Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 15 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.
Someone tugged him forcefully into the light. A dark-skinned face smiled at him. “Good, he’s coming to. You’re alright, aren’t you?” The Ethiopian paramedic measured his blood pressure and murmured, “Much better now.”
“What’s this?” Martin asked when a device was handed to him.
“A breathalyzer. Measure, please—do you know how?”
“I didn’t drink!” Martin looked around him. He was in an open-doored ambulance, based on what he could see. The ambulance was standing in the middle of a road, and he could see the streetlights from the open door. There was a big tumult outside.
“Makes no difference. Just do it.”
“And I wasn’t the driver!”
“These are the rules,” someone else, sitting on the bench that ran along the wall of the ambulance, explained. Martin looked at him and felt like he was sitting on the biggest carousel in the local amusement park in Sudbury. “You’re a policeman,” he said, and closed his eyes again.
There was a momentary pause in the noise, and voices outside, and then he heard a cry: “The pulse is coming back; keep going!”
“Are you with me?” the paramedic asked, touching Martin’s chin as if he were a little boy. “Breathe here. Your name is Martin, right?”
Martin did not reply.
“Clean,” the policeman’s voice said. “Interesting. The guys in the back had been drinking, and he and the driver are both clean.”
“He…the driver…he was very tired.” Martin shifted on the hard stretcher. “He wanted me to tell him stories so he wouldn’t fall asleep, but the guys in the back were making me laugh, and I couldn’t remember anything interesting to say over… And then they asked where we were, probably because they saw a few Arabs. It was next to the Bell Park…” His voice faded. “There were two people on the sidewalk,” he added, with effort, as he dug the fingernails of his right hand into his left forearm.
“That’s right,” the policeman agreed. Outside, he heard a call: “Oh no! The pulse is gone!”
“The pulse…” Martin murmured.
“You’re going to be fine,” the kind paramedic said encouragingly, as he applied something to Martin’s forehead. “It’s just a surface wound. The problem with your pulse is only because of the trauma.”
Wails and screams filled the air, and the policeman tensed. “Maybe we should move,” he called to the cab of the vehicle. “What are we waiting for?”
“He’s in the other unit, and I think he’s fine,” the policeman said. “I saw him. He doesn’t even need to be taken in. So who is coming with us?”
“Them,” a voice said from the door, and two of Dan’s friends were thrust inside. They sat down on the bench, appearing to be in utter shock. Another policeman climbed in and took a seat next to them, and the doors of the ambulance slammed shut behind him.
“You don’t look too bad,” one of the youths said to Martin, with a lopsided smile. “What happened to you?”
“Dunno.” Martin coughed, feeling like something was stuck in his throat. “You can see better than me. But what’s going on down there?”
“I’m not sure. Seems that it was a grandfather and grandson. They took the boy to the hospital in the first ambulance that came. The grandfather…”
“They’re working on him now,” the paramedic said in a pleasant tone. “Let’s hope they are successful. How do you feel, Martin?”
“Dunno…” Martin said again. He put a trembling hand to the bandage on his head. “I think I might throw up.”
“Concussion?” the policeman who had been there first asked the paramedic.
“I won’t give a diagnosis before he is properly examined in the hospital. So, can we get a move on? Ari?”
“Yes,” the driver replied from the front, his voice nearly drowned out by the roar of the engine.
The emergency room at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital was not particularly busy that night, and Martin was taken without delay for a series of tests. First came routine blood tests, then he had stitches for the long cut on his forehead. When that was done, he was taken for a CT scan of the head.
“You’re going back to the emergency room now,” the technician at the radiology department told him. “In about half an hour, the doctors will come to you with the results, okay? Then they’ll decide if you’ll be admitted or released. Where is Albert, who brought you in?”
“I can probably walk. I don’t need to be taken in a wheelchair,” Martin protested. He felt a little better; in fact, besides for the cut, which was stinging, and a mild heaviness in his head, he felt almost normal.
“Those are the rules here,” the technician said. “Albert? Are you coming?”
Albert wasn’t the issue. The problem was the policeman who went everywhere with them. He sat on an armchair in the empty waiting room in the radiology center, like a devoted relative, and leaped to his feet the minute Martin’s wheelchair appeared in the doorway.
“It’s like I’m a terrorist who got injured while trying to carry out an attack,” Martin muttered aloud, in English. He didn’t know why he chose to speak English, but there was an element of not wanting the policeman to understand him easily.
The policeman disappointed him. “Not at all,” he replied, in decently fluent English. “I’ve only accompanied a terrorist to the hospital once, and we were six officers to one patient. He was also handcuffed.”
Martin looked at his free hands, and turned them over pointedly. “I appreciate that,” he said, finally. “So, here the police come with everyone who was in a car accident?”
“It happens a lot, yes. Depends on the circumstances.”
