Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 44 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.
The little house slowly underwent a change. Every piece of furniture was cleaned, packed well, and prepared to be sent to the new apartment. The children ate “Erev Pesach suppers” long before they were used to doing so every other year, but Elisheva knew that something had to give; she couldn’t be perfect on all fronts. So they ate pitas and pastrami and franks, and baruch Hashem no one seemed to be the worse for wear because of it.
“We’ve finished the dining room,” Eliyahu said with a sigh of relief late one night. The bookcase was dismantled, the sefarim were packed in boxes, and the table and chairs were wrapped in plastic. The little ones were sleeping, crowded tightly into the bedroom. Later, they would be transferred back to their mattresses, in the dining room.
Elisheva sat down on a plastic chair that still remained unwrapped. ““There are two things left that are questions: the cuckoo clock and this silver yad.”
“Right.” Eliyahu squinted his eyes. “What is this? A mystery without a solution, or what?”
“There has to be a solution,” Devoiry said, looking from one parent to the other. “Things don’t just land in homes out of nowhere…”
“Maybe one of the little ones brought it from someplace?”
“Who? Everyone says they don’t know what it is,” Elisheva replied.
Since they’d found the yad the morning before, the children had gone around to all the neighbors in the building, asking if they had any idea what it was. Maybe one of the neighbor’s children had brought it over when they’d come to play? But, as Eliyahu had predicted, no one knew anything about it.
“We’ll ask what to do with it,” he concluded now. “And what about the cuckoo clock, Elisheva? What do you want to do with it?”
Everyone in the room turned to look at the old clock. It was nice, but aside for taking up space in the room, there wasn’t much to it. It really didn’t take up too much space in anyone’s heart. “My father liked it,” Elisheva said hesitantly. “He got it as a wedding gift from a good friend, a watchmaker. But it would often break down…”
“And it’s broken again now, too. It’s been for years already,” Eliyahu said decisively. “Every once in a while it gives a cuckoo, but without any rhyme or reason… I don’t see any use for it. Can we throw it out and be done?”
“We can try to sell it,” Riki suggested. “A cuckoo clock is a valuable thing.”
“Not a broken clock that is seriously out of whack. We looked into it once; a repair would cost several hundred shekel.”
“And how much does a working cuckoo clock cost?” Binyamin asked.
“It depends, of course. But in general, I’m sure it starts at about fifteen hundred shekel; maybe you can get one for a bit less.” Their father passed a hand over his forehead. “I never really researched it, because I never planned to buy a cuckoo clock.”
“We got it from Saba when he moved to the old-age home,” Elisheva reminded them. She looked at the clock again. “I think if my father doesn’t mind, we should try to sell it. After all, it’s nice, and someone worked very hard to make the exterior beautiful. Maybe we can get two hundred shekels for it, or two hundred and fifty. If it doesn’t sell, we’ll throw it out.”
“We just need to open it up beforehand,” twelve-year-old Chani said with a laugh.
“Open it?” her mother asked. “Why?”
She blushed. “Because in stories, all kinds of mysterious and ancient items are hidden in old clocks. So it would be a shame to just throw all those secrets into the garbage…”
“The secrets and the treasures!” Binyamin laughed.
“Let’s go; you have the honors of opening it,” Elisheva said. She stood up. “I have a key. But it was opened so many times already, that I don’t think you’re going to find anything more major than some dust in there.”
“Why was it opened?” Binyamin asked.
“Savta, alehah hashalom, would keep documents on the bottom of the clock, and sometimes also some money. But nothing was left of it.” She looked at her daughter’s disappointed expression as she stood in front of the open compartment of the clock, and at her big brothers who were snickering behind her back.
“Don’t be disappointed, Chana’le. I told you there’s nothing there. But it’s good to see that you have a sense of responsibility; you wanted to check the inside of the clock before doing anything with it That’s an excellent middah.”
“Is it possible to open the top?”
“The cuckoo’s house.”
“Chani, are you planning to cut up the clock or something? Then we won’t be able to try to sell it afterward.” Devoiry raised an eyebrow.
“We can pick up the little roof,” Elisheva told them, “and peek inside. But I’m telling you, Chani, Saba opened this roof lots of times, when I was a curious little girl who wanted to see if there were any secrets there. Kind of like you, Chani! But really, there’s nothing there.”
“But would you let me check it again now?”
Elisheva nodded, and then yawned. “And then we’re going to sleep, all of us. Tomorrow is another day of hard work.”
Chani climbed onto the plastic-wrapped chair and opened the roof. Despite the earlier snickers, everyone watched her curiously. She peeked inside, and then stuck her hand in.
“What’s going on? Is there something inside, or are you just keeping us in suspense?” Riki nudged her.
“There’s nothing here.” Chani shook her head. “Nothing besides for the actual cuckoo bird and the metal piece that connects it. I just wanted to be sure.”
She jumped off the chair, and, like a final accord to the slight tension in the dining room, the little door opened, and after two months of no one hearing any sign of life from the cuckoo bird, it popped out and made its famous call three times.
“That’s it!” Elisheva laughed, once the cuckoo bird had retreated back into its little house again. “The bird had its piece, and now it’s our turn—good night!”
