Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 36 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.
Motza’ei Shabbos. Tzippy packed up their things while Peretz’s mother busied herself in the kitchen filling containers for them. “I don’t have you over every Shabbos,” she’d said after Havdalah. “So when you do come, I’d like to give you the leftover food.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Tzippy saw her placing chicken, meat, soup, and fish into containers. She didn’t especially like any one of these foods. She wasn’t used to the sharp taste of the Hungarian type of soup, and certainly not to the fish that was generously spiced with black and white pepper. The chicken and meat were decent, although nothing more than that. But who cared? They had enough food here for a whole week!
Peretz came to help her pack up. After all, he was an expert at packing, what with all of his years away in yeshivah. “My mother gave me 100 shekel just now,” he reported. “So tell her thank you when we leave, okay?”
“Sure,” she replied. Interestingly, her mother had given them 200 shekel two weeks ago, and told them that they couldn’t always help out, but when they could, they were so happy to, especially because she was still in school and couldn’t look for a serious job just yet.
Tzippy wasn’t going to start comparing, and they certainly had no right to complain, but when she looked at the two families and saw the differences in their means, the standards of their daily fare, she did feel some resentment. Couldn’t Peretz’s mother spare them a bit more than 100 shekel? She hadn’t spent anything on the wedding. And they knew how to spend; that had been evident throughout the wedding preparations. What had happened? Peretz’s mother was generous only when it was on Korman’s account, but not when it came to her personal wallet?
Tzippy blushed, and realized it. She bent down to fiddle with the zipper on the suitcase so Peretz wouldn’t notice the flush on her cheeks. Shame, shame, shame. Her parents would be mortified if they would know the nature of her thoughts.
You’d think that she had been raised in a home where there was always an abundance of what they needed. Ima always tried, and there was good food. But when tomatoes and peppers were too expensive, they didn’t buy them, and sufficed with cucumbers or radishes or whatever was cheap. She didn’t remember that bothering her as a girl.
Now, though, it suddenly did. She wanted more! Sometimes she felt like ambling down the grocery aisles and just buying whatever she wanted. Had the wedding preparations habituated her to a higher standard, by which she expected to live for the rest of her life? Or had she become used to receiving, and therefore, such demanding thoughts dared creep into her mind? If Ima would know that she had called the lawyer to ask for help from Mr. Korman… She hadn’t even told Peretz. She couldn’t bring herself to do it. What had happened to her? Had she developed this tendency to beg in just three short months? Where was her self-respect?
The feeling of shame quickly overpowered the resentment she’d felt just a few minutes earlier; the latter now bowed its head like an obedient child and didn’t raise it at all again when she parted from Peretz’s parents. She made sure to thank her in-laws warmly for the money they’d given them. After all, she could take that 100-shekel bill to the grocery and choose plenty of fruits and vegetables and a few other items that she would normally never allow herself to even look at.
How much did yellow cheese cost? She could prepare little pizza wheels for Peretz for supper, the ones that Avigail Auerbach—what was her name now?—had been telling her about when they’d met last week at the grocery.
It had been a strange encounter indeed. It was almost her turn, and she had put down bread, milk, four lebens, three onions, six potatoes, and a package of wafers on the register counter. Avigail, right behind her, had been pushing a cart piled to the top, and Tzippy had been embarrassed to even look at it. But a quick glance let her know that there was a box of cereal, a package of chocolate puddings, a bottle of chocolate milk, and a triple pack of frozen pizza in there, among other things.
And Avigail had envied her!
“These pizzas are really great,” she’d said, “but I always add yellow cheese to them. It’s better when I have time to prepare little pizza wheels myself, from flaky dough. Maybe a different dough would be better, but I don’t have a mixer and I have no patience to start kneading dough by hand. You probably have a great mixer.”
“Right,” Tzippy affirmed. A mixer that swung up with a whoosh on its special shelf, and which she didn’t even have to plug in because it remained permanently plugged into the outlet designated for it in the cabinet.
“My mother-in-law bought me a Magimix food processor for the engagement, instead of a flower arrangement, which is such a waste. That’s also very useful, but I’d prefer a mixer…” Avigail had sighed. “I would try and save up for something good, but with our mortgage, it’s not possible right now. I thought of buying some tickets in a Chinese auction; who knows? Maybe I’ll win a mixer there, and even if I don’t win, the money will be from ma’aser, which we give anyway.”
