Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 37 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.
“Have you gone to see the apartment yet, Elisheva?” Yocheved, Eliyahu’s oldest sister, began the call without any small talk or niceties. “I didn’t know you’re the type, you know, who buys raffle tickets.”
“I didn’t buy them,” Elisheva said. Her pre-lunch nap had now been disturbed for the fifth time by an excited phone call. Her head had ached terribly this morning after a night of talking and efforts to digest this news—efforts that were not crowned with much success. So this morning she’d sent Tzippy to work at the day care center instead of her.
“What? You didn’t buy any tickets for this raffle?”
“Nope. My father did.”
“Your father? Wow!”
“Yes. He bought three tickets—for us, for Miri, and for Tzippy…and our ticket won.” For the fourth time, at least, she listened to herself objectively, as though she was just an observer, with interest. Our ticket won….our ticket. It was one thing when people who purchased raffle tickets dream about the fraction of a chance they have of winning. But she? Them—Eliyahu and Elisheva Potolsky? Was it really them who had received that phone call last night?”
“For Tzippy? Why did he buy a ticket for Tzippy?”
“I don’t know, Yocheved.”
“She has a beautiful apartment already, doesn’t she?”
“Yes. But my father didn’t consult me.”
“So let’s hear! Where is your new apartment?”
“In the new buildings at the end of Chazon Ish.”
“I don’t know Bnei Brak very well, but I take it that the location works for you. And what does ‘furnished’ mean? What does it have?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is it just standing and waiting for you with furniture? Or will they give you a credit and let you choose the furniture you want to buy for it?”
“I think we get to go buy it.”
“And they didn’t tell you exactly how much they’re giving you?”
“No, not yet.”
“How big is it exactly?”
“If I understood correctly, it’s eight rooms, plus it has a large porch.” She looked at the half-empty laundry basket. What had she done with all the clothes that were in it? Had she folded them? No, they were here in a big pile to her left. “I hope that my father will agree to come live with us there. I told him that I’m planning to make him an apartment together with us.”
“He kept refusing to come live with you until now, right?”
“Right, and I understand him. Until now I wouldn’t have been able to give him his own space, with the quiet and relaxation that he needs.” She glanced at her tiny, overcrowded home. The home that, when all was said and done, she loved very much.
“Elisheva, it sounds absolutely amazing.”
“I know.” Elisheva took a deep breath and returned the clothes to the basket. “It really is amazing.” So amazing, in fact, that she was beginning to fear ayin hara. “I didn’t even know that my father had bought the ticket for me.”
“And they just called you out of the blue?”
“Seriously…this sounds like a fairy tale.”
Somehow, the word “tale” seemed to ring with a tone of distrust in Elisheva’s ears, but she didn’t have any energy to apologize for a raffle ticket that she had not purchased. And even if she would have purchased it, why should she have to apologize? It’s as if people expected her to feel uncomfortable about this surprise windfall. It was fine—thank you, everyone—but she was discombobulated enough as it was.
“And you were totally shocked, huh?”
“‘Shocked’ is not the word. We’re still feeling that way.” She plumped her pillow and ran a hand over her aching forehead. She’d already despaired of sleeping.
After six calls, some of which she’d answered and some not, she considered unplugging the phone. But then she remembered that the representative from U’shemartem had gaily informed her that she would be contacted again this morning to arrange the legal transfer of the apartment to their name. And so the phone call marathon continued.
U’shemartem had put an ad in the paper today with all the winners. How she wished they would have asked permission from them first. Wouldn’t it have been better to remain anonymous? Here and there, she noticed people like “G. Family, Ashdod” or “K. Family, Beit Shemesh” listed as prize winners for various raffles. She’d always thought that kind of thing was a bit shady, and had never much trusted all these Chinese auctions and whatnot. It was for this exact reason, as Eliyahu had explained to her that morning, after he’d gotten regards on the way home from shul from people who had already seen the paper, that U’shemartem did not want to publicize their winners anonymously. Theirs was a serious operation, and they weren’t looking to evoke any doubts or skepticism. Besides, he’d added, what would it help to keep their win a secret?
“We’re going to move there, b’ezras Hashem. You want people to start making up stories, like we had with Tzippy’s wedding? It’s enough that to this day people don’t know what to make of the story with Korman from Australia.”
Indeed, it was going to be very difficult for those people to swallow yet another windfall for the Potolsky family.
“Mommy, is everything okay?”
Batsheva, Blumi’s sixteen-year-old daughter, wasn’t used to her mother not touching the cakes that she’d baked. Batsheva loved to bake, and her mother usually encouraged the hobby. But now, her mother was just sitting and toying with her fork. Her father, as usual, just grabbed a bite here and there while fielding his many phone calls.
No. It turned out that he had just hung up on a call, because he had, in fact, heard her question. “Mommy is tired,” he said. “And drained. You can imagine that this trip was no vacation for her, right?”
Batsheva nodded and studied her mother. “Suri called two hours ago to say she’s going to pop over to see you,” she relayed hesitantly. “I told her I’m sure you’ll be happy to see her and Yoni.”
Blumi shook her head. “Call her and tell her to come tomorrow instead, okay, Batsheva? I think I’m going to sleep.”
