Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 45 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.
“I’m calling about the cuckoo clock you advertised that you’re selling?”
“Okay…?” Elisheva was getting tired of these phone calls. The day after tomorrow, the day before bedikas chametz, was moving day, with Hashem’s help, and she didn’t know where she would get the energy from for this final battle. Perhaps it had been foolish to try to sell the clock; it was a shame they hadn’t just dumped it.
Her father, remarkably, had not displayed any particular sentiment for it. “You can throw it out,” he’d replied when she’d asked him, on the day he was released from the hospital. Of course he had returned to the nursing home. He was weaker than he’d been when he’d left from there, but healthy, baruch Hashem.
“I understand that it needs some repairs, is that right?”
“So, what’s the problem?”
“Something with the balance of the gears.”
“It doesn’t work at all?”
“No. Sometimes the cuckoo bird pops out and chimes, but it’s rare, and we have no idea what causes it to happen.”
Meir entered the empty kitchen, mouthed something to her in a whisper, and then suddenly blushed and fled outside.
“How much do you want for it?”
“Two hundred and fifty shekels.”
If someone would come and show interest in the old clock, they could always knock down the price a bit—that’s what Eliyahu had told her. But so far, no one had expressed serious interest in it at all.
“And how much should a repair cost?”
“A few hundred shekels, we believe.”
“What’s a few hundred? Like, two hundred or…more like eight hundred?”
Alright. Enough. The next time someone called about the clock, she would say it was the wrong number and they were not selling anything. What was it about a cuckoo clock that triggered the imaginations of people reading the advertisements?
“Probably something in between,” she replied, with commendable patience.
“Hmm…okay, maybe we’ll come by this evening to see it. Where do you live?”
Where do you live, and when are you home, and would it be okay if we came after midnight, and will you pay for delivery… Finally, the conversation came to an end.
She boiled up some water in the kettle—one of the few items that remained out of the boxes—and that’s when she remembered that she’d planned to go over to the new house tonight to cook for Yom Tov.
But she just couldn’t now. No. Not after she’d spent the morning with her father to make sure there were no side effects from the new medication he was taking, and then sent half of the house over to the new apartment, and then spent three hours there directing the movers to put the furniture in the right rooms, and then discovered that two of the fluorescent lights had been shattered because a piece of furniture had been manhandled. And then, after all of that, she’d found half a cookie on the clean, kosher-for-Pesach kitchen floor. But of course, none of the children who were there with her knew whose cookie it was. Obviously. So she’d carefully swept it up, and checked to make sure there were no crumbs on the counter or in the cupboards, and then she’d forbidden anyone from coming in there.
She’d go tomorrow morning to cook in the new house, b’ezras Hashem. That meant she’d need to leave clear instructions and perfect order here, in this apartment, so that the kids could work without her.
She took the milk out of the fridge and made herself a coffee. Someone peeked into the kitchen.
“Meir?” She smiled. “Are you bored? Do you want to come help me prepare pajamas for the little kids?”
“Okay,” he replied, still quite red-cheeked.
“What were you telling me before, when I was on the phone?” she asked.
“Oh.” His cheeks reddened even more. “You said on the phone that you don’t know why the cuckoo bird pops out suddenly, every so often. But I do know.”
“You know?” Elisheva looked at Meir. The eight-year-old nodded abashedly. “You know what makes the clock suddenly start working?”
“What it is it?”
He tittered. “My ball.”
She stirred the light-colored liquid in her paper cup. “What does that mean?”
Meir spread out his hands. “Every time I play with my ball and it bounces right over the door of the clock, the cuckoo bird comes out and crows.”
“I’m not sure we say that it crows; it’s a bird, not a rooster.” Elisheva didn’t know why, of all the possible answers, she’d chosen this one. Maybe it was because she didn’t know what to say to the delusional story in the first place. How could a ball get a cuckoo bird to pop out and crow, or tweet, or whatever it was? What, the bird got annoyed at being woken up from its deep sleep? It just didn’t make any sense.
“I’ll show you,” the boy offered. “Wait, I’m just going to get my ball from downstairs.” He was back a few minutes later. “I’m not totally, totally sure that this is what does it, because sometimes it happened a few hours after I threw the ball and it struck right over the door. But whenever I heard the bird cuckooing, it was after the ball had hit there, right under the red thing.”
They went into the dining room. Meir stood opposite the clock, closed his left eye for a moment, and then tossed the ball. Boom. Direct hit.
But nothing happened.
“Remember that first time I heard it cuckooing one night? Was that also because of the ball?” Elisheva stared at the small, closed door, and then at her son. “I came in here to check what it was, and I don’t think you were up.”
“I was up.” Again he reddened, from his forehead to his chin. “I also remember that time, because it was the first time I hit the mark. And then I pretended to be sleeping.”
“And there was another time when the older kids were eating supper, but it was very, very late at night.”
“Yes, that was when the noise in the kitchen woke me up, and I was bored so I took out my ball.”
Elisheva looked at the silent clock doubtfully. “I think it once cuckooed in the morning, when you weren’t home.”
“Because I was probably playing with the ball before I left.”
Just as he finished his sentence, the little door opened and out popped the cuckoo bird.
“It’s always like that,” he said, with a trace of pride. “It’s like I call it, and it always answers me.”
“That’s very interesting.” Elisheva was duly impressed. “I wonder what exactly the ball does to it. We’ll ask Abba. Maybe he’ll be able to explain it.”
“And…you’re not angry at me that I threw a ball at the furniture in the house?” Meir asked hastily.
She didn’t have a chance to answer, because just then Devoiry stuck her head into the dining room. “Ima, someone’s at the door about the clock.”
“Let them in,” Elisheva said.
“Should I throw my ball again?” Meir asked hopefully. “So they should see that it does work?”
“For now, not.” She smiled at him. “Because it’s not really called ‘working.’”
The couple who entered actually liked the piece a lot, but they decided that it was too wide for the corner in their home where they wanted to put it.
Right after they left, a few more people showed up to see the clock. They all asked lots of questions about it, but the clock was no closer to being sold by the time they left.
“Alright, I’ve had enough,” Riki loudly shared her thoughts with Elisheva. “How much are we going to humiliate ourselves for two hundred and something shekels, for this piece of junk? Maybe we should just give it as a gift to the next person who shows up.”
Elisheva shook her head, unsure, but no one else came to look at the clock that evening anyway.
“So, what did you discover?”
“The daughter was here this morning. Sounds like they really want him to come and live with them.”
“And what about him?”
“Look.” Emmanuel hesitated. “At his age, moving is no simple thing. He loves his family but is probably afraid of the change. He’ll be with them on Seder night, though.”
“I see. So, is there anything else you can tell me about him and his family? Something you heard, conversations between them…?”
“Could be; let me think for a minute. Actually, there was something interesting…”
“I’m waiting patiently…” said the man on the other end of the phone.
“Wait…I need to remember. What was it? His daughter asked him about something, and the old man—”
“Wait. Before you continue trying to remember.” His voice was authoritative.
“Yes?” Emmanuel asked obediently.
“Don’t call him ‘the old man,’ at least not to me. He’s my age, about, so it’s not very polite of you to do that.”
“You are forgetting, sir, that I have never seen you, and you also haven’t told me how old you are.”
“That’s right. I am not complaining or accusing you; I just made a request.”