By Esther Rapaport
She had just settled onto the couch, sefer in hand, when the phone rang yet again. How could she lower the volume of the ringer?
Elka. Oops, Shlomo’s fax really had banished the memory of her promised return call.
“Hi, Elka,” she said as she placed a slip of paper to hold her page.
“Chaiky, it’s not like you. I was waiting and waiting for you to call me back, and you didn’t.”
“Sorry, something came up here that made me forget.”
Elka was quiet for a minute. “Not that I see it as neglect, Chaiky, because I know you, and I know you’re very responsible and that you take your job seriously, but you should know that this kind of forgetfulness does not come from a good place.”
Sure, a fax from the prison in Russia couldn’t be classified as a good place.
“Right,” Chaiky said again, and without wanting to, she raised her voice. “It’s not alright that I forgot, but it was something important.” She’d better go out onto the porch or the children would wake up. On the porch, she’d also be forced to lower her voice, so that the neighbors above her didn’t hear. So it was a net gain. Even if Elka would irritate her now, she’d reply in a respectful, quiet tone.
“Well, fine. So what did we decide, Chaiky? When can you go with Noa?”
“It doesn’t make much of a different to me which day, as long as it’s in the morning when my kids are in school. Oh, and not on Tuesday.”
Elka said something in a low voice; she must be on the other line with Noa. Or was Noa with her? At this hour? “Why not on Tuesday, Chaiky?” Elka asked after a few moments of whispering. “Tuesday is a good day for Noa. She works the other mornings, or is in school.”
“But Tuesday is not good for me,” Chaiky answered placidly.
“So what should we do?”
Chaiky took a deep breath. “I really don’t know, Elka. You want me to go on my regular shopping trip and that Noa should come with me, and that’s fine. But Tuesday doesn’t work for me.”
“Is it not something you can postpone? You have to understand that Noa has school on Monday and Thursday, and on Sunday and Wednesday she’s at the library, as you know. Tuesday morning is ideal for her.”
“I understand.” It took effort for Chaiky to remind herself that it was beneath her dignity to unleash everything she really wanted to say to Elka. “And I’m telling you again, Elka, that I can’t go on Tuesday.”
“And you say that you can’t postpone it.”
“I don’t think so.”
“So maybe find out?”
“I really am not in the mood, Elka, sorry.” Something from the burbling cauldron inside of her overflowed, despite her efforts, and crossed the boundaries of the polite, well-mannered Chaiky. “I suggest that Noa”—it took effort not to say “your Noa”—“find out if she can miss a day of school, or you can decide if the library should be closed one morning. It’s not the end of the world. The mornings are not that busy in the library, as you know.”
Elka listened quietly, and even when Chaiky finished speaking she didn’t reply.
Chaiky also remained silent. She sat on the lounge chair on the porch, the sefer she had taken from the night table in one hand and her cell phone in the other. She waited patiently. No, Elka was not being quiet. She was talking quietly to Noa.
“Well, Chaiky,” Elka returned suddenly, “it’s too bad that you’re not even trying to make this work. But we’ll see how to manage this. Maybe I’ll go with Noa on Tuesday. I understand that you won’t be at work either then, that day?”
“Nu nu. Have a good night, then.”
“Thanks. You, too.”
“And you should really go to sleep, Chaiky. You sound like you’re so tired that you’re not really thinking about what you’re saying or doing.”
“I hear, Elka.” Again, that effort to keep her voice down, not only because of the neighbors on the second floor.
Apparently I’m not as tired as you think, Elka. Fact is—I’m succeeding.
If beforehand Chaiky had thought that the fax from Shlomo had sapped her of every ounce of energy, she discovered to her surprise that she still had some leftover energy to feel sapped of after the conversation with Elka. Had Miri, the secretary, heard this exchange, she would have exploded. The two of them suffered in silence from Elka’s strange preference of Noa over them, but Miri was having a harder time than Chaiky was, because while Chaiky was still in her position as the director of the center, Miri, as the secretary, was in a clearly inferior position to Noa, the librarian and highly skilled computer expert.
But Miri wouldn’t hear about this conversation, certainly not now, at eleven o’clock at night. Chaiky really hoped she’d be able to restrain herself tomorrow as well, and not say anything about it then either.
But it was frustrating! So frustrating!
Chaiky tiredly opened the sefer again, but found that the interest she had felt earlier had totally dissipated. She would take the sefarim to work tomorrow and when it was quiet she’d work on the speech. She’d still have more than twenty-four hours until the event.
She got up and walked back to the porch door to go inside. She hadn’t even remembered closing it. She must have done it while she was talking so that Dovi wouldn’t wake up.
Hey! What was this? Where was the handle?
Just a gaping hole mocked her silently from the place where she’d automatically reached for the knob. But there was no knob!
Chaiky tried to grope around on the floor, but suddenly, a scene from earlier that day rose dimly in her mind. Wasn’t the metal handle sitting on the dining room table? Hadn’t Dovi said something in the afternoon about how, “The handle fell—it needs to be fixed, Ima”? So the handle was there, but she was here.
Esther Rapaport is a prolific author whose novels include Diamond in the Rough, Divided Attention, Behind the Scenes, Without a Trace, Dance of the Puppet, Blood Brothers, and The Kenya Conspiracy. She resides in Israel. Stay tuned for the next installment in next week’s Five Towns Jewish Times or visit 5tjt.com for more.