Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 69 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.
Maybe he’d gotten mixed up, her father had said.
That sentence echoed in Elisheva’s mind the whole following day, both at work in the morning, and during the busy afternoon with the children at home. Even later in the day, when Miri popped in with baby Shmully, and when Tzippy also turned up without calling in advance. Throughout it all, as the large dining room filled with cheerful shouts and cries, just like the dining room in the old house, Elisheva remained thoughtful. She made a large vegetable salad, fried omelets, put up a pot of soup for lunch the next day, and packed containers of food for her married daughters. And she kept asking herself: what would be if Ludmir had made a mistake?
The only Ludmir she’d ever heard of was that friend of her father’s. And if indeed, he was the millionaire who seemed to be behind all these strange events over the past ten months, then it was very likely that there was a mistake here. What did he and Abba have with each other these days? What was this sudden spirit of philanthropy toward her family that had taken hold of Ludmir?
And based on what Emmanuel had blurted yesterday to Eliyahu, it was not just a spurt of generosity; Ludmir considered this an old debt. That just made the whole thing even stranger.
“Ima?” Tzippy finally asked before she left. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes, baruch Hashem,” she said, putting a facsimile of her regular smile on her face. “And how about with you? What’s with that substituting job at the cheder office?”
“Oh, like I told you before, I’m going there this week also. My friend Avigail is moving to her apartment in Modiin Illit, so I’m taking over the subbing job she started. Didn’t you hear me telling you about it before, Ima?”
“Oh. Maybe I was in the kitchen just then,” Elisheva said quickly, widening her grin. But when put-on smiles are stretched, they don’t really grow; they just become more transparent and fake.
So Tzippy had been telling her about her subbing job. Oh. She hadn’t heard.
What would be if they would have to give everything back?
“Tell me, Elisheva, are you sure you’re all there?” Blumi ranted at her. Blumi, of all people. Because it was in her ears that Elisheva found a place to pour out her strange fears and worries late that night. Maybe Blumi was right, and she wasn’t all there.
“What do you mean, he could ask you to give it back?” Blumi continued. “First of all, if you’re afraid, we can stop all these inquiries right now and go back to the way things were before: Korman, of blessed memory, funded your daughter’s wedding, you won an apartment in a raffle, and what else was there? Someone bought a cuckoo clock from you for a crazy price, and an Arab contractor had a strange dream so he came for a visit to you…that’s it. What happened? Nothing. No need to investigate.”
“But we already did investigate,” Elisheva said quietly. “And even if there were times when I suddenly got scared and didn’t want to know the truth—if there is a truth—now I feel that we’re at the point of no return. We can’t turn the clock back. Tell me, Blumi, was this Korman also a partner in Joe Ludmir’s bank accounts?”
“Yes. And not only that, but Joe Ludmir was the closest soul to him, and he was his custodian in his final years. He had power of attorney over the accounts, and he could do everything. Everything, you hear?”
“So he could have also easily deceived our lawyer, if you are saying that he could have done anything he wanted in Korman’s name.”
“Anything,” Blumi affirmed.
“How old is he, this Ludmir? They told us that Korman was over ninety.”
“Korman really was quite old, and he had no family. Those are the only accurate details in the whole story you were told. But Ludmir, his partner, is much younger. He isn’t even eighty yet.”
“So it makes sense.”
“What makes sense, that he’s your father’s childhood friend?”
“Especially since the first name is the same—Yosef, Joe. One’s an Anglicized nickname of the other… But why would he be pouring out money on us like that?” Elisheva paced around the house, not doing anything but holding the phone. Riki and Devorah, who were cleaning the kitchen, heard a few fragments of sentences, and glanced at one another.
“Did something go wrong?” Devorah whispered.
“I hope not,” Riki replied. “But looks like something happened either with this house or with Tzippy’s apartment—it’s all really the same.”
Elisheva didn’t hear them.
“You said that the nursing home worker spoke about a debt or something,” Blumi said.
“But my father claims that there was no such thing.”
“Is it possible that he simply does not remember?” Blumi asked. Her words—she made no effort to speak quietly—were heard only by Batsheva, who had no other ears with which to share her own puzzlement.
