Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 42 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.
“Excuse me, did the van from Atah Imadi pass by already?” The woman who turned to Elisheva was elderly and seemed to be somewhat blinded by the bright sunlight.
“I think it should be here any—” Elisheva, shading her eyes with her hand, didn’t have a chance to finish her sentence before the white van drove around the bend in the road. She climbed aboard and was on her way to spending another day at Tel Hashomer Hospital, with the hope that everything would go smoothly, and that her father would feel well and hopefully be released in a day or two.
That was life—strong, turbulent, often drowning out all your plans. She had planned and thought and ran around and hoped that by this week, they’d finish all the packing and would finally be able to move. But the infection that Abba had come down with had upended all her organized plans, and turned them into one big joke. For the past three days, since Rosh Chodesh Nissan, she and Eliyahu had been taking shifts at the hospital, in Internal Medicine C, while the children were doing the best they could on the home front.
Just then her cell phone rang. What was this long number?
“Yes?” Her voice was laced with puzzlement.
“This is Mahmoud from Internal Medicine C.”
Her heart skipped a beat. “The hospital?”
“Yes. Your father wants to know when you are coming. He’s alone right now.”
“I’m on my way,” she replied to the Arab nurse. “Is everything alright?”
“Everything is fine. He just didn’t want to eat anything and is waiting for your food.”
“Yes, yes, I’ll be there very soon.”
Eliyahu, who had been with Abba all night, had probably gone down to daven Shacharis, knowing that she was supposed to be arriving just about then. She leaned on the window to her right, staring at the passing scenery. Baruch Hashem the staff at the old age home had discovered Abba’s very high fever in time, and had summoned them. They’d rushed Abba to the emergency room, where the doctor had told them they were fortunate that he had been brought in early enough, and Abba had immediately been started on intravenous antibiotics. Baruch Hashem, the infection seemed to be healing nicely.
“General Rehabilitation; Geriatric Rehabilitation,” the volunteer driver announced. “Anyone getting off?”
“I am.” A young bachur stood up. Something about his profile reminded Elisheva of her Binyamin.
She was fully aware that something had been bothering Binyamin lately, and she wasn’t buying any of his stories. For two months already something had been off, and she had even wanted to send him for blood work at the beginning of bein hazmanim, but then she’d gotten completely involved with her father.
Whatever the case, Binyamin had tried to assuage her fears. “I’m fine, Ima,” he declared over and over. “I feel good, baruch Hashem. Nothing hurts, and I’m not weak. Pale? Maybe it’s still from the flu I had.”
Could be. But something was bothering him, and it was niggling at her as well. He had always been such a mommy’s boy. Why wasn’t he sharing this with her? What was he afraid of? Only once, on Motza’ei Purim, had he said something to her. He’d been helping her put away the all the stuff they had gotten for mishloach manos, and he’d blurted out a strange sentence. “Ima,” he’d said, his voice somewhat hoarse from having drunk a bit too much, “if I were to tell you now that I owe someone quite a sum of money, would that be terrible? I mean, because now you’ll have some kind of income from renting out our apartment, right?”
She had begun to question him—had he borrowed money from someone? What exactly was he referring to?—but he’d quickly assured her that of course not; he’d never taken a penny from anyone for anything. It sounded true, and he hadn’t said another word on the subject since then. Still, the strange question had dogged Elisheva the whole next day.
“Main hospital building, cardiology and emergency room; last stop,” the driver said.
She collected her thoughts and her bags and got off the van.
As she walked down the corridor, her phone rang again. She saw Mahmoud’s long number pop up again.
“Hello?” she said, a bit impatiently.
“Are you coming? The head nurse wants to talk to you about discharge.”
Elisheva pressed the elevator call button. “I’m already here.”
Standing next to her father’s bed, Elisheva held his hand. “You’re going to be released, Abba, b’ezras Hashem. Today or tomorrow. You’ll come to us then, won’t you?”
“No,” he said weakly. He always spoke quietly, but since the stroke two years ago, his voice had become even more feeble, especially when he was lying down.
“But why?” She sat down on the armchair in which Eliyahu had slept the night before. It was a bit low, but this way it was just opposite Abba’s face. “It’s not our tiny apartment where everyone can hear everyone else. It’s a huge apartment, and if you get the room furthest from the center, you’ll see that it doesn’t matter if it’s not a separate suite yet. It will be calm and quiet for you there!”
“No,” he repeated in a whisper.
“But why would you want to go back to the nursing home?” She just couldn’t understand her father.
