Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 2 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.
Dov let her know that he was downstairs. Hinda, who had been ready for ten minutes already, locked the door and went down, her mind on Uncle Michoel, whose phone number she had just tried again—still with no results.
Dov had suggested at the beginning of the week that they should try to invite Michoel for Shabbos. “You have one uncle,” he’d said. “True, he didn’t come to our wedding, but you said you weren’t too surprised about that. I think that even if there’s a bit of anger there, it’s worthwhile to forgive and to continue maintaining ties. Because, after all, at our age especially, an uncle is a treasure.”
“Alright,” she’d replied. “And the truth is that I’m really not angry at him. You know, it could be that he’s even abroad. He left me a mazel tov message on my voicemail on the day of the wedding itself. So already then I realized that he might not come.”
But when she’d called to invite Michoel, he had not answered, not at home or on his cell. She was used to that. He often couldn’t answer the phone because he was busy with something at that moment. But although Dov had tried to judge him favorably, it appeared that he was pretty surprised at how Michoel wasn’t returning her calls. In Dov’s organized world, there was no such thing as doing that. How could he understand Michoel, her very disorganized uncle?
“Hi,” Dov greeted her now, as she sat down in the passenger seat and closed her seatbelt. There was quiet music playing in the background. “How are you?”
“Baruch Hashem, great.”
“I told Penina this morning that we’d come over this evening. She was happy to hear it.”
“Good,” Hinda replied.
“If we have time, and you want to, we can also pop in to your Chani. Did you tell her we’ll be in Bnei Brak tonight?”
“Yes, and I’m sure she’ll be happy if we visit.” Hinda turned around to place her bags on the back seat. Two apples and a knife, and a thermos with tea for Dov. (In the morning he’d said his throat was hurting a bit.) A gift for Penina, and chocolate for her Chani.
“I dropped in to Yosef at work today,” Dov said.
Hinda straightened out at once; the thermos behind rolled off the seat and onto the floor of the car. “What?”
“I went to Yosef. I was going to Rambam Hospital anyway, to visit one of my customers who is having complications from bariatric surgery. He’s there two and a half weeks already. I told you about Oren from Bar-Chen, didn’t I?”
“Yes,” she said.
“So anyway, I was passing by the emergency room, and I remembered that Yosef should be there at that time.”
“Yes,” she repeated.
“I went in, thinking I would ask someone where he is, but then I saw him right away. He was changing the linen of one of the beds near the entrance.”
“Yes.” Is that the only word I am capable of answering?
“So I went over to him and asked how he was doing. At first, he seemed confused to see me there; maybe he was even a little shocked and thought something had happened chalilah. But I explained to him that I’d come to visit someone else in the hospital, and was using the opportunity to say hello to him.”
“But you meet at home almost every evening, anyway.” The tea in the thermos was sloshing around as it rolled back and forth on the floor in the back, to the rhythm of the driving.
Dov smiled. “He said the same thing. But I reminded him that often, by the time I come home, he’s already sleeping. I took him to a vending machine and bought him a Danish and a can of soda, and he was really happy. I think he actually enjoyed my visit.”
Baruch Hashem, baruch Hashem. “That’s so nice.”
He glanced at her. “So, was it good that I visited him? Should I do it again if I happen to be in the area?”
Hinda passed a hand over her forehead and almost repeated her “yes,” but decided to be more candid. “I don’t know,” she said. “If he was happy, then obviously it was good. But you can never know ahead of time.”
“And if he would not have been happy about it?” Dov asked, as he stopped at the traffic light at the exit of Haifa.
“He could have treated you…not so nicely. Or he might have not paid attention to you at all.”
“That’s okay,” Dov said. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “I took that possibility into account.” He meant the visit today — that much was clear— but Hinda was wondering if beneath his words was a veiled allusion to their marriage in general. She wasn’t good at deciphering veiled allusions, so it was easier for her to just ignore their existence. But sometimes she wondered about the fact that Dov had wanted the shidduch despite Yosef, and what kind of possibilities he had “taken into account,” things that could suddenly crop up because of him.
She pondered the idea, while Dov hummed to the music, but suddenly he stopped. “Hinda,” he said, “I appreciate the fact that you make an effort to ensure that our home is quiet and relaxed each evening, but I don’t mind if Yosef is awake and around. If I want to speak to you undisturbed, we can always go for a walk.”
Hinda considered his words. “It’s not that I’m making a special effort for him to go to sleep before you come home,” she said. “He sleeps a lot of hours anyway, because he gets very tired at work. His medicine also makes him drowsy. Even before we got married, he went to sleep early.” Suddenly, she smiled. Everything she had said was true, but somehow the tone she had used made her words sound like a list of excuses. Maybe it was because even very correct facts can be one big excuse for an even bigger fact.
“What’s rolling around back there?” Dov asked. He apparently had decided to change the subject.
“The thermos,” Hinda replied, but decided to stick to the subject. Big facts hiding behind excuses could cause someone who didn’t know what they were to be convinced that they were huge and threatening. “It’s not that I don’t think we deserve privacy, Dov. We really do, so actually, if it’s fine with Yosef to go to sleep early—then that’s great, and I think it works well for us, too.” She took a deep breath. “I don’t make a point of forcing you to meet each other. The more gradual it is, the better it will be for Yosef.”
“Okay, then, I agree. You are his mother, and you know what’s good for him and what is not.” He went back to humming along with the music, and then asked, “Based on this explanation, should I not go to visit him anymore?”
Hinda smiled. “I trust you to know what to do,” she replied. “And I hope that if he doesn’t act so nicely, you won’t be offended by it.”
