Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 40 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.
When Binyamin walked into the house with his bag of laundry on Motza’ei Shabbos, he was greeted with upbeat music.
“Sorry,” he said with a tired smile. “I thought this was my house.”
“It’s always happy here!” his sister Chani said, waiting ready with her camera.
“But there isn’t usually so much noise here. Can you lower the music a little?”
“Mishenichnas Adar marbim b’simchah!” five-and-a-half-year-old Shloimy said knowingly. “And besides, don’t you know we’re moving? Right after Purim!”
“He knows,” Esty said.
“I know,” Binyamin said at the exact same time. He sat down on a chair. “Of course I know!”
“Oh, so Abba and Ima told you?” Four-year-old Bentzy nodded understandingly.
Binyamin laughed. “And if they wouldn’t have told me, my friends would have updated me. Almost all of Bnei Brak knows about it!”
“Yes, and it’s a little…uncomfortable to be the subject of people’s stories…” Devorah spoke up. “Do you feel that way, too?”
“There certainly is something to what you’re saying.” Binyamin rested a hand on his forehead and raised his eyes to his sister. “Can’t you lower that music? My head is really aching.”
Chani and Esty studied him.
“Your head’s been hurting too much lately,” Chani said. “Last Shabbos you had a bad headache, too. What’s the matter? Are you starting to get migraines like Abba?”
“Chas v’shalom,” Devorah said as she lowered the volume. “Give me the camera a minute, Chani. I have to take a picture of Nati—look what he’s doing with Binyamin’s hat!”
Binyamin observed his siblings having a field day with his hat, the one he had saved up for during two years of yeshivah bein hazmanim, and which had served him loyally for Shabbos for half a year before he got a new one for Tzippy’s wedding, at which point he had turned it into his weekday one. Actually, this one was of a better quality than the new one. Abba and Ima hadn’t wanted to take advantage of the Australian philanthropist, so they’d told him to forgo a more expensive hat and to buy instead a standard-quality one. But when he’d bought a hat for himself with his own money, he had chosen the best one available.
Once upon a time he wouldn’t have allowed his little brothers and sisters to play with that hat, but something inside him had shifted. Maybe it had begun that first night, when he’d gone with Shabsi to learn Mishnayos and had seen the niftar’s worn hat. He had realized then that any hat, no matter how much you invest in it, is a very transient thing.
In that sense, he felt like those nights with Shabsi had been beneficial for him. There was something very educational—and more than that, inspirational—about the whole thing, and it had definitely been a learning experience. On the other hand, the damage had quickly exceeded the benefit. His all-nighters had pretty much destroyed his sedarim the next day, and now it had gotten him into a major mess.
Maybe the time had come to resolve the issue? Perhaps he could muster up the courage to tell his parents that he had lost something—though he had no idea what exactly the lost item was—and that he had to pay for it. He had a little bit of money saved up from his work with Shabsi. During the upcoming Pesach bein hazmanim he would be able to earn some more, although he knew that Abba didn’t really like him running from one shul to the next and learning for the money. But he had this vague feeling that whatever was in the envelope was worth much more than the few hundred shekels that he’d be able to earn on his own.
“You know, I think you just haven’t gotten back to yourself since you had the flu,” Devorah suddenly realized. “You’ve been very quiet and serious lately, and whenever you come home…oh, wait, are you just annoyed that Nati is playing with your hat? Okay, enough, we’ll take it from him.”
“It’s fine,” Binyamin mumbled. “He’s not smashing it, so let him have a few more minutes of fun. Where are Abba and Ima?”
“They left right after Havdalah to some lawyer for the new apartment,” Esty said. “Ima asked that you should put the little kids to bed, Devorah.”
“Thank you, my dear secretary,” Devorah replied. She looked around. “So let’s see who’s going to be the fastest one today…I think it’s going to be Yitzy. No, maybe Bentzy? I can’t guess. What do you say, Binyamin?”
“Maybe everyone together?” Binyamin joined the game and hurried to volunteer his services. “I’ll make the beds in the dining room, once I’m here already.”
Working together, it took them less than half an hour to get all the kids into bed. Something about the cheerful atmosphere helped Binyamin recover somewhat from his headache.
And then Ima and Abba came home.
“Binyamin, how are you?” Elisheva was happy to see her son. “Did you bring in your laundry? You put it in front of the washing machine? Great. Come, let me get you something hot to drink.”
