Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 4 of a new online serial novel, The Black Sheep, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
A few yards past the entry to the Reiness family’s apartment was another steel door, and beyond that was Sarah Reiness’s world. This was where their private home was located; none of her husband’s youths came in there, and she conducted her life there in a tranquil setting: she spoke on the phone to her married children, arranged her meeting calendar, fried tuna patties for lunch for the boys, or painted the sea.
She had already completed seven oil paintings that she’d named “The Sea,” all in the two years since they’d come from Haifa to Acco. They were all painted from the same angle, and were of similar style, but the hues, the boats, and the people on the sandy beach all changed, as if they were chapters in a serial story.
The paintings hung on the walls of the small living room, side by side, and anyone who looked at them could see that the paintbrush had been wielded by an amateur. But Sarah loved them anyway—and so did her husband, Elazar.
The latest painting was the most beautiful of them all.
“That’s me.” Elazar pointed to a spot in the darkening brown background. “And these are the boys.”
“How did you realize?” she murmured.
“Well, because those were really the colors of the sand and the waves yesterday, and this was exactly where we sat before sunset.”
She raised her head from her calendar, which she was perusing. “Right.” She grinned. “It’s the first time I managed to get you all there. And you sat for quite a long time, hardly moving, so you gave me a chance to paint you all calmly. Just this spot”—she pointed with a pen toward the outer edge of the small circle in the painting—“kept moving.”
“Osher,” Elazar said, still gazing at the large canvas. “But I see you were able to capture him sitting nicely.”
“That’s only in the painting. He would have ruined the idyllic scene if I would have painted him, for example, getting up, or walking closer to the water, or suddenly lying back.”
“But if this was his idyll at that moment, then that was the best thing for him,” her husband said. He turned to face her.
She was silent for a long moment, and then sighed. “I can erase it and paint him again. Not that I remember where he was at the exact second when the sun began to slip behind the horizon. But it doesn’t really make a difference; I decided anyway not to go for accuracy as far as he is concerned.”
“Yeah, just leave it this way,” Elazar said, after thinking it over for a moment. “It’s nice to see him blending in like that with the others.”
“Is he not doing that?”
Elazar was quiet. “He’s only been here four days,” he said, finally. “It’s hard for me to decide.”
“You usually don’t need more than half an hour to gauge such a thing.”
“That’s right, but perhaps it’s not enough for him.” He smiled and sat down at the small table. “He seems to be constantly hoarse,” he said suddenly.
She raised her eyes again. “Does it bother him?” she asked with interest.
“Do I know?” He sighed. “I wish I would know what is bothering him and what isn’t.”
“It changes. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I guess it depends how he feels.”
“Well, you’ve learned something, then.” She smiled and closed her calendar. “Try to make him feel good with us, and you’ll see if it helps the hoarseness. If not, we’ll talk about it again. Do you want supper?”
“I ate with the boys downstairs.”
“My question is if you want to eat again.”
“No, thanks. I need to prepare the evening shiur now.”
“Okay, b’hatzlachah,” Sarah said, and opened her calendar again. After a second, she shook herself, stood up, and walked into the kitchen. She puttered around there for a few moments and returned with a cup of lemonade and a few cookies on a plate. “Here you go,” she said. “And if you think that Osher’s hoarseness is the type that can be helped by lemonade, I’d be happy to send him a bottle.”
The calendar remained open when she walked into the kitchen again. She took out five large lemons from the basket and began to scrub the peels with a sponge.
Opposite her, over the ceramic backsplash of the kitchen wall, was a long, narrow window, which was open across the length. She pulled aside the curtain and went back to her lemons. The ancient wall outside peeked at her from the darkening evening. There was once a bustling city called Acco, which had served as an important hub in Eretz Yisrael. And although that city was slowly sinking and fading, it was to there that her husband had wanted to move.
Of course, there were plenty of Jewish families here, evidenced by the two chadarim and the Bais Yaakov school in the city, all of which were thriving. But anyone who heard about their move wondered about it, and rightly so. Why had they left a home and established community in Haifa to travel northward, to this place?
Well, she knew the motivation, but she felt like the chances of success were so miniscule, and she feared that Elazar would be disappointed. In fact, “disappointed” was insufficient to describe what someone would feel like, after investing as much as he had all these years, if, chalilah, everything would fall apart.
