Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 37 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.
“I’m a Chareidi woman from Bnei Brak, and I live in her house…I mean, I was living there until now. For some reason, I was sure she is also Jewish…” Ariella stared at the old lace tablecloth. “It’s a good thing I don’t trust everyone who promises me that she only cooks kosher.”
“What?” Ya’ela Brinkler’s voice rose. “Do you mean to say that she cooked in my kitchen?”
“But the kitchen is not part of the contract, explicitly! She told me that she’s an older woman who doesn’t need much, and anyway she doesn’t cook, and that she’d manage without the kitchen. And I left it locked! That’s…wow, I’m in shock.” She paused, and Ariella could almost see her shaking her head.
“Look,” she went on, “I wouldn’t call my husband and myself ‘Chareidim from Bnei Brak’; we’re far from that. But we are very careful about kashrus and all the rest. And this woman seemed so reliable to me…”
“I know,” Ariella said. “To me, too.” She closed her fingers around the handle of her suitcase. She really had to get out of here before the woman would return.
“I’ll speak to my husband, but I think we’re going to involve the police…although I really didn’t want to get into a confrontation. It’s not good in Acco, because—”
Ariella turned her head in alarm toward the door. Without another word or even an apology, she put the receiver back in the cradle. She hadn’t been wrong; the key turned into the lock just then, and Aliza walked in, her regular smile on her face. There was no sign of the orange candles. “Ahem!” she said. “Hello there! How are you?”
Ariella forced all of her creative senses into action. “Baruch Hashem, great! And you?”
“Good, good. What’s with the suitcase?”
“Something came up, and I have to leave urgently.” Ariella flashed one of her most brilliant—and calm—smiles. “I was just leaving you the money here, under the phone.” If she stated clearly that she wanted to leave, could the Arab woman do something to her? She had no reason to, but you never knew…
“Wait, so you’re leaving for good?”
“I don’t know for sure myself. I might be back…it depends on a few different things.” For example, if you get away from here, or if I wake up from a deep sleep and discover that this whole evening—from the minute I spotted you in the street until the phone call from Ya’ela—was nothing more than a vivid dream. If one of those two things would happen, then, perhaps, I would stay.
Actually, after such a traumatic dream, she wasn’t sure she would be able to.
“When will you know?” The woman sat down on the rattan chair in the entry hall.
“What do you mean? When is later?”
Ariella was already near the door of the house. “That is what I’m going to find out,” she said, as she placed the two keys—one to the front door and one to the door of her room—on the small shelf near the front door. “In any case, thank you for everything. And I really don’t like orange candles.”
Oh, come on, why didn’t her adventurous soul just let her be quiet now?! Why did she have to blurt out that comment? It was possible, of course, that Aliza/Aziza would think she was talking about the incident on Friday morning, but it was also a possibility that she’d realize that Ariella had seen her in the street.
Ariella did not step back in to observe her landlady’s reaction. It was more important to just leave right away—the sooner the better. Now, where to?
The train station. This was it; her ceremonial visit in Acco was now over, and with it, the little bit of breathing space it had given her.
She had to get back to routine.
But her heart rebelled. No, the routine that awaited her did not attract her at all. Why return to it? To teach girls math and accordion until the end of days? There was a certain fulfillment in it, yes, but it was not enough for her.
Of course, everyone would say, “You’re looking for real fulfillment? Be in touch with the shadchanim—that should be your first step!”
Ariella stopped walking and put her suitcase down for a moment. She turned around—no Aziza behind her. In a few minutes, she’d be at the train station. She’d already accumulated enough hours in Acco to know this route by heart. So she would board the train and get back to Bnei Brak, and her parents and sisters would be happy to see her, and she’d be happy to see them, and they’d have a pleasant, festive evening to mark her homecoming. And then what?
Shidduchim again? Comparing suggestions all the time, going back to the past, knowing that nothing would ever be as it was in her first marriage?
Almost angrily, Ariella grabbed her suitcase again and briskly continued onward, almost in a run. No, she would not get stuck with this again. No! She and Nosson hadn’t lived together for long enough to discover their conflict points. But she had lived with herself for long enough to collide head-on with her weak points, over and over again.
And this effort to relax was crumbling like a toasted herb dried in the sun. All her senses were rebelling, shouting that even if the first time around, she’d somehow merited a husband who kept quiet, who was able to overlook so much, and didn’t see the flaws in others, there was no chance that such a miracle would occur again.
The train station came into view. Good. She’d walk into the tumult, the line for a ticket, the noisy bustle of people, and then she’d stop thinking so much. Her thoughts were not doing her any good, and besides, whatever she had been explaining to herself about this for the past few years was not getting her very far.
And she was afraid that if something drastic didn’t change, she wouldn’t get very far for the next one hundred years either.
Sarah Reiness rummaged around in her kitchen cabinets. Jellybeans, Cheetos, and Bissli. That’s what Elazar bought for Nechemiah for the Shabbosos when he came home, but she could not bring any of those things for Bassi’s children. So what could she take? Walnuts and almonds? The little ones could not eat that. What could she bribe them with so they would not screech when she watched them?
Elazar walked into the kitchen. “How is Yisrael Meir?” he asked.
“Bassi says that right now he’s on strong painkillers, and they’re taking him into surgery first thing tomorrow morning.” She sighed. “It’s amazing how these things sometimes happen to the easiest and most placid children. How did Bassi put it? If Gadi would have fallen from a tree and broken two legs in such a dreadful way, she would not have been surprised. But Yisrael Meir! He’d climbed up to get down a ball for the first grade! And it was barely a height of six feet!”
“Hashem yishmor, poor kid… I hope those medications are doing something to ease his pain.”
“Bassi says they are.”
“Good. I see here that there are craisins and dried apricots left over from Tu B’Shevat. Works?”
She threw him a grateful smile. “Perfect,” she said. “Not that it’s Bassi’s favorite stuff, because it’s also full of sugar and preservatives and chemicals that dry it out and whatever else, but it’s the lesser of the evils.”
He studied the small words on the packaging. “No, it’s not even as evil as you think—there’s no sugar in it.”
“So then there’s certainly artificial sweetener in it.” She smiled. “But it’s fine. Bassi says I’m free to do whatever I want with her children.”
“Well,” her husband smiled, “she probably knows you well enough to assume you would never want to, like, take them on a sunrise hike through the forest.”
“I’m not sure that she herself still does that, but I have no time to find out right now. Thanks for finding this dried fruit, Elazar.”
She closed her large handbag with a click and turned to leave. “What did Osher want earlier?” she suddenly asked in a whisper, as she passed by the door to his room.
“It seems that he thought he saw someone in the yard downstairs, but it must have been his imagination.”
He took his hat and the keys to the car, lingering long enough to close the door that separated the house from their private quarters. Sarah was already downstairs, and she opened the gate. “Ella?!” she gasped in alarm. “Ella Rothman?” Her client stood there, with a look of sheer panic in her eyes.