Outside the Bubble – Chapter 21


Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 21 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. 

“He’s always been very caring, my uncle.” Hinda’s voice held a sad note as Dov turned the pages of the album. The album began when the twins were five and Mali was a year old. “After I was widowed, he decided that if I would not take photos of the kids, he’d do it. I didn’t have a camera at home, so he would come every so often with his, and snap photos of whatever he thought was interesting.” She looked at the second album Dov had picked up. There, the twins were nine, and the photo on the first page was a memento of their outing to Ganei Yehoshua.

“Here, he already had a digital camera.” She smiled at the memory. “He wanted me to take a picture of him and the twins together, but I couldn’t figure out how to use the thing, so Chani took the pictures. They actually came out nice.”

“It is a nice picture,” Dov said, as he studied Yosef’s checkered shirt in the picture. “I see that they aren’t wearing matching clothes in every picture.”

“Right. When they were babies, I still tried, but later, I saw that I’m not cut out to put my energies into this kind of thing.”

“Yes,” he replied. “By the way, my Simi also stopped matching her twins when they began kindergarten. She said then that she wants to emphasize their individuality.”

“It’s cute, matching clothes,” Hinda said, with a wistfulness in her tone. “But I kept hearing that same idea from other mothers: the importance of keeping twins different from each other. Whatever the case, Yosef and Baruch are so different anyway that no matching clothes would have made them more similar, if you know what I mean.”

“Different internally, you mean.”

“Externally, too,” Hinda said. “I agree they have some similarities in their looks, but they’re minor.”

Minor similarities?” Dov raised an eyebrow. “Those boys are almost identical, Hinda! The eyes, the mouth, the ears, the hand movements…”

Hinda shrugged. “Not in my eyes. I know it often happens that strangers—I mean, people who are less involved in raising the kids, see similarities in twins that the mother herself cannot see. Believe me, I need to make an effort to see any similarities between those two boys.”

“What can I tell you…” He smiled and turned the page. In the next picture, the twins were wearing Shabbos clothes and standing on a large balcony, with typical Yerushalayim scenery in the background. But while Yosef was wearing a blue vest (Hinda had told him that blue was Yosef’s favorite color), Baruch was wearing a gray sweater.

“Oh, that picture was taken at Chani’s bas mitzvah.” Hinda opened the window of the living room. “We celebrated it in Michoel’s house. He ordered food, we went to the Kosel, and Chani invited three friends; she was thrilled.” She took in a deep breath. “You have to realize that because of all this caring, his disappearances were always stark.”

It was ten-thirty at night. Penina’s husband, Zevi, suddenly knocked at the door and came in. He had few inhibitions, and Hinda appreciated that. His loud, “Hello, hello!” filled the house, and Penina emerged from the room to greet him. Hinda had no idea if she’d just woken up, or if she’d been awake and just didn’t want to disturb them as they leafed through family albums together.

“She’s grown a lot since the day before yesterday!” Zevi announced, as he gazed adoringly at his tiny daughter, nestled in her mother’s arms, fast asleep.

“How are you, Zevi?” Dov asked.

“Tired.” His son-in-law chuckled. “And a little bit hungry. I didn’t go to my mother today to rest, because I wanted to finish what I was learning. So I didn’t eat all that much since this morning either.”

“So let’s get you some food now.” Dov clapped him on the back. “We have some leftovers from our supper. Is that good with you, or should I make you a sandwich instead?”

Penina also came into the kitchen. “He’s not picky, Abba,” she said.

Hinda went to heat up the food. “I’m making you a plate too, Penina, alright?” she asked.

“Great, thank you.”

No one saw the tiny smile they exchanged, because it was going to be Penina’s second supper for the day. She’d eaten the first one at seven, when Hinda thought she might be hungry.

When the food was ready, Dov set out everything on plates. He put the albums on top of the fridge. “Come, Penina,” he urged his daughter. “Wash. I’ll hold Batsheva so you can sit down to eat with your husband.”

“I’ll take her.” Hinda wiped her hands and took the baby. She went out to the living room, leaving the kitchen territory to her husband’s family. With one hand, she turned the armchair toward the window, and sat down to face the view. The port was far off, and not so clear at night, but its twinkling lights were relaxing even when visibility was poor. Somewhere out there, she was able to discern the horizon of the sea, which ended in Acco, and she looked out and took a few deep breaths. One, and then another.

She was allowed to seek out a bit of quiet for herself. Yosef would be home in less than an hour. His shift ended at eleven today, and she needed a lot of emotional energy for him. He was still a bit wary of Dov, and he completely ignored Zevi. For his part, Zevi didn’t try too hard to draw Yosef out. She wasn’t complaining, of course. She had only admiration for the young man who had traveled the Bnei Brak-Haifa route so many times this week because it was important for his young wife, but it did not change the fact that Yosef was less calm. She needed strength to smooth Yosef’s supercharged arrival home. And she was now praying wordlessly to be granted that strength.

“Am I disturbing?” she suddenly heard a young voice ask from behind her.

“Not at all.” Hinda smiled and took one last, calming breath before turning her head carefully, so as not to wake the sleeping baby.

Another chair appeared next to hers.

