Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 52 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.
Elisheva walked through the rooms, opening and closing doors and drawers. The children would be thrilled when they’d get home from school. They really could use normal beds, dressers, and desks—all part of the package of furniture that had come with the new apartment. She had been rather taken aback by the generous standards they’d been allotted by the catalog sent to them. It was a catalog from a reputable carpentry firm, and it had been delivered by courier. Tucked into the front cover was a handwritten list of the items they could choose from. They had called the company to place their order, and today, less than two weeks later, the order had arrived. It was perfect. Beautiful. New.
“Ima?” Riki called to her. She and Devoiry had stayed home to help their mother organize the family’s possessions into the new dressers and closets. “Where should we put the boys’ winter clothes?” She used a knife to slice the tape open from one of the cartons that had been waiting patiently to be unpacked.
Elisheva opened the door at the bottom of one of the dressers. It was a high quality, pressed wood dresser in shades of blue and yellow. It had five drawers with car-shaped navy knobs, and a cabinet at the bottom with shelves in it.
“Here,” she said. “Did you finish in your room?”
“Yes.” Riki was quiet for a minute. “Ima?”
“There’s an empty wall in our room. The one where the old homework desk will go.”
“Nu?” Elisheva asked as she joined them, smoothing the stacks of clothing, and reorganizing the piles of corduroy pants that had become messy. She sorted sweaters into sizes.
“I want to paint that desk mint green, like our new dresser. Can I?”
“I don’t see why not.”
“And do you think we could order a few cubbies to hang over the desk, with the same colors, light wood and mint green? It shouldn’t be expensive—probably around a few hundred shekels.”
“It sounds like a cute idea.”
“I can do it in Chani and Esty’s room, too. We’ll buy them a small desk, and we’ll paint it maroon to match their beds and dresser.”
“You have energy to do it all? Then be my guest. I’m sure they will love it,” Elisheva said. Again, something clenched in her heart when she saw her daughter’s eyes light up with joy. She and Eliyahu, with all their love and good will, had never been able to allow themselves to spend “a few hundred shekels” so easily, with hardly any thought. And Riki and all of them knew that now everything had baruch Hashem gotten easier—but it was not because of their father or mother, but rather because someone was giving it to them. Tzedakah or not, raffle win or not. Whatever it was, it was because someone from the outside was succeeding where she and Eliyahu had failed. For all their efforts, with Eliyahu’s tea, the work she had taken on, everything—it had still always been a struggle for them.
Perhaps she should hang a sign on their new door: “Here lives a couple who could not provide for their children’s needs on their own.”
“I don’t understand the problem,” Eliyahu said quizzically later that evening, when the kitchen had emptied and they sat down to a quiet supper. “The children know that the lifestyle we prefer—and always have preferred—is solid but not grandiose. At the same time, they realize that there are things we were not able to do, not because of principle, but because of our limited means. Now that we can do it, we are giving these things to them. What’s simpler than that?”
“I always tried to make sure that they’re growing up happy…” Elisheva spoke slowly. “Even if there wasn’t much, they shouldn’t ever be lacking. But…but I don’t know how successful I was. And I’m sad that my children know that if I can now give them things, it’s not even from me.”
“But why do you think that the money you’re giving them for these cubbies, or whatever they are, is from someone else?” He mixed his roasted pepper salad around on his plate. “I could understand that about the beds and dressers, but why about what we will now be buying for them?”
“Because putting aside the raffle win, you can’t ignore the fact that the financial reprieve that we are now experiencing, baruch Hashem, is because of what happened with Tzippy’s wedding and with the strange buyer of the cuckoo clock.”
“So decide that the money that you’ll use for these things will be from your salary instead.”
“You know that my salary is used up before we finish paying the bills, Miri’s mortgage, the summer clothes that we just began to buy…”
Eliyahu chuckled and stood up to hang the towel on its hook. “It all goes into the same account, Elisheva. And baruch Hashem there is money in there right now, and even if some of it got to us in strange ways, it is totally kosher. Let the girls buy their cubbies, and some buckets of paint in green or purple, or whatever they want.”
Elisheva nodded quietly.
Eliyahu suddenly changed the subject. “I asked the Rav about the yad.”
“I told him we don’t know how it got to us, or where it is from, and that nothing came out of the signs which we hung around the neighborhood.”
“I think I know exactly how it got to us,” Elisheva said, playing with the edge of the tablecloth. “I mean, not exactly ‘how,’ but at least where it’s from.”
“Are you speculating again about the anonymous benefactor?”
She smiled and stood up to clear the table. “Yes.”
