Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 13 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.
Sarah Reiness put her appointments book into her bag and pushed it over to end of the countertop. She looked around for the cover of her pen while answering an incoming call. “How are you, Bassi? How are the kids? How are you managing?”
“Baruch Hashem, wonderful.” She heard the cheerful voice of her younger sister. “Baruch and Gadi went out to chase a deer that they claim they saw. Shulamis and Meira tried to tell them that there are no deer in the Galilee Hills, and they all went out to decide who’s right. Arik and Daniel are playing Kapla here next to me, Malka is trying to knock it down, and Kreindy is sleeping, and that’s it. Oh, and Yisrael Meir is not back from cheder yet, of course.”
“And who was right? I’m curious. Are there deer in the Galilee or not?”
“What else do you want me to know? I don’t even know if there’s enough laundry detergent in the house, and you’re asking me about deer?”
Sarah chuckled. “Would you like to come to us for Shabbos?” she offered.
“With Kreindy? I don’t like traveling with such a small baby in this cold.”
“But how will you be able to cook this way?”
“Oh, the kids help me. You have to see the dips that Shulamis can prepare… I’ll make a challah dough and fish tonight, Aryeh will make the cholent, and we’ll manage just fine.”
“I want to send you something,” Sarah said, reaching for the yeast cake that that had gone into the oven straight as a ruler and emerged looking more like a question mark. She began to slice it. “Not that I’m such a gourmet cook—you know me—but the food that I make is simple and tasty, and I have more time than you do.”
“When, exactly? When you get home from Haifa at nine p.m.? Or maybe on Wednesday, when you go to the clinic in Bnei Brak and come back at twelve-thirty at night, collapsing from exhaustion?” Bassi suppressed her own yawn.
“You can laugh, but I can even bake then.”
“So maybe I’ll ask Aryeh to come over to you on Friday, if he has time, and he can take a few of the kids with him. They’ll have an outing, and I’ll be able to sweep out this caravan and maybe even have a chance to mop the floor.”
“Great idea. Your kids will enjoy Aryeh’s boys, and I’ll finally be able to send you the gift I bought for Kreindele. But tell me, Bassi, isn’t it very cold out there for you?”
“Are you kidding me? You have to come to see how warm and dry it is here!” Her sister laughed as she placed the baby over her shoulder. “The heat is so strong, it’s sometimes too much. Do you know what Kreindy is wearing now? The light blue stretchy that you bought for Baruch when he was born. And that was in Sivan, just to remind you.”
“Alright, tell her that she should wait patiently until the bag comes from her old aunt. There’s the pinkest stretchy ever in there.”
Little Kreindy howled all evening, and by the time she calmed down, Bassi’s arms ached. She sat down at the table and drank the cup of tea she had made for herself, eyeing the roll of patterned wallpaper that was resting on the fridge for a week already. She had promised herself that she’d put it up, and if she wouldn’t fulfill these kinds of promises, then she wouldn’t be trustworthy in her own eyes. On the other hand, she really had no strength now, and it was a shame that the walls of the children’s room and the hallway should come out messy because of it…
“Ima?” A pair of bare feet padded over to her. There, the decision had been made for her. Although the children had gone to sleep sure they would wake up to a newly wallpapered hallway, when Daniel woke up, it always took almost an hour and a half for him to fall back asleep again. Bassi dragged herself and her tea over to the couch and lay Daniel down there. “Shh…sweetie,” she whispered as she stroked his cheek. “Here, sleep here. Do you want to keep your eyes open or closed?”
“Open.” Of course. “Ima, do you know that Yisrael Meir said that if I want, he’ll bring me a lolly tomorrow?”
Bassi grimaced. “Uch, a lolly,” she said.
“Is a flashlight keychain better?”
“Fine, so I’ll ask him for the keychain instead,” the boy said, and turned his head over to the other side. Within a minute, he was breathing evenly, deeply asleep. Miracle of miracles!
“Now you have no excuse,” Bassi told herself in a low voice. “Everyone’s sleeping. You can go back to being energetic and productive, and start working on the hallway.” She carefully moved Daniel and stood up. From the doorway to the hallway, she saw the row of cars Daniel had lined up earlier, before he’d gone to sleep. She’d have to move them if she wanted to put down a stool so she could work on the lower half of the wall. Where was the stool, anyway?
