Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 50 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.
“Should we walk around a little, before we go back to our apartment?” Blumi asked late the next afternoon, after they had paid a Chol Hamoed visit to her brother Beri. She looked at Gideon, who had taken out his keys and was about to open the door to his black car. “I don’t think I really want a full meal right now after all they prepared for us.”
“Good idea.” He stuck his keys back into his jacket pocket. “Yerushalayim is just so beautiful…I could never get enough of walking around here. What about you, Batsheva?”
“Sure! I like walking with my parents,” the sixteen-year-old declared. “It doesn’t happen often.”
Blumi smiled at her. It was a somewhat transparent smile, the type that Batsheva had learned to recognize. It was a smile that meant her mother was wrapped up in her thoughts and didn’t really mean to smile at her, like a compliment that you give someone without even seeing them.
Most of Mummy’s smiles recently, since Saba Katz had been niftar, had been of this genre. And Suri could say what she wanted, but something was definitely bothering Mummy. Not all the time—sometimes she acted normal—but often she was like this…just a bit strange. This time, for example, it began when she had returned with Daddy from the Kosel one night.
Suri had said that perhaps it had to do with her grief over Saba’s passing, but something about it was odd. Mummy didn’t look like she was mourning; she seemed preoccupied, a bit tense. Maybe she was wallowing in memories… It was hard to define what it was exactly, but the situation was pretty clear. And Suri was not a good judge here; she didn’t live at home with Mummy, like Batsheva did, so of course she could not know the nuances of Mummy’s strange behavior these days.
“Oh, are you going in here?” Mummy asked Daddy, when he stopped in front of a small door in the wall of a building. The sign read: “Beit Knesset Chanichei Hayeshivot Yotzei Halab.”
Daddy studied the door. “I donate regularly to the Beit Knesset of the Halabim,” he said with interest. “But I never heard that they had a minyan here as well.”
“So are you going in?” Batsheva wrinkled her nose. She wanted to walk, not to stand on a street waiting endlessly.
“Yes, for a few minutes,” Gideon said. “I wonder what this is, and who the gabbaim are.”
“Come, Batsheva, we’ll sit at that bus stop across the street,” Blumi said. She nodded at Gideon, who had already turned the doorknob. “We’ll chat while we wait for you.”
“What about?” Batsheva asked tersely.
“Whatever you want.”
Batsheva studied the empty bus shelter. Aside for one woman who was busy with five children of various ages, all in matching clothes, there was no one around. “Nothing really comes to mind,” she said listlessly.
It was one thing if she would have been able to say, “I want to talk to you about you, Mummy,” and ask what was bothering her mother recently. But other than that? What did she have to talk about with Mummy? The stories about her friends and her social life bored Mummy lately, a conclusion she had reached sometime around Purim. School? She was managing somehow, and her mother was aware of it, but why talk about school when she was on vacation?
So what could they talk about? Her sweet baby nephew whom they had left behind in England? The weather? About Kobi, his wife, and two cute children who had come with them to Israel for Yom Tov and would be coming to them in the Rova tomorrow and staying until after Acharon Shel Pesach?
Blumi felt discomfiting, cold tremors pass through her hands as she looked at her youngest child. Although her brothers claimed that she had become spoiled and didn’t know how to lift a finger, it always appeared to her that at least regarding her relationships with her children, she was quite competent. She had always been a good mother. True, her Kobi had a bit of an introverted, closed nature, and it was hard for her to know what was on his mind, and the girls confided more to one another than to her, but still, she’d always felt on pretty solid ground in this area.
Only recently had she begun to notice that things were creaking a bit. Why shouldn’t a sixteen-year-old girl have anything to talk to her mother about? If she wasn’t mistaken, when Suri had been this age, they had spoken more.
“I thought you’d be happy to walk with us,” she said.
“To walk, yes, but not to sit and wait here until who-knows-when.”
And walking means together with Daddy, not only with you, Blumi completed the sentence in her mind. Out loud she said lightly, “Why? Because of some calories that you want to burn?”
“No, because it’s boring to sit and do nothing. When we walk, at least we pass by interesting scenery.”
“So I suggested that we chat,” Blumi said, a bit frustrated.
“Fine, so let’s chat.” Batsheva glanced toward the building in which the shul was housed. “What about?”
Blumi took a deep breath and went back to the beginning of the conversation. “About whatever you want,” she said. Most of her friends complained about rocky relationships with their teenage daughters, and she had always been so proud that things were fine with her on this front. Well, now it was happening to her, too.
Enough. In a few more seconds she’d somehow figure out a way to tie this to the lost yad also. So, had her mother been right when she’d claimed that the yad was cursed?
