By Esther Rapaport
Chapter 6, Part II
It was nearly two in the morning when Yoel pushed aside the wooden panel that covered the mess of wires in the electric box on the ground floor of the building in Yokne’am, and carefully pulled out the key hidden there.
He yawned as he walked over to his sister’s front door. A quick turn of the key, and the door was open. He skirted a small pile of whatnot on the floor and headed straight for the porch door. A slight press of the knob, and Chaiky was free.
Her face pale, she sank breathlessly onto the couch. “I have no words, Yoel,” she said after a few seconds of silence. “You came all the way here, just to let me out . . . You came yourself ?”
“No, Shifra is in the car.”
She passed a hand over her eyes, as though trying to erase any sign of the black bags beneath them. “Don’t leave her there alone. Tell her to come inside. You’ll both take a drink and eat something before you go back.”
“It’s okay. We took coffee in a thermos and drank it in the car on the way here.”
“So then your thermos is empty by now. Come on, I don’t feel comfortable with her being outside like that. Call her in.” She wasn’t ashamed of Shifra, and not just because she was her only brother’s wife, and not just because there was no comparing the dynamics between her and Shifra and her and Shlomo’s family.
It was mostly because of the fact that Shifra’s house — as she had seen more than once — sometimes looked as upside down as hers, and they didn’t even have children to blame the mess on.
Still, when Yoel went out to get Shifra, and Chaiky went into the kitchen to boil water, she moved rapidly, hoping to have time to wipe up Dovi’s chocolate milk stains from the table. She was still vigorously scrubbing the Formica tabletop with a wet rag when Yoel and Shifra came back in.
“You also drink coffee, right, Shifra?” she asked briskly. “Two teaspoons of sugar, if I remember correctly?”
Yoel opened the refrigerator and rummaged around inside. “Is there anything in here, Chaiky?”
“There should be some cake left over from Shabbos on the top shelf.”
“Oh, you baked?” Shifra asked.
“No, I didn’t have the energy to bake my-self. And because there was nothing left of that delicious coffee cake you sent me two weeks ago, a neighbor sent me some cake.”
“Nice of her,” Shifra remarked as she sat down.
“Yes,” Chaiky agreed, and carried over a tray with three cups to the table. “At least I have good neighbors.”
Yoel took the foil pan out of the fridge and sliced a generous piece for himself. “Delicious,” he said, his mouth full. “I don’t think you have any reason to complain about them.”
“Complain? The cake is good, isn’t it?”
“You know that I wasn’t talking about the cake or about the neighbors.”
“Huh? Then what were you talking about?”
“About the way Shlomo’s family is dealing with this whole issue. I think they’re doing a good job, if you ask me.”
“Of course they are doing a good job for him,” she said, fixing her eyes on her cup of coffee. “Isn’t he their son? Their brother? If they don’t try and get him out of there, who will? Besides, weren’t they the ones who sent him on that foolish trip?”
She put her cup down on the table, and her eyes filled with tears. She was upset at herself for letting the tears come, especially with Shifra here.
“You know how I never liked those trips and the collecting money. I begged him to let his brother Menachem take on some of these trips, too. But he always said that, putting modesty aside, he had a much better rapport with those philanthropists and was able to get much bigger donations from them for the yeshivah than Menachem could.”
She wiped her tears with the back of her hand. “And he was right. The yeshivah got a lot because of his work. But now he’s in prison there.”
“And b’ezras Hashem, he’ll get out,” said Yoel.
“In 30 years?”
“Chalilah. We hope it will be less than that.”
“Less? How much less? Just 20 years? When I’ll be 49?”
“Menachem, your brother-in-law, hopes it will be a lot less than that.”
“Oh, you speak to each other?”
“Of course. He updates me and Abba all the time.”
She took a deep breath. “Did you hear about the fax today?”
Yoel nodded. Shifra diplomatically gazed at the large clock ticking opposite the kitchen table, counting the seconds that passed at the same pace all over the world, in Yokne’am like in Haifa; in Israel like in Russia.
“That is also why . . . um . . . why I wanted to come here now,” he said suddenly, and cut another slice of cake for himself. “I don’t know, I thought who knows how you must be feeling after . . . after reading the note from Shlomo, and I decided that as your only brother, it wouldn’t do any harm if I’d pop over to see how you are doing.”
Chaiky forced herself to smile.
“What did you do on the porch all this time?” Shifra asked convivially, making an effort not to look at her watch again.
“I was preparing a speech that I have to give the day after tomorrow.”
“A speech? Nice!” Shifra exclaimed. “Where?”
But Yoel, practical as always, interjected with another question before she could respond. “And there was enough light on the porch?”
“There’s a small light there, and the light from my phone also helped me.”
Her sister-in-law chuckled. “Well, at least you weren’t bored.”
She stole a glance at Yoel. Why wasn’t he making any sign of getting ready to leave? His older sister really was quite the nebach now. So they’d gotten up and driven all the way over and released her from her trap. But why all this chatting at this hour? Had he forgotten that he had to get up early tomorrow?
“But tell me the truth, Chaiky — it wasn’t pleasant, I’m sure, right?” Yoel said. “To be imprisoned like that on a dark porch, alone, and to know that it would take time for someone to come and release you . . . What is going on here? Am I the only one eating from this cake nonstop? Do me a fa-or and take it away from me.”
Chaiky didn’t touch the pan. She was the hostess and she couldn’t just sweep away the refreshments from under her guests’ noses. If Yoel wanted to stop eating, he was welcome to control himself and stop.
“Yes, it really was unpleasant,” she said. “I must have sounded awful when I called you. But at least I didn’t have to be there all night, thanks to you.”
“And that’s exactly what I want to talk to you about. We spoke about this on the way here.” Yoel picked up the pan of cake, stood up, and set it down on the counter. She wanted to tell him not to put it there because there could be ants, but his re-mark threw her off-kilter. She raised an eyebrow.
“What did you speak about?”
“That you have to find a solution to this way of life. You can’t stay here yourself with the children”
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.