Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 38 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 look very cheerful today, Reb Yisrael! What happened? Did your granddaughter come visit with her baby again?”
Elisheva’s father smiled and shook his head. No.
“So, what is it?” Reb Zundel Kravin hung his cane on the back of his chair and sat down at the table. “They’ve given us these heavy pitchers again. I’m telling you, it’s like a hotel here, but if I can’t serve myself and lift this heavy glass pitcher, why do I need all this elegance?”
“I’ll pour for you, Reb Zundel.” Emmanuel suddenly appeared behind them. “Juice or seltzer?”
“A little bit of juice and seltzer. Thank you, Emmanuel.”
The employee filled the cup while Reb Zundel turned to his tablemate again. “Nu, Reb Yisrael,” he prodded fondly. “Won’t you tell me what is making you so happy? Did you finish a masechta?”
“He’s about to finish one,” Emmanuel said as he set down the cup. “Right, Mr. Yisrael? He has only three daf to go.”
“Four,” Elisheva’s father corrected him, and tasted a bit of the mashed potatoes with the edge of his fork.
“Oh, baruch Hashem, baruch Hashem, you are so fortunate to be doing that! May you merit to begin and finish many more masechtos!” the elderly man wished his friend warmly. “So is that why you’ve been smiling since the minute you came into the dining room?”
“Maybe because of that, too,” Emmanuel replied, instead of the person being asked. “But he has another reason for his happiness. May I tell him, Mr. Yisrael?”
Elisheva’s father made a noncommittal motion with his head, and Emmanuel decided that it was an acquiescence.
“His daughter just won a big, new apartment for her family.” He pulled over a chair, sat down next to the two older men, and proceeded to fill a plate for himself with the lettuce salad that was on the table. “And it’s all thanks to her devoted father. Yes, yes, the man sitting here; he’s the one who bought the raffle tickets for his daughter. It’s a huge apartment, and she already told him on the phone yesterday that they are going to make a comfortable, quiet little suite for him there, so that he can come and live with them!”
“Really! How could you not tell us such a thing, Reb Yisrael?” Reb Zundel asked. “We have to start organizing a goodbye party!”
“It’s also to his credit,” Reb Yisrael said, smiling at Emmanuel.
“Why is that?”
“He showed me the catalog.”
“Which catalog?” Reb Zundel asked.
“The catalog of the raffle prizes,” Emmanuel clarified, chomping on his lettuce. “For myself I bought a ticket for the car, but I didn’t win.”
“Too bad you didn’t show that catalog to me,” Reb Zundel said regretfully. “I would have also tried for the big apartment. But on second thought, I don’t know which of my children I would have given it to. They would have just fought over it. So it’s good that I didn’t see it, just like it’s good that they won’t have anything to fight about when I leave This World.” He guffawed. “Actually, maybe my shirts; I have a few good ones.”
Emmanuel turned back to Reb Yisrael. “So, when are they moving in there?” he asked.
“It depends,” Reb Yisrael said.
“What does it depend on? When they get the place?”
“And when will they make you your suite? Before they move in or afterward?”
Reb Yisrael shook his head, indicating that he did not know.
Emmanuel pulled one of the little dogs out of his pocket and put it on a chair nearby, next to a piece of a roll. The puppy gobbled it down in a few bites and raised its head expectantly for more.
“You won’t have such a cutie in the new house, Reb Yisrael,” Emmanuel said. “You’ll miss my pets, won’t you?”
“If he misses something, it will be you, Emmanuel,” Reb Zundel chided. “Not the dogs. He’ll have other sweet things there—his grandchildren, great-grandchildren.”
“He has just one great-grandson,” Emmanuel corrected him, eager to show off his knowledge. “Hey, there’s a catalog right there.” He jumped up to get it. “Didn’t you see these catalogs all over the place, Rabbi Kravin? This organization does a ton of advertising.”
Reb Zundel didn’t even deign the glossy pages a look. “At my age, these raffles don’t interest me anymore,” he said. “But it’s a different story with Reb Yisrael. He’s still young—at least three years younger than me.”
Emmanuel leafed through the booklet. “Here, do you want to see what a gorgeous apartment your friend is soon going to be living in? Look at these pictures! Look at the view from the porch! Look at the china closet and the kitchen!”
“It’s not real,” Rabbi Kravin scoffed. “Where’s the apartment? Here in Bnei Brak? Don’t you see that the picture of the porch has the views of the Jerusalem Hills?”
“Well, of course the pictures are not exactly like the real thing,” Emmanuel said. “The real apartment probably doesn’t have this exact table on the porch with the umbrella and bowl of fruit, and if it has a china closet, I’m sure it won’t come filled with all these silver items.”
“My granddaughter is studying to do that,” Rabbi Kravin said. “She once showed me how she makes gorgeous pictures, even when there’s really nothing there.”
“Nothing there?” Elisheva’s father, whose participation in the conversation had been minimal up until now, suddenly recoiled. “What, it’s all a lie?!”
“Of course not; it’s absolutely true that your daughter won a magnificent apartment,” Emmanuel soothed him. “What Reb Zundel means to say is that, as of now, the apartment has just walls and a nice floor, without all the beautiful things inside.”
“And without the view from the porch.”
