Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 46 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 next morning, just as Elisheva was about to leave for the new house, there was a knock at the door.
“Someone’s here to see the clock!” Chani announced loudly.
Eliyahu, who was home from Shacharis already, escorted the man into the empty dining room.
It was silent for a few moments; the potential buyer was probably appraising the value of the clock.
“Nice piece,” Elisheva heard him say after a few minutes. “I understand it’s not working properly, is that right?”
“Yes,” Eliyahu replied. “A clockmaker once told us that there’s a problem in the delicate balance of the mechanism.”
Meir was probably making desperate hinting gestures, because Eliyahu suddenly added, with a smile in his tone, “My son sometimes gets the bird to pop out. If his ball strikes a specific spot that apparently jogs the balance of the cogs or the springs back into place, the cuckoo bird works once. Meir, you threw your ball a few minutes ago, right?”
“Yes,” the boy replied.
“So maybe we’ll see the bird in action,” the man’s voice said. “What time does it announce?”
“Something else each time,” Meir answered bashfully. “Once it cuckooed three times; sometimes it’s five times. I don’t know how it decides.”
“May I take a closer look at the clock?”
“Sure,” Eliyahu said.
There was a long silence, which was suddenly broken by the cuckoo bird; it cuckooed eight times.
“If it’s able to work,” the man said, his voice muffled; his face was probably buried in the clock’s innards, “that means there is definitely hope.”
Eliyahu smiled. “We always knew there was hope. The thing is that the repair costs money, and it wasn’t worth it for us.”
“It won’t cost me money,” the man said. “I know a bit about these things, and I’ll try to tinker with it myself.”
“Are you a clockmaker?”
A few seconds passed, and then the buyer said, “Alright, you told me on the phone two and a half thousand, right?”
Elisheva dropped the shopping list she was holding.
“No,” Eliyahu said. “We spoke about two hundred fifty.”
“I don’t understand jokes so well, Rabbi Potolsky. This clock is worth much more than that.”
“Much more? More than two hundred and fifty shekels?”
“No, more than two and a half thousand dollars. If I wasn’t an honest man, I’d take advantage of you, and I would just take the clock for whatever amount you’re asking. But I try to be a fair person, so I’ll give you its real worth in dollars.”
“Really, sir, maybe I’m the one who doesn’t understand jokes.” Eliyahu sounded dumbstruck, which was much the way Elisheva herself felt as she hurried to the doorway of the dining room to finally see who the buyer was. He wore a blue cap, had a small beard, and didn’t look particularly young.
“It’s not a joke. Cuckoo clocks are expensive items—don’t you know that?”
“I know, but…”
“But you didn’t think you had such an expensive piece in your house, huh? In any case, I’d be happy to buy it for two and a half thousand dollars—even though it’s probably worth closer to three thousand, but you will deduct some of that because it’s broken, right?”
And without another word, the man went over to the clock and measured its circumference with his arms. Then he tried to lift it. “Heavy,” he stated. “Can someone help me take it down to my car?”
Binyamin, who had entered the house just then and put his tefillin bag on the folding table in the hallway, heard the question. “I can help,” he offered, stepping into the dining room.
“Great,” said the man. “Grab here, carefully, so nothing happens to the clock’s delicate feet, and I’ll hold it from here. Hey, one second.” He stood the clock back on the floor, where it wobbled for a moment. “I’m sorry; I forgot about the payment.” And a stack of one hundred dollar bills was pressed into Eliyahu’s hand.
“Count them,” the man directed, as he grasped the clock again. “So you don’t say later that I deceived you.” And he marched with Binyamin into the hallway and out the front door.
Eliyahu stared at the bills in his hand, and then at the dining room door, silent all the while.
“They are counterfeit,” Elisheva said, three hours later.
“They are not.”
“How do you know?”
“I trust Horowitz; he checked them very well for me.”
“But he didn’t change them for you, right?”
“No. Because I’m not sure it pays for us. We need to think.”
“Then there must have been something hidden in the clock that we didn’t know about!” Her voice climbed to a slightly hysterical pitch.
“Chani checked it the day before, remember?”
“Maybe there was a double wall or something that she didn’t see.”
“So why do you think the man insisted on paying us so much? To make us become suspicious of him?”
“I don’t know. Too bad Binyamin didn’t get his license plate number.”
“It didn’t enter his mind that there was something fishy here, because he came in right at the end of the conversation with the buyer.”
“Whose name we don’t know, of course.”
Eliyahu sighed. “You’re right, Elisheva. Something about this story is strange, even delusional. So what do you want to do now? Throw the money in the garbage?”
She didn’t answer. “At least we warned the kids not to say a word to anyone. It’s enough that everyone is talking about Tzippy’s Australian millionaire and our new penthouse apartment.”
“Everything is just gorgeous, Ima!” Tzippy complimented her mother. The air was a bit dry, as it always is after burning the chametz. “How did you manage to get it all together in time for Pesach?! I can’t imagine how much time you must have spent setting everything up… Did you see this porch, Peretz? All that’s missing here is an awning, and then it will be such a pleasure to sit outside! Uh, Ima, do you want some help?”