She heard a shout in Arabic from downstairs, further along the alley. Baruch Hashem, they lived here in relative harmony with their Arab “cousins”; otherwise, life here would be intolerable, and Elazar would be compelled to give up his dream.
She poured the lemon juice into a pot and turned on the fire. The sea breeze blew the curtain around, and the pots and kettles that she had embroidered onto it thirty-one years ago flapped their covers and spouts at Sarah. A small stain grinned at her impishly from the edge of the green kettle, and she dipped a spoon into the pot and sprinkled some lemon juice onto the stain. Whatever the stain was from, lemon juice was a surefire way to get rid of it.
One day, she should paint the sea from this angle. The window and curtain would serve as a built-in frame for her painting, and she’d start a new series. They would be different from the ones in the living room, because from here, she could see little of the waterfront across the street. The window was too high. But she could see the waves and the edge of the old wall very clearly.
Sarah carefully counted tablespoons of sugar and then added water. Elazar appeared in the kitchen doorway just as the drink was ready.
“Preparations for Shabbos have begun already, baruch Hashem,” she informed him as she wiped down the counter. “I prepared the lemonade tonight. And I actually made some extra, for your Osher. Do you want to take a bottle for him?”
“Hmm,” he said, taking a seat. “He’s still groping a bit, not really finding himself. I would want to know what his parents have to say about everything, but I don’t want to pressure him, to push him too hard.”
“And you think that lemonade will push him too hard?” she asked gently.
“If I would know exactly what it would do to him, I wouldn’t be deliberating like this. I’d be deciding that it either was or was not the right thing to do. Now, though…” His fingers raked his whitening beard. “I don’t know if he’ll like it; I see that he chafes from too much personal attention.”
“He didn’t object to sleeping here upstairs.” She lowered her voice, although it was clear that their voices did not carry from the kitchen to the room where the three boys lived on the other side of the dividing door.
“No, but I think that’s more because of his pedantic nature, not because he was looking for the homey feeling.”
Sarah carefully finished emptying the contents of the pot into the last bottle of the row she’d lined up on the table. Then she transferred the bottles to the windowsill to cool down. The pleasant scent of lemonade filled the kitchen. “Is he the sourpuss type?” she asked suddenly.
Elazar chuckled. “Osher? Not at all. Are you afraid he’ll suspect that I’m hinting to him to make lemonade out of the lemons in his life?”
“Will he suspect that?”
“No, because he’s not a sourpuss.”
“So if your only concern is that you don’t want to initiate something too close, like giving a bottle of lemonade just to him, then send it to him anonymously.”
He shifted his yarmulke on his head. “Anonymously?” he echoed, thoughtfully.
“Yes. Put it near his bed tonight. Even if he guesses who it’s from, he will see that you are not hovering over him, proven by the fact that you didn’t give it to him yourself.”
“You have a point,” Elazar said slowly. “I think it’s a good idea.”
Ariella sent me lemonade.
I don’t know how she discovered where I am so fast, but it’s like her to do it. To find me fast, not say a world, and then let me get up in the morning and discover this low, wide glass bottle on my night table, with a typed note that it was lemonade, made with natural ingredients, with a Badatz hechsher.
Maybe it was a payback for the surprise I’d prepared for her when she got back from Belgium. If you ask me, it’s a little strange to give back lemonade in exchange for cheesecake, but that’s just a small strange thing.
The bigger strange thing is how she managed to get it in here. She must have sent it through someone, either Reb Elazar or Yeruchem or Shlomo.
And whoever it is, is apparently a very good actor, because when I pointedly drank the lemonade in front of them, none made any signs of recognizing the bottle or anything. I don’t know whom to suspect.
Yeruchem didn’t pay any attention to it altogether. Shlomo just noted that whatever I was drinking looked like something sour. Reb Elazar answered amen to my brachah, and that was it.
Perhaps Reb Elazar is the one who is in touch with Abba, Ima, and Ariella? Strange. I told him that I’d informed my parents of my transfer, and how they hope time and again that I’ll succeed in whichever new place I am at.
It was not a lie; they really hope that. And the fact that I didn’t tell him that they don’t even know where exactly my new place is, that they only know that I transferred to a new yeshivah but not where that yeshivah is, makes no difference.
It’s only for a trial period anyway. If I like it here, I’ll tell them where I am. Why should they be disappointed for no reason?
