Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 17 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.
Bracha and Shulamis sat at the table peeling carrots for the soup, and Bassi slid a pan into the oven.
“That’s it!” she announced gaily. “We’re almost finished. Who wants to go keep the little ones busy? And who wants to put linens on the beds in the shed?”
“Who’s sleeping in the shed?” Bracha asked.
“Uncle Elazar’s students. And Uncle Elazar and Aunt Sarah will sleep in the guest room.”
Shulamis went out to make the beds in the shed, which was actually a small caravan connected to the house with a door; it had an additional door to the outside as well. On nice days, Bassi used the shed as a playroom for the children, and on cold days, as a storage room for the endless mountains of laundry, sacks of vegetables that Aryeh brought her from Tzefas, and lots of other things that there was no room for in the house.
Shulamis switched on the light. The floor was full of scraps of paper from Gadi’s paper boats. Piles of laundry that had been sitting securely on the old recliner were already spilling over onto the floor, while dozens of pieces of Kapla and Clics were scattered all around the room. Only then did Shulamis realize where so many of the pieces from the box in the house had disappeared to.
“Bracha!” she called into the house. “Are you coming to help me clean up in here? There isn’t even room to open the folding beds!”
Bracha came out to her. “Oh, just move everything to the side,” she said, scratching her forehead. “I don’t have energy now to collect all of Gadi’s torn paper boats, and we don’t need these Kapla and Clics pieces right now. There are enough of them in the house!”
“Ask Ima if we need to clean up or not,” Shulamis asked. “But first, come help me move this chair with the laundry over to the side, and let’s pick up whatever clothes fell on the floor.”
“Ima will say that it doesn’t matter,” Bracha informed her. “You know, she always says that the main thing is to greet the guests nicely; the mess doesn’t make a difference.”
The closet door was open a bit, and Shulmais tugged at the handle. What was this box down here?
“Ima!” she shrieked a moment later. “Ima!!! There’s an…animal here! It looks like a dog, or…” Enough. She wasn’t staying here one minute longer!
In a flash, she was out of the shed and back in the warm house. “Ima, come look what’s there in the closet!”
“What’s there?” Bassi asked from her position at the counter, where she was peeling walnuts for the lettuce salad.
“An animal, Ima! There’s an animal in the shed! In a box, on the bottom shelf of the closet there!”
“It was sitting on the blankets?” Bassi calmly began checked the walnuts one by one.
“No, it was just in the box!”
“It must be Gadi’s fox cub.” Bassi turned her head to her daughter. “He found it yesterday and wanted to keep it. I told him to put it in the shed. I totally forgot about it.”
“So he has to come and take it out now!” Shulamis sat down on a chair in the kitchen and folded her arms, with a stubborn expression on her face. “Ima, please, tell him to go and take it out!”
“Where should I put it?” a voice asked from the kitchen door. “In your room?”
“Gadi!! Ima, tell him!”
“Gadi,” Bassi said, “please, for Shabbos, find another place for your fox. By the way, did you give it to eat today?”
“Sure! Early this morning, before I ate anything myself!”
“What does he eat?” asked Nechama, who was sitting on the floor with her younger brothers. She had been quiet up until now.
“You’d rather not know,” her brother replied with a grin. He glanced at Shlulamis, who was still scowling on her chair. “Do you want to come help me move him away?”
“Funny joke,” she snapped.
“But don’t you need to go into the shed to make the beds for our guests anyway?” he asked.
“You make the beds, if there are foxes there!”
“It’s just one fox—a very small one. A cub, really,” Gadi said. “Come on, Shulamis, since when are you such a scaredy-cat?”
“Since I went to the closet in the shed to take out blankets, without knowing anything, and I almost fainted!”
“So now you do know about it,” her brother said. “What’s the big deal about coming with me just to see the little fox? He’s so cute… You won’t be sorry!”
The little ones began clamoring around Gadi.“We also want to see the fox!”
“Come, come,” their older brother said magnanimously. Within a few moments, Gadi, Bracha, and the little ones were back in the shed. Shulamis stayed firmly where she was.
“What happened, sweetie?” her mother asked, still facing the counter.
“How did you know I stayed here?” Shulamis glanced at her mother in surprise. “You didn’t even look in my direction!”
“I felt you,” Bassi joked. “Nu? Why are you so upset?”
“I don’t like the smell and the dirt and the mess in our house. Gadi should have understood,” she hesitated for a second, eyes darting around the room, “that we don’t welcome guests like this!”
“Nu, so teach him that,” her mother suggested calmly. “You’re very different from him. You have a strong sense of order and cleanliness, and that’s a beautiful thing. Maybe it will rub off on the other kids… Anyway, do you think you can get the kids to clean up the shed? It could be a great activity for them.”
When Shlomo and Osher entered the shed two and a half hours later, it was hard to recognize the upside-down, stuffy caravan of earlier that afternoon. Gadi had been very creative; he’d spread out two old quilt covers over the ironing board and laundry rack, which concealed a lot of the mess: the laundry chair, all the Kapla and Clics pieces, the broken tape recorder, and an assortment of other items that no one had wanted to pick up and put away. In the middle of the room were two beds decked with floral linen—a bit creased—in different shades of green. (Bassi had planned to come in after the children to smooth out the sheets but hadn’t had the time.) Between the beds was a plastic chair, on which rested a tray with a few plastic cups, a bottle of water, and a bag of dates.
“Medjool,” Shlomo said as he studied the bag. “But where are the snacks Reb Elazar gave us, so that we shouldn’t starve a whole Shabbos with all this vegetarian food?”
