Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 42 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.
Sarah Reiness joined the children on their van to Tzefas. She was Bassi’s only relative in the country, and it wasn’t only her little sister’s house and children who needed help. Bassi herself, in the hospital, needed her. She left Ariella at Bassi’s house; the younger woman reassured her that everything would be just fine in her absence. “And whatever doesn’t get done probably doesn’t need to get done,” she’d added with a smile.
Sarah wasn’t nervous. She’d smiled, waved goodbye, and left with the kids, after dropping off two-year-old Malka at the playgroup run by one of the neighbors.
Ariella locked the door and looked around. Remnants of the morning rush were evident wherever she looked, like in most normal houses. The fact that the children hadn’t made their beds this morning was perfectly understandable. And she knew that there were many homes like this, even if in the house where she grew up, there was no such thing as leaving your room before making the bed.
She walked into one of the bedrooms, stepping over a few pairs of pajamas that had been tossed onto the floor just in front of the door. The sheets were half off the mattresses, and she resolved to tuck their edges into place before she’d push the beds underneath one another. When did the kids get home? Sarah had said it was in the late afternoon hours. She hadn’t said anything about a meal, and Ariella had no idea what was permitted, and possible, to cook in this vegan home. Bean sprouts with mint leaves? Spinach in date honey with a quinoa and zucchini stir- fry?
Clearly hotdogs—even the soy kind—and frozen French fries were not welcome here in any way.
Finally the beds were made to her satisfaction, and she pushed them into place. Now she had to fold the quilts. Wait, the heater was still on. She switched it off. Now, where did these folded blankets go? The baby’s crib could be a perfect place to store them. And the pajamas could go right over—
Ariella stopped suddenly, in the middle of folding the last blanket, and allowed herself to rest for a moment, feeling her blood pulsing in her veins. Relax, really now, she said soundlessly to herself. Don’t get caught up in these imaginary games; you’re too big for it. These are not your children. This is not your house. And it’s safe to assume that if these kids were yours, then this delightful mess would also be yours, and then it would be irritating, and not at all delightful.
How did Zahava know just when to call in?
“Ariella?” Zahava’s voice was full of questions. “You didn’t answer my calls yesterday, and I called you a few times! This morning you didn’t answer either.”
“Guilty as charged, Zahava.” Ariella went back to folding the blanket as she lodged the phone between her shoulder and her ear. “I had a very busy day yesterday. Busy and disorienting.”
“I thought you were getting engaged or something, and you didn’t tell me!”
“Of course I would tell you if that would be happening!” Ariella looked at the assorted objects strewn on the floor. She suspected that there was a veritable treasure trove of stuff under the beds too, since the beds did not fit neatly into their places when she tried to push them under. It seemed there was something blocking them. She’d go find a broom.
“Because I already thought you’re not my friend anymore.”
“Come on, Zahava,” Ariella grumbled. “Aren’t we older than sixth-graders already?”
“Is it only sixth-graders who get offended by friends who disappear into a black hole?” Zahava wondered. “Especially when I was afraid that you’d just gotten sick and tired of hearing about that shidduch suggestion…”
“I’ll never get sick and tired of hearing from you—it doesn’t matter about what. But I told you, I’m taking a bit of a break now, and I’m—”
“Waiting for me to understand you,” her friend finished the sentence.
“Exactly. But that’s really not why I didn’t pick up. Some other things were going on, and you’ll forgive me if I don’t go into the details about that right now.” In the second children’s bedroom, Ariella discovered the broom peeking out from under the baby’s cradle. She quietly fished it out, careful not to wake the sleeping child.
“Forgiven and forgotten. Is whatever happened yesterday, over by now?”
“Yes. And because of it, a few things changed for me. I’m in a different place now.”
“I hope that it’s a good change for you,” Zahava wished her warmly.
“Thanks. I hope so too.”
“So now, let’s get to the sixty-four thousand dollar question: what am I disturbing you in the middle of now?”
In the middle of cleaning up the huge mess my kids made, Ariella nearly responded. But she just smiled at the broom and replied, “Taking care of some errands.”
“Well, then I won’t disturb you. I just wanted to tell you that my mother-in-law said to let you know that the Brauns said they’re interested if you are.”
“You heard me?”
“Yes. Please tell your mother-in-law a big thank you from me,” Ariella replied.
“For now, yes.” Ariella took a deep breath. “Zahava dear, have you ever heard of mental blocks? Right now, I have a mental block on shidduchim. Whenever I’ll find the energy to climb over it, or move it, or break it—then trust me, you’ll be from the first to know that.”
“I can see you’ve read lots of psychology material at some point in your past,” Zahava said with a chuckle. When they were young, they’d both been very interested in psychology, and had sat down to read whatever material on the subject they could get a hold of. Ariella had claimed that Zahava was going to become a therapist one day, and Zahava had counterclaimed that Ariella would be a psychotherapist. In the end, of course, Zahava became a playgroup teacher, and Ariella worked as a private tutor for math and music. “Mental blocks and all that…I see you’ve diagnosed yourself, Ariella.”
“And have you decided on a treatment plan?”
“Come on, Zahava, please.” Ariella swept all the toys to the corner of the room. Let’s say this was her house, and her husband was supposed to be coming home for lunch. What would frustrate him the most? The mess in the children’s room, or the one in the kitchen? The unfolded laundry, or the unwashed laundry? Or maybe the uncooked lunch? Forget uncooked—she did not even have an inkling of what lunch should be!