Tzippy asked if she worked; Avigail answered that she did, as a substitute for a secretary in a cheder in the afternoon. With a shy smile, Tzippy had asked if they needed a graphic designer, and Avigail had responded that if she’d hear about something, she’d try to recommend her. They’d chatted for a bit longer about model lessons that were coming up, and then they’d parted.
Tzippy felt a sour taste in her mouth. She envied Avigail for her job and for the kollel her husband was in, which paid every month, on time, while she, Tzippy, was left without work, and Peretz’s kollel had not paid them even once yet, even though he was there for almost two months so far.
And Avigail envied her. For her apartment, its size, furniture, and location.
And Miri was also jealous.
B’ezras Hashem, they would manage. They had money from wedding gifts, which was what they were living off for now. Hopefully she would find work, and Peretz’s kollel would eventually pay. But in the meantime… Maybe she should put fifty shekel of this money from her in-laws aside, and start saving a bit?
Tzippy stared out of the bus window. It was hard to believe how heavy life could feel, and she’d only just started out on it.
Avigail Lev, nee Auerbach, returned from seminary to her cozy little apartment and her kitchenware. The morning’s paper was resting on a chair, but she didn’t touch it. First she had to set the table and warm up the food. When all that would be ready, she would finally be able to look at the page that interested her so much.
Not that she was pinning lots of hopes on it. If the U’shemartem Chinese auction organizers hadn’t called last night, then she probably hadn’t won anything—not a mixer, not kitchen cabinets, and not the electric screwdriver for her husband. But maybe they had tried her late, after they’d already turned off the phone for the night?
She tossed the spoon she’d used to stir the rice into the sink, wiped her hands, and studied the kitchen. Yes, it looked neat and clean. It wasn’t easy to be a homemaker when you were busy in school, taking tests, preparing model lessons, and working, but she tried very hard not to neglect any of her obligations. Her husband would be home soon, and he’d find a clean kitchen smelling of good food for lunch.
Avigail sat down at the table and opened the newspaper, leafing through the pages. So, had she won a mixer or not? How did everyone say it? “I’m not the winning type.” But someone had to win that mixer and the set of pots that came with it. So maybe it was her?
Where was that page? U’shemartem was supposed to publish the names of the winners today, weren’t they?
Yes. Here it was, on the last two pages: a huge spread with the familiar logo, and photos of all the prizes that had been advertised so heavily over the past few weeks. The American organization had distributed an unbelievable amount of street signs, newspaper ads, booklets, and other publicity materials, to get people to buy tickets for this Chinese auction. If U’shemartem had enough money to include a furnished penthouse apartment as one of its prizes, then it surely had enough money for repeated advertisements.
She scanned the ads quickly, seeking out prize number sixty-one. A mixer.
But it was to be expected.
In fact, had she seen the name “Avigail Lev, Bnei Brak” on the page, she probably would have been stunned. She didn’t know anyone who had ever won a prize in one of these huge Chinese auctions. Actually, their neighbors had once won an expensive doll carriage, but that was a much smaller campaign than this. It had been a high school auction, or something like that. Avigail wondered if she knew any of the winners this time.
She went back to the beginning of the spread—and suddenly stopped, gaping at the blue letters announcing the winner of the grand prize.
And after two whole minutes of her sitting in this exact position, her husband came home and found her there—along with the odor of burned rice.
“Hello, Avigail!” he called out, as he put his hat down on the plastic chair near the kitchen door. “Hello!” he repeated.
“I don’t believe it…” was her response.
“What, that it’s lunchtime already?” he joked, and turned toward the oven to figure out where the scorched smell was coming from.
“I don’t believe that this is what it says here.” Avigail was still staring, dumbfounded, at the paper.
“You don’t believe what it says there in the paper? I’m happy to check for you if I see the same thing.” He turned the gas off under the rice and came over to the table. “Do you mean this line? Here, I’ll read it: Furnished penthouse apartment, eight rooms: Eliyahu and Elisheva Potolsky, Bnei Brak.”