The Cuckoo Clock – Chapter 29

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 29 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. 

When Binyamin opened his eyes, his roommates had already left. He leaped out of bed groggily, washed his hands, and hurried to get ready.

Somehow, he got through the morning in a hazy fog of exhaustion, though he did notice that Shabsi was nowhere to be seen.

“What’s up with you, Potolsky?” his chavrusa, Zilberman, probed after a while. “You don’t look very with-it today.”

“Exhaustion,” Binyamin said, passing a hand over his forehead. This hadn’t happened the other times. He was an energetic person by nature, not someone who needed lots of sleep, and if he missed a night or half a night of sleep, he usually managed until he was able to catch up.

“Looks like more than just exhaustion to me…” Zilberman studied him closely. “Your face is very red.”

“Could be,” Binyamin said. Suddenly, he stood up. “I’m going to get a cup of water, and then I’ll be back.”

“What’s been going on at night that’s making you so tired?”

Had he blushed because his face had somehow predicted Zilberman’s question and the discomfort it would cause him?

“At night?” Binyamin echoed. “Nothing special.”

Zilberman looked at him skeptically. Binyamin knew he’d have to tell him at one point; otherwise, Zilberman was likely to imagine all kinds of dreadful things his chavrusa was up to at night.

“Nothing special? And last night?”

“Really, nothing much.” Binyamin had already taken a step backward. “I went to learn someplace.” Let someone say that wasn’t true!

He strode out of the beis medrash. Ugh, why did he have the feeling that this was happening to him now only because Yaakov had told him that he would yet see the damage these nights were causing him? Who had asked Yaakov to get involved?

He would try to skip lunch and catch up on some sleep. Over the last month, he must have accumulated enough of a sleep deficit to make his body rebel. Energetic or not, Binyamin realized, he hadn’t slept for four nights over the past three and a half weeks, so it was probably taking its toll now.

Did that make Yaakov right?

Wrong?

Maybe he just needed to set some more boundaries for himself. Just as he hadn’t been embarrassed to tell Shabsi that he could only do this job when the niftar was an elderly person, he could also tell him, with the same firmness, that he could only do it once in two weeks, at most once in a week and a half. Maybe that would help him in the future.

For now, though, he really needed to sleep.

But he couldn’t fall asleep in the afternoon. There was noise in the hallway, and after twenty minutes of tossing and turning, Binyamin decided that it was a waste of time. With glassy eyes, he tied his shoes and left the room. There was no point in trying to sleep, and there was probably no point in trying to get some food for himself in the lunchroom, because the tables were probably mostly—if not completely—empty. Maybe he would just dash home to drop off his laundry, and at the same time he’d eat something there.

***

“Binyamin?” Elisheva looked worried. “Is everything alright? It’s good to see you, but I’m not used to seeing you home at this hour.”

“Uh, yes.” He took off his jacket. “Baruch Hashem everything is fine. But I didn’t manage to eat lunch in yeshivah, so I decided to come home now instead of at night, after night seder.”

“So come and eat,” his mother said. “Miri and Tzippy both happen to be here; I made fleishigs today, so I invited them to come and take food home with them.”

The atmosphere in the small kitchen was not cheerful as he’d expected it to be. There was a distinct silence between Miri and Tzippy. He hung his jacket on the hat rack and said, “Good to see you, Tzippy! I don’t think I’ve seen you since your Shabbos sheva brachos. And hello, Miri!”

“Okay, here are your containers, Miri, and these are yours, Tzippy. Are you sure you don’t want to eat something now?” Elisheva packed the containers into bags and quickly filled a plate for her oldest son. A triangle of chicken, vegetable letcho, and a mound of rice.

“What a delicious meal, Ima—thanks!” Tzippy looked at her containers. “I’m going to head home now; Peretz will be back from kollel soon.”

“Bye, dear!” Ima walked her to the door, where her younger siblings were jumping all around her trying to say goodbye.

“Have a good lunch, and tell Peretz I said to have a good lunch, too!” little Shloimy howled.

