Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 35 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.
The strange odor had completely dissipated by the time Ariella opened the door of her room at twelve o’clock, after a short, fitful nap. Now the house was filled with the regular smell of the frying omelet, but Ariella had no desire to go into the kitchen. She glanced at the stand; the plant was back in its place, and there was no sign of any candles. A small orange circle adorned the tile closest to the metal stand, the only evidence of the bizarre scene from earlier that morning.
“Hi!” Aliza came through the doorway of the kitchen and waved to her. “How are you? Did you sleep well? Want an omelet?”
“You waited until I got up to have your omelet?” She tried to sound impressed at her hostess’s consideration.
“No, of course not. I’m running late today because I had to go out. So, do you want an omelet?”
Ariella decided that she would press the point a bit. “No, but thanks for the offer,” she said as she walked toward Aliza. “I have my own food, for today and for Shabbos. But I have to tell you that I didn’t sleep so well.”
“Why? Is the bed not comfortable?”
“No, the bed is fine. But I had some…thoughts last night, and they prevented me from falling asleep.” She didn’t walk into the kitchen; she just stood at the door and watched Aliza, who had gone back to tending to her omelet.
“There are all kinds of ways to deal with thoughts that come at night,” Aliza said significantly. “We have strengths, we have—”
“I know I have strengths, baruch Hashem,” Ariella said, slightly irritated. “But in order for me to refresh them, I have to sleep well—at least in the morning, if I didn’t sleep well at night. But this morning—”
“I didn’t say you have strengths,” Aliza cut her off. “You have nothing, you young, poor, confused lady. I said, we have strengths. We. Don’t you understand? If you are smart, I can help you!”
Ariella turned on her heel, without another word, and walked back to her room. Unpleasant as it was to say it, this woman was not only strange—she needed some mental help, urgently.
Rabbi Reiness finished his afternoon shiur, and the boys rose all at once from their places and walked out to the carpentry shop, where Yehuda Matari was waiting for them to start the day’s work. Osher, as usual, headed for one of the corners. He sat down on a plastic chair, bent down to the floor, and picked up an old, broken, wooden handle. Slowly, he began to roll it between the thumb of his right hand and the forefinger of his left hand.
The boys spread out through the shop, some remaining standing at the large table, while others beginning to measure the new planks of wood that had arrived that morning. A buzz of talking filled the large room, but suddenly it grew quiet; only one voice was speaking. Osher shifted so he could see past the large plank that was blocking him, and saw Rabbi Reiness standing in the middle of the room, and everyone else listening to him.
Osher stood up and walked over to the table.
“…So I’d appreciate if you can tell me about anything like this, alright? It’s very important to me.”
“Sure, Rebbi,” said Nachum, the shortest of the boys. “What’s the question? Of course we will; we’ll do whatever you ask.”
Reb Elazar smiled and patted Nachum’s shoulder. Then he raised his eyes and caught sight of Osher. He walked over to him. “Did you hear what I said, Osher?”
“Just the end,” the sixteen-year-old replied. “That we should tell you about something or other?”
“Right. Now listen to what kind of thing I want you to tell me about.”
Osher went back to his chair, and Rabbi Reiness followed him.
“If, in the near future, you see any suspicious-looking people walking around near this house, near the carpentry shop, and especially in the area of—”
“Of the shiur room,” Osher filled in for him.
Rabbi Reiness stared at him for a moment, surprised, and then smiled. “Yes, that’s right. Mainly in the area of the shiur room. So, if you see anything like this, I want you to tell me about it right away.”
“Because there may be people who are looking to do harm to this place.”
“What do they care that we are learning Torah?”
“Oh, no, that’s probably not the issue, although I’m sure they are not particularly pleased about that either. But it’s something else.”
The Rav smiled silently.
“Is it a secret?” Osher asked.
“For now, yes.”
“Connected to the will or the treasure or the whatever-it-was that you told me about, something about a secret from your father?”
“If it’s a secret for now, then it’s a secret,” Reb Elazar said.
“Well, okay,” Osher said. “I’ll try to keep an eye out.”
“Thank you so much.”
