Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 3 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.
The apartment where Chani lived was tiny. Hinda leaned on the kitchen counter and peered into the cradle standing right next to it. One-year-old Bracha’s hands protruded from between the bars as she stretched in her sleep, as if she was trying to grab onto them. Hinda smiled.
“I think she can manage here for another two months,” Chani said cheerfully. “Then we’ll move into our new apartment, and we’ll buy her a normal-sized crib. Come, Ima, sit down. You didn’t taste my cheesecake.”
The area next to the table was even smaller than the space allocated for the cradle, and exactly three chairs stood there. Hinda moved one chair back and wondered what they would do when Dov arrived.
Eli, Chani’s husband, offered to make her a coffee. Hinda thanked him but said perhaps it would be better to wait for Dov to come back from davening. Meanwhile, Chani told her about the substituting job she was about to start, and Eli talked about the leak in the bathroom that just was not stopping, and how they already felt uncomfortable calling the landlord to complain. Bracha woke up and gurgled playfully, and Hinda gave her a hug, amazed at how much she’d changed in the six weeks they hadn’t seen each other. Chani brought a plate of wafers to the table.
How long did it take to daven Ma’ariv?
Hinda complimented Chani on the cheesecake, and Chani took her to the only window, in the hallway, and showed her how close they were to the neighbors and how difficult it was to access the laundry lines.
Hinda reassured her that in the new apartment, everything would be laid out much more sensibly. They talked about the kitchen, the color of the tiles, about Avigdor and his family, about Baruch in yeshivah. The minute Eli got up and went to the bedroom to change Bracha’s diaper, Chani quickly asked how Yosef was doing, and Hinda replied that he was happy with his new job at Rambam. Eli returned, and they continued talking about faucets, types of countertops, and drawers with quiet-close mechanisms. Hinda told them about Avigdor’s young daughter, who had gotten her fingers trapped in one of the drawers in their kitchen, and recalled how when Baruch was little, he had toppled a can of pickles onto Yosef’s foot when he’d pulled open a drawer underneath the counter.
They didn’t talk about Mali at all.
“Can I make you a coffee?” Eli asked again as he glanced at the clock on the wall. Twenty-nine minutes had passed since his first offer. Maybe he was in a hurry to go daven? Or to leave for an evening kollel? She had no idea if her son-in-law learned night seder; it was not the type of thing she would ask Chani.
“Okay, thanks,” she replied this time. “I’d appreciate it.” She remembered that in any case, Dov would prefer tea, not coffee.
But even after she finished her cup of coffee, Dov had not yet arrived.
No one spoke about Dov; it was as if he didn’t exist, and this was just another regular visit by Hinda on her own. But when he suddenly knocked on the door, about an hour and a quarter after Hinda had arrived, something shifted in the small room.
“Hello, hello!” he exclaimed warmly as he entered. “I’m so sorry for being late.” His words were spoken to everyone, but Hinda sensed that he was directing them at her. “Just before I left the hospital, I met my son-in-law, who had just come, and I stopped to speak to him. Then we went back to Penina’s room for a few minutes.”
Hinda nodded. “A new grandchild is very exciting,” she agreed. Her tone did not contain even a fraction of the mild irritation that she felt. She felt uncomfortable in front of Chani, and the whole sensation was a bit strange, as if she and Dov were the young couple, and her new husband’s behavior was not in tune with accepted norms.
But she just blinked rapidly and smiled when Eli took Dov on a tour of their tiny unit. “In our real apartment,” he said with a laugh, “everything will be bigger, and even the smaller places will be utilized down to the last inch.”
“Thanks to the shvigger, huh?” Dov asked.
“Absolutely,” Eli said. “When we go there next time, we’d love for you to join us and see it all up close. There are a few really creative ideas there.” He didn’t mean Hinda when he said “to see it all up close,” because she had been in the new apartment three times already, in the capacity of interior designer. He was talking to Dov, even though he appeared to be addressing both of them, out of respect. Did Dov appreciate that?
She looked at him, but couldn’t decipher his expression, and decided that the time had come to detach a bit. They were two mature adult; she would allow the two of them to get to know each other on their own terms, without pressure. And even if here and there, they wouldn’t completely understand one another, as with every new relationship, nothing would happen.