“So as long as we haven’t discovered the guilty party, we have no way of finding out if you are right.” His smile rose from his lips to his eyes. “But in the meantime, we are allowed to lend it out for a mitzvah. I think that the best thing would be to lend it out together with our sefer Torah.”
“You mean, to the same shul?”
“How is the sefer Torah coming along?” she remembered to ask.
“Baruch Hashem. The writing is almost finished, except for the last amud which will be completed at the hachnassas sefer Torah.” He went to the sink. “And there’s the work of sewing together the panels… But that’s also almost done.” He washed his hands under the stream of water, and droplets splattered all around him. She wondered if that was why his eyes seemed to suddenly sparkle.
“What’s doing, Mom?” Blumi leaned over to her elderly mother-in-law and gave her a kiss. “We missed you!”
“Good to see you,” the other woman answered. “What will you have to drink, Blumi? Gideon?”
“He’ll have a coke,” Blumi said gaily. “And I want your tea. But only if you have the energy to make it for me,” she added hastily, when she saw what an effort it was for her mother-in-law to get up from the couch.
“I have the energy, don’t worry,” Gideon’s mother said. “And sweetie, you can take coke yourself from the fridge.”
Her forty-eight-year-old sweetie chuckled, his eyes fixed on his handheld device. “It’s fine, Mom, thank you.”
“Gideon…” Blumi did not even try to hide the reproach.
“Yes, yes.” He raised his eyes and smiled apologetically. “Okay, now I’m with you. What’s doing, Mom? Is everything alright?”
“Baruch Hashem, everything is excellent. Just please go over all these papers and bills that I got. They’ve been waiting for you for more than a month already.”
“I get your bills by email,” he said as he opened the fridge. “So if there’s any problem, I would have seen it already.”
“Email, shmee-mail!” Chaviva Hartstein took a clean cup out of the cabinet. “The bank once made a mistake that you only discovered a month later, remember?”
“Yes, that’s right,” her son admitted, taking the cup from her. “I’ll look at your mail again, Mom.”
Blumi, sitting next to the little wooden mail chest, pulled the pile out and gave it to her husband. His eyes raced over the pages as the women chatted quietly.
“It’s all perfectly fine,” he said, after a few minutes. “The money is coming into the account regularly, right?”
His mother nodded.
“And what is this?” Blumi asked, pointing to a colorful paper in the pile.
“It’s our Halabi community’s newsletter that is published once every few months. My brother sends it to me,” the elderly woman said. “I think there’s a consolation notice there for you, Blumi, isn’t there? Or was it in their last one?”
“We got the notice at home, right after I came back from Israel,” Blumi said, recognizing the style of the condolence notice, with its thick black border. “But not the entire newsletter.”
Gideon glanced at the thin booklet. “I get it at the office. I think it arrived yesterday; I didn’t have time to really look through most of it. It’s a union of a few Halabi communities who put out the newsletter, including that new shul of young people that we saw in Yerushalayim. But I did notice a mention about that shul holding a hachanssas sefer Torah in the near future, and I think they also wrote about our donation to the shul.”
“Yes, your name is here, on the first page,” Blumi said as she leafed through the pamphlet. She suddenly stopped. “But what’s this?” she whispered.
Her fingers began to tremble, and her face went ashen.
“What’s what?” her husband asked.
“Look at this picture! And look what they write about it!” All at once, she felt flushed. She’d told Gideon to look, but she didn’t hand him the paper; instead she began to rapidly read the column right near the photo. “Really!” she huffed. “Is that so?!”
“Is what so?” her mother-in-law inquired.
Gideon put down the bottle of coke without capping it. “What are you reading there?”
“This!” She was still gripping the newsletter, and looked furious. Then she shook her head lightly and began to read aloud. “‘Aside for the sefer Torah, a silver yad will also be donated; it was mysteriously given to the donor family. A rav was asked about it, and the ruling was that the yad could be used by a shul. We are looking forward to receiving the yad together with the sefer Torah.’ Mysteriously given, indeed! Really now! Theft in broad daylight is more like it!” She finally gave the newsletter over to Gideon and his mother.
His mother wasn’t familiar with the yad that looked back at them from the color photo, but Gideon certainly was. Although Blumi had only taken it out of her parents’ hallway closet once to show it to him, its small size and the way it was set with stones were clear in his memory. He wasn’t the type to forget something like that.
“Are you sure it’s the same one?” he asked, just to be sure.
“Absolutely positive,” she declared. “Now get me the phone number of someone there in the shul so I can talk to them.” She actually wanted to say, “So I can give them a piece of my mind,” but restrained herself mightily from doing so.