“Should I go check now?”
“You certainly can,” Rabbi Reiness said. “That’s actually a good idea. Not that we have to be there day and night, but it won’t do any harm to peek in once in a while to make sure everything is alright.”
“Fine,” Osher said. “So if it won’t do any harm, I’ll go do that, because usually, the things I do, do end up causing harm.”
“You? What are you talking about?”
“They’ve told me that for so many years, Rebbi. What can I do? I believe them more than I believe you—you’ve been telling me different things for only two months.” And with those words he left the shop.
“Yes, this is the carpentry shop, inside,” he said to the man he almost collided with outside. “What do you want to order? A dresser for your children’s room? You can go inside—they’ll ask you for the measurements and all that. I’m not so involved with those things.”
What are you involved with, Osher? Rabbi Reiness wanted to ask, but didn’t. He just smiled in welcome at the man who had come in to contribute to the income of the small carpentry business. When he had opened it, he hadn’t intended it to be much more than an activity for his boys. But word had gotten around, and they had gained a number of customers. It wasn’t a bad thing, and it helped him pay for better meals for the boys. He also was looking into hiring a serious young man from Haifa to start giving a Gemara shiur three times a week.
Osher slowly walked out of the carpentry shop and turned toward the back yard. He’d noticed a few weeks ago what an old house it really was, but he hadn’t thought about it much since then. The upstairs level was quite new, but down here, everything was so old. Why didn’t they renovate? Everything was full of long, deep cracks. It looked like with one big blow, the walls would come crumbling down. What was Reb Elazar afraid of? That someone would come and destroy this ancient room?
Osher leaned on the wall. It felt rather strong. He even tried to punch it with his fist, but nothing happened. Another punch. Still nothing happened. Well, of course—it was a thick stone wall!
“Osher?” Within seconds, Reb Elazar was at his side. “Is that you? Baruch Hashem. I got nervous.”
“What, that someone came to steal the treasure?”
“Osher, I’ve already told you, there’s no treasure.”
“So why do you guard this place as if you know that there’s something here?” Osher’s chin stuck out stubbornly.
“Because I need it.”
Why was it, Reb Elazar wondered, that he always found himself releasing information to Osher? “I need to do something there.”
“And after you do that something, you won’t need the room anymore?”
“Hi, Ariella. All set for Shabbos this week?”
“Yes, baruch Hashem. How much did I have to prepare already?”
“Your hostess would probably be happy to eat the meals with you, wouldn’t she?”
“I don’t know…” Ariella shook her head, though she knew her mother couldn’t see her. “I have no idea what she wants and what she doesn’t. She’s a little strange…”
“You could offer an invitation.”
“Right,” Ariella said. She didn’t expound, not wanting to tell her mother about her strange morning. Ima would get nervous. It did sound nerve-wracking, Ariella had to admit. Maybe she’d leave after Shabbos.
But where should she go? Back to Bnei Brak?
“Osher called,” Ima said suddenly. “He spoke to both me and Abba.”
“Really? How did he sound?”
“Pretty good,” her mother replied slowly. “I think better than the previous times. Are you still in the area, Ariella?”
“I’m staying two minutes from his yeshivah.” She laughed. “If you can call it that.”
“How does he look to you? How do the other boys look?”
“I hardly see them; they’re quite closed-in there.”
“Okay, but, like, how do they dress?”
“They’re all kinds.” She scratched her neck. “There are a few in black and white; some are more colorful.”
Ima was quiet for a moment. “And Osher?” she finally whispered.
“I only saw him once, when he was released from the hospital after Shabbos, and he was in his Shabbos clothes.”
“With a hat? And suit?”
“A suit, yes. I didn’t see the hat. But it was raining, and they had packages, so it could be that there was a hat box there. Oh, and I saw him for a minute one rainy night, and he was wearing his long black coat. Without a hat.”
“What do they do there all day? Woodworking?”
“For a big part of the day. Sometimes I feel like walking in and ordering a dresser or something, just so I could see the place from inside.” She giggled. “But why would I need any furniture if I don’t really even have a home of my own right now?”