Elisheva suppressed a smile-cum-yawn. “Baruch Hashem, I’m done with the cooking,” she said. “And the Seder table has been set since last night. Miri came to set it before they left for Yaakov’s parents. So besides for some dishes in the sink, there really isn’t much to do.”
“Go rest; I’ll wash the dishes. The kids are all sleeping, right?”
“I hope so. They didn’t fall asleep so fast last night. It’s not easy to fall asleep in a new place.”
“What about you, Ima?”
“Me?” Elisheva chuckled. “I only got to bed at three-thirty. I didn’t need more than three minutes to fall into a deep sleep.”
“So go take a nap now, Ima,” Tzippy said. “This way you’ll feel a little more refreshed by the time Binyamin goes to get Saba. I’ll straighten up the kitchen.” She walked into the kitchen as she spoke. “Hey, is this toaster oven new? For Pesach?”
“How nice! Use it well! It looks like a good one.”
“Baruch Hashem, I hope so. Thanks for your help, Tzippy.”
Elisheva headed to her room. Not that she’d be able to sleep, but even a bit of a rest would be good for her. Last night she’d fallen asleep fast—the physical exhaustion from the move had not allowed her the luxury of thinking too much. But the night before that, she hadn’t slept a wink.
The $2500 that had just landed on them rustled constantly in her ear, even though they weren’t really there. What was this all about? She had sent Binyamin to a clock store that same afternoon to make some inquiries about cuckoo clocks. He’d come back with a hodgepodge of information, but one thing was clear—and she’d known it all along: this price was baffling for an old, broken cuckoo clock.
Elisheva looked at the walls of her bedroom. They were painted a light beige, and were a bit blinding in the light of the sun. Something about them suddenly felt stifling, obstructive. What had happened to them these past four months? What were these gifts, landing on their heads like candies at an aufruf? Of course, she had to thank Hashem a million times that these were the kinds of things being showered on her, but something was really strange about it all.
The millionaire was one thing.
The penthouse, okay, it happens.
But the silver yad?
And the payment for the clock?
Her pillow was comfortable, and her new linen was beautiful. Eliyahu hadn’t asked her. He had used the money they had gotten and surprised her with a toaster oven, a new set of linen for their room, and another lovely, high-quality single set of linen for the bed that would be her father’s.
“The bed is only coming after Pesach,” he said. “It’s a shame, but in the meantime, he can sleep on the girls’ high riser, and Devorah or Riki can sleep on a mattress.”
That was another thing they had bought: a new, comfortable bed for Abba, which really wasn’t a luxury but a necessity; Abba needed a better bed than the high riser they had bought secondhand seven years earlier. And if you asked Eliyahu, well, the money had been given to them in an honest way, so why not use it?
“After Yom Tov,” he’d told her soothingly yesterday morning, “we’ll find out all the things you want to find out. Right now, we thank Hashem for it, and do what we have to do.”
“And if it turns out to be a scam?”
“A scam? What kind of scam? They’ll say the apartment isn’t ours, after all? So we’ll go back to our old place. You know we haven’t sold it; we only rented it out for a year. At worst, we’ll have to rent something else for a while.”
“And if they claim that the money for Tzippy’s wedding was given to us by mistake, or through some deception?”
“We worked with a reputable lawyer, and there’s a signed contract; what are you so worried about?”
“And the silver yad?” she’d asked weakly.
“Right now, we’re not doing anything with it. It’s safe here with us.”
“And the strange story with the cuckoo clock?”
“The man came to our house, he checked the clock out, saw exactly what it was, and he made his decision and paid us. What can he say now?”
“That it was a mekach ta’us, a sale based on mistaken premises.”
Eliyahu must have been tired. “So in such a case, we’ll give him back the money.”
“But it’s already spent! Where would we get it from to pay him back?”
“From wherever Hashem will give it to us.”
She smiled, discerning his exhaustion. “Fine,” she’d said.
But she didn’t feel fine about it at all. Maybe she was also too tired.
Even if she was exhausted and anxious, though, she could not deny how happy she was, too: her father was coming to her for the first days of Yom Tov! She so badly wished he would agree to remain for all of Pesach. Even more than that, she hoped he would like it here so much that he’d want to leave the nursing home and move in with them permanently.
The children were so thrilled when he came, and Eliyahu also got along with him beautifully. He always had. And it wasn’t only because it’s easy to get along with a rather silent father-in-law, but because they’d taken a liking to one another from the first minute when they’d met.
She got up from her bed and walked into the big dining room. Eliyahu was sitting there, at the Seder table, learning with Binyamin. She passed them by silently and walked to the back room of the house—Abba’s room, checking that everything was in order.
The bed was perfectly made, and on the little plastic nightstand stood a bottle of seltzer at room temperature, just the way her father liked it, and a few plastic cups. Everything was ready for his arrival. She could go back to her bed and rest…although she was positive she still would not fall asleep.