The Black Sheep – Chapter 19

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 19 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. 

Ariella spent the rest of Friday exploring the streets near her small apartment. It was refreshing to see children wearing velvet yarmulkes, and young men in suits and hats, walking briskly with a typical Erev Shabbos purposefulness. Not that she could ignore the rolling Arabic that she heard as well, as Arab women in their distinct garb, pushing strollers and surrounded by children, passed her by.

Her Shabbos was ready, and there was nowhere for her to hurry. She studied the buildings; some were very well kept, while others were just the opposite. She noticed the clean sidewalks and streets and wondered about the lack of traffic lights both for vehicles and for pedestrians. She did not see Osher, or any other youths that could have been his friends in whatever learning framework he was in. Just at the end of her walking tour, she found an Arab woman sitting under a massive umbrella with a few buckets of flowers. Ariella selected two modest bunches, paid for them, and then, in the rain that had begun to fall, walked back to her temporary home.

When she entered the building, she hesitated, not sure whether or not to knock on Miriam’s door. There was a little mat near it, and she decided to leave one of the bouquets there, where her hostess was sure to find it. She placed the other bouquet in a plastic cup on the small table in her room, and leaned it against the wall.

Shabbos was about to descend on the world.

If Abba and Ima would know that she was eating her meals alone, they would be beyond horrified. Since Nosson’s passing, Ariella had never been alone for a Shabbos seudah. She was always a guest at someone’s house—usually her parents’, although sometimes she went to friends, and on the rare occasion, to Nosson’s parents.

In her phone call to her parents before Shabbos, she hadn’t told them about her change in plans. She knew it would send their worry seismograph on a wild spike, and there was little they could do to help her. She didn’t want Ima to frantically look for a family that would be kind enough to host her so that she shouldn’t be alone for Shabbos. Moreover, she didn’t want the whole thing to get back to Miriam, who would be very embarrassed.

She wasn’t afraid of eating herself, just as she wasn’t afraid to sleep alone, or, in general, to be alone.

She bentched licht, and then said Kabbalas Shabbos and some Tehillim. She davened Maariv, made Kiddush, ate, and even hummed some zemiros to herself. She wondered where Osher was at that moment. Was he close by? Perhaps he had davened in one of the shuls she had seen today on her walks; she’d noticed at least seven or eight of them. When she had spoken to Miriam last week to arrange the rental, Miriam had given her some details about the city and the frum community. Apparently, the shuls she had seen were only a few of the options, as there were more than fifty shuls in this city. She felt an urge to go out for another walk after bentching, but worried that perhaps it wasn’t safe enough. After all, this was Acco, and it was nighttime… Maybe she would ask Miriam tomorrow about how safe it was to walk around outside at night in this city. For now, she’d stay here in her room.

She hadn’t yet decided whether to go to sleep or to read one of the books she’d brought along from home, when there was a light knock at the door.

“Miriam!” she exclaimed, and stretched her facial muscles into the biggest smile she could manage.

“I figured I’d pop in for a short visit,” her hostess replied. She held out a tray with cake, a bottle of juice, some cups, and a small bowl of white pumpkin seeds. “How often do I have a guest?”

“Come inside,” Ariella invited her in, as if she were the hostess. She took a seat on the bed and left Miriam the lone chair.

“The flowers are from you, right?” Miriam said. “I see you have an identical bouquet here for yourself.”

Ariella smiled.

“I guessed. Thank you very much. They are really pretty.”

They sat in silence. Ariella politely took a slice of cake, made a brachah, ate it, and complimented the baker. Miriam also took some cake and made a brachah, but her eyes were fixed on the juice bottle. “I hope it was alright for you here tonight,” she said suddenly.

“Oh, it was excellent,” Ariella reassured her.

“Really? I felt so uneasy every time I thought of you eating your seudah here, alone… Are you sure it worked out okay?”

“Absolutely sure.”

“Good.” Miriam leaned back in the chair a bit. “So, tell me a little about yourself. Do you work?”

“Yes.” Ariella did not like interrogations, but she knew what Miriam did—or rather did not do—for a living, so it was probably appropriate for her to share her own occupation. “I’m a private teacher—kind of like a tutor—for music and math. When I have students,” she added, after a fraction of a second’s thought.

“Music and math?” Miriam chuckled. “A bit of a strange mix, isn’t it?”

“Well, I’m kind of a strange mix myself. I’m both humanistic and realistic, and this is the result. But in general, music is very close—”

“To the teshuvah world,” Miriam completed.

“Well, that, too,” Ariella said with a smile. “But I actually meant the closeness between music and math. They have many similarities. Music has a lot of order and rules, and I sometimes can literally see a whole series of equations in a musical piece.”