“I won’t be,” he promised. After a moment’s hesitation he said, “I really hope that Penina will be nice to you when we come. You know, a new mother… I hope her mood is alright.”
“I won’t be offended,” was her comeback. “And I know what a new mother is, baruch Hashem.”
“Especially after a first birth, and without her mother…” Dov’s voice suddenly dropped.
“Of course.” Hinda was honest. “And it’s very understandable. Do you think you should go in to her first, by yourself? Not so I won’t be offended—just to avoid causing her any distress.”
Her husband deliberated for a moment, and Hinda wondered if Penina had told him something on the phone this morning, because yesterday, when he’d spoken as if it was self-understood that his new wife was coming along, he’d sounded much more sure of himself. “No,” he said, after a few moments. “Let’s go in together. If we see that she’s not in an amenable mood, we’ll wrap up the visit quickly.”
But Penina welcomed them with a big grin that resolved all the doubts. And although it was possible that there were other things hiding behind the smile, sometimes you need to walk the overt paths in life, and not those that are hiding beneath them. Hinda wished her mazel tov with a smile, and gave her a loose hug as she took the gift out of the bag, with its elegant wrapping and chocolates. Penina looked thrilled and exclaimed that she’d never seen such a gorgeous blanket, and that chocolate was just what she needed right then.
At the same moment, Hinda’s phone rang, and Mali’s number appeared on the screen.
“She’s adorable, Penina,” Hinda said, as she rejected the call. Since Mali’s brief call a week after the wedding, Hinda hadn’t spoken to her. But now they were here—she, with her new husband, and his new granddaughter. Together with his orphaned daughter, who had just had her first baby. Without her own mother at her side.
“That’s right, she is.” Dov was glowing as he turned to check the small area between the curtain and the wall. “Are you comfortable here, Penina? Can you sleep? Is everything working out in the hospital?”
“I can’t sleep too much, but that’s how it is in the hospital. Zevi’s mother said that I’ll be able to sleep in their house like I haven’t slept in weeks. I really hope so.”
Hinda put her phone in her bag. She’d speak to Mali later. Now she had to be here, with Penina and Dov.
“Oh, good, I’m so happy about that,” Dov said. After a few moments of cooing at his new granddaughter, he said, “Your shvigger doesn’t work, right? You’ll be well taken-care-of there.”
“Yes,” Penina replied. “I mean, no, she doesn’t work, so hopefully it will work out very nicely for me to stay there for a bit.”
Hinda was quiet. She could invite Penina to come to Haifa, but it was hard for her to believe that Dov expected her to do that, or that his daughter would want to accept such an invitation. Penina knew her mother-in-law for longer than she knew her father’s new wife, and it was safe to assume that she’d be much more comfortable there, at her in-laws’. Anyway, Dov wasn’t home for most of the day. What would Hinda and Penina do together a whole day, just the two of them, and with Yosef in the background to boot? It didn’t sound like a good plan. Actually, it sounded pretty bad.
And yet, if Dov would have asked her to do this, or even hinted that he wanted it, she would have invited Penina.
And she wouldn’t think about what Mali would say.
Something angry rose up inside her, and without realizing it, she pushed her phone further into her bag, despite its current silent state. Mali could have complaints from here to the other end of the world, but nothing was preventing her from coming home, too. If and when she would want to.
Hinda smiled at her husband’s tiny granddaughter. “Would you want to come to us, Penina?” The question just popped out, as if she hadn’t thought about it a minute ago and then come to the conclusion that it was absolutely not a good idea for Penina to come. Being impulsive was rather out of character for Hinda, but marriage does something to a person, even if that person was long out of her twenties.
“What?” Penina asked, looking uncomfortable.
Hinda winced inwardly, but her placid voice did not belie her feelings. “I mean, you might be more comfortable staying at your shvigger,” she said with a smile, “but if you want to come to us, remember that our home is always open to you.”
“Open, sure,” she could almost hear Mali’s voice saying, coming out of the silent cell phone. No, it was in her head. Mali was standing next to the big window, as she had stood back then, with the sea in the background, and hissing, “And only I have to go.”
“You are the one who chose to be distant,” Hinda answered in her mind, missing Dov’s surprised smile and Penina’s confused expression. ‘The choice was all yours, Mali, and whenever you want—you’re invited to come back.’
“Thank you.” The imaginary Mali was speaking. No, it was Penina. “Thanks so much. But I think that after my shvigger invited me and prepared everything, it wouldn’t be nice to disappoint her. Especially since Zevi’s kollel is here in Bnei Brak, and traveling with a tiny baby to Haifa doesn’t seem like a great idea… But maybe in a few weeks, when she gets a little bigger, it will be a nice idea.”
Let’s see that happen, Hinda thought, but she just smiled in return.
Later, they went down to the cafeteria to find a pacifier clip, and Dov bought his daughter a bottle of chocolate milk and a package of cookies. He asked Hinda if she wanted something, but she reminded him about the thermos of tea and the apples waiting for them in the car. They went back up to the maternity ward.
A moment after they said goodbye to Penina, Hinda’s phone began to ring again. “It’s Mali,” she blurted, without thinking. “But I’m not sure it’s a good idea for me to answer her call now…”
“Because I’m around?” Dov asked gently. “I was actually just going to ask you if you would mind if I stopped in at the shul now for Maariv.”
“Oh, that’s fine. No problem.”
“Thanks.” They went into the elevator. “Are you sure it’s alright? Where will you wait for me?”
“I won’t wait. I’ll go to Chani in the meantime. Her apartment is just three blocks from here.”
“You’re going to walk?” he asked doubtfully.
His wife smiled. “It won’t do me any harm. Remember, I’m used to it.”