Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 20 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.
“Foxes?” Instinctively, Ariella glanced out the window she was standing near.
“Osher called us.” Before Ariella could exult at the news, her mother continued, “And so did Reiness, this rabbi of his. He spoke to Abba from the hospital. Apparently Osher was bitten by a fox.”
“Bitten by a fox? In Acco? But this is a built-up city. Where exactly is he wandering that he met foxes?”
“I don’t know.” Her mother sounded very distraught. “Osher didn’t say much. Reiness let Abba speak to one of the doctors in the emergency room there; they went to the hospital to get treatment for rabies…”
“To get what?” Ariella’s voice rose.
“Treatment for rabies.”
“It was…” She closed her eyes for a minute. “The fox had rabies?”
“It’s not clear, so in such a case, to be on the safe side, they treat the person as if the animal was infected.”
“What’s the treatment?”
“Local treatment of the bite wound, but most importantly, a vaccine against rabies. If indeed, the fox was infected, the shots neutralize the virus before it can erupt in the body, because if it does erupt, chas v’shalom, there’s nothing to do anymore.”
“I don’t understand where he met up with a fox,” Ariella murmured. “Did he say something about where he is?”
“Right now he’s in Ziv Hospital in Tzefas, and he got the first shot. He’ll probably be released tomorrow, and he’ll need to come back for follow-up treatment, unless they catch the fox and find out that it’s healthy.”
“How did he sound?”
“Fine. Normal, I’d say.”
“Does he want anyone to come and visit him?”
“I didn’t ask, Ariella.” Her mother’s voice became quieter. “I was afraid to hear the ‘no.’ But I asked him to call again tomorrow to tell me how he’s doing, and he said he would.”
“What did he say besides that? How did it happen?”
“He was sleeping in a room on the ground floor with a friend, and the fox managed to get in through the window and bit them both while they were sleeping. He was bitten on the leg, and his friend on the cheek.”
“Ouch.” Ariella shivered and stood up. She opened the window wide, looked out to the right and then to the left, and then pulled her head back inside and closed the shutters tight. True, the yard looked empty now, but who knew what was hiding out there, like behind the garbage dumpster or something? “Which number did they call from?”
“It was a blocked number.” Her mother’s voice was laced with pain. “But I’m happy that he called. That’s progress.”
“Do you think I should go visit him?”
“Wait, I’ll ask Abba.”
She heard background talking, and then her father took the phone. “Gut voch, Ariella, how are you?”
“Baruch Hashem, great.”
“How was Shabbos?”
“I enjoyed very much, baruch Hashem. How was yours?”
“We missed you,” he said simply. “Look, Ariella, we’re really not sure about Osher. Rabbi Steinhaus told me to be very careful and not to do anything to make him feel pressured. So I think we’ll do this: when he calls tomorrow, Ima will ask him if he wants you to come visit him. Of course, she won’t say anything to make him realize that you’re in the area anyway.”
“Okay…” Ariella said thoughtfully. “Do you think he’ll agree?”
“If he’s still in the hospital, maybe,” Ariella said doubtfully. “If he’s already released to Rabbi Reiness, I’m afraid there’s no chance.”
“But it’s always worth a try,” her father said.
If he calls, Ariella thought. She wasn’t banking on that happening.
But early the next morning, a little after six, her phone rang. She washed her hands sleepily and picked it up. As soon as she saw that it was a blocked number, she felt completely awake.
“Osher?” she asked, instead of saying, “Good morning,” or “hello,” or anything else.
“How did you know it was me?” He sounded very surprised.
“I figured. How are you?”
“Baruch Hashem, terrible.”
“Terrible? What happened?”
“A fox bit me. You heard about it?”
“Sure, from Ima”
“So why are you asking what happened?”
“Because I would hope that a few hours after the bite, it shouldn’t hurt you so terribly anymore, but it sounds like it does. You poor thing…I’m so sorry for you… Do you want—”
She wanted to say “me to come visit you,” but her brother cut her off. “It’s really not the bite that’s hurting me and making me feel so terrible. It’s the shot. All of my muscles hurt from it, and I have the chills, and I also threw up once during the night.” He fell silent for a moment, and then added in a low voice, “But maybe that was because of the banana mousse I ate at the Bergs.”
