Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 32 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.
Blumi walked into her hotel room and kicked off her shoes. This week had been draining beyond belief. She sank into the rattan chair in the corner of a room and passed a hand over her eyes. When she’d first arrived in Israel, she’d planned to stay at her father’s apartment for the week of shivah, but Gideon claimed that her brothers would not take kindly to the idea.
“What will they think, that I’m planning to take over the apartment?” she’d argued. “That I’ll lock the door from the inside? That I won’t let them in? What, exactly?”
“I don’t think they’ll suspect that those are our plans, especially since we are not lacking for such an apartment by any stretch, baruch Hashem. But family members never like it when one of them displays an especially strong connection to one of the possessions of the parents who have passed on, and certainly not something the size of an apartment.” He took a deep breath. “Inheritances are always a sensitive subject.”
To her relief, he did not mention the rift with his own brother, Shimon. She had no energy to hear about his complex family entanglements right now, and anyway, it wouldn’t happen to her. She wouldn’t fight with any of her brothers over the yerushah; she’d know how to go about it in a smart way.
“Fine,” she’d murmured then, a bit dazed. “So we’ll sleep in a hotel.”
She didn’t mention the idea of staying at her father’s apartment again, even when, on the fourth day of shivah, the last visitor didn’t leave until after two in the morning, for some reason, and she and Gideon were almost collapsing with exhaustion. But the warning note in his voice stopped her from suggesting that they sleep there. Gideon had had a bitter experience with regard to inheritances, family relations, and brothers, and she didn’t want to step on any toes. She wouldn’t overtly display to her brothers any special connection to her father’s apartment, just like she’d made sure that they hadn’t seen the envelope she’d given to that bachur. She had no idea who, if any of them, even knew about it, although she had a feeling that her brothers knew something. But whether or not that was the case, it was clear that they would not take kindly to her interest in the yad from the shelf in her father’s top cabinet.
But what did they want? Or rather, what would they want if they would know about it? Over the years, her brothers had always been so practical, so lacking emotion for anything nostalgic. Who had always been Abba’s listening ear? To whom had he told his stories from the past? And to whom had he said, “You want it? Then it will be yours after my one hundred and twenty”?
Only to her. Only her.
Her brothers would want to sell the yad; of that she was pretty sure. They had no interest in this kind of thing; at most they’d simply want the monetary value of it. She, however, did not want to sell it to a stranger. She wanted the yad for herself. But if she’d tell her brothers this, she knew that they’d respond by offering to sell it to her.
Well, excuse them, but why in the world should she buy something off of her brothers if her father had already promised that it would be hers?
“That’s a serious accusation, you know,” Gideon had said when he’d heard her thoughts about her father’s yad, years earlier. “They’re not such greedy men, your brothers.”
“I didn’t mean for a moment that they are greedy,” she’d hastily defended herself. “Just that they need the money more than we do, and this could lead to such a thing happening. But of course I know we can’t judge them.”
Now, in their hotel room in Israel, Gideon looked over at her and said, “They want to meet this evening again.”
“This evening? What’s so urgent?”
“Well, if we’re flying back the day after tomorrow, in the morning, then there are definitely things we need to discuss with them first, no?”
“Fine,” she murmured. “I’m taking a nap now. Let them know it’s fine with me to meet tonight.”
But she didn’t fall asleep so fast. The shiny little yad flashed incessantly in her mind. It was a small yad, made of silver, with its fingers appearing darker because they were set with stones.
“Fingers of steel,” Gideon had murmured, when he’d first heard her enthusiastic descriptions of it.
“Nothing. It just reminded me of Nevuchadnezzar’s statue, and there’s a difference of opinion about what the toes were made of. Fingers and toes are different, I know, but same idea…”
“What are you saying?” she’d bristled. “Comparing a holy sefer Torah yad to the foot of some statue in the king of Bavel’s dream?!”
“First of all, the yad of a sefer Torah doesn’t quite have kedushah. It has the status of a tashmish mitzvah.”
“Fine. Then you’re comparing this tashmish mitzvah to a statue?”
“It wasn’t an avodah zarah statue,” Gideon enlightened her. Despite his status as a businessman, he had a wealth of Torah knowledge. “You can check what it says in the mefarshim. And besides,” he added, “I wasn’t comparing anything to the statue. Your descriptions just made me think of it.”
“Fine. But you should know that this yad is not just a simple yad. It is quite valuable, although I think its primary value is the financial lesson that my father learned from it.”
Gideon nodded. He remembered that original conversation well. He already knew the story of the yad that had been offered to his father-in-law as a rare and ancient artifact, which he’d ultimately paid a huge sum of money for. Only a few months later did the fraud become clear. Yes, the yad was worth something because of the stones, but its real value wasn’t even close to a fortieth of what Blumi’s father had paid for it.
