Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 24 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.
“Welcome, come on in. So you are Ella Rothman?” Sarah Reiness smiled at the young woman who walked into her office.
Ariella coughed. “Y…yes,” she said, at the same time. It was highly unlikely that Osher had somehow shared his late brother-in-law’s name with the Reinesses. She was also certain that Sarah maintained professional confidentiality and did not share the names of her patients with her husband or his students.
“Nice to meet you. Are you from around here?”
“For now,” the younger woman whispered. “I’m from Bnei Brak, but…I’ve taken some time off for myself and came here for a little while.” She coughed on the last few words. It wasn’t a show. Her throat had decided to sync itself beautifully with her emotions right now.
“And you came to me because of the reason that I see and hear?”
Ariella smiled. “What you hear, I understand. But what do you mean by a reason that you see?”
Sarah smiled back and opened a drawer. “Here you go,” she said, and placed a small mirror in front of Ariella. It had a green striped frame. “Is there something you want to say?”
Ariella gazed at her reflection. What did she want to say? Nothing. She hadn’t come to speak. She’d come to find out more about this woman in order to figure out what kind of place Osher had found for himself.
But if she was already sitting in front of a reputable speech pathologist, why shouldn’t she try to get help too?
“I want to treat my voice,” she said in a low tone, “so that, once and for all, I can get rid of this hoarseness which keeps returning.”
“Do you know why it keeps returning?”
Ariella looked at the mirror and realized that the efforts of her facial muscles were visible, not only audible. “No,” she replied, not entirely candidly.
“You don’t know why?”
“Well, I know a bit,” she said with a sigh. “It’s probably because I am tense; that’s my usual state.”
“Tension,” Sarah echoed. “One of the things that hoarseness likes very much. What about physical factors? Do you have polyps on your vocal chords?”
“I did, and they disappeared; then they came back, and went away again… I’m not sure exactly what the situation is with them right now.”
“I see,” Sarah said as she studied the younger woman. “So first of all, you say you are taking some time off for yourself. That’s certainly a good start for some calm and release of tension. How much time are you talking about?”
How much, indeed? The original plan was for a five-day trip to check out Osher’s new home, but perhaps she would extend her trip. The idea of this change of plans had come to her when she’d been thinking about her little apartment in Bnei Brak and realized that she did not miss it one bit. Not the house, not the street, nor the people hurrying around the neighborhood…
“About two weeks, I think,” she said hesitantly.
“Okay, so we’ll see how often we can meet in that time. I am only here twice a week, and my schedule is rather full, but let’s try to do as much as we can with what we have.” Sarah moved aside her open appointments book. She had a rather soft tone, and Ariella found herself liking the American accent.
“I assume that your hoarseness has a history, so you know a lot about breathing exercises and the rules for proper speaking, right?”
“Do you remember how to do all the exercises?”
Sarah smiled. “Let’s take five minutes to converse casually, and I’ll assess what you know.”
“Like a test of sorts.” Ariella was not smiling.
“What, you don’t like tests?”
“Since my first test, probably.” She paused to breathe.
“You look very intelligent to me,” Sarah remarked.
Ariella looked at her seriously. “There are more things in life than brains.”
“Sure,” the therapist agreed. “Attention and concentration abilities, for example.”
“You see that in me, too?” Ariella toyed with the strap of her pocketbook.
“Not necessarily; it was just an educated guess. The ability of a student to succeed depends on a few factors—besides siyata d’Shmaya, of course: abilities, emotional state, and attention and concentration skills. There are usually other aspects, too, but these three compete for first place for the factor that will breed success or rob a person of it.”
“I see.” Ariella looked down. “So, I really do have severe ADHD. Baruch Hashem I’ve coped successfully with it over the years, ever since I was diagnosed.”
“With Ritalin, Concerta, or something else?”
Ariella raised her eyes. “Today I sometimes take something natural—no real medication. When I was in school, those, all those natural things could not even take the slightest edge off my concentration issues.”
“What do you work as today?”
“I’m a private teacher/tutor.”
“Music and math.”
“How do you manage work with running your house?”
“Who says I manage?”
