Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 35 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.
“You know what condition I was in when I got to my parents’ house that morning…” Blumi folded the blanket with jerky motions. The hotel room was beginning to feel stifling, as if it was closing in on her. She wanted to be in her own home, in her own room. But how could she go home now?
The simplest solution would be to ask Beri who the bachur who had been at the house that night was. But she couldn’t admit to Beri the fact that this was what had been on her mind during those moments. It was bad enough admitting it to herself.
“Not that that was on my mind at the time,” she heard herself explaining to Gideon. “Really, it wasn’t!” She sat down on the bed, fingering the orange cyclamen flower printed on the velour blanket. Who drew orange cyclamens, for Heaven’s sake?
“What wasn’t on your mind?” Her husband was trying to follow her train of thought—albeit not very successfully.
“The yad. My father’s silver yad.”
“Hmmm,” he said, with commendable patience. “And then?” A banal phrase that doesn’t give away how much you don’t understand what the other person is talking about…
“I wanted to go into the room where Abba was,” she said, her eyes wide. He could see that again, she was reliving those difficult moments of frantic packing, the flight, landing in Eretz Yisrael…
“And then I saw that the cabinet in the hallway was open. It was a little strange, because when had it been opened, and what for? I got nervous that thieves had managed to enter. The shelves there were almost empty; it hadn’t usually been a very full cabinet to begin with. I stuck my hand in and felt the envelope.”
“Where my father had hidden his silver yad.”
“I see. Nu?”
“It was only when I stood at the door of the room that I saw…” Her voice broke. “That apparently the one who had opened the cabinet had been Beri, to take out my mother’s old copper candlesticks. You know, when they got married after the war, my father didn’t have money to buy her more expensive candlesticks, so he purchased something simple. Beri had just taken them out to light two candles…” She stared at the orange cyclamen.
“But at that moment, I wasn’t thinking about the candlesticks. I was thinking about this yad, and the fact that anyone who came in there could just pull it out of the cabinet, like I did. So I asked the bachur who was learning in the room to hold on to it until we came back from the levayah, to make sure it wouldn’t get stolen. I was sure that the boy was the upstairs neighbor’s son. He looked so much like my friend who lives upstairs…” She got up from the bed. “And where do you get bachurim at 3:30 in the morning, if not from the neighbors in the building?”
“And it wasn’t your friend’s son?”
“No. Not at all.” She began to pace the room “They are kohanim. And I have no idea who this bachur is, or, in other words, where my father’s silver yad is.”
“So we have to find out who it is. Which one of your brothers arranged to have these bachurim come?”
“How can I find that out?” She stopped pacing, and all of a sudden, the tears began to roll down her cheeks. “Not only am I ashamed of myself, because how could I think of such a thing at a time like that, but how am I going to tell this to my brothers now?”
“Ultimately, you did something that made sense,” her businessman husband soothed her, trying to get her to see reason. “There was a story here with a valuable item. You didn’t start running around doing strange things that were inappropriate for the time and occasion. You just took about twenty seconds to deal with the matter, and that was it. Why are you looking at it as such a bad thing?”
“Because it is.” She leaned her head on the windowpane beside her. “It’s a terrible thing for a good daughter to do, a few hours before her father’s funeral. My brothers will say that this is what has become of me.”
His cell phone rang for the fifth time, but he silenced it. “Do you want me to find out who the bachur was? It’s not a big deal, and I don’t have to tell your brothers why I’m asking.”
“They’ll get suspicious,” Blumi said quietly. “No, I don’t want you to ask.”
“Not even casually, like by the way? You know, I’m not a bad diplomat. I can ask Beri or Shmulik how it works in Israel when there is a death in a house, and which bachurim people hire in such a case.”
“Which bachurim they hire? You mean which ones volunteer, right?”
“Volunteer? No, I meant that they are hired.”
“What?!” She turned around, erasing the reflection of her tearful face in the window. “Are you trying to tell me that they get paid for this?”
“I assume so. But you know what?” He backtracked hastily when he saw the horror on her face. “I really don’t know how it works. And that’s not our issue here, anyway. So, should I ask Beri?”
“No. Don’t ask him anything.”
Gideon thought for a minute. “You know,” he said, “I don’t think it will be necessary in any case.”
“Because where is the bachur himself? You don’t know where to even start looking, but he knows, right? He’s keeping this envelope for you, and as time goes by, it’s safe to assume that at one point he’s going to want to give it back.”
“But who is he going to give it to?”
Gideon wanted to answer, “To the person who asked him to come that night.” But a glimmer in his wife’s eyes stopped him. Instead, he quickly replied, “He’ll probably try to find out who gave him the envelope, and then he’ll contact us.”
Blumi’s silence stretched for a lengthy few minutes.