“No, chas v’shalom; his memory is excellent, bli ayin hara. I’m telling you again—my father, may he live and be well, is still young. He’s seventy-five, maybe seventy-six, not more. He just had a stroke that really aged him a lot.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean the senior type of forgetting. I meant the type of forgetting that we all have, and especially little kids… If your father was only born during the war, then how could he remember everything that happened then? Maybe he did give his friend something at a very young age?”
“Something that was valuable enough that in order to repay it seventy years later, the friend needed to give a penthouse apartment, fund a wedding, and try to push money at us in any possible way? It’s a lot more reasonable to assume that he simply made a mistake, Blumi.” Elisheva walked into her bedroom and opened the closet. It was arranged differently than what she had been used to in the old house, because of the placement of the door in this room. The drawers were on the left side, the hanging stuff was in the middle, and the shelves were on the right side. She hadn’t really liked it at first, but she was finally beginning to get used to it.
Maybe getting used to these kinds of things was superfluous, if they would be going back to the old house soon. Maybe they would be feeling that same confused sensation, like after a surprising dream that takes you to some far-off place…
No, they could not go back there so soon. The contract that they had signed with the tenants who were renting their old apartment was for a year. So what would they do? Start wandering from one rental to the next?
“You’re not listening to me, Elisheva,” Blumi said.
“Sorry,” Elisheva apologized. “I began arranging the shelves in my closet, and I was thinking about something. What did you say?”
“Now I say that your shelves are probably very organized already, and you don’t need to do any more organizing. But before that I said that even if it is Joe Ludmir’s mistake, with all due respect, I’m not sure he can just come and take everything back now.”
“Not sure in what way?”
“Legally, halachically, ethically… Do you know how such things work?”
“No, I don’t know,” Elisheva said tiredly. “I just know that if I got something that is not mine, I don’t want to have it in my possession for even one minute. Even though…” And she suddenly burst into tears, and leaped up to close the door to her room. “It will be so hard for me to go back to being Elisheva from the crowded little apartment…”
To Blumi’s credit, she remained tactful and didn’t respond with something like, “Don’t worry; I’ll help you out.” Instead, after a moment of deliberation, she asked, “Do you have a tissue?”
“Yes…” Elisheva sniffed.
Another few moments of silence elapsed.
“I’m sorry I cried,” Elisheva said, after a while, her voice more stable. “I don’t know what happened to me.”
“It’s very normal,” Blumi said, quoting the second psychologist she’d gone to, who would say that whenever she would burst into tears with no prior warning. “It’s…it’s a fear of sorts.”
“That’s right. I was so happy for my children. For Tzippy, for Miri, who we can help more now, and for the children at home who have more space, and better food and clothes. And for my father, who will be able to move in with us, and the sefer Torah for his family that made him so happy…” She fell silent again, feeling totally drained. Then she added tonelessly, “Of course, I was also happy for myself all the way through.”
“Also,” Blumi said. “Jewish mother that you are. Tell me, Elisheva, do you know the midrash about Eliyahu Hanavi and the deposit?”
“That he gave the poor couple for a set amount of time?”
“Yes. And the woman wrote down all the acts of tzedakah that they did with the money. And when he returned to take it back—”
“She showed him everything they had done. Yes, I’m familiar with it.”
“And he left the money with them permanently,” Blumi finished.
Elisheva was quiet. Was Blumi trying to promise her that everything would stay as it was? That in the merit of doing good things with the money they had received, everything would turn out to be a non-mistake? What was she trying to say?
“I’m not Eliyahu Hanavi,” Blumi answered the tacit question. “I didn’t give you anything, and I didn’t take anything away from you. I just want you to notice—what do you think, that that woman didn’t buy better food for her children with that money? And clothes? And they didn’t fix the broken windows, or the beds, or the stacks of hay, or whatever they had then? And she wasn’t happy with all of this?”
“She did exactly what she needed to do with the money she’d been given. And you also did. Is that clear?”
“I think so.” It wasn’t always easy to follow Blumi’s train of thought, but now Elisheva actually felt like she did understand. And something about the simple—albeit deep—message was very encouraging.
“Good. I hear that you’ve stopped crying. Just tell me, do you want me to try to convey a message to Ludmir that you know who he is? That you would want to make contact with him, or at least hear about his motivations?”
“Or tell him thank you…” Elisheva murmured. “It’s an important question, Blumi.” She took a deep a breath and stood up to close her open closet doors. “I can’t decide myself. I’ll ask my husband, and we’ll see, alright?”