Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 73 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.
A new door appeared just a bit further down the hall from the Potolskys’ front door. Elisheva had deliberated what to write on the nameplate, and finally, her excitement over the name “Ludmir” tipped the scale.
The carved wooden nameplate that she had ordered was a nice accent. The children loved dropping in to their grandfather “for just a few minutes.” They enjoyed walking out the front door and going down the hall to knock at his door officially, even though they could have easily crossed the hall inside the house and knocked at the inner door that connected them to Saba’s new apartment unit. He had bid farewell to the senior citizens’ home and had moved in with his family permanently.
Yisrael returned from Minchah together with his grandson Meir, and found his daughter standing at the door, scraping at the remnants of the glue from the nameplate. “Is everything alright?” he asked.
She turned. “Everything is fine, baruch Hashem. Just…”
“Are you expecting guests?” He looked at her, and when she blushed, he smiled and opened the door. Meir walked inside with him, and helped his grandfather hang his jacket on the hook. Elisheva turned around and walked back into her own home.
A few minutes later, she appeared in the room again, through the other door. “I brought you a cup of tea and your pill that you take before eating.”
“Tell me, Elisheva. Is Gustav coming to Israel?” he asked directly.
She blushed again. “Yes. You know me well, Abba.”
“He called today to let me know that he’s landed.” She paused. “And he’s staying with a nephew in Bnei Brak, the only Chareidi in his family. They don’t know anything about…his part in this, as you requested of him.”
“They don’t know? Good.”
“And I must tell you that Gustav himself was very happy with your request not to tell the extended Ludmir family that it was an intentional mistake. He wrote to us that you are such a wonderful, noble person, and I agree with every word.” Only a month had passed since they had received the fax from Australia, and they were all still gripped by the lack of clarity. Her father hardly spoke about the subject, but did make the effort to ask that if they would be updating the Ludmir family about the new information, they should present it as a regretful error that had been a result of those tumultuous times.
Now, Gustav had informed them that he was in Israel, and that the Ludmirs were very excited by the news and could not wait to meet their new cousin.
But before that, he wanted to meet his young friend, Edo.
“I wonder if he’s embarrassed,” she murmured. “For me, it’s so exciting… Are you excited, Abba?”
He nodded. “You can imagine,” he said, after a moment.
“Suddenly you have a name and a family and a background, and so do I.” She sat down on the armchair. “We’ll finally be able to know who your parents are, from which families, and what happened to them… The Ludmirs probably know lots of details. But I don’t think it will be good for you to meet the whole family at once. It will be too much for you.” She glanced at her father, who was folding his blanket with slow, deliberate motions.
“First you should meet your Gustav,” she said. “We need to make things up very clearly with him, what we’re saying about this…mistake. Because without the real story, it comes out a bit muddled, and I hope the Ludmirs don’t think that we are swindlers trying to take over Joe’s fortune with made-up stories about the past.”
“B’ezras Hashem it will be fine, Elisheva,” her father said gently. “The Eibeshter has never left me, and He won’t do so now either. Especially when all I want is to do a favor for another Yid.”
“Ima!” Meir’s voice cut her off from inside the house. “Someone’s at the door! He needs either my mother or my father to sign something!”
“I’m coming!” She scurried off toward the front door. A stranger—likely a courier—was standing there. “Is this the Potolsky, Bentzion, or Ludmir family?” he asked impatiently. “There are three names on this package, and two doors with names on them… Who’s all mixed up here, the sender or you?!”
Only then did Elisheva notice the tall, slim package leaning on the wall, wrapped in brown paper. She wasn’t sure how, but it was clear to her that she knew who the sender was—and more than that, she was almost one hundred percent sure that she knew what was in the package.
And she was right.
After the courier left, she and Meir carefully carried the package into the house and tore off the paper. Soon enough, everyone who was home was standing in front of their familiar old cuckoo clock.
Its hands moved slowly and steadily, as if they had never stopped. The little door was closed, but according to the clock, it should open any minute. “And if not, I can always help it with my ball,” Meir offered generously.
“No way!” his mother scolded.
Yisrael gazed at the tall, elegant clock. “What’s in the envelope, Elisheva?” he asked.
“A letter, I guess,” she said, noticing the bright yellow envelope for the first time. “What could it be?” She peeled the envelope off the brown paper that lay crumpled on the couch and handed it to her father. As he opened it, the door to the clock popped open, and the cuckoo bird emerged.
“Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” it announced. “Cuckoo-cuckoo-cuckoo-cuckoo-cuckoo!” And for some reason, the sound brought tears to Elisheva’s eyes.
“Is it from him?” she asked, staring at the now-shut door.
“Probably,” he affirmed, glancing at the page.
