Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 12 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.
“Reiness…” Mordechai Reiness knitted his brows. “Which Reiness?”
“His first name is Elazar. From Acco. Or Haifa, actually.” Yigal Erenbaum looked ahead as he gripped the wheel. He regularly gave people rides on his way home; he knew it was a great chessed for them and was happy to help them out. After this passenger got in and thanked him effusively, Yigal’s attention was piqued when he heard that the man’s name was Reiness.
“Elazar Reiness? Oh, you mean my cousin. We were actually just talking about him recently.”
“He’s your cousin?”
“Yes, but we’re not the same age at all. He’s about thirty years older than me. His father was much older than my father.”
“And what does he have there in Acco? A yeshivah? A youth hostel?”
“I have no idea.” Mordechai shrugged. “I just know that my brother was very surprised when he moved back to Acco.”
“Yes, his family lived there when he was a child. My older brothers still remember one single, historic visit they made there.”
“So, why did he move back?”
“That’s exactly the question,” Mordechai explained patiently. “That’s what my brother was wondering. And what’s even stranger is that he refuses to sell the old house.”
Yigal smiled. “Sounds like there’s a Pandora’s box here,” he said. “Why so mysterious?”
Mordechai chuckled and opened the car door. “I don’t know. Whatever it is, it’s probably not an inheritance from our grandfather, so I’m not all that curious about it.”
“And the man himself…” Osher’s father bit his bottom lip. “Your cousin…what is he? Mainstream Chareidi?”
“Sure, Chareidi, yes. Mainstream? I don’t know. Our family is very big, and I told you, he’s not really my generation, so I don’t know him so well. He has a nice family, as far as I know, and he is certainly a very unique person if he’s moving suddenly to Acco without any obvious reason…”
“And he seems to have attracted a group of young men who look up to him.”
“Really,” Yigal Erenbaum said.
When I got up in the morning, it was late. Shlomo and Nechemiah’s beds were empty, and I wondered if I’d make it in time for our minyan, in the room off the carpentry shop. Judging by the silence, the house was empty. Everyone must have left, even the Rav’s wife. I closed the door behind me and went downstairs. Honestly, I really felt like davening in the house. My head was heavy with exhaustion, but still, I went to find a minyan. I walked and walked until I got to Louis IX Street. There, in the mix of Jewish and Arab homes, I know how to find Rav Alkabetz’s Sephardic minyan.
When I got back, everyone was in the middle of breakfast. I heard the noise from behind the carpentry shop. I went upstairs to put away my tefillin and to check if Nechemiah had gotten back into Yeruchem’s bed. No, he wasn’t there anymore. His mother must have cleared off his bed in their part of the house. Or maybe he felt well enough to join the boys for breakfast.
Then the Reinesses’ phone rang. It was a big, black device near the door to the house that had such a strong ring, it even sliced through the heavy steel door. I opened the door and stood near the ringing phone, deliberating whether to answer the call or not. I did not want the caller—no matter who it was—to hear my voice. Finally I picked up, but I didn’t say anything. I just coughed into the receiver.
I stayed quiet and just bit down hard on the tip of my thumb. It hurt, but I wasn’t really paying attention to it.
“Hello? Is this the Reiness family?”
I bit my thumb even harder, and still I didn’t answer. It was Ariella. Oy, she should live and be well, but…what a nuisance! Why are you chasing me, Ariella? Didn’t you get the message that I want a new place, with a fresh start? I don’t want to answer you. I don’t want to! I put the receiver back down in the cradle.
My appetite was gone now. I leaned on the wall. I didn’t want to go down to breakfast or to the carpentry shop. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I just stood there for three long minutes and glared at the black telephone. How did they know I was here? How had they tracked me down? Did it have to do with the lemonade, or was that not from her at all?
She called again. I shoved a fist into my mouth and answered the phone angrily.
“Hello? Is this the Reiness residence?” Yes, it was definitely her again.
“Yes,” I mumbled through my fist.
“Can I speak to Osher Erenbaum?”
“Asher Erenbaum.” I guess she wasn’t sure whether or not they used my official name here. I heard someone say something in the background; I think it was Ima.
“You can’t,” I said tersely, dragging out my words like a shark’s tail.
My fist was apparently doing a good job at muffling my words.
“When can I speak to him?” she asked, polite as ever.
“Who said he is here?”
“I have my assumptions.”
“I have no idea what your assumptions are, madam,” I said with my new, slow drawl. “Besides, our students don’t waste time on phone calls.” I hung up.
The phone didn’t ring again. I went to sit on my bed and to swing my legs. I was hungry, and I knew I needed to eat. I knew also that I needed to go to Reb Elazar’s shiur, and that if I didn’t, he would come up to me soon. But I had no appetite.
I don’t care. Let him come up. I won’t tell him what sent my appetite packing.
But what if Ariella called when he was here?
I had to go downstairs. On the other hand, it wouldn’t take the problem away forever. Because what if Ariella, or Abba, or Ima, called at a different time, when Shlomo would be there and would pick up the phone? Or Nechemiah? Or Reb Elazar? Or his wife, if she happened to be home?
I got up from my bed and went over to the phone. On the first day I came, Reb Elazar said I could use the phone freely. I don’t know if they have a free line or a cheap plan, or if it’s just another thing that he invests in us, but until now, I’d hardly used it.
