Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 61 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.
In the old house, Elisheva could hear every time someone turned over in his sleep. In this huge apartment, the children had to shout, “Ima!” for her to wake up. But perhaps she had been especially tired today, and that’s why she didn’t hear the first few cries. Whoever it was, though, seemed quite hysterical.
Six steps separated her bed from the hallway, and in that time, thoughts of fire, a gas leak, a robbery, appendicitis flashed through her mind. Perhaps the phone had rang, and one of the children who had woken up had been asked to tell one of her parents to get to the nursing home pronto?
Her fingers trembled as she rushed into the living room, to find a bleary-eyed figure leaning against the wall. “Devorah!” she cried to her high-school-age daughter. “What happened?”
“The Arab!” the girl gasped, looking very unfocused. “He came to me in a dream, Ima, and he said that if we don’t do what he asked, it will be…” She paused. “It will be bad.”
“Sit,” Elisheva instructed. When was the last time she had dealt with Devorah’s nightmares? Something like nine or ten years ago? Devorah was already fifteen years old! She gently steered her daughter to the couch, without realizing that what’s-his-name had sat there just a few hours earlier.
“Not here!” Devorah shuddered. “He sat here in my dream also, and it was so scary! Ima…” She seemed to be waking up more. “Ima, what is he planning? What does he want from us?”
“To give us a free renovation.” Elisheva smiled placidly.
“But it’s so strange!”
“You’re absolutely right about that,” Elisheva replied. “Wait a minute, sweetie, let me just wash negel vasser. I’ll be right back.” She washed her hands, and then put two slices of cake onto a plate, poured a cup of juice, and returned to the living room. “Did you wash negel vasser?” she asked Devorah. Rustling from the direction of the bedrooms indicated that she’d better lower her voice quickly, or she’d find herself with a parade of children asking for cake and juice.
Her daughter made a brachah and took a sip. “Ima,” she said, tears literally dripping from her eyes. “Ima, does it make sense to you?”
“Does what make sense?”
“That he wants to renovate for us for free?”
“No,” Elisheva replied simply.
“So why do such weird things keep happening to us?”
Elisheva sat down. “Things were very reasonable until now. And even now, the fact that we don’t accept them at their face value is our choice, you know.”
“But this Arab situation…”
“Right.” Elisheva nodded and looked at the window. It hadn’t been so easy for her to fall asleep before, either. Not that she was afraid about terrorists or attacks, but there was a twinge of fear percolating inside her. “This takes things to a whole different level.”
“And you don’t think it’s something scary?”
“Abba said it isn’t.”
Devorah gazed into her reflection on her glass of orange juice. “What about you?”
“Abba is probably right.” Elisheva smiled. “Even if as a woman I’m afraid of him, I must admit that I really cannot think of any terrorist plot that would make someone choose us out of all the families in Bnei Brak.”
“But we were chosen for other things.”
They were going around in circles. Elisheva stood up and gave her daughter a hand, pulling her up from the chair. “It’s different from the other times,” she said. “We’ll try to find out what is behind it, but you don’t need to be afraid, Devorah. Everything will be fine, b’ezras Hashem.”
It’s different from the other times…
You don’t need to be afraid…
These two sentences echoed over and over in Elisheva’s mind, until she fell asleep. The next thing she knew, it was 7:25 a.m., and the children were screaming, “Ima, it’s so late!”
“You did it differently than the other times!” He was very angry. “Last time, I planned everything, and I was very calculated and built the plan perfectly, and there were no hitches. Everything went so smoothly. Did anyone tell you to act so foolishly? Of course they won’t believe such nonsense! Do you think they are dim-wits?”
Aside for some stammering, he didn’t get a clear answer.
“Now you’ve raised their antenna, and they are going to start investigating. I have to tell you that you did a lousy job. I thought you could find yourself the right people to do the job properly.” Out of breath, he paused for a moment. His heart was pounding rapidly. He was not allowed to get excited like this. And why was he blaming Emmanuel, if he had actually done exactly the same foolish thing – tasking the wrong job to the wrong person? To Emmanuel. “Nu,” he said in a quieter tone. “Let me think if there’s a way to undo some of the damage. They didn’t agree to have him do the renovation, did they?”
“What exactly did they say?”
“That they don’t really believe him.”
“Really, now. Which rational person would believe the dream of an Arab who showed up at their doorstep and started weaving nonsensical tales?” He thought for a moment. “Did they mention the raffle? The cuckoo clock? The wedding?”
“I didn’t ask him.”
“So go ask him. Get on with it.”