She leaned back. Eli pointed to the dropped ceiling in the entryway and said something, and Dov nodded. Hinda glanced at Chani. “That’s a nice skirt,” she said. “Is it the new one you bought for the interview?”
“No, it’s just a skirt I wear around the house.”
“It looks great. Why are you using it as a robe skirt?” She didn’t comment on the spit-up stain right in the middle of the skirt, and say, “I can’t believe you got it stained!” She also didn’t ask, “But what about the new robe that I bought you after Bracha was born?” even though she clearly remembered that since she’d given it to her, she hadn’t seen Chani wear it even once. Maybe it happened to be in the laundry on each one of her visits, or perhaps some bleach had spilled on it. Or, Chani just didn’t like it. She was allowed to not like it, Hinda knew.
Her daughter smiled. “I like wearing nice clothes at home, too.”
“Well, it sure is very nice.”
Chani looked at her mother. “You also don’t usually wear robes around the house, except for Shabbos,” she said suddenly.
“That’s since you grew up!” Hinda laughed. “When you were small, I couldn’t manage without those robes! Do you remember the floral one with the snaps and the big pockets?”
Chani grinned. “Sure! And in the pockets you kept all the nice notes we got in preschool.”
“So, when you kids grew up, the robes weren’t so necessary anymore. But if I remember correctly, you used to like wearing robes when you were younger, too, no? We even bought you a new one for your school overnight in ninth grade, remember?”
“That was the style then.” Chani leaned over to Bracha, who was sitting on the floor, and tickled the tip of her nose. “I wonder what will be when Bracha gets older…”
Hinda smiled and turned to look at the two men, who had finished the guided tour of the grand 270 square feet of the apartment. This was the first time they were like this, the two of them alone, with no one else part of the conversation. It looked like they were getting along very well, and that made her happy.
And if something was hiding behind Chani’s evasion and her objection to wearing a comfortable robe at home, then it would be better if she didn’t touch it. Not only because interfering was harmful, but because there are things that aren’t really problems so long as you don’t scrape away at them. It’s only once the layers come off that they start turning into real issues.
At the Efrat South intersection on Highway 60, a youth stood gazing in admiration at the round moon, which seemed larger than usual. He pulled out a bottle of cold juice.
He breathed in the combination of silence and pleasant chill. The night did not frighten him. He paced a bit this way and that, sipped from the juice, and waited. Behind him, he could see the silhouettes of the buildings of the Jewish town, and ahead of him, the lights twinkled in the Arab homes in the Al Aroub and Wadi A-Nis refugee camps.
“You’re Martin, right?” someone whispered behind him in Hebrew.
He turned. “If you say so,” he replied in the same language, though his was heavily accented. “And you?”
They studied one another.
“I didn’t know you’re not religious,” Dan said, somewhat disappointed.
“Does that bother you?”
“The truth is…it’s actually good for us. And for you.”
“Why? And I would prefer if we switched to English.”
“Because whenever such a thing happens, they look for our guys—you know, the religious boys from the settlements. But they don’t know about you, and I doubt they’d connect any of our vandalism to an irreligious kid. So that’s good.” Dan’s English was excellent, but the Israeli accent bothered Martin.
“You are from here, right?” Martin asked, as he stuck his juice into his knapsack and zipped it closed. He preferred not to dwell on the part about the Israeli police not knowing about him.
“Yes. My parents made aliyah from America ten years before I was born, and besides the English, I have nothing New Yorky in my blood.”
“And that’s not particularly New Yorky either,” Martin pointed out dryly.
“It’s alright,” Dan said with a laugh. “If my grandparents manage with my accented English, so can you. We are waiting for two more guys, and then we’ll move.”
The next few minutes passed in silence. Martin sat on a stone that gleamed in the darkness, and studied the road. Dan stood with his arms folded, humming to himself. Every so often, he glanced at the foreigner. “Rudy sent you, right?” he asked finally.
“Where did you meet each other?”
“He’s also from Canada, a graduate of our project. After he finished studying in Israel, he obtained citizenship and stayed here. But he came to visit my dormitory a few times.”
“What is this project?” Dan glanced behind him; two figures were approaching from the settlement.
“The Youths for Israel Project. They come to learn and to work on the moshavim a bit.”
Dan smiled, and then directed his smile at the two new arrivals. “Shall we go?”