“Alright, I’m sorry for nudging you. I’m closing my mouth on the subject until next time. What are you thinking about now?”
“That it’s not my fault!” Ariella burst out, sounding frustrated. “I am not supposed to have to deal with months’ worth of messes that I did not even make! If a mess is dealt with in time, then it doesn’t accumulate into such a huge pile.”
“Another delightful psychological concept,” Zahava said calmly. “You must be referring to the inner mess that your months of mental block have caused. But I’m afraid that it’s actually a few years’ worth of buildup. Ariella, you’ve got to crack this.”
“I was talking about a very physical mess, Zahava. No internal mess, no mental blocks; it’s shoes, Lego pieces mixed with Kapla, clothes, torn papers, broken crayons, markers without covers, a doll head, a baby bottle with some leftover formula, a third-grade math book, two identical riding toys, one of which is missing a wheel… Oh, here it is, behind the door.”
“Sounds lovely. What kind of work did you find? You’re someone’s cleaning lady?”
“I won’t be nosy and ask what exactly you are doing, but I will tell you, Ariella, that it doesn’t sound like a few months’ worth of mess. A busy two or three days when the kids don’t clean up their room, and their mother doesn’t have a spare second to tackle it either, can easily lead to the scene you’re describing.”
“So what do you do?”
“Once every few days, some serious cleaning up. With time, it comes naturally for them. Children cannot live normally in a jungle setting.”
“They can’t? I’m not sure you’re right, Zahava.” Ariella sat down on the bed and looked around her.
The door to the office was ajar, and Reb Elazar Reiness deliberated whether to knock or just to open it. Initially, it sounded very quiet in the room behind the door, but when he listened closer, he could hear the rapid clicking of a keyboard.
For some reason, during the introductory phone call, he’d sensed that an invisible glass wall had been erected between him and this door. He’d checked twice afterward if Osher’s father had a managerial job of any kind where he worked, and discovered that he did not. Yigal Erenbaum worked half a day in program development in this office—no tough manager position at all. Yet his voice had been so rigid throughout their conversation, and it hadn’t softened at all even when he’d heard who was speaking. Just the opposite, in fact.
Perhaps it would have been better to have had a few preliminary calls with Osher’s father before this meeting; that might have helped prepare him for today. But Rabbi Reiness didn’t have time to spare. The bar mitzvah for which he’d driven to Bnei Brak was this evening, and he had no idea when he’d be able to come back to the city to meet Mr. Erenbaum face to face. He was better off staying up north for the next few weeks.
“Rabbi Erenbaum?” he said in a low voice, and added a light knock at the door to his question.
A chair scraped inside. “Not Rabbi. Yigal. You can come in.”
Elazar Reiness pushed the door and found himself facing a man who was different from Osher in every possible parameter. The man who rose to greet him was broad and husky, though not tall, and his face bore no resemblance to his son’s round, childish one.
“Nice to meet you.” Reb Elazar proffered his hand.
“Not Rabbi. Elazar.” The guest smiled.
“Please, come sit down.” Osher’s father was courteous. “Would you like a drink?”
“No thanks. When I travel from Acco to the center of the country, I usually am well equipped.” Reb Elazar flashed his warm smile again at the other man, but the glass wall that had separated him from the door just before seemed to have entered the room with him. The man on the other side of the desk sat down again silently, and gazed at his guest.
Reb Elazar took off his coat and suit jacket. He set them down on the back of the nearby chair, and then added his hat. Finally, he sat down.
“I came regarding Osher,” he said pleasantly, ignoring the glass barrier.
“Yes. I understood that on the phone.”
“You have a lovely son, baruch Hashem. He’s clever, intelligent, and pleasant to speak with. He’s trying hard to integrate with the other students.”
“I know all about that ‘trying,’ for years already. When he succeeded here and there—no matter in which area—no one bothered to point out anymore that he was ‘trying.’”
“That’s right,” Reb Elazar agreed. “But trying on his part says a lot. There are many boys who don’t do that either.”
“Nu-nu. A rather weak compliment.” Yigal Erenbaum pressed his lips together.
“I agree that when I speak about trying, it means that Osher has not yet reached success itself. And that’s what I want to talk to you about.”
The man sufficed with a nod.
“I know about his diagnosis of ADHD.” There was a faint lavender scent in the room from the air freshener diffuser, and something about it made Rabbi Reiness slightly queasy, but he tried to ignore it. “The question is if you’ve ever diagnosed another difficulty of his.”
“We found all kinds of difficulties that he has,” Mr. Erenbaum replied. “Nu?”
“Communication difficulties, for example?”
“I can give you all the documents and paperwork that we’ve accumulated for him,” Mr. Erenbaum said. “But you’ll have to convince me that that is what I should be doing.”
“What do you mean?” Rabbi Reiness locked his gaze with Yigal’s.
“We are very upset at you,” Mr. Erenbaum said tightly, as if he was kicking that glass wall. “Okay, so we understand that baruch Hashem the boy is in good hands, and this is probably the most suitable place for him right now. But how do you do such a thing?! You move a child to a faraway city without his parents’ consent, without urging him to call home for the first period of time, and allowing him to ignore where he came from?! I had to send my daughter to Acco, to nose around and make sure that he’s not in the clutches of some dangerous cult or something like that! Does that make sense to you?”