“Ima!” Naomi ran over to Chaiky as soon as she walked through the door. “Great, you bought the oil! Dovi and I went out of the kitchen and closed the door so we shouldn’t by mistake lick. Can we put it in now?”
“One minute, sweetie.” Chaiky put the bottle of oil down on the table in the dining room. “I’m just turning on the computer for a few minutes.”
“What? But aren’t you making my cake now?”
“I will make it, but I first have to do something urgent …” She was about to enter the other room but then stopped and looked around. “Naomi, please take your math notebook to your room and pick up the crayons from the floor. Dovi, you take the riding toy and the shoes and…you know what? I won’t say what each of you should clean up. I’m just going in to my room to do something on the computer, and meanwhile you’re going to make a surprise for me and clean up the whole dining room, okay?”
Naomi paused for another moment, her face mournful as she looked wistfully at the kitchen door.
“And keep the kitchen door closed. Uh, Dovi, just go in to put the oil I bought on the counter, and then close the door again.”
The computer had lots of patience, especially as she was in a hurry. It took forever to log in, finish the antivirus scan, and open the files.
The knocking at the door came before Chaiky was finished. “Naomi! Ask who it is!” she called from her room.
“Ima, it’s someone named Elka!”
“Oh, probably the lady from Ima’s work,” Dovi surmised. “Should we open the door, Ima?”
“Yes, and tell her I’ll be there in a minute.” Chaiky’s fingers worked feverishly. She heard the key turn in the lock, and Elka’s cheerful, “Hello!” She hoped the children had straightened up the dining room so that it looked presentable, but she didn’t have a spare minute to think about it. A few more things and she’d be done…
“You cleaned up so nicely!” Elka exclaimed sweetly. “Do you always help Ima like that?”
“No, and a lot of times it’s really very messy,” Dovi announced. “But now we cleaned up nicely.” The two children burst into mischievous giggles, and Chaiky, who was bending under the desk to unplug the wires, stopped for a second and listened.
“Why are you laughing?”
“Because we made up a plan,” Naomi divulged. “But we’re not telling it to anyone.”
“A plan? On how to quickly clean up the house? And you don’t want to share it? Not even with me?” Elka knew how to be uber friendly; she had a reputation for being just that.
“No, it’s not for mommies. It’s only for kids,” Dovi noted, and then had second thoughts. “Actually, sometimes it’s a good plan for mommies who are in a very big hurry.”
Chaiky, smelling the danger, bustled into the dining room briskly. “Hi, Elka,” she said. “Dovi, can you come help me with the keyboard and the mouse?”
“Sure!” the six-year-old cried happily and ran to his mother’s room.
“How did you clean up the dining room, Dovi?” Chaiky whispered, straining to lift the computer tower with one hand and the screen with the other.
“Everything is under the couch, but you can’t see anything,” he promised her candidly. “Because we saw we wouldn’t have enough time. You also do it; on Friday when you don’t have enough time, you sweep all of our toys into the spare room and close the door, right?”
“Oh, Chaiky!” Elka rushed over with concern. “Why are you schlepping? Don’t you have a carriage or something?”
“No, it’s fine,” Chaiky said, a bit breathless. “Do you want to take the screen from me? It’s not that heavy.”
“Yes, yes, give it to me. The taxi is waiting.” Elka carefully took the flat screen, and then said, “Your children are so lovely, Chaiky. But I think it would really be very good if someone would come live with you. You know, sometimes you can find a boarder who is willing to do some light housework. Look into it.”
“Yoel, did you say something to someone from the Struk family about finding someone to come and live with me?”
“Hello, Chaiky, and how are you?”
“Don’t teach me manners now, Yoel. I want to know, did you tell someone?” She had promised the children that she would make meringues from the beaten eggs that had fallen, and they were thrilled. Now she was cracking fresh eggs for a new cake, and had sent Dovi and Naomi to the dining room to clean it up properly. She had to have this conversation right now, this second.
“Yes, I did.”
“Who did you tell?” A yolk burst in her hands and dripped into the bowl full of clear egg whites. Well, this egg would be for the children’s omelets for supper.
“Menachem? Why?” Another yolk burst. “Why do the Struks need to know about my plans?”
“So that they can help find someone.”
“But Yoel, don’t you understand that they are the last ones I need interfering with this? My mother-in-law will start thinking whether it’s good for the kids or not, Menachem and Goldie will offer their opinions about anyone I choose, my boss — who is probably already giving a report from the scene of the crime, so to speak — will add a bit more salt and pepper, and everyone will start talking about what happened and how I can’t manage,” another yolk burst, “to explode myself! Do you understand?”
“Explode? What are you talking about, Chaiky?”
“Oh, sorry, my mistake. An egg yolk just exploded here, that’s all. This cake is driving me out of my mind!”
“Cake? Why are you making a cake?”
“For Naomi’s class’s siyum. I have enough batter here to make a huge omelet, and you can come to us for supper if you want…”
“Yes, I want to,” he replied, to her surprise. “And I’ll bring a cake for Naomi, okay? Don’t stand there and bake.”
As suddenly as it had come, the anger began to seep out of her, like air from a leaky balloon. “You don’t need to, Yoel,” Chaiky said wearily. “I’ll make it for her because I promised her that I would, but I’m afraid that my dream about Noa is going to come true, and I don’t have an ounce of patience to bring that nuisance into my house, because I have more than enough of her at the community center, you understand?”
Needless to say, Yoel didn’t understand a thing.
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.