They began walking on the shoulder of the road, and quickly descended from there into the nearest field.
With the expanse of the sky above them, the stars twinkling brightly, and the dry ground beneath their feet, the world looked to Martin to be of mammoth proportions.
Suddenly, the world shrank into two ramshackle houses that stood next to a large structure made of aluminum, and a lone, old tree. Somewhere beyond the tree, they could see the shadows of other houses, but Martin was now in front of these two houses, and aside for them he saw nothing.
“As quietly as possible.” Dan’s whisper was almost silent. “We are dealing with this wall and the wall of the next house over. The others will handle the cars.”
Cars? Martin looked behind him and saw Dan’s two friends bent over a parked car. His fingertips trembled with the familiar enthusiasm, and he turned back to the wall. On the right were faded, light blue trissim, which were lowered, and Dan pointed to them and again put his finger on his lips.
Dan was very different from Brian, back in Canada, but there was something similar about the two of them, too.
Martin forcefully banished the thought from his mind and focused again on the wall. His writing in Hebrew was hardly as impressive as it was in English, but in any case, graffiti-style writing on walls is not supposed to earn points for beauty and penmanship.
“Tag mechir—price tag!” the wall screamed, as did the one next to it—a message echoed by the punctured tires of the two cars nearby.
“You’re great.” Only once they left and were headed back toward the settlement did Dan allow himself to raise his voice a little more. “Maybe we’ll call you when we need you again.”
“When you need me again?” Martin wasn’t sure he had understood the expression. “How do you decide that you need something? What’s it based on? I thought it goes on a whim.”
“Look,” Dan whispered. The other two were still quiet. “We usually live in peace with the residents of A-Nis. We have a joint clinic, and many of them work for us in Efrat. When one of the leaders of our yishuv sat shivah, the mukhtar of the village came to comfort him.”
“I see.” Martin looked at the clumps of dirt under his feet. “So why did you decide to target them with a tag mechir?”
“To pressure the Arabs. Three days ago, someone on the road near the village threw stones at our cars. We’re just paying them back.”
“Who said that it was someone from A-Nis?” Martin insisted.
“And who says that the one who carried out the tag mechir tonight is from Efrat?” Dan countered. “But the first thing they will do is come and investigate us, check those who are closest. That’s how the police mind works, and that’s also how our minds work.”
“And this has an effect on the residents of the Arab village?” Martin asked.
Dan glanced at him. “Tell me, didn’t you check out the whole subject before you decided to join us? The way I understood it, you begged them to let you join.”
“Sure, it’s good action!” Martin grinned. “And I’m on your side, in general. But I can’t say I understand all the nuances of your politics.”
“You? Rudy told me that you were the biggest troublemaker at the demonstrations near the prime minister’s house!”
“I’ll be a troublemaker wherever you put me.” Martin pulled out his juice bottle. “And it’s better to utilize it against the enemies.”
“Ahh, now I get it.” The youth laughed quietly and looked at Martin with a different view.
“Dan, keep it down, will you?” one of the other two turned his head and scolded in whispered Hebrew. “No DMCs now, okay? We don’t have time to spare. Don’t you hear the barking from the village? We’ve got to cut left now.”
“Right,” Dan confirmed, and the four turned left, and were swallowed up by the low olive trees weighed down by their branches.
“Forward march, hurry!” Dan whispered. “Do you run well, Martin?”
“So that’s what we’re doing now.”
They ran for a few seconds as a group, and then they parted. Martin didn’t ask questions, but he assumed the other three knew what they were doing. He and Dan ran in a direction he wasn’t entirely sure of, and a few seconds later, Dan slowed down to a brisk walk.
“Oh, we’re leaving footprints,” Martin whispered.
“That’s right, but these footprints will lead to the road in a few seconds, and from there, they can go search for the wind.”
“To the road? That’s where we’re going? But what will we do there?”
“A car will pick us both up.”
“And take us where?”
“Jerusalem. I’ve been staying at my grandparents for two whole days already, didn’t you know?”
Martin smiled. “But you said they will search for you on the yishuv regardless.”
“Yes, but they won’t find me. Anyway, the one who did it really isn’t from the yishuv.”
“You’re not from Efrat?” Martin raised an eyebrow.
“I am. You’re not.”