“Yes, go to sleep,” Gideon said. “You’ll wake up tomorrow feeling better.”
“I’m not sure,” his wife answered morosely, sinking even further into her chair. Batsheva shifted her glance from one parent to the other, and remained silent.
“So maybe it is a good idea for Suri to come over with Yoni now.” Gideon rose, ready to continue with the marathon of his life, as if he hadn’t left England for eleven days. “The cake was delicious, Batsheva’le. Thank you.”
“My pleasure,” she said, but it came out in a near sob.
“And don’t worry about Mommy. She’s absolutely exhausted, and there’s also something that’s bothering her. Not a health issue or anything like that, just something small that—” He wanted to say “disappeared,” but Blumi was apparently not as disconnected from the goings-on in the room as she appeared. She sat up straighter in her chair.
“It really is something minor,” she said, and tried to smile. “Don’t worry, Batsheva.”
“Well, then,” Gideon said, somewhat relieved, “I’ll be going. And decide if you want Suri and Yoni to come over now, Blumi. I think that some time with our darling grandson might be very good for you.”
“Could be,” she said. But after a minute she shook her head again. “No. I’m too tired.” But it was too late, because she heard her oldest daughter’s gentle knock at the door, and the hurried footsteps of Josephine, the housekeeper, as she rushed to open the door.
Batsheva, who felt overcome with guilt, also hurried to the door. “Hi, Suri!” she said, and quickly plucked her one-month-old nephew out of the carriage. “Look at you, little Yoni!” she cried. But a little tear that rolled down her cheek upended her charade.
“Batsheva?” Suri looked at her in surprise. “Are you alright?”
“I am. But something happened to Mommy,” the sixteen-year-old whispered. “She came back from Eretz Yisrael so…so tense and distracted.”
“Of course.” Suri sighed. “Her father was niftar.”
“Right. But I remember how it was when Bubby passed away, three years ago. She wasn’t like this at all.”
“You were too young to really remember it,” Suri said decisively, and reached for her son, who had begun to fidget and whimper. “I flew with Mommy and Tatty to the levayah at the time, and I remember very well the way Mommy took it. She was so broken.”
“And I didn’t go then or now,” Batsheva said bitterly, “because they won’t take me to a levayah even when I’m twenty. Because I’m the youngest, I’ll probably be a baby to them forever. But it doesn’t matter, because I’m sure that this is not what happened then. This is something else. Then she was devastated. Now she is very worried about something.”
They both walked together into the little breakfast nook.
“Suri!” Blumi exclaimed from her chair. “It’s good to see you! How did you manage with little Yoni when we weren’t here?”
“Baruch Hashem, my mother–in-law is staying with us, and she’s doing a great job helping me take care of him.”
“And she came with you now?” Blumi recoiled and looked around. “She called me during the shivah. I thought that was enough…”
“Of course she didn’t come,” Suri soothed her. She sat down near her mother. “Why should she come here right after you just landed? I came to be with you a bit, but please, it’s obvious that you don’t have the strength now for real guests.”
Blumi was silent. I don’t have strength for you either right now, my dear daughter. I’m all messed up because of this yad that is lost, which is all my fault, and I’m mortified for my brothers to find out about it. It’s got to do with the same shame that has been with me since I was a little girl, the only girl in the family. The one who didn’t know anything, who acted nonsensically, and who just happened to have gotten married to a successful, wealthy man.
If my brothers hear what I did with the yad, even if they can immediately find a way to deal with the issue, they will never forget it. They will never forget how I irresponsibly gave this special item to someone I didn’t know, all because of some vague imagining on my part, and how I was able to even think of such a thing during those moments.
We postponed the flight for three days, fearing the moment that my brothers would remember the silver yad. But they didn’t. We waited for the person to come forward and say, “Hi, you know, you gave me something and never came to ask for it.” But no one came.
Who are you, anonymous bachur? We don’t know where to find you, but you know where to find us. How are you sleeping calmly at night, when you are holding onto something that doesn’t belong to you?!
But the “anonymous bachur” was not sleeping calmly at night, because he had no idea where that package that he had been given was. He had spent a number of nights tossing and turning, wondering what to do. Because even if he knew how to find the family, what would he tell them?
He probably should take himself over to that apartment and find the members of the Katz family, but he could not bring himself to do it. At least not before he raised some more money so that he could possibly cover the damage incurred by the loss of the envelope.
Who needed this whole headache in the first place? It was specifically the encounter with those who would never again deliberate about what to wear, and would never again buy anything for themselves, that should have sapped him of his desire to earn money. But aside for the initial squeamishness, he had gotten very used to the “work.” There were good bachurim who did it, sure, but they were likely older than him. And somehow, with Shabsi…it wasn’t for him.
But how would he earn such a sum of money, if he was refusing Shabsi’s every offer since that night at Katz? He should take tests for money? Maybe that’s what he needed to do: start learning more diligently so he could take these tests, and then he could build up a nest egg for the day he would be asked to pay. It sounded almost like a sentence from a mussar sefer: “Start learning more diligently, to build up for the day you’ll have to pay.” A shame that he’d forgotten that first scary night with Shabsi so quickly…