Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 7 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.
It was a pastoral scene by any measure: a couple and their son walking peacefully at a late evening hour on Geulah Street in Haifa. Hinda nodded in greeting to an acquaintance who studied her for a moment longer than was appropriate, and continued walking. Out of the corner of her eye, she observed Dov explaining to Yosef how a diesel engine works. Yosef listened, asked something, and Dov answered.
She tuned in to their conversation.
“How do you know all this?” Yosef asked.
“Oh,” Dov chuckled, “I got a whole lecture yesterday from the worker at the gas station near the entrance to Haifa. Yosef, do you drive?”
“Because I thought I would give you my car tomorrow,” Dov replied. He turned to Hinda. “How were you planning to go to Yerushalayim?”
“On the bus, like always,” she replied, slightly out of breath from the walk up the hill. “What’s the problem?”
“The bus? From Haifa to Yerushalayim?” Apparently, to him, the bus was not even an option. Hinda didn’t bother reminding him that until they had gotten married, the bus was her default form of transportation. The alternative was walking.
“You told me you’d go with Yosef. At first I was wondering how it was possible that he drives and I hadn’t yet heard about it, and which car you thought he would take you in.” He continued to walk, slowing his pace. Yosef walked calmly alongside him, which was comforting for Hinda.
“You know,” Hinda said, “I actually thought it would be good for Yosef to learn to drive.” They reached the intersection of Geulah-Hapo’el. Dov turned left, and Hinda followed. “But he didn’t want to, because his twin, Baruch, didn’t learn to drive.”
“No one else in our house learned to drive at my age,” Yosef said in a low voice. “Okay, so they were in yeshivah, but still… I don’t want to. It’s scary, and it’s very complicated.” He hesitated. “I was once at Avigdor’s, and he had a driving book there. I read a little bit of it. It was…not for me. Avigdor also told me that if I want to learn to drive, I’ll have to go to the Medical Institute for Road Safety.”
“Yeah, and they would do all kinds of tests on me to see if I could get a license, because I was hospitalized a few times. So I have to think if I want to get into all of that.”
Dov was listening carefully. “It’s a subject that we should think about—you’re right about that,” he said. “But in any case, when you go to Michoel tomorrow in Yerushalayim, please send him my regards, and tell him that I’m sorry we haven’t yet had a chance to really get to know each other.”
Hinda nodded, and wondered if she was only imagining that she heard a bit of a grating tone in his voice, or if Dov really was sorry, and wasn’t offended by Michoel’s lack of interest and attention in recent weeks. And that was without him hearing the strange conversation in which Michoel mentioned only her and Yosef, ignoring Dov’s existence.
It wasn’t like Michoel to ignore her husband this way, as if he wasn’t aware that she’d gotten remarried. What was this? Early onset dementia, chalilah?
She was happy Dov had not heard the phone conversation, and when she’d told him about Michoel’s request, she had used the words “we” and “us,” without detailing who exactly had been invited. Dov hadn’t asked for the exact details; it wasn’t exactly a grand visit, it was just a short drop-in. That was why she hadn’t asked Dov to take the day off and come along with her for the visit.
“You’re worried, Hinda,” Dov said.
Hinda turned around. Yosef was a few yards away from their bench, gazing at a pigeon pecking at the crack between two squares of sidewalk. “It’s been quite a few years since anyone has noticed when I’m worried,” she said, a smile crossing her face.
Dov smiled back.
“I really am worried, Dov. Something strange has been going on with Michoel lately.”
“I know you hardly know him. And you just saw him once, at our vort…” She shook her head for a moment. “Michoel is my only uncle, my mother’s younger brother, and I’m his only niece. We’ve always had very close family ties.”
“You remember him since you were a girl?”
“Sure,” Hinda replied. “My parents made aliyah from Chicago when I was four, and he came when I was fifteen. That was…” she quickly calculated in her mind, “about thirty-seven years ago. But all along, over the years, there had been visits back and forth, especially when my grandparents came here with him. And about two years after they passed away, he made aliyah himself.”
“Yes, alone. And that’s how he’s been ever since.”
“Why?” Dov’s directness was sometimes pleasant, sometimes less so.
“I don’t know what exactly he went through when he was young. He doesn’t speak about those years,” Hinda responded quietly. “But here, he definitely built himself a life of a solitary person. And although I had a good relationship with him, I was always on the outside.”
“He never thought about getting married?”
“I tried to make suggestions a couple of times, but it never went anywhere. And he didn’t like it that I was trying to get involved.”
“In other words, it’s very likely that you would not know about his plans for anything.”
“Right,” Hinda confirmed. “The fact that I have no idea where he is now is completely normal, as far as he is concerned. He often travels out of the country to collect money for his organization, or to attend simchos of friends. It has happened that he’s disappeared and didn’t let me know beforehand. But now it’s a bit much, and I don’t even know what to try and put my finger on.”
