Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 33 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 didn’t care for the cakes and petit fours that her sisters-in-law had sent for the siblings’ meeting; it seemed as though they were competing for the title of most talented pastry chef. The fact that she wasn’t at all a good baker herself was just a side point. After all, she could buy as many of these cakes as she liked, if she wanted.
But she didn’t want to. Who needed all these elaborate cakes here? As if they hadn’t just gotten up from shivah yesterday…
“Why aren’t you eating anything, Blumi?” her oldest brother, Beri, asked.
“I don’t have an appetite,” she replied, glancing grimly at the empty china closet. They should send all these cakes straight in there. They were pretty to look at, but that was all, at least in her opinion.
“Oh, you’re wondering about the china closet?” Beri had misinterpreted her glance. “I told you that the first time Abba was hospitalized for a longer time, he asked me to take all the silver to my house, for safety.”
“Yes, I remember,” she said tersely.
“Those need to be divided, as well,” her second brother, Shmulik, remarked.
“That’s the simplest thing,” Beri said. “We have some more serious things to deal with, before the silver. Things like Abba’s factory, and the buildings in Yerushalayim. What is with those?”
Words were tossed around, ideas were aired, and thoughts were shared, but Blumi didn’t hear any of it. She sat with her chin resting in her palms, her eyes staring blankly at the wall. Gideon stood near the window, smoking. Strange how a domineering businessman like him could suddenly become practically invisible here, despite being in the same room as the others. He didn’t like getting involved in her family’s financial affairs—she knew that. But her brothers often asked him for help and advice. Beri had been the one to ask him to come now, as well.
“Blumi?” Beri asked gently. The twenty-two years that separated them in age meant that he had always treated her like an elderly uncle treats his niece. Now, with Beri being sixty-seven years old, with a long white beard, that tone had only become more pronounced. “What do you say?”
“In my opinion, it won’t be simple at all to divide the silver,” she said. “For example, as the only daughter, I really would like Ima’s candlesticks. You also probably want specific things. The silver yad, for example—does no one want that?”
“Which silver yad?” Shmulik asked quizzically.
“Yad?” Shlomo Aryeh echoed.
Blumi looked at all of them. It was impossible that they had heard nothing about it!
The only one who nodded was Beri. “Right, the yad,” he said. “But don’t tell me you want it, Blumi. What do you have to do with the yad? You remember that it’s not really all that antique, although it has some value because it is silver and has those semi-precious gems.”
“That’s exactly what I am telling you—that I do want it,” she said calmly. “You didn’t take it for safekeeping to your house, did you?”
“No, I didn’t, because come on, no thief would have thought to look in the top shelves of the hallway closet,” Beri said, but he stood up.
“Maybe you can explain to the rest of us what you are talking about?” Shlomo Aryeh demanded.
“A silver yad with stones, which Abba bought when he was young,” Beri said. Already in the hallway, he called back, “You never saw it?”
“Ah, I do remember something like that.”
“Me, too,” Shmulik added. “Abba once told me about it, when I wanted to sign a contract with someone and Abba claimed that the whole business would collapse very fast.”
“And was he right?” Blumi wanted to know.
Shmulik shrugged. “Don’t remember,” he said. “What do you want from me now, Blumi? In any case, I don’t think he showed the yad to me. He just told me about it.”
“Ima didn’t like it,” Blumi said. “That’s probably why Abba kept it wrapped up on a top shelf.”
“But it’s not there now.” Beri appeared in the doorway of the dining room. “Do you think Abba might have sold it? Or moved it somewhere else?”
“We really need to get this place in order,” Shlomo Aryeh said with a yawn. “Blumi, when do you think you can come back? You’re leaving tomorrow, right?”
Blumi glanced at Gideon—or rather at the place where he had been standing a few minutes earlier. Now she saw only the wall, and she heard her husband’s deep voice from the kitchen. He was on the phone, apparently.
“That’s what we had planned,” she said, suddenly overcome with a wave of sadness. Making order in the house…clearing things out…emptying the place… She didn’t have childhood nostalgia from this house; her parents had only moved here twenty-three years ago, when she was already living in England. But it was still their home. All her memories of her visits to them in Israel were in this house.