“Tell him I said that also!” Bentzy chimed in. “Because there’s yummy chicken today! You know how long it’s been since Ima made chicken on a regular Monday? We gotta eat it all up!”

Elisheva smiled and waved her daughter off, ignoring Bentzy’s inadvertent barb. Yes, it hurt her to hear it. Baruch Hashem there was always chicken for Shabbos, but in the middle of the week she usually used ground chicken and prepared patties, or made a big soup from turkey bones. The children rarely enjoyed a delicacy of roast chicken on a regular weekday.

It had been Eliyahu’s decision, after he had asked and the rav said that he should certainly take the change from Korman. “It’s not tzedakah; don’t worry,” the rav had said. “And it’s not ribbis either. It’s a deal that you made, and you met all your commitments. This is just part of it.”

Elisheva had thought of using the money to cover a tiny drop of their debts that had mounted since Miri’s wedding. She knew how they weighed on Eliyahu’s mind. But he had rejected the idea.

“No,” he said. “Just like we’ve managed to make the payments until now, baruch Hashem, we’ll manage going forward. This money should not be going toward debt.”

She thought perhaps he wanted to give it to the young couple, as the lawyer had suggested. She mused aloud that while Tzippy didn’t have a job yet and Miri did, it seemed to her that Miri was having a hard time with all the abundance being poured on Tzippy lately, and maybe they should give her some of this extra money.

But that wasn’t what Eliyahu had in mind either. “Miri works, and Yaakov gets a stipend from kollel, just like Peretz now does. Both couples will manage just like everyone else. I want you to buy something for yourself with this money. A new washing machine, for example. Wringing out the laundry by hand for a month and a half, ever since our old one broke, is too much. Besides that, it wouldn’t hurt to upgrade the kids’ menu a bit. We haven’t made a large chicken and meat order in a long time. What about winter clothes? Is it true that Devoiry has only one weekday sweater? What about the little ones?”

She felt herself blushing but didn’t know why. “Devoiry has three winter tops,” she said. “She just recently decided that she only likes one of them. So don’t take her complaints too seriously. On the other hand, she could use a coat, and Riki does need a few things to wear…” She paused for a moment. “You’re right—I didn’t get to buying winter clothes with the whole wedding pressure.” Time pressure and money pressure.

“So now you have the time,” he said. “Order chicken, we’ll buy a new washing machine, and you can do some serious clothes shopping for the kids, and get some other things you need at home.”

“It reminds me of the joke of the guy who won five million shekels in the lottery. When they asked him what he was going to do with the money, he made a list of some gemachim to whom he owed money.” She chuckled. “When they asked him what about the rest, he replied, ‘They’ll have to wait.’”

“Now that I see what it’s like to marry off girls these days, this joke rings so true, it’s almost not funny…” Eliyahu had said, but he’d smiled in spite of himself.

So Elisheva had ordered two cases of chickens yesterday, and in the evening she’d gone out and ordered a new washing machine. It wasn’t a very expensive model, but it was supposed to be good—relative, of course, to the quality of today’s appliances. This morning she’d gotten up early and made a delicious lunch. Did it make her into a materialistic person if she was overjoyed by the thought of her new washing machine that would arrive later in the week, or by thinking about the delicious food she’d prepared and the big shopping trip waiting for her later today?

She convinced herself that it did not. She didn’t need the hot meal or the new clothes for herself. She was simply a good Yiddishe mama who was happy that Hashem had sent her family some reprieve.

And taking this reprieve into account, Bentzy’s remark had touched a raw nerve. It was similar to the way she’d felt, again and again, when preparing for the wedding and watching Tzippy’s eyes sparkle. Eventually she’d gotten used to the constant twinge that told her that she wasn’t the one giving to her children; someone else was doing it. The money was not hers. Perhaps it wasn’t tzedakah, but it was from someone else, a stranger.

It was alright; perhaps she had this feeling to remind herself that nothing that she gave her children was ever really her own. Not the money, not the shopping, not the smile, and not the strength. It was all Hashem’s, of course.

And yet…and yet…it still hurt a bit.

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