Some of the elderly people around them suddenly noticed that the catalog was the center of attention at this little table. They asked what was going on, Emmanuel explained, and the booklet was passed around from hand to hand. Everyone wanted to congratulate Reb Yisrael on his win, but he had already bentched and gone back to his room.
Eliyahu, his son-in-law, and Elisheva were waiting for him there, along with the cake that Elisheva always brought for her father. “We are going to see the apartment now, Abba,” she told him. “I want you to come with us, okay?”
Her father rejected the idea. “I’ll come when it’s ready,” he said hoarsely. And after a moment, he added, “Maybe.”
Of all their children, Eliyahu and Elisheva chose to take just Miri with them to see the new apartment. Elisheva didn’t know if Miri realized that it was an effort to compensate her, so to speak, for the late stage at which they’d told her about the millionaire bankrolling Tzippy’s wedding. Miri didn’t say a thing. She was pleased with the offer, and happily joined her parents.
They walked around the apartment, examining it in silence.
Elisheva stood in the middle of the large dining room, gazing at the huge floor tiles that were covered with a thin layer of construction dust. Obviously the building had been completed only very recently.
“Did you see the kitchen, Ima?” Miri called out.
“Yes.” It was also huge. And she’d noticed that the little light bulbs glittering in the ceiling were the only lights on in the whole house. Even the lights in the large crystal chandelier, which spilled down from the dining room ceiling, were off. But the sun that beamed through the glass doors that separated the dining room from the porch provided more than enough illumination during this mid-afternoon hour.
“This house is not for us, Eliyahu,” Elisheva said, after walking around for a few more minutes. She sat down on a folding chair she’d found in one of the bedrooms.
“Not for us?” Eliyahu, who was checking the hinges on a door, turned to her. “Why not?”
“It’s not…us, such a fancy place.”
He looked around, as though seeing the house for the first time. “Fancy? What’s so fancy here?”
She smiled. “The tiles. The paint job. The kitchen cabinetry. All the lighting in the bedrooms.”
“Oh, yes, there are lots of cabinets in the kitchen. I didn’t look at them too closely. But it’s good to have a lot of kitchen cabinets, right? That’s what you said when we came to see Tzippy’s apartment.”
“Yes, it really is a wonderful thing.” At this point, she almost laughed. “But as beautiful as Tzippy’s kitchen is, this one is almost twice the size, and much more luxurious.” She stood up and went back to the kitchen. Eliyahu followed.
“Look at these drawers…the countertops…the glass doors with those etched designs…the recessed lighting…the moldings…”
“You don’t like these things? I thought you’d be happy. You never had any of these ‘extras’ before.”
“I do like them. A bit,” she admitted. Now she really began to laugh at her husband’s completely practical approach. “But on the other hand, it’s not my style. The children won’t understand…” She trailed off, not sure if he understood her.
“I think what’s most important is what we think about this whole thing,” he said, running a finger over the granite countertop. “We didn’t choose to buy or renovate an apartment; we didn’t plan to invest any energy, money, time, or patience in it. And we didn’t—the whole thing was given to us, as is! This grandeur won’t become the center of our lives. We got this place, so we thank Hashem for giving us some more space for our family. That’s it! What’s so complicated?”
Miri was nowhere to be seen. She must have gone out onto the large balcony.
Elisheva looked around but didn’t answer her husband’s question. What’s so complicated? Her thought process was so not cerebral; it was nothing like her husband’s logical and straight way of thinking.
“Look at that huge space for a fridge,” she finally said.
“This is all for one fridge?”
“Yes, like Tzippy’s.”
“But we’re not going to buy a fridge like hers,” he said dismissively. “As far as I know, we didn’t get a grant to buy new appliances, only a lot of space in which to put the old ones.”
“I know…” She took a deep breath. “When I say that this house is not for us, I mean that Tzippy’s mother-in-law bought that fridge for her, not me, and she fit it to the size of the space in Tzippy’s kitchen. But what will we do here? We’ll put our old fridge in this huge space? It will look like a wilting flower that some kids stick into a pile of dirt!
“And in the dining room, we’ll put our table with our hodgepodge collection of chairs, and in the girls’ room, we’ll put their cheap, plastic chest of drawers…” She played with the wide, nickel handle of the cabinet on which she was leaning.
“You’re forgetting that we are supposed to be getting furniture for the rooms. But still, what difference does it make?” He rubbed his palm on the edge of the counter. “What bothered you all the years was the tiny space, not the plastic chest of drawers or our collection of chairs in the dining room.”
“That’s what I thought,” she whispered. “Now I see that I am so happy with this house, and not only because of its size. Deep inside, I love the beauty, and I adore this kitchen, and everything else the house comes with…and I feel strange about that. More than strange. I feel…bad.”
“I’m happy that you are happy,” Eliyahu said simply. “I think that every woman wants a nice house. The question is to what extent the house serves her, or whether she serves it. We won’t buy a big fridge, for example, but what about a freezer, which we never bought because we never had room for?”
And no money for, Elisheva thought to herself.
“Now we can buy one and put it next to the refrigerator. This will be a perfect spot for them both.”
“Right.” She smiled at her husband’s practical solution.
“And this way, it won’t look to you like a flower stuck into a dusty mound?”
Her smile widened. “No. B’ezras Hashem it won’t.”