“Poor thing,” Ariella said again, and coughed to clear the hoarseness that suddenly appeared again. “What is this shot? Should I come and visit you? I’ll bring you some chocolate and see how you’re doing.”
“You want me to read to you what they gave me here, an information sheet about rabies and why we need these shots? I’m reading it—listen: The rabies virus is transmitted from the bite site to the muscle, and from there it advances through the nervous system to the brain. As long as it does not reach the brain, the person or animal are merely called carriers; that is the incubation period, during which time the disease does not break out. When the rabies reaches the brain, the virus releases its material into the brain cells and forces them to generate more viruses. This destroys the cells; that’s how brain cells are killed…”
“Brrrr….” Ariella shuddered. She’d listened until now with commendable patience. “Osher, I see that I really need to come urgently and bring you something more cheerful to read.”
“But I don’t like to read,” he said. “Anyway, the virus couldn’t have gotten to my brain yet, right?”
“Of course not. It takes a few days, this…thing.”
“So, do you want me to come to you, or not?”
“I got up very early this morning, and I was so bored.”
“So I’ll come, and then you won’t be so bored.”
“There’s a big window here, and the scenery is really nice. It’s too bad that I feel so awful and I can’t even enjoy looking at it.”
“But I would enjoy looking at some beautiful scenery.”
“I wonder how many floors this hospital has.”
“Do you want me to come and count for you?”
“Bye, Ariella.” The ping-pong came to an end. “Traveling from Bnei Brak to Tzefas takes about three hours, so I hope that by the time you get here, I’ll already be released and back in my place. At least there, I could enjoy the scenery.”
“Which scenery?” Ariella asked. “What do you see when you look out the window of the place where you are living, Osher? If you don’t want me to come and enjoy the views, at least describe them to me.”
“I see a street—not a wide one—and then a low wall, and after that a stretch of sand, and then the sea.”
“A low wall? I didn’t realize the ancient wall of Acco is low. I thought from the pictures that it’s really high.”
Her brother paused for a long moment. “It’s not the ancient wall that I see from my window,” he said. “It’s a pretty new one—I don’t know how many years old. The ancient wall is further along the coast. But don’t come to Acco, you hear?”
“I’m not going on any long trips now—don’t worry.” Ariella looked around her room. “One more question, Osher; what kind of fox bit you? On which floor do you live?”
“I don’t like interrogations, Ariella. Goodbye.”
“Wait a second Osher, just tell me…” Ariella looked at her phone and put it down on the table. Oh, well. Soon, after davening and a light breakfast, she’d go out to the seaside to find a place that met Osher’s description. He wasn’t there now, so there was no chance he’d see her.
At three-thirty in the morning. Elazar and Sarah Reiness left the hospital. Shlomo and Osher were sleeping peacefully, and there was nothing left for them to do there.
“I’ll have to come back tomorrow morning,” Rabbi Reiness said to his wife. “To help them with the discharge and all that, and to take them back to Acco.”
“You could have left them money for the trip, no?” she asked gently. “There’s a train, and buses, and they are big boys.”
“Yes,” he said thoughtfully, “but it’s possible they’ll need me there to speak to the representative of the Health Department, if he comes. And we also need to bring identification documents for both boys for the discharge.”
“That’s all true, but I’m really afraid you will be very tired, and it’s dangerous to drive like that. Now at least I’m here and I can talk to you and make sure you don’t fall asleep.”
He was focused on the road. “You’re right. But I don’t have to go alone tomorrow, either. I’m sure one of the other boys will be happy to join me. The first ones begin in the carpentry shop at six in the morning, you know, and I don’t want them to find everything locked.”
They drove the rest of the way in silence. The roads were virtually empty. Every so often, Sarah glanced at her husband—but she saw that he was completely alert.
The car stopped in front of their house. Sarah led the way up to the house with her pocketbook, but her husband stood still near the gate.
“Elazar?” She retraced her steps.
“Someone was here,” Rabbi Reiness said quietly.