Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 51 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 must say, your voice sounds excellent, Ariella,” Sarah Reiness said as she stood at the sink rinsing her brushes. It had been a while since she’d touched any of her painting supplies, and when she had wanted to today, she’d discovered that almost all of her paintbrushes were dry and hard. Apparently she hadn’t rinsed them well the last time she’d finished using them. “You’re not hoarse at all, and your words are flowing smoothly. It’s really amazing. What is it, the air in the yishuv?”
“You tell me—you’re the expert,” Ariella said with a laugh. “Can the change of air bring such an improvement?”
“Of course it can. And so can a change of atmosphere.”
“So then it’s good all around,” Ariella said.
“What’s been going on?”
“Normal, baruch Hashem. Working hard.” Ariella’s voice sounded vibrant.
“Are you talking about your work with Bassi’s children, tzaddeikes?”
“Yes, tzaddeikes yourself.”
“And what about in other areas?”
“Nothing at all.” Ariella paused for a minute. “Did Zahava send you to me?” she asked suddenly.
“My good friend.”
“Oh, no, not at all. Why?”
“Because she’s been after me lately.”
“Let her catch you once, and then she’ll stop,” Sarah suggested.
“Oh, I mean she’s after me about a very specific topic.”
“I’m happy to hear that there is one person who dares to do it, and that you are still ready to be her friend!” Sarah laughed. “Because I also had a few ideas. But I didn’t want to take the risk.”
Ariella laughed in response, but didn’t say anything.
“So is that it? She’s running after you with shidduch suggestions, and you continue to call her a friend? If so, can I also try?”
“Sarah, I came here to rest.” Ariella lowered her tone. “Please, I don’t want the two of you to ruin my rest.”
“I’m happy that you are calling all this work I set you up with, a rest,” Sarah said cheerfully. “If this is your resting state, then things must not be so bad at all.”
“It’s not bad at all, baruch Hashem. I just want to stretch this breather for as long as I can, until I have no choice. Hey, Shulamis! Grab Malka, will you? She’s trying to climb up the tree to get to Gadi!”
“Who is climbing on trees?” Sarah gasped in alarm.
“Gadi, of course,” Ariella said. “Do you think the fact that his brother fell is going to prevent him from climbing up trees forever?”
“Yisrael Meir just didn’t know how to do it!” Gadi shouted from somewhere above her. “That’s why he fell, poor guy.”
“He fell because Hashem wanted him to,” Ariella corrected him. “But you, please, make an effort that it shouldn’t happen. A person is not allowed to ignore his health, and I have no desire to show up with you at Rambam Hospital and give your mother the shock of her life, okay?”
“Are you in the yard now?” Sarah asked.
“Not in the yard; a little further away. We had a little picnic outside for supper because the kids behaved really well today.”
“How nice!” Sarah was happy. “I would join you all if I could.”
“I wanted to invite you, but I remembered that it’s clinic day in Bnei Brak for you, and by the time you get back…”
“So you’ll have to invite me another time! Wait, isn’t it cold outside?”
“We’re bundled up well. Besides Gadi, of course, who didn’t even want to wear a coat.” Ariella sounded apologetic. “But his mother gave me permission on the phone for him to go out this way. Because I refused to go that far.” She lowered her voice. “He is so much like Osher, Sarah. It’s a shame my parents didn’t live in a place like this when we were kids. Osher would have blossomed in such an environment.”
“Gadi spends at least a third of his day out of this environment, too, you know. He goes to school, where he has to sit nicely in his seat and learn,” Sarah reminded her gently, as she examined the flexibility of one of her brushes’ bristles. “Children need structure, not only expanse and freedom.”
A long silence followed. Finally, a voice: “Ariella, is this stick good? And this rock?”
“What’s that?” Sarah wanted to know.
“We’re organizing a drumming workshop,” Ariella explained. “Shulamis and Brocha will drum, and the boys are going to sing. Do you want to recommend a song for us?”
“Sure!” A smile crossed Sarah’s lips, but it faded as soon as she saw the expression on Elazar’s face as he entered the room at that moment. His phone was pressed to his ear. All the songs she knew suddenly vanished from her memory. “Maybe… Maybe ‘Mekimi’?”
“Mekimi? Today’s kids don’t even know that song, Sarah!”
Sarah couldn’t suggest another song, not with her husband looking as stressed as he did right now. She quickly ended the conversation, and turned her attention to Elazar.
“They need to realize that there is no such thing as ‘not showing up,’” Elazar was saying into the phone. “If I come to the meeting and they don’t, then automatically, the property reverts to Jewish ownership. What? Of course I hope that that’s what will happen anyway, but I want things to be as fair as possible. For their part, they need to realize that by playing games with us, they will only lose out.”
“So they claim that that would not be the case,” the other speaker contended. “Based on their lawyer’s response, it’s not so simple at all.”
“And you think he’s right?!” Elazar paced back and forth in the small dining room, picking up the paintbrush that Sarah had just cleaned.
“I don’t think so, but it will bring us to court, hearings, and all that kind of headache—which will end up costing lots of money, and I’m not even sure you’ll get the lot in the end.”
“And the five thousand dollars that I promised to give them if they come to the meeting, as payment for their effort, doesn’t talk to them?” The wet brush touched the white lily on the patterned wallpaper.
“It’s not a paintbrush for walls, Elazar,” Sarah whispered. But he didn’t hear her.
“Send them the message again, and attach the statement from the Property Registrar. They should realize that it’s better for them to cooperate with us willingly, and to profit from it, than to give us back the lot by default.”
He fell silent and listened to the person on the other end of the line. The paintbrush meandered along the stem of the flower on the wallpaper. Sarah wanted to see what would happen if her husband would pull the color palette toward himself. Chances were that the lily would turn colorful without Elazar even noticing that he was painting it. Like now, he didn’t even realize that he was dipping the paintbrush into a cup of dirty water and spattering drops on the table.
He didn’t notice the dirty drops that dotted the table, and she also tried not to notice them. And neither of them noticed what was going on downstairs, in the yard.
He liked the thrill, but not the fear. One thing was certain: he liked the rustle of the bill that was warming his pants pocket, and the additional bills that would join it tomorrow morning.
It was amazing that the benzene that he had just taken from Reiness’s car would be what would ignite the house. What could he do—it was the most available car in the area, and the lock of the gas tank was broken anyway. He didn’t think it would matter to the Yahud if he was missing a bit of gas. What the liquid was being used for would matter much more to him.
Crouching behind the car, Fuad placed the pipe between his lips and sucked in gently, grimacing involuntarily at the benzene’s sharp odor. A second before the liquid entered his throat, he pulled the pipe out and stuck it into the large jerry can, listening to the sloshing sounds as the dark liquid streamed into the receptacle. Good. Now he had to deal with the fabrics that Jalal had given him, and in no time there would be quite a ruckus in this yard.
He couldn’t walk in through the gate, but he got in from the back of the building. The segment of the gate that faced Jasmine Street was a bit sunken into the ground, and he could jump over it without attracting attention. Jalal had told him that he didn’t know if there were cameras there, but even if there were, Fuad wasn’t going to allow them to get a clear photo of him. His face was already covered, and anyway, he only planned to be there for less than a minute.
Fuad had always been very agile and swift, and a lot less than “less than a minute” later, a small flame was burning, hungrily licking the dry shrubs that grew in the gap between the house and the ground, skipping merrily from one branch to the next.