“There’s no signature on this letter. It’s just a photocopied picture of birds. Looks like it could be from an encyclopedia.”
“But there’s something written on the back!” Esti exclaimed, and drew closer to the paper.
Her grandfather flipped over the page: “I’ll come on Sunday, if you agree,” he read out loud, hoarsely.
Elisheva looked at him. “And what does the first side say?” she asked quietly.
He handed her the page silently.
A large picture of a bird, in black and white, gazed back at her from the top of the page.
Underneath the picture, the following was written: It is known that the cuckoo bird does not build itself a nest. Rather, it chases other birds away from their nests and then lays its egg there, so that the other birds can brood over it. Sometimes, the cuckoo mother will even push away an egg from the nest to make room for its own egg. When the time comes, the cuckoo chick hatches in the nest where its mother placed it, and then throws down all the native chicks from their nest, so that it can get all the attention of its ‘adoptive parents.’ Bird researchers who have studied this behavior…”
And here, the text was cut off.
“I don’t know what the bird researchers found,” Edo-Yisrael-Yosef Ludmir said quietly, his eyes fixed on the large clock in his daughter’s dining room. “But it is clear to me what they did not discover—a cuckoo bird that came to ask forgiveness from the birds that it had chased away.”
“And it is clear to me that if that cuckoo bird would have done it,” Gustav’s voice trembled a bit, “they would not have forgiven it so easily.”
“It’s not easy.” Elisheva’s father did not look at him. “But it’s possible. It’s possible.”
The older man was silent, his fingers hugging the cup of hot water Elisheva had served him, as per his request. Aside for that, he did not touch any of the delectable refreshments that they had prepared for the historic visit. None of the children were home; they had all been invited for supper to Tzippy to clear the house out for Saba’s important guest.
“I feel…” Gustav’s wrinkled fingers were white as he pressed them to the glass. “I just have no words. I don’t understand how I even dare to sit here, across from you, and to look at the family you have raised all these years without knowing anything.” He paused. “I’ll check how much I still owe you. Financially, I mean. I have tried to help your daughter, and I hope I was able to compensate you a bit as well, by making it possible for you to come live here so you can enjoy the nachas.”
Elisheva’s father had much less of a way with words, which is why he seemed to have trouble finding the right response. “Yes,” he said finally. “I’m really happy to see nachas. Baruch Hashem.”
No one in the room made any comparisons out loud, although they each did so mentally.
Then they spoke a bit about Australia and the economy there, the weather, health insurance for the golden years, and the difficulty of air travel at this age. Eliyahu moderated the conversation, asking the questions and getting answers out of his father-in-law. It took some time, but eventually, they chatted smoothly, and the atmosphere was undoubtedly convivial.
They stood up to part, but for some reason, had trouble doing so.
“Keep in touch,” Edo said.
“We’ll be happy to,” Eliyahu added warmly.
“Yes, yes, I hope so,” Gustav murmured. “And meet your relatives, Edo. They are waiting anxiously.”
None of them spoke about the story that they would or would not tell the Ludmirs. Suddenly, it didn’t really matter to anyone. Elisheva looked at her father’s pure, expressionless face, and thought that there was no one in the world who could suspect him of being a swindler. And if there was—then let that person get tangled up in his own thoughts. It was not her job to come up with explanations and excuses.
Finally Gustav left.
“I wanted to tell him something,” Elisheva’s father said quietly. “But I didn’t, because it would have offended him.” He took a deep breath. “When I try to think what would have happened if he would have told me the truth, and I would have gone to Magdiel instead of him, and lived at the uncles instead of him, and grown up there instead of him…” He stopped again. “No. No, I would not have wanted that,” he concluded with finality.
His daughter gaped at him. “Of course,” she said, after a moment. “Growing up there, in the Sharon, without Rav Kahaneman, without Batei Avot, without the yeshivah in Bnei Brak and the yeshivah in Yerushalayim… So, Abba…are you saying that you’re actually happy about the switch-around?”
“It doesn’t sound right like that.” He looked pensively out the window. “But I’m happy that I came, in my way, to different places than he did. How did Yosef Hatzaddik put it? Elokim chashavah l’tovah—Hashem thought it for the good… I got to different places.”
“Totally different,” Elisheva said. Gustav’s face flashed in her mind. Yes, he was the man who had taken so much from her father. But without knowing it, he had also given him so much more.
“But I’m happy now to know who we are,” she added, in a whisper.
“So am I.” He smiled and reached out, as if to pinch her cheek. “And it’s not a contradiction. Maybe when you get older you’ll understand.”
Was it only her imagination that the cuckoo bird that popped out a few seconds letter was chuckling with laughter along with Elisheva?