“He didn’t sound like he usually does?”
“He sounded like he always sounds on the phone—in a hurry, says what he has to say, very to the point. On the other hand, it’s not like him to be so indifferent, without asking how I am, how you are, without asking anything… Because right after we got engaged, for example, he was very interested in us.”
“Hmm,” Dov said slowly. “I see.” He looked at Yosef’s back; the boy was still bent over, some distance away. “Maybe he’s uncomfortable because of me.”
“Who, Michoel?” Hinda laughed. “You really don’t know him well enough, Dov. He is not the type of guy who is easily intimidated by other people. He’s the direct type; he doesn’t hide behind unease and awkwardness, and things like that.”
“He really sounds like someone worth getting to know,” Dov said sincerely. “When you go visit him tomorrow, tell him I said so.”
Hinda was quiet. Then she turned to her son. “Yosef,” she called. “We’re heading home.” After another moment of walking, she shook her head. “I’ll definitely tell him that, if I see him. But I have a feeling he won’t be there.”
“Where, in his house?”
“Then why are you going?”
“Because he wants me to do something there.”
She spread her hands helplessly. “Honestly, Dov? I don’t know.”
“And you’re going to go, even without knowing?!” This was a bit too much for her accountant husband. There were many things he understood, but making such a trip for such a vague purpose was really beyond his grasp.
“Maybe,” she said. They walked quietly for a bit. “Do you prefer that I don’t go?” she asked, after a minute. “Does it sound foolish to you?”
“It does,” Dov admitted, “but if you want to go, and you feel that it’s what you need to do, then I want you to—”
Hinda wanted to continue hearing him declare his faith in her, but just then his phone rang, cutting him off. Hinda had already learned that all of Dov’s kids had their own ringtone.
“Penina,” Dov murmured, and stuck one of his ear-buds into his ear. The second side hung down over his shoulder, and it annoyed Hinda. But she was honest enough with herself to admit that it wasn’t the symmetry of it that was annoying her right now.
“Penina!” he exclaimed. “How are you, dear?”
Penina replied in a tearful voice, which came through the other earpiece. Dov nodded and nodded, until Hinda felt her own neck aching for him.
“A slipped disk!” Dov said, after a few long moments of incessant nodding. “Boy, that is very painful. Really…oh, my…”
Penina continued sobbing into the phone, and Hinda felt bad for her. “I don’t think that at her age, a slipped disk is very common,” she whispered. “Dov, tell her it’s probably a result of the birth or something. And there are a few remedies that could help…”
“One second, Penina,” Dov said. He turned to Hinda. “It’s not her with the slipped disk. It’s her mother-in-law.”
“Oy vey.” Hinda bit her lip. Why had she gotten involved?
“The mother-and-baby home?” Dov echoed Penina. “Yes, that’s a good idea, I think. I’m paying, of course.” He listened again. “No? Why not?”
The sobbing on the other end mounted. Yosef crossed the street ahead of them and started climbing the stairs leading to Rabi Akiva Street.
“Wait a minute, Penina.” Dov stopped and covered the mouthpiece with his fist. “She is crying uncontrollably,” he whispered to Hinda. “And I can’t understand what she is saying. Her mother-in-law can’t help her now because of the slipped disk, and she doesn’t want to go to the mother-and-baby home, because…I didn’t quite understand why. Because they won’t take care of the baby properly, or something to that effect.”
Hinda wanted to say something like, “Nonsense. My Chani went there, and my daughter-in-law always goes, and they love it there, and everything is fine.” Instead, she asked, “Do-do you think she’d want to come to us?”
His mouth was set in a straight, tense line. “I don’t know,” he said. “Should I offer it to her?”
“Offer.” Hinda stopped across from the traffic light. Yosef’s figure was very small all the way at the top of the stairs. “Why not?”
“But we won’t get offended if she declines.”
“We won’t get offended,” Hinda said placidly. She didn’t think about how they would manage with Yosef at home in the evenings. Penina wouldn’t want to come anyway.
And that’s why she was dumbstruck when Dov said to her, his eyes big, “Yes, she likes the idea very much.”
The next day, Yosef did not go with his mother to Yerushalayim; he went by himself. He knew where Uncle Michoel’s key was, and his mother, who was busy baking cake and sautéing three kilograms of liver, preferred that he travel himself to see what their uncle wanted. If he would need her urgently for any reason, he would call, and she’d catch the next bus to Yerushalayim.
The director of the emergency room at Rambam Hospital gave him the day off easily. Yosef spent the travel time listening to a parshah shiur on his MP3 player, and wondering what exactly Uncle Michoel wanted from them. He hoped it was something that he could also take care of, not only his mother.