“Strange that he didn’t think that it’s rare to find a metal-like silver piece inlaid with precious stones,” Gideon had mused thoughtfully at the time. “It should have caught his attention.”
“He was young and didn’t understand enough about the subject. That’s why he hardly dealt with precious metals after that,” Blumi had said, and with that, closed the subject.
But her father had loved the yad. Throughout the years, she’d known it. Oh, it had pained him, to be sure; he felt that the outstretched finger was pointing in his direction. But he wrapped it well and placed it for safekeeping in the highest cabinet in an inner room in the house. Because when everything was said and done, he just could not part from it.
Already when she was a girl, Abba had surreptitiously called Blumi over and showed her his yad.
“Oh, wow!” her eight-year-old self had exclaimed over it, with longing in her eyes. “It’s really, really nice, Abba. Why don’t you put it in the silver closet?”
“Ima doesn’t like it,” he’d replied. “And I don’t like it so much either.”
“Because it reminds me that we lost a lot of money over it, and we had a hard time afterward for a while.” He gazed at his young daughter, whose eyes had darkened with anxiety, and then lifted her chin with his finger and whispered, “But don’t worry, my dear; it’s all over, baruch Hashem. Now it’s just an unpleasant memory.”
It was on Motza’ei Shabbos, when Binyamin finally felt somewhat better, that the envelope popped into his mind. He had no idea how he had forgotten about it until this minute, but when he remembered, he knew it would be very hard for him to try to recall where exactly he’d put it for safekeeping.
He had gone back to the yeshivah. Right. But what did he do with it there? Vague memories of dizzying exhaustion filled his head, but besides that—nothing. Gornisht. Nil. He had no idea if the envelope was in one of the closets in his room, or in his suitcase, or under his mattress.
His parents could not understand why he insisted on returning to yeshivah early on Sunday morning after such a bout with the flu. “Are you sure it’s a good idea?” Ima studied him. “You’re still very pale.”
“Why don’t you stay home at least just until the evening?” Abba suggested.
But he explained that he was fine already, and baruch Hashem he was feeling good, and it would be a shame to miss even one more day of yeshivah. That was all true. He was fine, he felt better, and indeed, every day he missed was a shame. Baruch Hashem, he was learning well with his chavrusos, except when he was very tired in the mornings.
But it was not because of this impressive collection of reasons that Binyamin was in such a hurry to get back to yeshivah. It was the pressure and worry about the envelope that was driving him to go. What was in that envelope? Something valuable? Secret? Mysterious? He didn’t know, but he’d only find out if he went back to yeshivah and found the envelope.
After half an hour of searching his room, while his friends were learning in the beis medrash, he sat down on his bed and rubbed his eyes. The envelope wasn’t here. So it must be at home. During those four days of burning fever and disorientation, he could have stuck it anywhere. Now he just had to hope that he’d put it someplace in his house that wasn’t too accessible to his little siblings, and not where it could inadvertently get tossed into the garbage.
He had to return home.
Fifteen minutes later, he was pulling the key out of its usual hiding place in the stairwell, and he entered the house. He was pleased that none of his sisters were there; they often had “off” days from school because of a test or some other reason, but now the house was empty. He searched every corner where the envelope could possibly be: the kitchen, the hallway closet, the dining room… But his search turned up nothing; the envelope was nowhere to be found.
He had to ask Ima if she’d seen it, but then he’d have to find the right words to probe without getting her nervous. That was all he needed: that his parents should go into debt now to return the value of something that their son had been negligent in watching…
Wait. What was his status, come to think of it? He was a shomer chinam, wasn’t he?
And who said that the item was even valuable? He had no idea what was in there.
He could not remember what Mr. Katz’s daughter had said.
In any case, almost a week had passed, and she hadn’t come or sent anyone else to ask for the envelope back. Maybe it wasn’t quite so valuable after all.
So why had she wanted it guarded so well?
“Binyamin! Welcome back!” Shabsi met him in the hallway, walking slowly toward his room. “When did you get back?”
“This morning, but not in time for first seder.”
“Not like you. Lunch is in fifteen minutes—you couldn’t come into the beis midrash for even a little bit? Nope, not a good answer for a talmid like you.”
Binyamin nodded with a smile, studying his friend cautiously. Did Shabsi know anything? Had anyone from the Katz family approached him about the envelope?
“And you really don’t look that great, you know.”
“Thanks. Yes, I know.”
“Tell me, do you want to go to ‘work’ with me again in half an hour?”
“In half an hour? No. I told you, I only want nights.”
“Oh, right, I forgot. But you should take care of yourself, because you’re literally the color of the wall. I don’t want to have to come learn Mishnayos next to you at any time in the near future…”
Despite his weakness and dismal mood, Binyamin poked his friend in the ribs with his elbow and grinned.