“So, do you have help?”
“No. I do what I can, and that’s it. In general, my house is usually quite the mess.”
Sarah nodded quietly, and if until now Ariella had wanted to conceal the elephant in the room as best she could, suddenly she felt an urge to just be out with it. Maybe so that Sarah shouldn’t think that she was ignoring her surroundings with cold apathy. “It doesn’t bother anyone, anyway; the mess is my own,” she said. “You see, I’m a widow. No children. So whatever I don’t manage to organize or clean up is my own personal mess, and it’s fine.”
“Oy, I’m so sorry to hear that,” Sarah said sincerely. “When did your husband pass away?”
“More than four years ago. Two months after my wedding.”
“Oy vey, Hashem yishmor. That is so sad to hear.” Something about this openness, including the “oy” at the beginning, was the type of stuff Ariella could not stand. But for some reason, coming from Sarah, it didn’t sound so bad. Perhaps it was because she had maintained such a professional demeanor up until then, and for a moment now, her real personality was peeking through the veneer. The question was what would happen afterward…
“Yes,” Ariella agreed dryly. “Life isn’t simple at all.”
“That’s true,” Sarah said. “And just before we get back to our topic, because the five minutes of our conversation are finishing, I want to note that I salute you.”
Ariella didn’t ask about what. She nodded slightly, almost imperceptibly, and the gesture could have been interpreted in countless ways, from gratitude to an indifferent, “Fine, I hear.”
“Let’s summarize what I’ve seen and learned about you in these five minutes,” Sarah said. “You know some techniques very well, and I see that you’ve been to at least two speech therapists in recent years, because I discerned two types of breathing and speaking exercises. It’s possible I’ll have some new techniques to suggest to you, too. We need to see if they would work for you.”
I looked at the picture that had fallen on the floor and saw that it was of two bachurim standing near a tall wall or building that I could not identify. One of the bachurim had a familiar-looking grin on his face, almost like he was laughing. The other one looked much more serious.
The smiling boy interested me more, because I recognized him. Even though he did not yet have a beard, and the photo was black and white, yellowing with age, I could see that it was Reb Elazar.
I looked at the picture. It was interesting to see the Rav as a bachur. I wondered if, back then, he liked to learn, and whether or not he struggled to fit in. Did he have a tough time understanding what people said to him, like I did? On second thought, I was sure he did understand people, even back then. If he was so good today at understanding how people think and feel and what makes them tick, he couldn’t have been that different when he was young.
Or maybe…it wasn’t like that? Perhaps his ability to understand others and what they wanted from him, was something he had worked hard to attain? Perhaps it hadn’t come naturally to him.
I wondered if such a thing was possible.
Without thinking, I picked up the picture. I didn’t look at the second boy at all, because he didn’t really interest me. But I wanted to see Reb Elazar’s eyes. They were deep and happy, and it looked to me from the way he was standing and laughing that he was very comfortable around this friend.
Someone suddenly knocked at the front door to the house. I tensed, and stuffed the picture into my pants pocket, before hurrying to open the door. It was Aharon, a boy who was usually very quiet. “The Rav asked how you are doing,” he said.
“Baruch Hashem,” I replied, glancing down to make sure that the edges of the picture were not peeking out from my pocket. “Although my leg hurts.”
“Shlomo is downstairs, you know.”
“Let him be downstairs. When your cheek hurts, you can go down the stairs easily, but when your foot hurts, you can’t.”
He blinked rapidly, as though not understanding me. “Do you want something to eat?” he asked after a moment, as though until now, he had been trying to recall what he had been told to ask me, and now he suddenly remembered.
“No thanks,” I said. Reb Elazar had brought lots of nosh to the hospital for us, and I had almost all of it still in my bag, in case I’d get hungry.
“Okay,” Aharon said, and turned to go. I wanted to lock the door behind him, but I thought it would look suspicious if I did.
Slowly, I went back to my room and sat down on the bed. Now I could look at the picture in peace, and examine all kinds of important details in it. Maybe the wall that Reb Elazar was standing in front of was the wall of this house?
Could this photo hold the key to finding out Reb Elazar’s secret?