“Well, if you say so. I don’t understand much about either of them.” Miriam stood up. She seemed to be battling with her thoughts, and then she said, “So I’m happy it worked out okay for you tonight.”

Ariella nodded, and Miriam left.

Ariella was once more alone, and again, the window became her friend. This time, when she tilted her head to a certain angle, she could discern the closely trimmed grass that filled the front courtyard of the building. The wet grass had a scent that Osher had always loved. She wondered if Osher was smelling cut grass now, in the night, instead of sleeping.

She liked being with herself.

That was her miracle.

She could not imagine putting up with someone interfering with what she did, like Miriam had to tolerate. What would happen if someone would tell her, Ariella, which occupation to choose, based on its profitability, or even that she should take in more math students over music ones, because she could charge more for the former than for the latter?

Truthfully, she could understand the issue with the meals and the privacy, and she was totally okay with that. The fourth Shabbos after their wedding, Nosson had wanted them to be home themselves, so they’d stayed home. And it had been wonderful…

“So, was it okay for her?” she suddenly heard a voice near the window.

“Totally fine,” came Miriam’s voice. “She didn’t seem upset at all.”

“Good, that’s the best thing. Imagine if you would have had to bring her into the mess the children made before Shabbos… We would have buried ourselves in shame. Maybe we’ll be able to invite guests when the children get older. For now, it really doesn’t work for me, especially when the house looks like this.”

Nosson liked order, too, Ariella recalled. And she had tried her best to keep the house tidy. But if not for Nosson’s overwhelmingly good middos, she had no idea what would have been—because more often than not, the house did not remain in top form for long…

And she also had no idea what would have been if she and Nosson would have had children, and those children would have grown up receiving insufficient chinuch with regard to cleaning and orderliness. Who knew what kind of terrible ramifications it would have had on their personalities and souls? So it was probably a hidden brachah that those children had never been born…

Her thoughts sometimes got out of control when she was tired. She should stop smelling the cut grass and just get to sleep already.

***

Osher

After the Shabbos morning meal, Reb Elazar, Shlomo, and I sat and learned in the shul of the small settlement. It was the first time I’d ever learned b’chavrusa with Rav Elazar, and I saw that he was a very good study partner. It reminded me a bit of the yungerman that Abba had hired to help me learn when I was in eighth grade, before we registered for mesivta, but at the same time it was very different. That young man—and I forgot his name—was also very good, and I tried hard to concentrate and listen to him, but when he’d ask me questions on the material afterward—I didn’t know a thing. It was just after I’d stopped taking the Concerta, because of the side effects it had on me. I haven’t been taking anything for my ADHD for years already; all those medications made me feel horrible, and the only natural thing that didn’t make me feel yucky also didn’t help me pay more attention in class.

Now, though, when Reb Elazar asked me something on the Gemara, I was able to answer him. He seemed to intuitively grasp those moments when I was with him, and that’s when he told me everything he wanted to say. That’s how it is with me and learning, in general. There are moments when I’m fully “there,” and moments when I can’t seem to focus. Reb Elazar seemed to wait for those “best moments,” and then—boom—whatever he would say would go straight into my head. I felt good about the learning session.

Afterward, we davened Minchah and went back to the house to eat shalosh seudos, which included cholent made of soy and turnip and I don’t know what else. The Bergs arrange their Shabbos meals like that: because Shabbos is so short, they eat the first morning meal early, and keep it short, with just fish and salads and dessert. Then, for shalosh seudos, they serve the cholent and the rest of the main course.

When shalosh seudos was over, Shlomo and I went to take a nap. I made up with Shlomo that after we’d get up, before Maariv, we’d take a walk around the area. We even promised Reb Elazar’s nephews that they could come with us.

Something woke me up; I wasn’t sure what it was. I saw that it was starting to get dark in the room. It was probably shkiah already. I felt like my leg was stuck in the metal frame of the bed or something, and I tried to pull it out. It came loose easily, but it hurt, like I’d been scraped by the metal. “Ow,” I murmured.

Then I heard a strange noise on the floor next to me, as if a towel had fallen and was being dragged on the floor. A moment later, I heard Shlomo also say, “Ow!” but his was much stronger than mine. He was nearly screaming. “What was that?!” he cried, sitting up.

“Hey!” I called to him. “Your cheek is bleeding!”

“Osher, are you laughing at me?” he gasped. “Do you think this is a joke?”

“A joke?” I was indignant. “Do you think I did something to you? I was sleeping!”

