Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 30 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 leaped off the couch, disoriented. Something had hit him, he was sure.
He looked left and right, and then caught Meir’s eye. His eight-and-a-half-year-old brother was blushing, his hand on the handle of the closed door. “Sorry,” Meir muttered. “It was my ball. You’re not angry, are you?”
“Your ball?” Binyamin picked up the round object that was resting near his hand. “Wait, what time is it?”
“Five fifteen. The little kids are eating supper in the kitchen, and Ima closed the door to the dining room. She said not to bother you because she thinks you have fever.”
“Fever?” Yes, maybe that was it. His head was pounding, and his whole body ached.
Meir nodded. “But I like playing here when the room is empty. I go in and close the door. I didn’t mean for the ball to land on you.” He came over to take his ball, gazing at his older brother. “I forgot that you were sleeping here on the couch. You said after lunch that you were going to sit down for a few minutes because you were dizzy, and suddenly we saw that you were sleeping really deeply.”
“It’s five fifteen already…” Binyamin murmured. “Oh, no. I’m missing seder!” He got up to get his jacket, which had been tossed onto the end of the table.
The dining room door opened, and Elisheva peeked in. “Is everything alright, Binyamin?” she asked worriedly. “You’re very flushed. Sit down; I’m making you a tea.”
“No, Ima, thanks, but I have to get back to yeshivah. I didn’t mean to fall asleep; I just sat down for a minute…”
“And you said that your head hurts and that you’re dizzy,” his mother added. “You don’t look good, Benny. I’m sure you have fever. I hope it’s just a cold and not the flu or something.”
The thermometer indicated that, as usual, she was right—he was running a fever.
“I’m getting you that tea,” Elisheva said decisively, “and you’ll please drink it.”
“My throat doesn’t hurt,” Binyamin tried to protest, but he accepted the cup of tea from his mother with gratitude—and a sigh. “Ugh, I hate being sick.”
Meanwhile, the younger ones finished up their supper and began clamoring all over him.
“I’ll prepare the folding bed for you,” Ima said. “But today, I’m putting it in a different place than during bein hazmanim. It’s going right here near the sliding door, because I don’t want you infecting anyone else, okay?”
“Fine,” he murmured, feeling his eyes growing hotter by the minute.
“Does your head hurt a lot? Do you want some of Abba’s tea?”
“It hurts, but I don’t think it’s a migraine. Just the kind of ache you get from fever.” He looked at her, his vision blurred, as she dragged the bed into the room. She opened it and went to bring a clean sheet and pillow.
“It’s the cuckoo clock again!” the little ones cried gleefully.
“You know it already works for real, Binyamin?” Shloimy stood with his hands behind his back. “It suddenly started working—a bunch of times already! Soon it’s going to be all fixed, and it will always tell us the time!”
“But whenever my friends come, it doesn’t work,” Itzik complained. “So they don’t believe me that there’s a cuckoo bird living in the clock.”
Binyamin raised his eyes to the tiny bird standing in the opening of the large wooden clock, still cuckooing for all it was worth. “That’s strange,” he said. He wanted to stand up for a closer look, but he felt very unsteady.
Ima and Riki came in with a pillow, blanket, and sheet, and in no time his bed was ready. The cuckoo bird quieted down.
A painkiller, some mumbled request that they should wake him up for Ma’ariv, and Binyamin sank into a deep sleep. Something dull kept niggling at his brain, over and over again. He wondered through the fog if it was the cuckoo bird pecking at him. But it was something else.
This time, Yaakov came along with Miri for her visit to Saba. Saba was clearly very happy to see them, and he murmured something about cake in the refrigerator in his room.
“We’re not hungry, Saba, it’s fine,” Yaakov replied loudly. A bit too loudly, in Miri’s opinion. “We just ate supper.”
“My grandfather hears fine, baruch Hashem,” she whispered to him. “A lot of people don’t realize that, because he speaks so quietly and slowly, so it seems like he doesn’t hear us so well. But he hears everything, believe me. I’ve seen it happen lots of times.”
Like when she was in sixth or seventh grade, and she’d needed to bring a signed note from her parents for some out-of-line behavior. She had come that evening to help out Savta, of blessed memory. While she stood in the kitchen and washed dishes, as Savta rested in the other room, Saba had sat and ate supper. Miri began to tell her grandfather about the geography test she’d had that day. She told him how she’d planned to study, but somehow it hadn’t worked out, and she’d panicked that she might fail the test. When one of the girls who also hadn’t studied for the test decided to skip math class and study geography instead then, because the math teacher wasn’t coming that day and there would be a substitute, Miri had decided to join her. She’d been afraid, but her friend had been so sure that they wouldn’t get caught, claiming that, “The substitute doesn’t know exactly who is in our math group and who isn’t.” And Miri, afraid to fail the geography test, had agreed and gone along with her.
