Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 41 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.
Purim was behind them, and Elisheva and her entire household of three small rooms flew into a frenzy of organizing and packing. The little ones kept competing as to who would get hold of the biggest boxes from the grocery or nearby supermarket. But Elisheva threw out at least a third of the cartons they brought home, because of all types of unidentifiable crumbs in them.
“Ima wants everything to be clean for Pesach, not just plain clean!” Rikki and Devorah tried to explain to the kids. But their explanations fell on deaf ears. It was a fun activity for the boys: to search for the boxes, ask permission from the proprietors to take them, and then drag them home—just to donate most of them to the storage room in Meir’s friend’s building. Meir’s friend Elchanan was organizing a huge bonfire for Lag B’Omer, and he’d already started collecting boxes and wooden boards for it.
Even Saba had already heard about the famous bonfire, and when Meir went to visit him, he rose slowly from his chair and, with the help of a broomstick, slowly nudged a large, folded cardboard box from under the bed.
“This was downstairs in the lobby,” he said to his grandson, who stared wide-eyed in delight. “I asked if I could keep it for you.”
“Thank you, Saba!” Meir hugged the carton as best he could; his arms hardly went around it. “Ima, can I go bring this over to Elchanan?”
“Wait, not this minute,” Elisheva said. She had just leaned back in her chair and was holding a steaming cup of tea, a bit of a break from the mess at home. It was just two days to Rosh Chodesh Nissan, and they hoped to move next week. Maybe it would have been better to wait until they could close off the unit for her father, instead of renovating while they lived there, but the temptation of moving before Pesach to a new, clean, very large home was overwhelming. And in any case, her father was not being very clear about his plans. It seemed like he would be happy to come live with them, but every time the subject came up, he kept saying, “We’ll see.”
The visit ended up being cut short, after all. It was hard to sit and relax when Meir was cavorting around the fire fodder that his grandfather had given him, and pretty shortly afterward, Elisheva found herself walking home, with the big carton dragging behind them.
“Elisheva!” Sari Goodman, her third-floor neighbor, met her on the corner of the street near their house. “So, is it true that you’re really leaving us bereft here?”
“Not bereft.” Elisheva smiled. “Chalilah. We wish you many long and happy years in the building here!”
“I thought you’d stay,” Sari remarked in a somewhat surprised tone.
You did? Elisheva thought. Your apartment is almost double the size of mine, and you have five children, and still I’ve heard you, more than once, complain about your “tiny” home. So why do you think that with my large family, bli ayin hara, I should nevertheless stay and live here, even after I was handed this amazing opportunity?
“Yes, I really did think you’d stay,” Sari repeated. “I thought you’d sell that apartment for the money; it’s probably worth a fortune. And you have many children to marry off, bli ayin hara.” She tittered. “I’m not sure you’ll find a millionaire who’s begging to fund the weddings of the rest of your kids.”
“Obviously.” Elisheva chuckled politely in return, but inside, she didn’t find it at all funny. “But Hakadosh Baruch Hu has lots of ways to help, and we decided that if He sent us this large apartment, and we really do feel that we need the space, then we are moving.”
Decided? Not really. The question of whether or not they should move had never really come up; Sari Goodman’s idea hadn’t even entered their minds.
Unless it had entered Eliyahu’s mind, and she just didn’t know that?
The husband is usually more concerned about how he’ll pay for his children’s weddings, while the wife is typically more focused on her quality of life in the present…
“Eliyahu,” she said as soon as she walked into her home. “Eliyahu?”
“Abba’s still in kollel.” Esty looked at her, baffled.
“Oh, right.” Elisheva exhaled loudly and went to change into slippers. She walked into the kitchen to help her older daughters serve supper to the little ones, but the onerous thought did not leave her mind for a second. Were they moving only because of her? Was she being wasteful?
The minute Eliyahu walked in—before he even took off his jacket—she dashed over to him. “Eliyahu, did you not want to move?”
“Not want to move?” he echoed, his left hand still stuck in the black jacket sleeve. “What are you talking about?”
“Do you think it would have been better to stay living here and to sell the apartment we won and put away the money for the kids?”
“Not at all,” Eliyahu said. He hung up his hat. “Maybe after most of the children are married b’ezras Hashem, and we won’t need such a big house, we can think of moving on. But right now, there isn’t a single extra room there.”
“Right!” she said. She looked around. “And it’s really, really crowded here.”
“So why are you even asking this, Elisheva?”
“Because…someone—it doesn’t matter who—thinks that we would be better off doing that.”
“So she thinks that,” he scoffed. “Well, we don’t think that way.”
“She also mentioned the Australian millionaire.” Elisheva could not calm down. “Eliyahu, I think people are jealous of us. We really had some very noticeable siyata d’Shmaya this year, far beyond the norm.”
“Nu?” He walked into the kitchen.
“Besides it not being pleasant to have people jealous of me and talk about me, I’m also afraid of ayin hara.”
Eliyahu looked at her. “We really should do something about that,” he said. “You know, I’ve also thought about it.”