She leaned on the left arm of the couch. She did not have the energy to glue wallpaper now… And she had even less strength to wash dishes. She needed something else, something that would refresh her, and help her air out…What was that box she hadn’t managed to unpack since they’d moved?
Bassi rummaged around inside until she pulled out her old origami booklet, and took three colorful pages out of the envelope stapled into the back. The children didn’t have access to this paper; she let them use it only for special occasions.
Slowly, she crafted a tall vase, and then she added three white carnations, all of different heights. The fourth flower, the lowest of them all, fell out of her hand when she nodded off.
She didn’t hear Aryeh.
He stood in his place quietly, and after a few seconds, checked that the front door was locked, and went into the kitchen. He placed a brown paper bag on the counter, cleared the counter from the remnants of the children’s and Bassi’s supper, and looked for the kettle to boil up some water. The heating element was in its place, plugged in. But where was the actual kettle? Oh, there it was, on the table, behind the bread. Yisrael Meir must have made a drink for himself when he came home from cheder.
Aryeh left the kitchen and quietly tiptoed to the boys’ room. His oldest lay there quietly, his eyes closed. Aryeh straightened his blanket and sat down on the edge of the bed, gazing at him. They hardly saw one another during the week since they’d moved to this new town. In the morning, they traveled together to Tzefas for a vasikin Shacharis, and then they parted ways. He continued on to kollel, while his son went to cheder for a long day, until seven in the evening. When Aryeh would return home after night seder, Yisrael Meir would already be sleeping, recharging for the next day. Eliezer wished they could schmooze a little in the morning, on their ride to Tzefas, but usually Yisrael Meir dozed for most of the trip.
Bassi said the boy looked happy and that everything was fine, but the question was how much Bassi was able to see amidst the wave of things she had to deal with every day.
He stood up and went back to the kitchen. To his surprise his wife was awake and standing there, tying up the full garbage bag.
“Cheese danishes with whole wheat flour!” she said when she saw him. “Just what I needed, Aryeh—how did you know? Thank you so much!”
“And you’ll eat them, right?”
She laughed. “Yes, sometimes it’s allowed. One small danish for now, and I’ll freeze the rest. Whenever I feel a desperate need, I’ll know that I have the option to defrost some more of them.”
She placed the pot with the spelt noodles and fish on the fire, and he made himself a tea. “First a plate,” she murmured. “And a fork…very good. My cheese danish is ready to eat.”
He smiled when he saw the tiny cheese danish almost swallowed up by the huge plate, which was part of the set they’d received for their wedding. A minute later, his own meal was ready. Bassi disappeared for a moment to the dining room, and returned with her paper vase. With a flourish, she placed it in the middle of the table and sat down.
“I was so exhausted before, I just fell asleep,” she told him. “I had actually planned to finally start with the wallpaper, but I just couldn’t. Maybe soon, when we finish eating, I’ll do it.”
“Now? At ten-thirty at night?”
“Um…when will you sleep?”
“When I was a baby I slept a ton, my mother says. I think I slept enough for now also.”
“Too bad that Kreindy’s not learning much from your habits as a baby. But what can we do if the example you’re setting for her these days is not exactly the greatest?”
“Maybe she’s setting an example for me?” Bassi smiled as she sliced her danish into miniscule pieces. “Everyone is so worried about me sleeping enough. Sarah’s also worried about me. She’s afraid that I don’t have enough help in this hole.”
“Do you feel that way?”
“Baruch Hashem, I’m very happy here. You know that. I wanted to move to this developing moshav. We just need to find an arrangement for the kids’ transportation and take care of the permits for the house. Not that I have the energy for that right now.”
“Wait, why transportation arrangements? What changed?”
“Miriam Greenhaus is starting to leave to work earlier, so I won’t be able to send them with her anymore.”
“Why, when is she going to be leaving?”
“At a quarter to seven in the morning. Shulamis and Bracha cannot come to school at seven-fifteen. The building is still locked then! Baruch and Gadi can’t get to cheder at that hour either. Their building might be open, but a first grader and a fifth grader cannot wander around in an empty building by themselves for almost an hour.”
“And what are the Greenhauses doing with their children?”
“They’ll drop them off by their grandmother for now, but I can’t send our four there also! Anyway, forget it; we’ll talk about it tomorrow, when hopefully I’ll come up with a few ideas. And there’s always the option of paying for transportation, which we planned to do before we moved here.”