“I’m used to it there.”
“I promise you, Abba, that it won’t be hard for you to get used to our house. And even if maybe, maybe, maybe you don’t get used to it — you can always go back to the nursing home then!”
“Mr. Yisrael Benzion, here is your medicine.” The nurse who entered helped her father sit up, sip a bit of water, and swallow the pill. Elisheva didn’t recognize the pill.
“What is this?” she asked. “It’s not his blood pressure medication, is it?”
“No, it’s the antibiotics. Since last night, he’s not getting it through IV; he’s getting it orally.”
Her father lay back down.
“Nu, Abba, if we don’t even have to deal with an IV after you are released, then why do you want to go to the nursing home? I want you near me, when you are so weak and so…” She stopped, already hearing her father’s “no.”
But this time he surprised her when he said, a bit more loudly, “Enough.”
“Fine,” she said resignedly.
Eliyahu arrived. “Good morning!” He smiled at her. “So, what’s new?”
“They want to release my father today or tomorrow.”
“Baruch Hashem. Yes, the doctor on the night shift told me that, too.”
“I wanted him to come home to us. You know, some of the furniture is already in the new house, and we can easily prepare a room for him. Someone could sleep with him for the first two days until we all get there with the rest of the stuff.”
“But your father doesn’t want to.”
“How do you know?”
“Late last night they called me from the nursing home to see how he is doing.” Eliyahu put his tallis bag on the night table. “Your father made it clear to me, three times, that I should tell them that he is coming back there. I tried to say that we don’t know for sure, and we’ll see where he’s going to go, but—” he smiled at his father-in-law—“my shver knows better than I do where he is headed.”
The older man nodded with satisfaction.
“Alright, so I’m going home now,” Eliyahu said. “There’s a van at 10:30. I already put on Abba’s tefillin, and he davened. Is there something that you want done now at home?”
“Maybe the fridge. We need to empty and clean it, and prepare it for the move. Will you be up to it?”
“Binyamin and the big girls will help me.”
“Tzippy and Miri said they’ll be happy to lend a hand, too. You can call them if you think you need their help.”
“The girls at home will help me. I think it’ll be enough.” He took his tallis bag back from the night table. “We’ll be in touch later in the day, okay?”
“B’ezras Hashem. Thanks, Eliyahu.” She opened her bag. “Abba, do you want to wash? I made you a sandwich with an omelet. The protein is especially important for you now.”
First he heard the high-pitched yips. The words coming through the line were swallowed up by the barking, and it was impossible to understand a word the dogs’ owner was saying.
“I can’t hear you,” the man said, patiently. “Say that again, please?”
There were a few moments of calming sounds, and then the barking faded somewhat. The sentences after that were very clear. Too clear. Maddeningly clear.
“He’s not going to live with them?” The man uttered each word slowly, no longer sounding patient. “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” A single bark accompanied his lone syllable.
“How do you know?”
“I spoke to the family.”
“In the hospital.”
“You went to them there?”
“No, I called on behalf of the management to hear what the situation is.”
“And how is he doing?”
“He seems to be recovering nicely.”
“Excellent. And what did the family tell you regarding the subject that is important to me? I want to hear exactly, not approximately.”
“Rabbi Potolsky tried to say that perhaps the grandfather would come and live with them, and that they would see exactly what the arrangements would be, but his father-in-law kept saying something in the background, and it sounded like a firm refusal.”
“Oh, he’s the one who is refusing?”
“Why ‘apparently,’ if you say that this is how the conversation went?”
“Because I am experienced with such stories. Sometimes the family doesn’t want the elderly person to live with them, but they pretend that they do. And when such a person senses that his family doesn’t really want him, he prefers to maintain his own dignity and live in the nursing home, rather than become an unwanted burden on his children. You know, like a, ‘Spare me the favors, thank you very much,’ kind of thing.”
Again, the barking overpowered the conversation. “Sorry,” the speaker apologized. “Give me a second to calm them down again…”
“Look,” the caller said, after a moment. “I want you to find this out for me. If the impression that you get is that the family is going to live in that gorgeous penthouse that they won, but they want to throw the grandfather back into the nursing home, well, then, they will only lose out from it.”
“Don’t say ‘throw’ about our nursing home. It’s a very dignified place.”
“Dignified or not, it’s not your nursing home that interests me right now, you hear? I want you to get to the bottom of this.”
“And if the grandfather is the one who prefers it this way?”
“I’ll decide what to do then.”
“Fine,” the man said.
Another few yips, and the conversation came to a close.