By Esther Rapaport
The children fidgeted excitedly near the counter. It was no wonder; when was the last time they had seen their mother take out the mixer? Eight eggs, separated. One and a half cups of sugar into the beaten egg whites. A cup of orange juice. A cup of oi — no oil.
“Oy.” Chaiky closed the cabinet. “We’re out of oil. Umm … what should we do?” This never used to happen to her. She couldn’t remember herself ever taking out the mixer before making sure she had all the ingredients she needed. But for this cake she had just mentally reviewed the recipe in her mind and decided that there was nothing she should be out of. Apparently, though, there was no more oil in the house.
“So I won’t have a cake for my siyum?” Naomi’s face fell.
“There will be a cake, b’ezras Hashem, don’t worry. Dovi, go down to the Pessermans and ask them for a cup of oil.” She lowered the speed of the mixer. One of her aunts had once taught her that beating the eggs at the lowest speed was the same as folding them with a spatula.
He returned after a few minutes. “They don’t have any,” he said.
Chaiky glanced at Naomi’s face and then at the foamy eggs that wouldn’t stay stiff much longer. She switched off the mixer and quickly untied her apron. “Wait here nicely, kids, and don’t touch anything. I’m running to the corner grocery to buy oil, and I’ll be right back. Naomi! If you lick too much of the batter, the sefer cake is going to be very low.”
“I won’t lick it,” the seven-year-old promised. “Morah already told me that she’s waiting to see our cake. I told her that you’re going to write ‘mazel tov’ on it in red frosting. She was so excited—she said we’re going to put it in the middle of the table so that all the mothers and grandmother should see it!”
They would see it and be able to cluck with pity about poor Mrs. Struk, and good for her that she was keeping herself busy baking cakes, and such nice ones to boot. Interesting, Chaiky could almost hear them say, we heard that the house isn’t functioning that well…
Chaiky was on line, waiting to pay for the oil, when her cell phone began to ring. Must be Dovi or Naomi, she decided. They probably wanted to know when she’d be home already. In a few more seconds she’d call them back and tell them that she was on her way.
But Dovi or Naomi kept calling without letup, even when the ten-shekel coin that she wanted to pay with rolled under the counter, and when a young boy kindly volunteered to get down and fish it out for her, and even as the cashier got confused with the change and asked her to give it back.
Had something happened to them, chas v’shalom?
She pulled a bag off the hook and hurriedly answered the phone. “Hello?” she said hesitantly. “Naomi?”
“Hi, Chaiky. It’s me, Elka. Listen, Noa reminded me today about the computer that you have at home, which we spoke about. We want to move it to the library. Maybe the program will work better on it.”
“I hear.” Chaiky walked briskly out of the grocery.
“So I’m on my way over to you in a taxi. I’ll be there in a minute or two, okay? Get the computer ready and I’ll take it.”
“I’m not home right now—I should be there in a couple of minutes, b’ezras Hashem.” Chaiky looked left and right before crossing the street. “But Elka,” she continued, “I need a few minutes at the computer to make sure that there’s no personal material left on it. It’s a shame you didn’t tell me ahead of time that you were coming.”
“Personal material? How do you have personal material on the Center’s computer?”
Chaiky nodded quickly at Rabbi Pesserman’s wife who passed her by. “I asked for your permission to use it,” she clarified. “I asked you right at the beginning if it was okay to send the letters that my husband wrote, you know, for the yeshivah —’’
“Oh, yes, sure.” Maybe the mention of Shlomo awakened, along with the pity, Elka’s memory. “Yes. But now he, I mean you, don’t need it, right? So Noa will use it, okay? I’ll be there in a minute or two.”
“But I need to back up the material and erase it. It takes time.” And you can’t inform me from one minute to the next that you’re landing in my house, especially while I’m in the middle of baking a cake in the kitchen and the place looks like it does. It’s simply not, not, not a good time for me!”
“Fine. I’ll wait. No problem.”
“It could take quite a while.”
“Oh, you know what? I anyway planned to pop in to the Center to see how the new gardener is managing with the hedges, so I’ll do that first and then I’ll come to you. So instead of two or three minutes, you have about ten, alright?”
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.