“But if you want us to try and find that yad for you, and maybe some other things that you might want, maybe you should stay until after Shabbos. Even if Gideon has to go back. And then we’ll add it to all the other silver things, and we’ll decide how to divide them. I don’t foresee any major issues coming up because of it.”
Gavriel suddenly raised his head from his coffee cup. “I want to see that silver yad. Is it something valuable?”
“Worth pennies, compared to the other things,” Beri replied in his soothing voice. “But it’s strange; I thought it was in the top shelf in the hallway. I see that we really have a job ahead of us, besides all this talking.”
“One second.” Blumi’s chair squeaked. Now it was her turn to rise, and she walked out of the apartment. One floor above lived Adina Borenstein, nee Plonchak. She climbed the stairs and knocked at the door. She hadn’t planned to do this now, but things had developed very rapidly. She hoped Adina wouldn’t want to chat for too long, because she really had no energy…
“Blumi, how are you?” For some reason, Adina was surprised to see her at the door. Truthfully, she had reason to be surprised: in all the years that Abba and Ima had lived here, Blumi had never gone upstairs to knock on her friend’s door. It was always Adina who would come down on Friday nights when Blumi was visiting, to catch up with her, and she would also often come to visit Ima.
“Baruch Hashem. Adina, tell me, is your son home now?”
“My son? Which one?”
“The oldest. Or maybe it’s your second to oldest? A bachur of about twenty, maybe a little younger?”
Adina’s face registered deep surprise, but she remained polite. “My oldest is married and lives in Yerushalayim, and then I have a bunch of girls, baruch Hashem. My youngest is a boy, and he’s three. You don’t mean him, do you?”
“No. It must be your oldest, then. He lives in Yerushalayim, okay, but he came to my father’s levayah, didn’t he?”
“Um, I don’t think so.” Adina leaned on the wall, a distinct awkwardness filling the space between them. “As far as I know, he didn’t make it, because it was pretty early in the morning. I couldn’t even get him on the phone before he left to kollel, to be able to tell him about it.”
Blumi thought to herself that ten in the morning wasn’t all that early, and if her son wasn’t learning in a kollel that started at seven, then Adina would have had plenty of time to tell him about the elderly neighbor who had passed away the night before.
But she was honest enough with herself to admit that there were probably other things that kept a yungerman busy, aside for the passing of a former neighbor, and she could hardly expect his mother to call him first thing in the morning with the sad news.
“Yes, of course,” she said quickly. And then she stopped. Because if the young man who had been there—and who looked so much like Adina Borenstein—wasn’t Adina’s son, then who was he? Who had she given the silver yad to?
“During the night, before the levayah, there were bachurim in the house who were learning Mishnayos and saying Tehillim in my father’s room,” she said, lowering her voice. She didn’t want anyone downstairs hearing her. “One of them looked so much like you…I was sure that the boys were neighbors, and that he was your son!”
“I guess it’s just coincidental that he looked like me,” Adina replied.
“Are you sure it wasn’t your son?”
“Maybe you could ask him anyway?”
Adina shook her head. While her friend truly looked distraught, it was clear that there was nothing she could do; the young man was certainly not her son. “We’re kohanim,” she said, by way of explanation.
You can’t complain.
It was a sentence often said by older people, but right now Tzippy felt like she could relate to every word of it. She closed the big window that looked out onto Nechemiah Street. The pane slid closed with a whispered whoosh. How could she complain when she had this large, comfortable apartment, in the best location, outfitted from top to bottom with furniture that most young couples couldn’t even dream of? How many of her friends had a couch, a bookcase, and a dining room table with eight chairs?
Peretz’s mother had insisted. “If he’s giving, we will not be embarrassed to take,” she declared.
Her parents had been far less convinced. True, they agreed that they needed to use the opportunity to buy everything she needed, but a dining room table with eight chairs is a luxury, not a necessity, for a young couple, as her father had said. Knowing the scratched Formica table in her parents’ house, and the hodgepodge collection of chairs that surrounded it, Tzippy had been a bit abashed at what she would have that they would not. But her parents had not wanted to argue with Peretz’s mother, so the dining room set had been purchased.
Now Tzippy looked at the large table, which was covered with an elegant tablecloth. If she wasn’t mistaken, this was exactly the same table that appeared in the Chinese auction catalog sent out by the U’shmartem organization. Their prizes were always the best, so even if she had no idea what her mother-in-law had paid for the table—or rather how much Korman from Australia had paid for it—she could imagine that it was on the expensive side.