Or perhaps her brothers had been right when they claimed that the money had changed her? Once, one of them—she couldn’t recall which one—had described her as “strange.” Really! As if they were starving for a piece of bread! As if they had not grown up in an affluent home! Of all of them, Gavriel had the smallest income today, and indeed, he was the least condescending toward her.
She pursed her lips and looked at Batsheva sitting to her left—and whose gaze was fixed on the end of the street. It had actually been so nice at Beri’s house. And now again, she felt her thoughts careening around inside her, not knowing which way to go to get out…
Enough!! She was getting more entangled by the minute. All she needed was to start screaming now, in the middle of the street. Batsheva would panic and run away, and would never want to speak to her again. Gideon would hurry worriedly out of the shul, because they would summon him urgently to deal with his wife; something had happened to her but they couldn’t say what. And Beri would also come really fast, and would call Shmulik and Gavriel and Shlomo Aryeh to come as well. They would all cluck their tongues, and sigh, and say, “Oy, the money, the money… The money that drives a person out of their minds. Just like we’ve been saying all these years…”
So they could dream that she would tell them about how the yad had disappeared.
Batsheva, who was leaning on the wall of the bus stop with closed eyes, suddenly opened them and looked at her mother. Mummy was just sitting there, in silence, silence, and more silence.
“Well,” the girl said, in a slightly softer tone, “I want you to tell me about Savta Hartstein.”
“What should I tell you about her?”
“About her and about you, I mean. Isn’t it funny that you get along so well?”
“Because she was this rich Halabi lady, part of the Syrian community in London, and suddenly she got this real Hungarian daughter-in-law, with this cute Hungarian-Israeli accent, whose English was limited to what she had learned in school.”
“You forget that Saba Hartstein was also of Hungarian descent.”
“But he was born in England, and she emigrated there when she was just four; they had something in common.”
“And we also have lots of things in common.”
“We both like cream cakes,” Blumi said tiredly.
“And we both like each other, and we both like when the house is clean, and we both embroider well.” She suddenly envisioned the embroidered Birchas Habayis that she had brought her mother-in-law the first Shabbos she had visited after the engagement.
“And in general, she’s a very talented woman. Don’t forget that she also knows a bit of Hungarian, from her husband. Daddy also learned that language from his father. And I learned from her how to prepare delicious Hungarian kaposzta, which she had learned to make from her mother-in-law—because my mother’s recipe just never worked for me.”
“But she didn’t teach you how to make Eastern style food.”
“Because she hardly cooked it herself. Saba Hartstein was such an authentic Hungarian, and he never got used to any other style of cooking.” She smiled wistfully. “Today, Savta hardly cooks, but I remember her kaposzta very well.”
“I also vaguely remember the flavor,” Batsheva murmured. “Or maybe I’m mixing it up with yours. You also hardly cook anymore. And Miss Evelyn really doesn’t know which side to open the cabbage from, in order to stuff it.”
“I can make some for you, if you want,” Blumi said impulsively, surprising them both. “I didn’t remember that you liked it so much.”
“I don’t know if I like it so much, but just thinking about it now makes me want to taste it again.”
“That’s good to know,” her mother remarked. When they’d get home after Yom Tov, she would make stuffed cabbage for Batsheva using her mother-in-law’s tried–and-true recipe.
Gideon crossed the street in front of them, accompanied by a bearded young man. When they reached the sidewalk, they spoke for a few more seconds, shook hands, and then parted. The man went back to the shul, while Gideon came over to his wife and daughter.
“It’s quite a serious shul,” he said admiringly. “I mean, serious young men. I came just at the end of the Daf Yomi shiur, and they also have a kollel bein hazmanim. I saw them learning, and—”
“How much?” Batsheva asked mischievously.
“How many people were learning?” Her father turned to her. “There must have been about ten or eleven. And remember, it’s Chol Hamoed!”
“I meant, how much did you pledge to give them?”
“Batsheva!” her mother chided. “I don’t like that attitude!”
Her father sufficed with a withering glare.
“Sorry,” she said sheepishly.
Her parents began conversing in Hungarian with each other, with a sprinkling of English words.
“I gave him my number to call me after Yom Tov. I’ll give them something.”
“I see you were quite impressed,” Blumi said.
“Very. It’s a new minyan, but they made a really serious impression on me.”
“Do they want to build?”
“I don’t think they’re up to that yet. They don’t have land; they aren’t even working on getting permits from the municipality; they have nothing. They’re really just starting out. But still, they look quite serious.” When Gideon called somebody “serious” four times in less than four minutes, it meant that this person truly was serious, and that he was going to gain from it.