Outside the Bubble – Chapter 12


Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 12 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. 

Mali hadn’t been to visit Uncle Michoel in a long time. In fact, in recent years she’d hardly come at all. That’s how it was; her uncle didn’t even try to conceal the fact that he was on her mother’s side, or he at least tried to be objective. “Your mother is my only niece, and she is a very clever, warm woman. I think that you are mistaken,” he once said to her indifferently, the last time she’d tried to complain that he wouldn’t even hear her out about her difficulties.

“Difficulties? Go to your mother. I’m sure she can help you solve them in the best way possible.”

The dentist she’d been using for the past two years was a three-minute walk from her uncle’s house, but except for one time when she’d dropped in to visit, she never went there. Once upon a time ago, when she’d first moved to the dorm, Ima had suggested that she visit Uncle Michel every so often, to see if he needed anything and if he was doing alright. But she’d never actually gone.

This time, though, after emerging from a complicated root canal, she found herself standing in front of the single-family house. Her head was pounding painfully, and she could not imagine herself boarding a bus now to go back to her room. She certainly wasn’t going to walk. She would ask him for a drink of water—that was all. She didn’t want him to think she was there to nudge.

She knocked at the door; when there was no response, she rang the bell.

“Who is it?”

“It’s Mali…” She leaned toward the intercom. “Mali Schorr, from Haifa.”

A second of silence ensued. Then Uncle Michoel said, “Sorry, I can’t come to the door now.”

“So…” Mali didn’t know what to say. What did ‘now’ mean? He needed five minutes? Ten?

“That’s okay. I’ll wait. I just wanted to visit you. Also, I just had a root canal…” Ugh, she sounded whiny, and she didn’t mean to. “I’ll wait, Uncle Michoel. No pressure, it’s fine.”

“I’m sorry, I cannot speak to you now,” her uncle’s voice interrupted. “If you don’t mind, try to come back in another week.”

Try to come back? He must not have heard her well; he didn’t realize it was her.

“It’s Mali!” she screamed at the intercom. “Uncle Michoel, it’s Mali Schorr!”

“Have a nice day,” was the response. Mali’s cheek throbbed mightily, and she almost started to cry. She raised a hand to her cheek, just as her uncle added, “I ask that you not leave anything outside the door.”

Mali closed her eyes tightly. “I guess Ima told you that I haven’t answered her calls since her wedding,” she said quietly. “Fine, I understand that it’s hard for her this way, but can’t you at least try to understand me? Understand what I’m going through?”

The way back to her room was painful; later on, she could hardly remember how she’d boarded the bus, paid, and dragged herself to bed.

Edna, her roommate, was by the closet, rummaging around for some of her things. She looked up when Mali came in, and immediately became worried. “Mali? Is everything okay?”

“I don’t know. My tooth is killing me.”

Oy, take some Tylenol,” Edna advised. “They pulled it?”

“No, root canal.”

“Oooh, that hurts. Try to sleep, maybe.”

“I’m going to try,” Mali said wryly. “Thanks for the brilliant idea.”

Edna fixed her with a long stare, as if assessing how serious she was, but Mali closed her eyes and didn’t open them until after Edna had put her stuff in her bag and announced that she was going to study with a friend for a test, and that she might sleep over there.

Edna was gone, but then Mrs. Bernath came in. “Mali?” She opened the shade a bit. “Oh, what happened to this slat?”

“What slat?” Mali murmured amidst the waves of pain. She could have pretended she was sleeping and not answered, but Mrs. Bernath was the type for whom you couldn’t put on a show.

“The slat from the shutter, of course. Didn’t you notice that it’s broken?”

“I noticed yesterday. I don’t think we broke it.”

“This is the room where you live, my dear,” Mrs. Bernath said cheerfully, “and I didn’t say you went and broke it on purpose. But one minute of carelessness, and the shutter goes kaput. It’s a shame, and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to find a replacement. This company doesn’t exist anymore.”

Mrs. Bernath was usually much more easygoing. Her friends who lived in other places had told her horror stories about limited hot water, or limited water in general; limited use of electricity; and certain sleep hours—but her landlady was, miraculously, pleasant and amenable. True, she was always concerned about the condition of the furniture and the objects in the room she rented out, but after hearing Mrs. Bernath’s stories about previous frustrating incidents that she’d had, it was understandable. Today, though, she seemed peeved. What had happened to her?

“The lightbulb is also burned out, I see. That happened rather fast. You study till very late, don’t you?”

“It’s actually my own lightbulb. I bought it myself,” Mali whispered through her pain. Mrs. Bernath’s bulb had been rather dim, and had given her a headache when she’d worked on pictures in Photoshop, so she’d replaced it with a different one a few days after she’d arrived.