“I don’t know if he’ll want to answer me. He was very disappointed that they had refused his offer.”
“Sure, because after your introductory conversation, he was sure that he was going to make lots of money off this. Now he realized that it’s not as simple as you made it sound. Nu, give him a thousand dollars, and tell him that it’s on condition that he details exactly what they said there.”
The voice on the line suddenly became fragmented. Was the reception failing?
Joe Ludmir did not know that Emmanuel had dashed into the nursing home’s emergency stairwell. “Emmanuel? Emmanuel?” he tried again. But even the fragmented sounds went silent after a moment.
Emmanuel felt overcome by a feeling of self-loathing. It was one thing to feel rebuked by someone who could have easily been your principal, teacher, or father. But why are you hiding like a scared baby from someone who is about forty years old? he asked himself.
Eliyahu Potolsky strode through the lobby, and Emmanuel had a strong hunch that he was the person Eliyahu was looking for.
And he didn’t have the slightest inclination to meet him right now.
He had left his bag in the office. He pulled his pair of little dogs from the pocket of his work coat with one hand, and with the second, he fumbled on his keychain for the right key. He opened the door to the emergency exit and went out into the back courtyard. Five minutes later, he was in a taxi carrying him to his home in Ramat Gan. The dogs yipped angrily at the speed of the car, and Emmanuel whispered to them soothingly. The driver couldn’t help turning around to glance at them every few seconds.
It was expected, yet no less nerve-wracking, when a moment into the drive, his cell phone joined the cacophony.
“I can’t drive like this,” the driver grumbled. “Can you quiet something down? Either those dogs or your phone? You don’t want us to get into an accident, do you?”
“No,” Emanuel replied, and decided to silence his phone. If Mr. Ludmir thought that he wanted to pick up to continue hearing the hail of shouting, he was mistaken.
He squinted as he examined the screen. It was not a call from Australia. It was from the nursing home office.
He bit his bottom lip forcefully as the taxi stopped and he discovered that he had left his wallet back in Bnei Brak. “One second,” he said to the driver. “I’m just going upstairs to get money; I have nothing on me.”
“You didn’t tell me that!” the driver groused. “I know these stories. Sure, you’re wearing a kippah, but who said it’s not fake, like your story? Are you going to disappear between the buildings, and leave me here waiting for Mashiach?”
“Wait for Mashiach, and when he comes, he will redeem us all from lots of trouble,” Emmanuel advised, and stepped briskly out of the cab. “I’m leaving you here my two dogs as a deposit. You should know that Chihuahuas love warmth and prefer to sleep under a blanket, and they feel protected in small, narrow places.” He chuckled. “But I’ll be back in a minute. You need to have some faith in life!”
“I actually think these dogs are an excuse for you to escape.” The driver was still annoyed. “So small and so noisy. What is your name? You live here? Fine, I’m waiting, three minutes on the clock.”
Emmanuel was back less than two minutes later. He didn’t wait for change. He plucked his two irritated dogs off the back seat and went upstairs to his quiet house. It was a forced quiet, because if he wouldn’t have unplugged the phone and silenced the cell phone, they would have both been ringing incessantly. It was intermittent – phone calls from the nursing home, and then Joe Ludmir, and finally an unfamiliar cell phone number, and Emmanuel had no doubt that it was Eliyahu Potolsky.
He didn’t owe anyone anything; they should all just leave him alone. He was allowed to not feel well sometimes. He had done nothing wrong, broken no laws, and he hadn’t ever committed to being at anyone’s disposal twenty-four hours a day. ENOUGH!!!!!!!!!!!
At the nursing home, the fax machine beeped, and a page slowly slid out bearing a few words in a large scrawl: “I don’t feel well. Taking three days’ leave.”
The secretaries looked at each other and then sent the page into the office of the administrator. “He disappeared suddenly in the middle of work, and hasn’t answered in two hours,” one reported as she handed over the fax. “Not at home or on his cell. Ariel from Tnuva looked for him, and so did Baruch from the stockroom, and a few of the residents. And Potolsky was also looking for him – he’s Yisrael Bentzion’s son-in-law.”
“Fine,” the administrator replied.
“His bag is also still here,” the secretary said, and then went back to her work.
The administrator raised his eyes and fixed them on the blue wall across from him. Emmanuel’s bag was still here? He had disappeared in the middle of a workday? It was a bit strange. And taking into account that the man had no family, maybe it behooved him to make sure everything was alright.
Between meetings and conversations, the administrator found the time to take a short drive to Ramat Gan. But his worried knocks at the door did not turn anything up – certainly not Emmanuel himself.