“And what happens until then?” she asked, long after Gideon had already given up on her response and had answered his secretary’s phone call.
When she discovered that she was talking to herself, she stood up and walked into the washroom. “I wanted to pay my brothers to give me this yad,” she said to her red-faced reflection in the mirror, and then started to wash her face with lots of cold water. “But in the meantime there is nothing to do, just to wait patiently and hope that none of them will remember the yad, in spite of the fuss I made over it this evening.”
She took a deep breath, inhaling the piney scent of the hand soap that stood in a decorative dispenser on the counter. “I simply need to wait for that bachur to realize that no one is planning to come and ask for it back, and that he needs to come to us.”
Blumi nodded at herself in the mirror and felt a little better. In fact, much better.
“Is everything alright, Binyamin?” Elisheva asked when they met in her father’s room on Friday afternoon.
“Yes, baruch Hashem.”
But his smile seemed a bit too forced for her. She wanted to press him further, to find out if his pale face and the shadows under his eyes were just remnants of his lingering flu, or if he was in a dismal mood for some reason. But just then someone knocked three times and entered the room, without waiting to be invited in.
“How are you, Reb Yisrael?” It was the tall man who worked in the nursing home. “Oh, very nice, it’s good that you have visitors. Very good.”
Elisheva’s father smiled at the man. “Is everything alright?” he asked in a low voice.
“Of course it is. Here is your tea. I won’t disturb you. This is your grandson, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Reb Yisrael smiled at Binyamin, who was busy staring at the tiny head that peeked out of the man’s jacket pocket.
“It looks like a baby kangaroo,” Binyamin said, after a moment. “They’re funny, these toy dogs.”
“They are smarter than they look,” Emmanuel, the staff member, told him. He set the cup down on the little table near the armchair and opened the drawer to take out two colored pills. “You haven’t taken your medication yet today, Reb Yisrael, have you? Good, then you can take these pills now with your tea.”
Binyamin grinned at the dog and reached out to see if the tiny creature would want to come to him. But instead, the little dog bared its teeth in a decidedly unfriendly gesture, and then snapped them together. Despite their tiny size, the snapping teeth made a loud noise in the room.
“Come on, why is he so edgy?” Binyamin was almost offended, but his mother actually breathed a sigh of relief. The last thing she wanted was for the little dogs to start frolicking around the room.
“He must have interpreted your move as a threat,” Emanuel explained, and pressed the little dog a bit further into his pocket. Another, darker head peeked out over the edge, but it didn’t look particularly friendly either. “He felt either a threat to me or to him. They want to protect their owners, these little Chihuahua dogs. They are a lot like humans, and sometimes they mistakenly interpret a friendly gesture as an offensive move.”
“So that makes them less similar to people,” Binyamin remarked. “Dogs are one thing, but I would expect a person to be able to identify who is a friend and who is a foe.”
“Really?” Emanuel didn’t smile. “You don’t know people who sit and tremble about something that seems very frightening to them, when in reality they don’t have anything to be afraid of?”
No, Binyamin wanted to scream. I don’t know any such people. And even if I do, I can’t think about those kinds of incidents right now. The only thing I can think about is a yeshivah bachur who is shaking in fear, but for very good reason. Because when a certain woman, or her family members, come to him and ask for the closed envelope he was given to hold on to, he won’t have what to show them.
The more he thought about it, the more frightened he became. What was in that envelope? How much was it worth? How much would he be expected to pay?
Silberman, his chavrusa, did not know why Binyamin had asked recently to learn with him the sugya of monetary damage and shomer chinam (one who is asked to guard something without pay). When is he obligated to pay for damages, and when is he exempt? Binyamin had to be ready for that day when someone would certainly come seeking out what they had left with him.
Shabsi also could not understand why, yesterday, Binyamin had refused to come with him on a night shift. Binyamin himself couldn’t explain it, either. He had stammered an excuse about still being weak from the flu, and Shabsi had accepted the excuse, but with a pointedly raised eyebrow.
Really, Binyamin couldn’t understand his own refusal. What could happen to him if he went with Shabsi for another job? Someone would give him an envelope again? One thing was for sure—this time he would refuse to take it. But he didn’t want to go on another job with Shabsi altogether. He felt totally spent by the whole subject, and only regretted that he hadn’t felt the same way before that night he’d spent at the Katz home.
Emanuel had long left the room, and Ima was chatting with Saba. As always, she asked if he wanted to come for Shabbos. As always, he declined. Then she asked something else, and he answered with one or two words.
Now it sounded like they were talking about this new worker, Emmanuel. Saba was pleased with him, Ima less so. Something about the figure with the dogs did not find favor in her eyes. Maybe it was because of the dogs, or perhaps it was something about the person himself. Or a combination of both.