“They began to talk about the sugya that Zevi is learning in kollel; I don’t think they even noticed that I left the kitchen…” Penina giggled. Then, in a different tone, she remarked, “We might go home next week. Zevi is not saying anything, but it’s not normal to live this way, with him making this very long trip almost every day.”

“He’ll stay now till after Shabbos, right?”

“Yes. I’m not sure if we should go back to Bnei Brak on Motza’ei Shabbos, or if I should stay a few more days. My sisters will help me, I’m sure.” She was quiet for a long moment. “But they are pretty busy themselves. I have no idea how I’ll manage…”

“Every new mother feels this pressure,” Hinda replied quietly. “It really isn’t easy. I remember the day I came home after my oldest, Avigdor, was born. I spent a week and a half at my mother’s house, and then we came home. I think I cried for two days straight, in sheer frustration and helplessness…” She smiled. “But slowly, I learned about him, and he learned about me, and we got used to our new lives.”

She looked at Penina. “You don’t have to be so worried, Penina. You take wonderful care of Batsheva. You’re going to be okay. I’m not saying this to persuade you to go home because having you is hard for me, or anything like that. If anything, I’m enjoying having you here! But at one point, you will have to get back to normal life, and it’s better that you shouldn’t be so afraid of it.”

“I’m not afraid of normal life…” Penina’s voice was low. “I also think I can manage to take care of my baby. But going home…” She paused. “You’ve never been in my apartment. I want you to come once, with Abba. It’s a cute apartment, in Kiryat Herzog, and our bedroom has this little alcove. When we came to see the apartment before we signed the contract, my mother-in-law said to me, ‘How nice—it’s perfect for a closet!’ but my mother said, ‘No, it’s a place for a cradle, b’ezras Hashem!’”

She gazed out onto the horizon, and her eyes filled. “Now there’s a cradle there. Zevi ran to get one from a gemach, two hours after I gave birth. He also stocked the house with diapers and pacifiers and bottles and formula and bottle brushes, and little baby combs, and two types of nail scissors, and three types of baby shampoo. Based on his descriptions, we’re going to have to buy a new closet just for all this paraphernalia…” She smiled through her tears. “But he put the cradle in that alcove, like my mother had said. He told me about it, and thought I’d be happy. But I…I can’t go home and see it there. I think it’s better to just put the cradle in the dining room, and that’s it. The dining room is anyway right near the door to our bedroom.”

Hinda laid an arm on Penina’s shoulder. “It’s going to be fine, b’ezras Hashem,” she said gently. “It’s not easy at first, but time has a way of doing things. Don’t worry too much about this either, Penina.”

Penina sniffed. “You know,” she whispered, looking down at her hands, “at first, I didn’t want my father to get remarried at all. Then Simi persuaded me that if he would be happy, it would be good for all of us. Now I see that it’s good for me also, before I even think about him…”


—Hinda, if you don’t reach me for more than two months, be in touch with Shimon Weisskopf of Boro Park.—

—Hinda, if you don’t reach me for more than two months, be in touch with Shimon Weisskopf of Boro Park.—

—Hinda, if you don’t reach me for more than two months, be in touch with Shimon Weisskopf of Boro Park.—

Martin folded his arms and leaned forward, reading the reminder that kept popping up. Whatever he tried to do to get rid of the message was futile. He tried to close the window, opened old mail items, and tried to change the settings. But the reminders kept popping up, once every ten seconds.

Then he laughed at his own foolishness, and opened the reminder options. There, he cancelled the reminder, but managed to see that the reminders folder still had more than ten thousand items, and they all had the same message:

—Hinda, if you don’t reach me for more than two months, be in touch with Shimon Weisskopf of Boro Park.—

—Hinda, if you don’t reach me for more than two months, be in touch with Shimon Weisskopf of Boro Park.—

Finally, he found a way to close them all, and then he leaned back. Okay, Shimon Weisskopf of Boro Park. He’d remember that. But the man from Boro Park was not as big a threat to him as this anonymous Hinda, to whom the message was addressed. Was she supposed to come here to read it? Likely. Based on the way Mr. Perl had set up the strange systems in this house, it looked like he knew what he was doing. It was safe to assume that this Hinda needed to get here at one point. This was not a message sent to a different email address. It was a reminder for whoever was sitting here, in front of this computer.

For now, she wasn’t here. But what about Mr. Perl himself?

Later, he told himself, he would sit and read the rest of the messages that Perl had received in the last two to three months. Perhaps they would help him glean some information about the mysterious man who lived in this house. But before that, he had to contact one of his friends, and this was an excellent opportunity.

Martin typed in Dan’s email address, wondering how to word the message so that anyone following his friends’ inboxes would not identify the sender. First of all, those who were looking for him would not dream that he would write in Hebrew, so that’s exactly what he would do.

He typed and deleted, tried again, and then regretted it, until finally, he looked at the pair of sentences he’d managed to compose, and felt very foolish. But what could he do—right now, this was the best he could muster.

—Dan, I heard about your party that ended in a bad way because of the accident. I think the driver and the boy next to him weren’t to blame at all, because it was unintentional.—

A few minutes passed, and then a new message popped into the inbox.

—Very upsetting. The driver is alright, and we hope that the one who sat next to him is also okay.—

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