But Ariella knows already. Or maybe she doesn’t? I’m totally confused. I need to call her and check what my parents know and what they don’t. She can put on a show for the whole world, this talented sister of mine, but I won’t fall for it.
“Look, it’s like a puzzle,” Dovid explained to Osher, who was studying the large plank lying on the worktable through narrowed eyes. “After you decide what you want to build, you first make a sketch on a paper. Then you choose a color and begin to plan the measurements. Did you see Matari doing it?”
“Shlomo Matari, the professional carpenter?”
“Right. So, then he calculates how he can get as much as possible from each plank, because it’s a shame for pieces to go to waste. You arrange the shapes along the length and width, and then check how you can use the space on the plank.” He pointed to the table. “That’s the standard size, 2.4 by 1.2 meters.”
The new boy yawned. Dovid didn’t notice; he leaned closer to the pink panel. “It’s supposed to be a desk or something. Do you see the paper that Shlomo left here?”
“I see it, but I don’t understand a thing.”
“So let me explain it to you. This is—”
“No, don’t explain it again. It was already boring the first time.”
“So please, step out.” Dovid nodded toward the door. “Rabbi Reiness thought you’d be happy to get some background and explanations. But if all you can do in this carpentry shop is block my light, I’ll forfeit the pleasure of being your tutor. Out! Do you understand?”
Osher studied him. Dovid was a few years older than him, and taller by at least a head and a half. Uneasy at being stared down by eyes under heavy, knitted eyebrows, Osher didn’t take a chance. He dragged his feet into the front yard, and from there he went out to the street. The residents on the block seemed to be a mixed bag. Most of the homes belonged to Arabs, but not all of them.
He crossed the street and stood there, on the other side, staring dreamily at the sea. When he was little, Ariella had taught him how to dream. Oh, he’d already known on his own how to dream; he did it often, even without realizing it. But she had taught him to give his dreams color and shape.
Perhaps she was here, somewhere nearby. Walking around the area, just waiting for a phone call to thank her for the lemonade. She had surely set up some type of trap for him, and was just waiting for him to ask her how she had been able to get the drink right to his bedside.
But no, he would not call her. What did she think? That he was a puppet? A toy dog? She could do what she wanted and he had to play by her rules?
With a sigh, he bent down to the beach and grabbed a fistful of seashells. He walked along the waterline, gently tossing in one shell after another. They got swallowed in the deep green-blue that grew darker at his feet.
“Osher?” Someone was approaching in a run. Osher didn’t turn around.
“Osher, how many times do I have to call you?”
Oh, the never-ending question that all his friends and rebbeim always had: how many times had they called him, and he hadn’t heard, or he’d lost track of where he was… Now he certainly had heard his name being called, but he didn’t want to show it.
“Mmmm?” He finally turned around, languidly, and found Yeruchem standing behind him.
“Reb Elazar is calling you. He’s in his car.”
“Oh,” Osher said, and then remembered to murmur, “Thanks.” He quickly turned back toward the house.
“Osher!” The rabbi’s warm smile as he got out of the car welcomed him. “Osher, do you want to come with us to a wedding in Tzefas?”
Osher squinted. “Huh? Whose wedding? What’s the connection to me?”
“The fact that you live and learn in my place isn’t enough of a connection?” The rabbi’s eyes were smiling. “I’m just afraid that I’ll be bored there. It’s the wedding of a distant relative—one of my cousins is marrying off a daughter—but none of my sons are able to come for it; they live in the center of the country, and it’s too far of a trip. But this cousin knows about my young friends whom I found in my old age.” The rabbi’s smile broadened. “He already told me clearly that anyone who comes with me is invited with pleasure.”
Osher’s intense expression grew even more guarded. “So you decided to take me along?” he finally inquired.
“You, together with someone else.”
The boy stiffened. “He already ran to tell you how he threw me out of the carpentry shop?”
“Actually, he told me that he was a bit hurt by how you spoke. But let’s not talk about that now. If we want to get to the wedding at a normal time, you need to get ready quickly. I’m waiting for you.”
“Fine,” the boy whispered. “Not that I understand how an almost-twenty-year-old guy as tall as the ceiling gets hurt by something I said, but who cares. Fine. I’m coming up.”
“He gets insulted the same way a sixteen-year-old who’s the height of the window gets insulted. When it comes to these kinds of things, it makes no difference where your head reaches.” Reb Elazar held the car door open. “Hurry, Osher, I’m waiting for you.”