“Yes, and I want you to know, the Gemara brings an idea for such a situation.”
She took a towel off a chair and sat down. “What does it say?”
He left the kitchen and came back a few seconds later with a Gemara in his hand. “Maseches Eiruvin,” he said, leafing through the sefer. “It says here: When one holds the assets of a ger, what should he do to ensure that they last? This refers to someone who receives assets without having toiled for them, and this causes people to wonder about it. And Rashi adds that people’s surprise might indeed cause an ayin hara, which will result in the assets not remaining with him.”
“The Gemara says what such a person should do: he should take a sefer Torah with them. Meaning, he should use some of the money to write a sefer Torah. The reward for that will be that these assets will remain with him.”
“Write a sefer Torah?” Elisheva thought for a moment. “It’s an idea. My father always dreamed of writing a sefer Torah in memory of the family he knows nothing about.”
“And he didn’t.”
“No, there was never enough money for it.”
“It really is very expensive.”
“So how can we do such a thing? We won’t be able to pay for a sefer Torah from the money we’ll earn by renting this apartment out.”
“I thought about that, too.” He stood up to make a coffee in a paper cup for himself. Those were the only cups not already packed. “We can write a Sephardic sefer Torah. Those are cheaper than Ashkenazic ones, and with Hashem’s help, we should be able to afford it. ”
Bratislava – 5708/1948
Ulush Cohen pulled the blanket a bit tighter around the bundle in her arms and waved to Bracha, her roommate. Janek was waiting outside for her, and together they walked down the stairs of the building. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs next to a large object, and looked every which way.
“A baby carriage!” Ulush gasped in surprise. “Is this our carriage, Janek?”
“For now, yes.” Her husband smiled. “Until we will be asked to give it back.”
“It’s such a lovely carriage! There will be lots of room in it for our little doll,” Ulush gushed. She placed her precious bundle into the wooden carriage with the thick, soft, red-colored padding. The metal wheels creaked pleasantly. “Thank you, Janek! Who is it from?”
“Mr. Oditcher donated three such carriages to the community va’ad, and I thought it would be more comfortable for you than holding the baby in your arms. You are very weak.”
“That’s right,” Ulush whispered. No one knew how little time she had spent sleeping during this hospital stay. She’d spent most of her nights at Gustav’s bed in the pediatric ward.
Over the last two days, he had actually smiled at her and even spoken a bit. He recognized her and Janek, who came in the morning. She had told him goodbye and promised to come visit again, as he needed to stay in the hospital until he would be totally well, but—
“I’m going up to tell him goodbye one more time,” she said suddenly.
“Who?” Janek asked, as though he didn’t understand.
“You’re not going up,” he declared firmly.
“We’re in a hurry now,” Janek explained, and his eyes flitted to someplace in the distance. “I made up with Shlomku Brein to come and get us on his way back to Senica; we’ll stay there until tomorrow. By then, a room will be available to rent right next door to them.”
“Whose room is it?”
“Horowitz. They are leaving to Italy.”
“Yes, there’s a ship leaving from there in two weeks.”
Her eyes filled with tears.
“What happened?” He tensed. “Do you also want to go? We’ll do it very soon, b’ezras Hashem. Don’t worry.”
“That’s not what I’m worried about,” she whispered.
“So why are you upset? Because we’ll only have one room for now? It’s just a temporary residence, you know…”
“I want to see Gustav,” she almost whimpered. “I want to see Gustav.”
A few people had told him that postpartum women could be overly emotional, and that it was wise to go as easy as possible on them, but on this subject, he could not afford to go easy. “I’m sorry, Ulush,” he whispered, somewhat sternly, and gripped the handle of the carriage that she had let go of. “But you can’t go up to him. You mustn’t go up.”
“Why not?” She inhaled deeply. Something in her husband’s voice was too tense, too scary. Too scared.
His gaze skittered around and around, and then he finally whispered, “The police were here this morning. In the pediatric ward.”
“No…” Her eyes widened. “The police?! Who are they looking for? Gustav?”
“It’s impossible to know. They took down the names of all the children and their families there.”
“I don’t like it when people make lists like that.”
“No one likes it.” Shlomku Brein’s car drove up. “But at the end of the day, these are not the Germans. You don’t have to be so frightened.”
“So why are you so afraid?”
“Because of our connection to Gustav. We allowed ourselves to be next to him too much, and there’s no way to know what they know about his abduction and what not. It’s possible that it was a random visit, and it has nothing to do with us. But recently the police has started to keep a very close eye on Jewish organizations, our communities, and the places where we live—and nobody likes it.”
“Are you speaking now about all the Jews in general, or specifically about us and Gustav?”
“Both. We mustn’t make any contact with him now or be seen with him.”
Shlomku got out of the car to help them, and Ulush wiped her eyes and picked up her baby from the carriage.
“Besides,” Janek continued, “we have to start thinking ahead, about where we go from here. If the Soviets are going to lock the gates of this country, like they are doing in other places they control, we have to be on the other side when it happens.”