They arrived back at the emergency room, to the bed that had become “his.” The light had been dimmed, but Martin didn’t even try to fall asleep. The policeman dragged his chair over to Martin’s bed and dozed off. Every few seconds, his head nodded off, while Martin kept shifting positions. His bones ached no matter which position he was in.
The curtain was suddenly pulled aside, and Gavriel, one of the passengers from the back seat, peeked inside from the next bed over. “I have a broken finger,” he said in a low tone. “That’s all. The other two seem to be fine. But what’s with Rudy? Did he come here?”
“They said at the scene that he didn’t have to.”
“He’s probably down at the police station being questioned. Poor guy. I hope he gets off easy.”
“He shouldn’t have been driving,” Martin whispered. “It’s not okay to kill people because of carelessness.”
“I think that the old man is alive, if you’re worried,” Gavriel said. “I heard the nurses saying earlier that he came to the trauma center, and from there, they hurried him into surgery.”
“Good.” Martin couldn’t find a more appropriate response.
“I hope they let me out of here fast. There’s anyway nothing more they can do for the broken finger now that they’ve set it. What’s with you?”
“I think they were worried about a concussion.”
“Oh.” Gavriel laughed and glanced pointedly at the policeman sleeping next to Martin’s bed. “I guess you can expect a few more hours of his company, huh?”
“You have someone, too?”
“Yes, one guy who’s in charge of me, Udi, and Amichai. Now he’s going for a CT scan with Udi because he complained that his head hurts.”
“He’s been released.”
The policeman shifted a bit, and Martin fell silent. Gavriel hurried to pull the curtain back, and the policeman got up. “How do you feel?” he asked in a friendly tone. Had he just pretended to be sleeping and had really listened to every word?
Well, if he’d been listening in, it was fine. There were no secrets.
“I’m okay…” Martin murmured.
“Good, I’m going to make a coffee for myself. Do you want one, too?”
“I don’t have money…hey, where is my wallet? And my papers? They must have been left in Rudy’s car.”
“Don’t worry, they will find them for you, I’m sure. And the coffee is on the house. Cappuccino with whipped cream?”
The policeman left, and Gavriel peeked in again. “At least you got a nice guy.”
“Sure, nice.” Martin scowled. “Why do I have a private bodyguard, and you don’t?”
“I heard something.” Gavriel lowered his voice even more. “Right after we got here and the doctor went in to check you. I heard your ‘babysitter’ standing outside the curtain, talking to our guy.”
“We were sitting in the back.” Gavriel sounded almost apologetic. “You were in the front. Near Rudy. And you touched the steering wheel.”
Yosef had been making himself scarce since Penina had come. Beforehand, he would make the effort to come home for his lunch break to eat with Hinda, but that seldom happened now. He came home late in the evening after work and the short shiur he tried to attend, and closeted himself in his room. Only when no one was in the kitchen besides Hinda did he emerge—like now, at half past one at night.
The night before, at a similar hour, Dov had come into the kitchen, bleary-eyed. Perhaps he was trying to repay Hinda in kind; she was being so good to his Penina, so it would be nice if he did something for her Yosef, spent some quality time with him. But Yosef had beaten a hasty retreat from the kitchen. “It’s better that I shouldn’t disturb those few moments he has with you, eh?” Dov had asked Hinda the next morning.
Hinda shook her head. “The house is yours, too” she’d said calmly, “and Yosef knows that. And it gives him a sense of security and peace. It’s alright for him to pay for that with a little bit of his privacy.”
“I don’t want him to feel like it’s too steep a price.” Dov had smiled. “Besides, I don’t usually function too well at those hours, Hinda. I was just trying to be nice, but I definitely prefer to be sleeping at that time.”
Now Dov was fast asleep, and Hinda prepared the decaf coffee for her son that he liked.
“He’s good,” Yosef said suddenly. “He’s alright, your husband.”
Hinda smiled and set the cup down, wiping her hands on her floral apron before taking a seat at the table. “You’re usually a bit more wordy, Yosef,” she noted. “But I understand what you’re trying to say: that you are comfortable around him, and everything is fine.”
“Yes, that’s what I meant.”
“Have you met his son-in-law yet?” his mother asked.
“The baby’s father?”
“He’s hardly here.”
“That’s right. He preferred to return to Bnei Brak, to be near his kollel.”
“I saw him once. He’s also alright. Maybe not like Dov, but he’s good too.”
Hinda made a mental note to compliment Penina the next morning on her husband’s gentle demeanor, as he had surely been kind and considerate to Yosef, if her son was saying that he was “alright” and “good.” On the other hand, Yosef was a taboo subject when it came to most people. Hinda didn’t talk about him to Penina, just like Penina didn’t talk about her deceased mother to her. After all, even among close relatives, you don’t talk about everything. And that is so much more the case when the topic in question involves sensitive issues…