But the substitute had taken attendance, so she knew exactly who was supposed to be in her class that day and who wasn’t.
Miri and her friend had been caught, and they’d been sternly rebuked. The worst part was that they had to bring signed notes from their parents the next day, and she didn’t know how she’d explain it all to her mother. Nothing like this had ever happened to her before, and while her friend snickered at the “easy punishment we got away with,” Miri was dreading having to tell her mother what she’d done.
But it was very easy to tell it all to Saba. It was literally like speaking to the plates and the soap bubbles. She scrubbed and talked, rinsed and talked, wiped down the counter and talked, and throughout it all, Saba sat at the table behind her, eating in silence. Finally, he said, “Hmmm…” And that was all.
But as she’d gotten ready to leave the house later that night, while Saba was preparing to leave for Ma’ariv, he suddenly turned to her and said, “Tell Ima you won’t cut class again.”
To this day, she remembered the surprised smile that had crossed her lips. So her grandfather had heard all that she’d said!
He’d patted her shoulder. “And mean it,” he added.
“O-okay,” she’d said. “Have a good night, Saba.”
He’d murmured in response, as though he hadn’t said a word to her, and they’d parted. He went to his regular eight o’clock minyan, and she went home. Somehow, after that, it was suddenly so easy to tell Ima everything.
And it wasn’t only that. Over the years, she had amassed similar incidents in her memory, collecting them lovingly, as if they were crumbs of gold, and preserving them deep inside her. Before she’d gotten engaged she’d also come here—it was already after Saba’s stroke—to speak to him. She’d told him all the details about the shidduch, and he’d listened silently. A moment after she’d decided that Saba probably had been sleeping the entire time—because he’d been very weak then—he’d suddenly spoken up, his eyes still half closed, and said, “It sounds like a wonderful boy for you.”
Miri blushed now, remembering the most recent incident that had been added to her collection this week, when she’d visited Saba two days earlier. He had been sitting and learning quietly when she’d come, and she’d waited for him to finish. When he closed his sefer, she began talking to him about her maternity leave ending, and about where she was thinking of sending Shmully when she went back to work, and the advantages and drawbacks of the municipal day-care center as opposed to a private babysitter. When she’d fallen silent, Saba had also been quiet for a long moment, and then he’d asked, “And Tzippy?”
“What about Tzippy?” she’d asked, her voice laced with unease. Saba must have remembered what had happened at their previous visit together.
He didn’t answer. With his left hand, which trembled slightly, he opened the drawer of the night table near his bed. There was a closed envelope in it. “This is for you,” he said quietly. “For you, your mother, and Tzippy.”
“What is it?” She’d curiously leaned forward. But Saba pushed the drawer closed.
“For a raffle,” he said after a long moment. “I bought tickets.”
“Someone sold you raffle tickets for something?” she asked, perplexed. “Why did you buy them, Saba?” She vaguely remembered Ima telling them how Saba had bought lottery tickets when he was younger, calling it, “my hishtadlus.” He’d never won, but he wasn’t concerned by it. In recent years, he’d stopped this practice, perhaps because he no longer had the money to spare for tickets. But he didn’t seem too concerned about that either. Saba always radiated calm, placidity, and total acceptance of whatever happened to him.
“Who sold you the tickets, Saba?” She hoped it wasn’t some scammer who had come to swindle an old man out of his money, like in some books that she’d read.
“Emmanuel,” Saba said.
Saba smiled. “The one with the dogs.”
“Who, that new worker here? With the two tiny dogs? What are they called again…I think Binyamin knew…whatever; I for sure wouldn’t remember. So why did Emmanuel sell you raffle tickets? Is he an agent or something?” She needed to tell this to Ima. It was important for her know things like this.
But Saba just smiled dimly in the face of her torrent of words, and didn’t respond.
“Why did you buy them, Saba?” she repeated, wondering if he’d answer, “Hishtadlus.” But Saba still didn’t reply.
She stood up to make him tea, and then soothed a whimpering Shmully, quickly, before Emmanuel and his two dogs would show up to scold her again about her noisy baby. Maybe he’d try selling her raffle tickets at the same time, too.
Right before she left, Saba fixed his gaze on her and said, “For a big house for you.”