So, really, she couldn’t complain. Yes, their supper today would consist of bread, cheese, cucumber slices, and a cup of coffee. But what was wrong with that? Peretz had said that it was fine; it was enough for him. She wasn’t sure that it would pass muster with her Hungarian mother-in-law, but because it wasn’t her culinary skills that was the issue here, that was not what was bothering her.
What was bothering her was the empty refrigerator.
Peretz would be appalled to hear of the idea that had entered her mind, but maybe they should try to reach out to Korman? Even after the wedding, they were still called Peretz and Tziporah Genendel, weren’t they?
She sat down on the sofa, picked up the Chinese auction catalog, and flipped through it. Page after glossy page jumped out at her, all attractive photos and excellent graphics. She yearned for the day when she’d reach that level of skill, and hopefully have a steady income from it. But in the meantime, as long as she didn’t even have a normal computer at home, how could she accept any real jobs? True, her seminary allowed any girl who had taken their graphics course to come and work in the afternoons on their computers. She’d stayed a few times after school and designed a couple of booklets, and altogether had earned sixteen hundred shekel. Very nice. But since then, it had been quiet. She couldn’t commit to any serious graphics jobs when she was tied down to the computer in the school building.
Perhaps she could ask Korman for a computer? Not money; just a late-model computer with all the graphics programs that she needed. This way she could accept some serious work—if she would be offered the jobs, of course.
Tzippy stood up and went to set the table for supper. She folded two pretty napkins, placed the cutlery and plates on the table, and took out the cutting board for the cucumbers. She would have made a cucumber salad, with onions, but Peretz didn’t like raw onion.
She had Korman’s address. They had mailed him a warm thank you letter after the wedding. But it wouldn’t be nice to send such a request in the mail. She could try and convey it through the lawyer, Rosenblit. She had his office phone number as well.
The knife sliced through the cucumbers, and Tzippy arranged the green circles on a small wooden platter. Cute. If only she had a few tomatoes, too… How was Ima able to make supper with so few ingredients? She felt like she just couldn’t do it. Perhaps this apartment, and everything she had gotten with it, had done something to her. She’d become spoiled…
No. Tzippy mentally pushed away the annoying voice. That wasn’t true! For a kid, a supper of a sandwich, cucumber slices, and a hot drink really was fine. But for a young woman, preparing a meal for her husband…she wanted to do more. She wanted to have more.
And none of this was tzedakah. As her father had said, it was a grant, and she was allowed to take it without worrying at all.
She knew that Abba, Ima, and Peretz’s parents hadn’t actually asked for this grant; Korman had worked very hard to find them. But she didn’t think there was much of a difference. And she was sure that if they would have asked him, before the wedding, about buying a computer for parnassah for the couple, he would have approved it without any problem.
Tzippy set the platter of cucumbers down in the middle of the table, and carefully straightened the folded napkin near Peretz’s plate. Then she went to find the lawyer’s number.
One ring. Another. How late did they work in that office? Maybe no one was there anymore at seven?
“Good evening, Rosenblit and Etzion.”
“H-hello,” Tzippy stammered. “I wanted to speak to Attorney Rosenblit, please.”
“Who’s calling?” the secretary asked.
“Tzippy Stockhammer. Tziporah Genendel.”
“He’s finishing his workday now and cannot take any more calls. Please tell me what it’s about, and he’ll be in touch with you within the next two days.”
“Oh. I was just wondering if I could ask Mr. Korman from Australia something through Attorney Rosenblit.”
“Ask who? Mr. Korman?” The secretary took a memo note from her little stack. “Can you repeat the question?”
Rosenblit, who was on his way out, stopped near the secretary’s desk. “Korman?” he asked. “Who is on the phone?”
“Someone Stockhammer. I think she said her first name is Tziporah.” The secretary lifted her eyes from the paper. “She wants to know if she can send a request through you to Korman from Australia.”
Rosenblit shifted his file to the other hand. “Tell her that Mr. Korman passed away two days ago,” he said. “So I can’t convey any messages to him. If they want to send a condolences card, I’m sure that would be very appreciated. As for me, I’m afraid that I’m finished with this case.”