Like the previous times, I blocked the call, and then dialed. Ariella answered almost immediately. Based on the background noise, it sounded like she was in Ima and Abba’s house. Not that I heard my father—he was at work at this hour—but I think I heard Ima, and also that funny squeak that the kitchen door makes.
“Ariella?” I began.
“Osher! How are you?”
“Baruch Hashem. Ariella…”
“Yes?” Wow, she was so hoarse. I wished I could suggest that she come and be treated by my Rav’s wife, who is a speech therapist, but of course, I didn’t say that.
“Why are you calling all kinds of places to find out about me?”
“Why? Because I—”
I didn’t let her finish the sentence. “Don’t do it anymore.”
“I need to—”
I cut her off again. “If you call that place—” I didn’t want to say “here,” or she would realize that she’d gotten to the right place on that phone call—“or you try to come, you’ll just make me go further away. You understand?”
This time I cut her off in the rudest way possible: I just hung up the phone.
Panting breathlessly, as if I had just run to and from the beach five times, I went downstairs, and almost collided with Reb Elazar. “Oh, Osher!” he said with that warm smile. “How are you? We missed you this morning.”
I wanted to tell him that no one misses me, and that I’m just a black sheep, but suddenly, I remembered that it wasn’t really true. After all, Ima and Ariella had called me this morning.
They looked at one another.
“It doesn’t sound good,” Ariella repeated the same sentiment she had said in ten different variations in recent days.
Ima didn’t move her head. “Right,” she said, after a moment. “Not very good. So…” She was quiet.
“What?” Ariella picked up a pink towel from the pile and folded it.
“What can we do? To say that I’m at a loss does not even describe the way I feel. Look, in the worst case, we can always send the police over there to ask why they didn’t let a minor speak to his parents. But we can only take such a drastic step if we think he’s in real danger.”
“That’s right, because if by chance the weirdo who answered the phone is just someone else, and that is not the approach of the directors there, and it is a good place for Osher,” her daughter took a deep breath and picked up a striped towel, the last one in the pile, “then to actively cause Osher to leave this place would be a big mistake.”
“But what if it’s not a good place for him?”
Ariella looked at the towel she was holding. “We need to find out,” she said, squinting. “We really need to look into this.”
“Because so far, the impression we got wasn’t great. We haven’t found a single person who knows this man, who can give a warm recommendation for him. Even his cousin who spoke to Abba said he hardly knows him.”
“It’s possible that that’s true.” There, she had folded the stack of towels, even if it wasn’t perfect. Ariella remembered all those times when she was a girl and she’d folded mountains of laundry; her mother would always point out her less-than-precise folding. She’d improved since then, a bit, but her towel squares were as far from her mother’s perfect ones as Bnei Brak was from Acco.
“Of course, and that does not change the fact that we did not hear anything reassuring from a single person!” Irit Erenbaum looked down at the stack of towels. “Do you think they forced him to call us, after your call? Do you think that’s the situation?”
“A good question.” Ariella bit her lip. “And I don’t have the answer to it.”
“How can we find out more?” It was more of a rhetorical question than a practical one, but Ariella actually had a ready answer.
“Maybe I’ll go there,” she suggested.
“Go? To Acco? You? To Osher?”
“Three times yes.” Ariella smiled. “And once no. I won’t go to Osher, because I’m afraid he will not be very happy to see me, and if he disappears from there, it will be even more complicated. You remember how he didn’t come home for Shabbos during that short time he was in the yeshivah in Petach Tikvah?”
“When you went to Toby Greenwald?”
“Yes. And he met me, and was sure I’d come to speak to his maggid shiur, or something like that…” She smiled again, wryly this time. “So I don’t think it’s a good idea for him to meet me. But I would go just to nose around a bit and see what kind of people the Reinesses are and what kind of place it is. I’m sure I can do at least that.”
“I think it’s better if we ask someone else to do it.” Irit was thoughtful. “What will happen if he does see you?” She lowered her eyes to the pile of linen waiting to be folded, and then looked again at her daughter. “I’m afraid of my son. No, I’m afraid for him. Afraid that he will go too far.”
“I’ll try to make sure he doesn’t see me,” Ariella said, with her trademark confidence. “And I think that before anything, I should probably meet the renowned Mrs. Reiness and get to know her. That’s a good place to start.”
“What do you mean, renowned?”
“Well, she’s a renowned speech therapist,” her daughter clarified.
“Why would you go to her? As someone who needs some type of therapy?”
“Help with my hoarseness. Don’t you think I need it?”
“You do,” her mother replied, “although it’s definitely gotten better.”
“Till next time.”
“That’s right.” Irit didn’t touch the laundry; she just looked at Ariella who was now folding sheets one after the other, completely ignoring their elastics. The results were commensurate. “And what do you mean when you say that it’s a good place to start? What will you do afterward? How much time are you planning to be there?”
“A few days.”
“Yes. I don’t think one morning will be enough for me.”
“How many days will you need?” Her mother sounded nervous.
“I don’t think that the sea and the beach will be able to enthrall me so much that I’ll want to settle there.” She laughed. “You have nothing to worry about, Ima. You know I’m practical, and even though Acco is a pretty city—or so I’ve heard—beautiful waves and an ancient shoreline are not going to decide where I live.”
“But even without living there, where are you going to stay for that time? Where will you sleep at night?”
“I’m sure we can find a place for a night or two.” Ariella’s smile faltered. “And honestly, Ima, I feel like I need it. I need to get away a bit, for a change of scenery.” She glanced around. “I want to go for myself no less than for Osher.”