The adults crowded into the kitchen.
“So are we really moving in a week and a half, right after Purim?” Binyamin graciously accepted the cup of coffee his mother had prepared for him.
“A little later, after Rosh Chodesh. In the meantime, we’ll try,” his father glanced around, “to find a renter for this apartment.”
“Oh, you’re going to rent it out?” Binyamin asked.
“Yes. It’s in a good location, and it could be a good income every month. It’s an asset that’s not worth selling.”
“Then maybe Ima won’t need to work?” Chani asked excitedly.
“And is it true that Saba is going to sell his tiny apartment instead of renting it out, because he won’t need to pay for the old age home anymore? My friend told me she heard that.”
Elisheva’s lips curved into a mirthless smile. She had a strong aversion to involving the children in financial matters, but there were situations in life when it needed to be done, cautiously.
“Don’t you think this can cause an ayin hara on us?” Devorah suddenly asked. “Especially after the story with Tzippy… So many people are talking, my friends are asking so many questions, and people are jealous… It’s kind of scary, isn’t it?”
“Blumi, what is this money that came in from you to my account?” Beri’s voice was a mixture of surprise, criticism, and a frisson of interest. He clearly remembered each of the times he had been stuck and his little sister had bailed him out with a generous transfer from her account to his. But this time there wasn’t any special reason. True, Blumi and Gideon were probably worth thirty times as much as he was, but as long as he didn’t have a specific problem for which he needed to ask for a loan, he had no interest in receiving money for no reason. “Is it a mistake?”
“No.” Blumi sighed. “It’s not a mistake.”
“So what is it? A birthday present?”
“Oh, I completely forgot the date!” Blumi was pacing up and down the house with her phone. “I’m really sorry, Beri. How did I forget, this year of all years?”
“I can’t get gifts this year anyway, in case you forgot. But what is this money about?”
“It doesn’t matter.” Blumi shook her head. “I sent money to the others also, not only to you, if that makes you feel better.”
“Maybe it makes me feel better, but it also makes me more curious.”
“So overcome your curiosity,” his little sister retorted, a bit sharply. “Isn’t that what you always tell me?”
Beri laughed shortly. “Nu, come on!”
“Shmuel is beeping in. Ugh, can’t I deposit a few dollars into my brothers’ accounts without you going nuts? It’s one thing if I would be withdrawing money!”
“What is this money, Blumi?” Beri was insistent.
“It’s for the silver yad.”
“The one that disappeared?”
“I don’t understand. What’s the story with it?”
“It disappeared, and it’s my fault, so I’m paying for it. If we find it, then it will be mine.”
Beri was silent for a long moment; in the silence they could both clearly hear Shmuel beeping in again and again.
And Shmuel will ask how I was able to estimate the value of the yad, Blumi mused to herself. Each one with his questions. I know my brothers well. Now Beri is going to want to know—
“What do you mean it’s your fault that it disappeared?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Blumi replied.
“What does that mean? It does matter. Maybe you’re blaming yourself for no reason!”
“I’m not blaming myself for no reason, and I don’t want to say how it’s my fault.” She was being stubborn, like a little girl.
And I already did everything, Beri, before I decided to pay you a sum that I think is at least one and a half times as much as the yad is worth.
She had worked to find out who had arranged for the bachurim to come that night, and learned that it was her brother Shmuel. When she’d asked him who they were, he’d replied vaguely that he had asked a friend to get a hold of some bachurim who do this kind of service. By her next question, who that friend was, Shmuel started to become suspicious, but he’d given her the friend’s name.
Blumi had mustered up the courage to call Shmuel’s friend, and after a long, convoluted story about bachurim who had learned Mishnayos for her family, who she now needed to contact about something, the friend had answered that he didn’t know exactly who they had been. Apparently he’d tried calling a few numbers that night until he’d found someone who could come.
She’d asked for those numbers, and had received two of them. But neither turned out to be the one she’d been looking for.
And she had no more nerve to call Shmuel’s friend again, to ask him to try to get her another one of the numbers that he had called that night.
Maybe she should put an ad in the paper: “Seeking bachurim who learned Mishnayos on Monday, 26 Teves, at the Katz home on Ibn Gavriel Street. One of them received a valuable envelope for safekeeping, and disappeared with it.”
How would that be for an idea, Beri?