock so it will go off after the seudah and you’ll be able to fall asleep.”
He put down the bag with his things and ate the slice of cake that Miri served him. There wasn’t much time left then until Shabbos. Miri bentched licht, and the men waited for her to finish.
“Good Shabbos,” she wished them as they got ready to leave for shul. She didn’t get much done after that: she set the small table, stopping twice in the middle to take care of Shmully, and then davened Maariv. By then the men were back. They were both smiling from ear to ear; they seemed to really enjoy each other’s company. They made Kiddush, ate the first course, the men sang zemiros and said some divrei Torah on the parashah…Miri found herself thoroughly enjoying the harmony between her husband and her brother.
But suddenly, while she was in the kitchen ladling out the soup, that harmony seemed to hit a rut.
“That’s too much!” she heard Yaakov say, half laughing, half chiding. “Totally overboard.”
“Not true!” Binyamin sounded defensive. “Why is it overboard? You’ve never heard of anyone who does it?”
“Not people your age. And if they do…” Yaakov groped for the right words. “If they do, then they’re not the …standard bachurim.”
“What’s wrong with being a non-standard bachur?” The defense became half an offense. “As long as I learn well, and I’m on time to my sedarim, and I stick to the rules of the yeshivah—then what’s wrong with it? Yes, I admit that do I want to make a little money. Until Tzippy’s wedding I had one hat for both Shabbos and weekday, and it looks that way. Now I got a new hat, and I want it to stay in good shape, so I want to buy another one for weekday. Is that such a bad thing to want?”
“Not at all.”
“So then what’s the problem?”
“The fact that you go out so late and stay up full nights—that’s first of all a problem. Second of all, this ‘work,’ as much as it’s chessed shel emes and all that, just doesn’t sound like a good thing for a bachur your age. It might even be harmful. Third of all, the fact that you are looking for ways to earn money. is…I don’t know…not the best thing…”
Miri abandoned the bowls in favor of the kitchen doorway.
“So it’s a good thing you’re not the one who has to know about what I do.” Binyamin was a bit sharp, but his tone was laced with humor. “Because when all is said and done, my dear brother-in-law, you’re just my oldest brother-in-law and that’s all. Besides, I do think that this little encounter of mine with the realities of life is good for my ruchnius. Death is something that we should all remember all the time.”
Realities of life? Death? What had Binyamin found to do with his nights?! What on earth were they talking about?
“My goodness, who died?” She came back to the table. “You couldn’t find anything else to talk about now? Things more suitable for Shabbos?”
“I purposely waited until you went to the kitchen,” Binyamin said, “because I wanted to share it with Yaakov without you overhearing. But now I see that I shouldn’t have said anything to him either.” He smiled at his brother-in-law. “And listen, Yaakov: for now, don’t say anything to my parents about this, okay? If I decide to continue with it, I’ll tell them myself.”
“Continue with what?” Miri demanded to know.
“It makes no difference. Yaakov, let’s sing something.”
“Oh, no, you don’t! Don’t go evading me like that.” Miri stood firm. “And it’s really a shame that the soup is getting cold in the kitchen.”
“Miri, you’d be better off hearing about it after you eat,” Yaakov said, with a humorous twinkle in his eye. “You don’t want to ruin your appetite. And I think it would be even better if you heard about it tomorrow morning and not two hours before going to sleep.”
She was about to say something, but then she smiled with resignation and went back to the kitchen. She returned a few moments later with the soup bowls arranged on a tray.
They didn’t talk about Binyamin’s secret for the rest of the course, and it looked like he was making every effort to have them forget the whole story.
“You know something?” he remarked as Miri served some fruit for dessert. “This afternoon, before I came here, I visited Saba. He asked me to get him another blanket because he was cold, and one of the staff members sent me to the storage room at the end of the hall for it. I went into the room, and someone was standing there arranging blankets on shelves. Suddenly, on a table on the side I saw these two furry dolls that looked like dogs. I asked the man if I could have a blanket, and as I spoke, I thought I saw one of the dolls moving!
“The man answered me, and the doll stopped moving. And as we are talking about which kind of blanket Saba wanted, and who my grandfather is, and which room he’s in—I keep changing my mind about this doll: was it moving, or was I just imagining it? Suddenly, as the man found me the right blanket and handed it to me, this ‘doll’ gave a little bark and jumped onto him! It really was a dog! I never saw such a tiny dog in my whole life! And then the second dog woke up…”
“I also saw those dogs when I visited Saba last week!” Miri exclaimed as she cut an orange segment into three pieces. “It’s so strange that they let those animals into the nursing home, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know… And the guy explained to me that they are actually quite aggressive creatures, since they feel like they have to constantly be on the defensive because of their size.”
“Or lack thereof,” Yaakov said with a chuckle.
“Right. And they only act normally if they’re given the right training from early on. But I think Saba likes the guy. I heard them talking when the man came with me to give Saba the blanket. He’s a good person, I think.”
“That’s the main thing,” Miri concluded. “Or is the main thing that you managed to change the subject from your mysterious new job? Although based on what I heard from before, I think I don’t mind dropping that conversation for now…”