Israel Book Shop presents The Prologue of a new online serial novel, Outside the Bubble, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
Behind the white curtain that had begun to yellow was the sea—blue, expansive, stretching behind Katzburg’s house, where the view ended. Hinda took a deep breath as she glanced at the blueness of it, and then went back to the couch, where the purple suitcase sat, open. Yosef was sitting next to it.
“When did you come into the house, so quietly?” she asked. The response was a tired look.
“Alright,” she said, turning to the suitcase. “What else do I need to take?”
“Umm….” Yosef replied. “I don’t know. But Mommy?”
“When are you coming back?”
“We’ll talk about it,” Hinda said. She didn’t say, “We talked about it already.” She scanned the piles of folded clothes. A new tichel, a new robe, a small tube of face cream. Rebbetzin Wagner said she had to buy herself a few new things.
“I didn’t buy you a present yet,” Yosef said. He scratched his forehead. “What do you want me to give you?”
“You’re a good boy.” Hinda smiled at him. “But don’t worry about it. I don’t need anything.”
“But I want to buy you something,” he said. “Avigdor bought you something, right? So can you think of something you need? Because I also want to.”
“Okay,” she said. “Do you know what? Maybe slippers. Yes. Good slippers. I’ll give you money, and you’ll go down to buy it by Smilowitz. Size thirty-eight.”
“Don’t give me money; I don’t need it. I got my National Insurance stipend yesterday.”
“You want to buy me something from your money?”
“Of course from my money. If it’s your money, it’s not a gift,” Yosef said. Then he yawned. “But I’ll buy it tomorrow, okay? I’m going to sleep now.”
He stood up and dragged himself toward his room. Suddenly he turned around. “I still didn’t decide who to go to.”
“Didn’t you say you’re going to Avigdor?”
“I didn’t decide who to go to yet,” her son repeated tonelessly. “When is Baruch coming from yeshivah? Maybe he’ll agree to stay here at home with me on the days that you won’t be here, and then we won’t have to go to anyone else.”
“Baruch is in yeshivah.” Hinda shook out her black Shabbos skirt and folded it carefully, lengthwise. “But Yosef, you know that Baruch would be very happy to come with you for Shabbos to wherever you choose. Do you prefer to go to Chani? She also invited you.”
“Right.” He leaned on the doorframe. “Chani invited me, but Eli didn’t.” And he turned around and walked into his room.
Hinda placed her Shabbos sweater into the suitcase—there, now she was finished. Mali had a nice silver-colored wheelie that she’d bought with the money she’d made at her summer jobs. It was here in the house, and it was bigger and much easier to use than Hinda’s old suitcase. But Mali hadn’t answered the phone for nearly two weeks, and at the end of the day, this purple suitcase evoked lots of pleasant memories for Hinda.
“If you don’t want to, sweetie, then don’t,” Hinda said quietly as she closed the zipper. She hoped Yosef had not heard her from his room, and wouldn’t get up to check if Mommy was hearing voices and trying to banish them. Since when did she talk to herself? This morning as well, she’d noticed herself telling the empty bedroom that, “It’s time to pack already!” This had never happened to her before, even during the hardest times. What had happened now? Though she was hardly in the mood now of psychoanalyzing behaviors and conditions and various symptoms that happen to people after years of loneliness, or partial loneliness, that were about to end.
Even if she was “really good at this, without learning a word of psychology shmycology!”—as the elderly Mrs. Azulai had told her admiringly, after half an hour of animated conversation—psychoanalysis was very much not for her when she was the subject being analyzed.
Alright, enough. Hinda moved the suitcase aside and walked over to the window. Everything seemed to be ready. That was how she liked it: being ready with plenty of time. She had two days left until she’d leave the house, with her right foot, and aside for a few phone calls, she had nothing left to do.
She glanced at the cordless phone, in its base on the wall, and it stared back innocently.
Hinda’s gaze moved along, turning toward the kitchen. In the past, when Chani and Mali were home, the phone had been in use much more. Now, she was the only woman around, and she made so few phone calls. And whatever calls she did make were far less cheerful and carefree than those of teenage girls. Chani actually called a lot, but “a lot” is a relative term. She used to call three times a day, until Hinda asked her to stop, and to suffice with one call a day. And, she’d added, nothing would happen if she missed a day, either.
She had wonderful children, baruch Hashem, but she really did not want them to feel like they had to constantly be doing chessed with their widowed mother.
Hinda checked the kitchen towel to see how clean it was, and purposely did not think now about Mali, who actually did not think she had to do constant chessed with her widowed mother. She also didn’t want to think about Yosef, as the challenges awaiting him weighed heavily on her. Despite all the scenarios they had discussed, and despite his displaying understanding and preparedness for the expected change in his life, she knew very well that there are moments when all the advanced preparation in the world can be useless.
So she wasn’t thinking about Yosef, or about Mali, and she certainly wasn’t going to try to call her daughter again.
Maybe it was more important to catch Uncle Michoel?
She left the kitchen, walking heavily. She preferred to finish all the unpleasant tasks now, like reminding Michoel about the receipt books that he had forgotten to send her. She preferred not to leave anything like this for the days after the wedding. B’ezras Hashem.
He went out to the taxi waiting for him, holding his tefillin bag in his right hand, and his travel valise in his left. No one saw him leave, and it made no difference. For his part, he didn’t care if his hosts didn’t even know that he was leaving the city. He planned to be back in four days anyway.
He didn’t have a lot of time, but there were things that one just does not give up on. A short visit to the United States, and from there he’d pop over to Hinda’s wedding, and then come back here. What could he do if when he’d made a series of appointments with philanthropists here, he didn’t know that Hinda was planning to get engaged suddenly? Engaged!
It was a good thing he’d left her a congratulatory message for the day of the wedding, just in case something happened, but he really wanted to try and get there.
The phone rang. And rang again.
Hinda paced quietly in the house with the cordless handset, thinking about the receipt books that hadn’t come yet. She wanted to go out tomorrow for the last time before she left, to the last families on the list, the ones she hadn’t done yet this month.
Oh, someone was picking up.
“Hello, please accept my apologies that I am currently busy with other important matters. As soon as I can, I’d be happy to get back to you. Please leave a phone number so that I can contact you.”
Hinda sighed, and didn’t leave a phone number. There was no point. She put the handset back on the base and looked around the room. Yosef was murmuring something; she didn’t know if he was asleep or awake. Not that it made much of a difference anyway.
And Michoel? Michoel would talk to her when he could, and he wouldn’t get back to her when he could not. And the longer and more polite his voicemail message was, the longer his absence was likely to be. Tomorrow, the message would surely be changed to something else. He didn’t leave the same one for very long.
So he wasn’t back yet, apparently. Oh, well. If it was anyone else, she’d think it was strange, but Michoel’s trips around the world were never predicable.
Was it possible that he would not be at her wedding?
And suddenly, Hinda felt a slight pinch in her heart.