“Gustav is about to be released, and the orphanage is being closed down. But they didn’t get certificates for all the children.”
Ulush nodded, patting baby Suri’s back. “What will they do then?”
“Well, it’s clear that the curtains are soon coming down on the British show in Eretz Yisrael, but it’s impossible to know how long the last battle will take… And the problem is that it’s really not smart to wait here until it happens, because by then it might be too late.”
She nodded again.
“So the children will probably go on the illegal aliyah. It’s the only solution they found right now.”
“Looks like it. Rabbi Walkin already agreed to take him until the place closes, because since the police already searched there, it doesn’t look like there is a risk that they will come again.”
“So Gustav will also make aliyah,” she said thoughtfully. “And what about us?”
“I found out about the children’s ship.” Janek spoke slowly. “The list is closed already. The ship is full.”
“And we have no chance of getting certificates, for legal aliyah?”
“I can try, but it will take a long time. And in the last two weeks there were a few new developments that I still haven’t told you about.” He stood up and walked over to the little cabinet in the corner. “Remember Mendel Kokis, my cousin?”
“He’s the one from America?”
“Right. He submitted an application for visas for us nearly a year ago.”
She turned to him. “Entry visas to America?”
“Yes.” He closed the cabinet door and returned to the middle of the room. Her eyes were riveted to the envelope in his hand. “This morning we received a positive answer.”
Ulush’s eyes widened. “To go to…America?”
“I think it’s worth it.”
She sat down slowly, gazing at Suri’s round, cherubic face. “Why?”
“A war is going to break out soon in Eretz Yisrael, and I’m afraid for you and for the baby. And it’s not like we have any really feasible way of getting to Eretz Yisrael now, anyway. Also, if we go to America,” he glanced at the envelope, “my cousin wants to pay for part of our tickets.”
“So we won’t go to Eretz Yisrael? And we won’t meet up with Edo and Gustav?”
“Well, we can always leave America if we want to. But first I want to see what will happen with the Arabs there, in Eretz Yisrael.” He toyed with the envelope, and she realized that he was purposely lowering his eyes so as not to meet her gaze. “And I’ll tell you the truth, Ulush: I have no strength for more war.”
“But we’re sending Edo and Gustav there…”
“They were never in our official charge, Ulush.” He got up and went back to the cabinet. “We were only watching them for a temporary period of time.”
“We saved them!” she objected.
“Then you can say we were the shlichim, the emissaries designated to help them. But we don’t have the right to make decisions about their future. Most of the people here do choose to make aliyah. And that was Agudah’s natural choice for all the children under their care, including Edo and Gustav.”
Ulush went over to the window. The distant green hills of the village of Senica spread out expansively before her, dotted with well-tended wooden cottages. She’d never lived in a village before the war; she was a city girl through and through. Scenery like this was always associated with vacation, travels, and trips. But during the war, when the area where she’d been was so green, light, magical, and flourishing, she’d lost all her love for the green of the trees, the expansive grass, and the blue skies.
All she dreamed about was the sky of the Holy Land.
But her dreams were not alone anymore. They had to meld with someone else’s dreams. And he was being logical…oh, so logical.
“So we’ll go to America?” Her voice was flat; only her lips trembled. “And you say that it will be easier for us to get there, and it will be safer for the baby…?”
“Yes.” He closed the cabinet’s wooden door. “And I promise you, bli neder, that if we don’t manage there and you aren’t happy, we’ll go to Eretz Yisrael.”
“Cohen?” someone called from outside. “Janek?”
Janek went to the door and opened it wide for Aryeh Lieber.
“I was at the Agudah offices in the city, and I heard that the ship arrived.”
“The ship? The one departing next week?”
“No, the ship that arrived in Eretz Yisrael. The ship with your Edo on it.”
“It arrived safely?” Janek breathed a sigh of relief and turned around to make sure his wife had heard the good news. “Nu, and what is happening with the children?”
“Right now, the Mizrachi people took them under their auspices, but Akiva sent an urgent message to our people in Haifa that there were three children of ours on the ship and that they need to be transferred to suitable places.”
“Of course!” Janek said. Then he wrinkled his forehead. “Do you think there will be a problem with it?”
“I have no idea who they are dealing with there. Schwimmer, the Mizrachi representative we dealt with here, was very fair and promised that they would not take our children beyond making sure that they got there safely.”
“I really hope so,” Janek said. “Thanks for the news, Aryeh. I appreciate it.”
“And we’re going to accept your cousin’s offer and go to America, just like that?” Ulush’s eyes flashed behind him. “When who knows what is happening with Edo in Eretz Yisrael and what kind of chinuch he is going to get?”
Janek kept his voice calm and low. “Ulush, even if we decide that we are going to Eretz Yisrael, it will take a long time, so we need other people to handle the matter for now anyway.” He was quiet for a moment and then went over to the window where she stood. “People who are better suited than us for this kind of thing,” he added quietly.
She slid her fingers along the clean slats of the wooden shutter. “And Gustav?” she whispered.
“Gustav is traveling together with the rest of the children from our orphanage, not with the Mizrachi people. At least you can be relaxed about that.”