Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 22 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.
“They caught the fox.” Reb Elazar shared the news with his two students when he arrived to arrange their discharge from the hospital.
“Nice,” Shlomo said, as he sighed and touched his swollen cheek.
“Was it Gadi who caught him?” Osher asked, and then whispered to himself, “Shlomo.”
“No, he saw the fox early this morning and told my brother-in-law, who right away called the Health Ministry office in their district. It took them two hours to come, but the fox was feeling very at home and didn’t seem inclined to run away.”
“So what now?”
“They will put the fox in quarantine and take tests. If, in a few days—I’m not sure how long it takes—they find out that the fox is healthy, then you won’t need to continue treatment.”
“Thrilling,” Shlomo muttered.
“He wanted to catch it, you know,” Osher said, as he handed Reb Elazar his phone. “But I told him not to do it himself. Ooohh, I’m so dizzy.” He quickly sat down on the bed again, and the Rav watched in alarm as Osher’s face drained of its natural color.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“Yes, but I’m so weak and dizzy. Ugh, I hate being weak.”
“You need to give your body a lot of rest now, Osher.”
After more signing of papers, more explanations, and more instructions for managing the boys’ medical care over the next few days, the three walked out of the hospital and into the sunlight. As they made their way to the parking lot, Reb Elazar had to support Osher. Shlomo, in contrast, was steady on his feet and did not complain about being dizzy.
“If you don’t feel well, you must tell me,” Reb Elazar said once they were all sitting in the car. He glanced at the rearview mirror. “Okay, Osher?”
“I hope I won’t have to throw up.”
“Amen. How about you, Shlomo?”
“I’m fine,” Shlomo said. “What’s doing at the carpentry shop? Has the day started there yet? Mr. Bistruck was supposed to tell us where he wants the china closet to be placed in his wall unit.”
“The one from the huge order, all those bookcases and a bedroom armoire…” Shlomo explained.
“Shlomo, don’t you know that the Rav really isn’t that interested in the carpentry shop?” Osher asked sleepily from the back seat. “That’s why Yehuda Matari is there. He’s the real manager of the business.”
Reiness smiled to himself from his place behind the wheel.
Shlomo fell silent; his forehead was creased, as if he was trying to recall the final instructions he had received from the client. He just smirked at Osher and gave him a sideways glance, which irritated Osher.
“Yes, really!” Osher said heatedly, irked by the scornful grin. “Don’t you know that this whole carpentry shop is just a cover story? It’s as if the Rav…it’s as if he’s a spy or something, and to avoid suspicion, he opened a carpentry shop.”
“There are things, Osher, that you’re just not supposed to say.” Shlomo spoke softly, in a tone typically used to explain things to a very young child. “I think you have a problem understanding that.”
“That’s right,” Osher agreed. “I know.” He smiled, gazing blankly out the window at the passing scenery. “I’ve got quite a few problems. All kinds of them.”
“So get treatment.” Shlomo’s lips were pressed together tightly. “Go someplace where they’ll teach you to use your brains.”
“I don’t know if I have any,” Osher said seriously. “I mean, I have brains, but I don’t think they’re the right kind.”
That morning, Ariella chose to walk instead of taking the bus.
“It’s very safe here,” Miriam said as she opened the door, her two-year-old on her hip. “I wouldn’t advise you to walk by yourself through the market in the old city of Acco, but even there, you can see Jewish women shopping alone. In the other areas, you can certainly walk around without worrying.”
“And if I want to go to the market, you don’t think it’s a good idea?”
“I don’t think anything would actually happen to you. It’s just…you probably wouldn’t feel very comfortable there by yourself. Especially because you’re not a local, and you don’t really know the place. But both of us together shouldn’t be a problem.”
Was that an invitation for a joint outing? Even if it was, Ariella decided to ignore it for now. She had to find the house where Osher was living, and she could not have a companion for that. She needed to walk along the beach, in the built-up areas, so she could figure out which buildings might meet Osher’s description.
“Okay, then I won’t go to the market myself. Thanks.” She smiled at Miriam. “I’m just going to wander around the beach area, to see the houses. That interests me.”
“The new ones or the old ones?”
Ariella hesitated. “I don’t know…everything. Do Jews live in the area of the old port?”