Ariella would say that I’ve settled into a routine. Yes, working, learning, eating, sleeping, a type of routine. I think you could say that I’ve gotten used to this place, and that it’s gotten used to me. I’ve developed a few habits also, like giving in to Shlomo about the light in the room. It’s a bit annoying that he takes it for granted and doesn’t say thank you, but I’ve survived more serious things than a lack of appreciation for agreeing to turn the light off earlier.
The other habit is that I lie in bed for a few minutes, and when I think Shlomo is sleeping, I get up and go to the window. Reb Elazar seems to have a nightly “custom” of his own: walking on the beach, and I like to watch him. I’m not always sure that the one I think is him is actually him, but all kinds of figures pass there, and there’s always someone there whom I can tell myself is him.
Tonight, he was walking so far away that I decided to go down and see if it was actually him or not.
I dressed quietly, in the dark, and went downstairs. I hoped Shlomo wouldn’t wake up and worry about me—although I doubted he’d make the effort to check if I was in bed or not, even if he did get up. It was cold on the beach, and I was sorry that I hadn’t taken my coat. The sand was a bit moist, because it was very windy today, and that pushed the waves onto the beach. I walked calmly, looking at the forms the bottom of my shoes made in the sand. If Shlomo would want to follow me, he’d have no problem doing so.
“Osher?” There he was, suddenly, right behind me. Reb Elazar.
“I thought that was you, over there,” I said, confused, as I pointed with my chin further along, to the old pier.
“Did you come to look for me? To talk to me?” He looked at my trembling shoulders.
“Yes. No,” I said. “I just wanted to see if it was really you or not.”
“It’s really me. You can go back.” His mouth was serious, but there was a smile in his voice.
“I want to be with you.”
“To be with me?”
“Yes, it’s boring in my room.”
He opened his mouth, closed it, and then opened it again. “Fine,” he said, and took off his jacket. “Just put this on in the meantime; you might catch a cold.”
“Do you come to the beach every night?”
“Almost every night,” he replied, as he walked on. I walked next to him.
He stopped and looked at the sea. “Look how beautiful it is,” he said. “When I was a little boy, I fell asleep with this scenery in the background. Lots of my childhood memories are here. My personality developed in front of these waves and the sea.”
“Hey, one minute!” I said suddenly, like an old fluorescent light whose switch you press, but it only flashes on a few seconds later. “I understand! This was your house when you were boy, right?”
“Actually, no.” Rabbi Reiness smiled. “We lived further in the city, in the new part.”
“So what do you mean by those lofty sentences about your personality that…” I didn’t remember exactly what he’d said, and the truth is, I was afraid it might be chutzpah to speak to him this way, so I quickly stopped myself.
“My personality developed. Can you tell me what a personality is, Osher?” he asked. “How exactly does it develop?”
“It’s something that every person has inside,” I replied. I thought it was the right answer. “And I don’t have energy to talk about philosophical things now.”
“Fine, so without the philosophy, because the answer to what I asked is very simple.” His smile didn’t move when he started walking again. “We lived in the inner part of the city, but from my house we could also see part of the shoreline.”
“Oh,” I said, and scratched my forehead.
“And besides, why is speaking about a personality considered ‘lofty’? I don’t think it is. And it certainly doesn’t have to be philosophical. To speak about your personality, and about what you want and aspires to, is just like talking about what you want to eat for breakfast or supper.”
“My personality is totally satisfied,” I said, very seriously.
“You didn’t understand the mashal.”
“I understood, Rebbi. I meant that my personality is so satisfied from all this talking that it doesn’t need breakfast or supper for at least three years, I think.”
He was quiet.
“Was I being chutzpadige?” I asked, after we continued walking for a few long, silent moments. I closely studied the imprint of Reb Elazar’s shoes. (It was very similar to mine, but his was just an imitation, I think. And four sizes bigger than mine.)
“Not at all. I’m just wondering why you chose to say three years. Maybe thirty? Maybe seventeen? Why three?”
“No special reason,” I said. I sensed my voice getting whiny. “Maybe because three years have passed since my bar mitzvah, and everyone expected that at least by now, I’d grow up. But with me, things don’t exactly go as expected.”
He remained quiet, just walking alongside me in the stillness of the night, as the imprints of our soles continued making tracks on the sand.