He didn’t answer, because at that moment, he realized that it wasn’t me. We both saw the skinny little fox slip out of the window, through the bars, until it was out of our sight.

“It bit me!” Shlomo grimaced. “That fox bit my cheek!”

By now my foot was throbbing. I glanced at it—yes, I was also bleeding, and I saw deep teeth marks. “Me too,” I said. “On my foot.” I stood up carefully. “But I think I can stand… So it probably wasn’t such a serious bite.”

Shlomo got up to the sink and washed his face with a lot of water. “It’s not a deep bite,” he said, glancing at the small mirror. “But it really hurts. I’m going to ask the Bergs if they have some antiseptic cream and a band-aid.”

He walked out of the little shed with his hand on his face. I’m not sure if it was because it hurt, or because he didn’t want to alarm the Bergs. I sat down again and looked at my foot. It was really painful, and little drops of blood were dripping to the floor. I had nothing to wipe the mess with; I didn’t want to dirty the towel our hosts had given us.

Suddenly there were voices at the door. Shlomo walked in, followed by Reb Elazar and Aryeh. “Osher!’ Reb Elazar cried, looking very tense. “Show me what happened to you!”

“It’s really nothing,” I said. “It’s just a bite that hurts a lot, but I don’t think it’s anything serious.” Shlomo sat down on the chair next to me, and Reb Elazar examined my foot, and then Shlomo’s face. He exchanged glances with Aryeh.

“Was it that fox?”

“Yes,” I said. “But it’s pretty small. How much damage could it do? Its teeth aren’t that big.”

“How rude…” Shlomo murmured. But it looked like Reb Elazar and his brother-in-law did not see anything to joke about here. I don’t even think they heard us. They were whispering seriously between themselves.

“First thing, rinse the bite with soap and water,” Aryeh Berg said. Then he muttered something to Reb Elazar that sounded like, “It can reduce the risk.”

“Risk of what?” I asked. “I don’t like washing cuts with soap; it burns.”

“But you should do it anyway,” Reb Elazar said in that tone people use when they speak to little children. He looked at Aryeh. “You think we should have them treated?”

“Foxes are the biggest transmitters, at least in the last thirty years,” Aryeh said. “If I would have been home when the fox got in here the first time, I would never have let Gadi touch it. I would have carefully gotten it away from here myself. The thing is that my wife didn’t think there was reason to be worried about a little cub.”

“What do foxes transmit?” I asked impatiently. I don’t like it when people talk over my head.

“Have you ever heard of rabies, Osher?” Reb Elazar asked as he guided me to the sink. Shlomo had finished washing his face thoroughly with the liquid soap, and I saw that he was blinking rapidly. The soap was probably burning him.

“I’ll put on some cream; that will be instead of soap,” I protested.

“First rinse the foot well, Osher,” Reb Elazar said in an authoritative voice, the kind I can’t stand. “And then we’ll see what to do. Aryeh, when is Shabbos over? We’ll make Havdalah and go. If you’re right, we shouldn’t waste any time.”

“Of course, it’s only a certain percentage,” his brother-in-law said from the door. “But we can’t take a risk with these things. Shabbos is already over now.” Then he left.

“Rabies?” Shlomo spoke up. “People die from that, right?”

“Only if it’s not treated in time,” Reb Elazar said. “Baruch Hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol…bein Yisrael l’amim…”

“Ouch,” I said. The soap was really stinging. “What could be dangerous about rabies? You’re treating this like it’s a snake bite. It was just a little fox. And why rabies? It’s a fox, not a dog.”

“Rabies is a disease that used to be transmitted mostly by dogs,” Reb Elazar said, as he walked back and forth. Only then did I realize that he was putting together our things. “But today, all animals that live in the wild are dangerous. You need to get a vaccine that prevents the virus from developing in the blood. If there was a virus, of course.”

“How can we know?”

“There are people who can find out. We can’t right now, so that’s why we have to assume that it definitely had rabies. If someone is able to catch the fox carefully later, they will take it for testing, and then we’ll know for sure.”

“What do you mean, we have to assume that it definitely had rabies?” Shlomo pressed.

Reb Elazar didn’t answer, and suddenly our little room was filled with all the Bergs, including their father. He came to make Havdalah there, as if we were sick people who were not allowed to leave our quarters.

A few minutes later, we left the house and went straight to the hospital.

***

Ariella walked into her room after hearing Havdalah at the Abramovs. She tried to call her parents to wish them a gut voch, but the line was busy.

Ima called her back a few seconds later, and her voice sounded somewhat frantic. “Ariella?”

“Hi, Ima! Gut voch.”

Gut voch. Ariella, are there foxes in the area where you are also?!”

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