“It’s mostly Arabs, but there are a handful of Jewish homes there, so I’ve heard.”
Ariella set out. Haganah Street was long, stretching out ahead of her in a nearly straight line. As she walked, she quickly picked up the salty scent of the sea. At 9:45 a.m., the street was almost deserted. There was just one Arab woman hurrying along across the street. Ariella could see the sea and the low wall that separated the sidewalk from the beach.
She crossed the street and gazed out at the sea. The horizon was flat and clear, and the deep blue waterline blended with the clear cerulean sky. Perhaps in her honor, all the clouds had been banished, as if it was midsummer.
Now she needed to walk along the route of this low wall and find a spot that had a sandy beach behind it, and houses across the street. An old house? A new one? She had no idea.
Ariella kept walking. The sky was clear, but it was cold and the water was not calm; small waves kept crashing against the wall. Somewhere to the left, she noticed the tall, solid, ancient wall, but she did not have time to focus on the scenery. She was concentrating on the homes across the street from the coastline. There was one very new house, and then another one that appeared to be renovated. If this was a typical mystery story, it would make sense for her to suddenly discern an article of Osher’s laundry, preferably a piece of the set of linen she’d gotten him, hanging on a clothesline. This would lead her to exactly where Osher was. But this was reality, not a book, and it looked like she’d have to dig a bit deeper to find clues to Osher’s whereabouts.
As she walked, she noticed the wall becoming even lower, with a deserted stretch of beach set behind it. There were two overturned boats in that area, tossed in a strange formation. A man sitting on the sand tossed a long fishing rod toward the water. Ariella decided that the time had come to cross the street, so she could get a closer look at the houses.
She crossed over, and studied the house that faced her. The windows on the second floor were wide open, and folded blankets rested on their sills. No, none of those blankets belonged to Osher. Ariella took a few more steps toward the closed gate. She heard a dog barking, but that was not what made her recoil. Hanging on the gate was a brown sign, in faux wood, and it was etched with curlicued Arabic lettering.
In front of the next house were three palm trees; a hammock hung between two of them. She stood for a moment, deep in thought, and heard the sounds of a woman and children from inside the house. The voices spoke Hebrew, and Ariella came a bit closer to study the gate. There was no sign or any identifying symbols; she didn’t see a mailbox, either.
“Come on already! Come!” a voice said from inside, and the gate opened with a loud creak in front of Ariella’s nose. “Yes, do you want something?” the woman asked, with a hint of hostility. She had no trace of an accent. She was wearing an Arab-style scarf wrapped around her head, and the hand of a toddler was tucked into her own.
“Yes,” Ariella said.
“What?” The lady came out to the sidewalk and slammed the gate behind her. “But quickly, because I’m late. Let’s go, come on already!” she said to the toddler, pulling him after her. She added a comment in Arabic for good measure.
“I’m looking for the Reiness family.”
“Don’t know them.” The woman shrugged and walked off.
Ariella reached the corner of the block, crossed the street, and continued on. The next building was a clearly Arab-owned vegetable store, and the proprietor—a portly figure—was fast asleep in his chair. In any case, it didn’t look like it was possible to see the sea behind the wall from his window, as Osher had described.
The gate of the next house didn’t have a sign, but it was a bit open. Ariella peeked inside. There were wooden slats tossed on the side of the yard, and a flight of stairs on the right that led to the second floor. She deliberated whether or not to enter, but just then the gate opened and someone emerged into the street, nearly colliding with Ariella. They both looked at one another for a long moment, and Ariella realized that just like the frum woman seemed very out of place on a street like this one, so did she.
“Are you looking for something?” the woman asked cordially, in a distinctly American accent.
Ariella coughed, discovering, as always, that when there was nothing to say, her unreliable vocal chords were very cooperative.
“Yes,” she croaked. And the perfect excuse just popped out of her mouth: “I’m looking for a speech therapist by the name of Mrs. Reiness.”
“That would be me,” the woman replied with a smile. “Oh, my taxi just arrived. Do you have the phone number of my clinic? I’m sorry, but I don’t take clients at home… Did you come all the way here especially for this?”
“No,” Ariella replied.
Which was the truth.