“It’s good that you realize how important it is to take care of someone else’s belongings, but when will you learn that it’s also a good idea to take care of your own things?”

Mali didn’t answer.

“Where’s Edna, by the way?”

“At a friend.”

“Will she be back late? I hope not, because I wanted to speak to you both about something.”

“About what?” Mali was still prone on the bed.

“Well, I…” Mrs. Bernath seemed to be struggling to contain herself until Edna came back. She leaned on the doorpost and looked at Mali. Maybe the thought of the upcoming conversation was making her tense, so she wanted to just unload the story as quickly as she could. “Look.” She came inside and sat down on the chair near the window. “I’m not sure that it will work for me to renew your contract next month. We made up ahead of time that this would just be a trial period, you know.”

Oh, no. She had no strength to start looking for a new place again, especially in light of her friends’ tales. “What?” She sat up in bed. “Why? Is something not okay with us, Mrs. Bernath?” She tried so hard. Maybe Edna tested Mrs. Bernath’s patience sometimes with her late hours, but still…

“I’ll tell you the truth: It’s stressful for me to have strangers walking around my house. It’s…it’s just not worth the income. You’re not insulted that I’m calling you a stranger, are you?” She didn’t wait for a response. “I really like you, Mali, but I feel like I’m losing my privacy, and that’s not worth it for me for a few hundred shekels.” She took a deep breath.

“So what am I supposed to do?”

“Well, there’s the Nevat dormitory, where you started out before you came to me. Was it so bad over there?”

Too many things in one day. The root canal, the insult at Uncle Michoel’s house—er, make that his yard, and now this… Mali’s eyes suddenly opened wide. How had she not put two and two together? It was Ima! Ima, who wanted her errant daughter to struggle in Yerushalayim, and was therefore doing whatever she saw fit in order to make that happen. Well, it was safe to assume she wasn’t responsible for the root canal, unless you took into account the dozens of Rosemarie chocolate bars she’d regularly sent to Yerushalayim, without expecting a thank-you call. Or rather, she may have been expecting it, but she sure didn’t get it. And still she kept sending the chocolate, over and over again.

But even if Ima was not directly responsible for the huge cavity in her tooth, she was definitely connected to Uncle Michoel’s humiliating response, and probably also to the frustrating decision Mrs. Bernath had made.

But why was Edna to blame?

“But why is Edna to blame?” she asked aloud.

“Edna? To blame? Neither you nor she is to blame, dearie. It’s just better for me this way. What can I do? Hashem sends us parnassah, right?”

“Did my mother speak to you?”

“Your mother? Why do you think she spoke to me, dearie? And before you explain that, can you tell me where you went that you look like this? Outdoor photo shoot, perhaps? All day in the sun? You’re so red.”


“No? So why are you lying here like you’re sick? I see that your upper lip is also a bit swollen.”

“Good that it’s only a bit,” Mali muttered. “Based on the way I feel, it should be the size of the dentist’s chair.”

“Oh, the dentist! Right! You were there! How did it go? Doesn’t look very good.”

Mali was sick of talking. She nodded and murmured something, and waited for the landlady to leave. If the room was so much “theirs” while they were renting it that they were responsible for every spider web woven over their heads, then why did Mrs. Bernath feel so free to come in and out as she pleased?

She was grateful when Mrs. Bernath left, and was even more grateful when she came back five minutes later with a cup of water and two Advils.

The Advil helped her mouth, but not her thoughts. Mali wondered if she should ask Mrs. Bernath again if her mother had called her, but really, what would it help Mali now, even if the answer really was yes? Anyway, Mrs. Bernath probably wouldn’t give her a straight answer.

She tiredly got up and went over to the computer. It was good that in order to work she had to concentrate, and not think about anything else. And Mrs. Rosen was waiting for the photos of her Yanky already, before he’d get his haircut, so that if, chalilah, something didn’t come out exactly as she’d dreamed, she could redo the photos.

Something about his ginger-colored hair was a bit too red, but try as she might, Mali could not make it look natural. She vaguely remembered that her fellow photographers had once discussed this exact issue on an email group, and she decided to send them a question. She scanned the recent posts on the group, and discovered a message that Shira Lev had sent, with a few photos attached. The first photo, which Shira had named “Dream Baby,” really was charming, if rather a typical pose. Mali quickly reviewed the other pictures, and then at the last one, she stopped.

Shira had named the picture, “Behind the Scenes: Grandmother, Mother, and Daughter.” But the young grandmother who, in the picture, was busy pouring lemonade with one hand—Mali could promise that it was lemonade—and holding the tiny baby from the earlier photos, was quite familiar, though the mother sitting on the couch was a total stranger. And Shira Lev’s excellent photographic skills emphasized the objects in the house that were so familiar that it hurt Mali to the point of tears.

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