“They’re in the bag behind you,” Osher said. He stood near the narrow blinds, studying the view from the window. “You know, it’s so pretty over here! I would love to go outside, but they’re still in the middle of their emotional family reunion out there.”
“And I just want to sleep.” Shlomo stretched out on one of the beds. “Too bad you didn’t come with me and Matari to the assembly job this morning. That was some job, and another pair of hands wouldn’t have hurt.”
“My hands?” Osher studied his palms. “I think that they definitely would have hurt… What did you assemble? The dining room table you finished yesterday?”
“Yeah. It wasn’t supposed to be a difficult job; otherwise, Reb Elazar wouldn’t have scheduled the assembly of it for a day when almost everyone was gone. But for some reason, things got a little complicated.”
“It’s funny, that they give us an ‘off Shabbos,’” Osher mused. “As if it’s a real yeshivah…”
“It really wasn’t like that at first. This ‘off Shabbos’ business is only a recent thing. But anyway, from the very first ‘off Shabbos,’ there were always those of us who stayed.” He stuck his hand into the plastic bag behind him. “I don’t remember that it was ever just me and someone else, though. When Yeruchem was with us, he always stayed, of course, and Eliyahu also almost always stayed. But this time, his uncle invited him.” He riffled through the bag. “This is the salty stuff,” he said. “Now I want something sweet. What about you, Osher?”
“Nothing. I told you, I just want to go out. Look at that tree!”
Shlomo didn’t even glance at the window. “What do you want? This is the Galilee. There are a hundred other trees like that. No, not a hundred, maybe a thousand.”
“I think it is so nice for children to grow up in this kind of a setting.”
“I’m not sure. It’s one thing if they could spend all day outside with the butterflies and the birds, but they’re in school. And think about how far they have to travel to get to school each day.” Shlomo wiped his mouth and lay down on the bed.
“They could just not go to school,” Osher said from the window. Then he announced, “Okay, there are only kids outside now, and all the adults went in. I think I can go out.”
“Go, go.” Shlomo’s eyes were closed. “Wake me up an hour before Shabbos, ’kay?”
Osher didn’t even hear him. He was already outside, next to the thick tree trunk, examining it from top to bottom.
“Watch out!” someone exclaimed. “You almost stepped on him!”
“Huh?” Osher looked around. “I stepped on something?”
“Yes! My fox!”
Osher immediately recognized the energetic kid from the previous Friday, but what the boy had just said was too interesting for him to dwell on that insulting encounter right now. “I’m stepping on what?”
“Not on what, on who. On my fox!”
Gadi and I sat down on the ground, near the fox.
“He’s so funny—look how his nose touches the plate! I just hope he doesn’t bite it by mistake, because plastic plates can cut,” Gadi said.
“I didn’t know that foxes like scrambled eggs,” I said.
“I didn’t know that, either.” Gadi looked at the fox, which was sniffing the contents of the plate. “But I don’t like them, so I gave him a chance to check it out.”
I looked at the fox’s thin tongue. “He’s still a cub. He’s probably supposed to be drinking mostly milk.”
“Maybe.” Gadi was skeptical. “But soy milk and almond milk are really expensive, and my father says it’s bal tashchis to give it to a fox. Anyway, he seems to be managing fine on the food that I give him.”
“Oh.” I scratched my nose thoughtfully. “You don’t have regular milk?”
“No,” the boy said. “The lactose isn’t healthy.”
“And eggs are fine?”
“As long as we don’t overdo it,” he said. “Plant-based protein is the best, but I have a hard time digesting soy protein, so once in two days I have to eat a hard-boiled egg or an omelet. But I really don’t like the taste of eggs.”
“It’s a shame that you don’t like eggs,” a voice said from the window behind us. I think it was Gadi’s father. “And it will be an even bigger shame if you have to shower in ice-cold water, Gadi. But anyone who wastes time on Friday afternoon will find that the hot water in the tank has run out…”
“Oh, no!” Gadi jumped up. “I can’t stand showering in the cold water here. It comes from the big tank my father built on the roof, and it gets freezing toward the end of the shower. And I don’t know why, but I’m always the one who gets there last! Will you watch the fox for me in the meantime, Osher?”
“Yes, sure,” I reassured him.
“Check that he’s not taking too-big bites that he could choke on, and that he doesn’t run to any dangerous places, and that he doesn’t climb the tree.” His expression was so serious I wanted to laugh, but I kept a straight face. “And if something happens, call me right away, okay?”
“And maybe you can think of an idea for a name for him, too!”
I was left with the fox, which looked at me with what Ima calls a “steady gaze,” before it went back to smelling the grayish omelet in the plastic plate. I think Gadi also has ADHD, like I do. This little woodsy area is probably great for him.
In the end, the fox walked away without eating the eggs, and I went back to our room. Someone rapped twice on the door and then entered. It was Reb Elazar. “Is Shlomo sleeping?” he whispered.
“Yes,” I replied.
“So maybe you should wake him up.” He smiled at me. It was a much calmer smile than I’d seen on him the last day and a half. It looked like spending Shabbos here was going to do Reb Elazar a world of good. “We’re davening Minchah in the shul here soon, and I don’t think Shlomo davened yet. You didn’t daven Minchah yet either, right?”
Twenty minutes later, I found myself walking to shul together with Shlomo, Reb Elazar, his brother-in- law Aryeh, and Aryeh’s sons, including Gadi, who’d left the fox wandering near one of the trees.
I walked a bit behind the rest of the group, looking around and inhaling the fresh air and the smell. I sensed that this Shabbos was going to be much more interesting than I’d first thought.