Outside the Bubble – Chapter 23


Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 23 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. 

A few minutes after Martin sat down at the computer again, all the open programs closed down one after another, and the screen went dark. Martin’s hand paused over the keyboard. Something was very strange. It couldn’t be a sudden bug, because the programs wouldn’t close one by one if the shutdown would have been uncontrolled. This was intentional.

Like what was going on in this whole house…

Martin turned around. For the first time since he had arrived, the main timer had also taken control over the computer. It was strange that until now, it had only affected the lights, air conditioner, and curtains, but not the computer. What had changed?

He stood up and walked out of the room. The dining room was lit up, and he descended the stairs quickly but cautiously. No, no one was there, but for a change, the spotlights, which had always been off and unnoticeable, were now glowing brightly. At the same time, Martin heard music from the windows, and he recognized the song heralding the arrival of Shabbos, and the siren.

So that was why the computer had switched off.

He had found tea lights and matches in the kitchen drawer, and he’d planned to light them when it got dark. But if the house was starting to go into Shabbos mode already now, why shouldn’t he play along with this game and light the candles now too?

And if he was going to light them, then maybe he should do it in the pair of candlesticks that caught his eye from the breakfront, alongside a stunning menorah and a set of goblets. If he was here as “master of the house,” he could do this all the way.

With a flourish, he took out the candlesticks and carried them to the table. Grandma used to put her candlesticks at one end of the table, and then she would eat the Shabbos meal with him on the other side. She also had a goblet which she’d drink Coke in—she would call that “Kiddush.” Sometimes she would give him a sip of the “Kiddush,” too. But she’d always watch him carefully as he drank. “I don’t want this goblet to get bent,” she would say. “It was my father’s.”

Hey! Where was that goblet now? And Grandma’s candlesticks?

He had to call Rabbi Eisenthal and find out. It was safe to assume that Israel was not monitoring the phone of his rabbi from Canada. Oh, but the cordless phone probably won’t work now either, he realized. He would check it later. First, he’d light the candles.

There were two wide glass cups on the candlesticks. They were greasy, as if someone had planned to wash them after the last use but had forgotten to do it.

In the drawer in one of the bedrooms, Martin found a few kippot, and he put one on. Then he stuck his candles in the candlesticks and lit them.

Would Grandma say something at this point? Maybe she would say a blessing, but he had no idea what he had to say.

It was alright. The main thing was that he lit.

He moved away from the table and chose the armchair on the left side. He settled into it and gazed at the candles. Now he could drink Coke from a silver goblet all by himself. Truthfully, he had done this “Kiddush” thing at Rabbi Eisenthal’s house one Shabbos, too. But the rabbi had poured wine into the goblet, not Coke.  

Okay, so he would look for some wine.

Then he’d make a Shabbos meal for himself from whatever he could find in the pantry. After eating, he would check what he could do with the computer and the phone, figure out how he could get them to work again.

This sure was a fascinating house. He’d never imagined an older person organizing his house this way. What was that young man from the other week looking for in the home of a quirky old man? Was it a less innocent home than it appeared to be, or was the old man simply a paranoid person, and thus he’d set up his house in this way? Maybe there was a tap on his computer? Or on the phone?

If either was tapped, and Martin would use them now, they would see that these things were being used on Shabbos, and then they would realize that something was not in order.

Martin looked at the candlesticks through squinted eyes, and wondered who the “Hinda” was whose name he had seen on the computer screen. Was she the head of a Mafia of some type, and Perl was afraid of her? He didn’t remember the exact wording of the message, even though he’d seen it so many times. Did the words contain some anxiety? He didn’t think so, but he couldn’t remember. And he had no way, apparently, to check it out until Shabbos ended.

In any case, until tomorrow evening he could probably relax and act like he truly was the master of this house. If the old man was as religious as his house made it seem, he certainly wouldn’t be coming home on Shabbos.

Martin hauled himself up from the armchair and went into the kitchen to search for wine and some other treats for Shabbos.


The spoons reflected her face—upside-down—as Hinda placed them on the tray. She ladled soup into bowls and listened to the singing coming from the dining room. Baruch’s voice blended rather nicely with Dov’s and his son-in-law’s, she decided. But what about Baruch himself? Was he blending in? She wasn’t so sure. Dov tried to make conversation, but Baruch was quiet by nature. He said a clear, short dvar Torah, but beyond that he wasn’t really cooperating with Dov’s efforts to draw him out.

Maybe it had been a mistake for him to come when Dov’s young couple was here. On the other hand, she’d invited him often, and he was the one who chose to come now. It was possible that he preferred to be here with other guests, and not to sit at the Shabbos meal with just the two of them and Yosef.

She felt a little bad about his quiet nature. Baruch hadn’t had a father figure in his life since he was five. Not that she expected him to adopt Dov as a father at the age of twenty-four, but he could let himself go more with the flow, and not be so closed and introverted.

Hinda carried the tray into the dining room. The first bowl was for Dov, of course, and the second was…for whom? There was her Baruch, and Zevi and Penina. Both young men were guests; they both did not live here. True, Zevi was younger than Baruch, as he wasn’t yet twenty-three. But he was a husband and a father, and it seemed to make more sense to serve him first. She set down the bowl and returned to the kitchen to get the next bowl.

Just then Baruch walked into the kitchen. “Ima,” he said quietly, “you are not our servant. Sit—I’ll serve.”

“Go sit down, sweetie,” she replied. “Who said anything about a servant? Am I not allowed to enjoy serving my family the chicken soup that I prepared for Shabbos? Please, it’s only a few bowls!”

“I’m bringing yours,” he said and grabbed the ladle. “You like carrots in it, right?”

“Right.” She smiled. “And after the seudah I’d love to go for a walk with you. I hope we’ll be able to go alone, but if any of the others join, it can still be enjoyable, right?”

“That’s right,” he replied with a smile. Suddenly she realized that even if he didn’t talk much, he did smile quite a lot.

“I hope you’re enjoying being home,” she said. She couldn’t get into a whole conversation with Baruch now—Dov wouldn’t begin his soup until she was seated, and she didn’t want his food to get cold—but there was so much she would have liked to say to her son…

“Yes, he’s nice,” Baruch replied. Hinda wasn’t sure if he meant Dov or his son-in-law, but she had no time to find out. She went back to the table and sat down, waiting for Baruch to serve her soup. But even after she raised her spoon and began to eat, Dov still waited.

Nearly two decades of widowhood had made her forget the exact role of a woman at any given moment, but she still trusted the natural intuition that Hashem had granted her. She waited a moment, not wanted to nudge, but when she saw her husband turning his spoon over and humming Kah Ribbon to himself in a tune that he didn’t usually sing, she looked around. Penina was eating with her left hand; her right was rocking the carriage. Zevi was also eating his soup. And Baruch was just returning to his chair.

Hinda turned to Dov. “Is everything alright with the soup?”

“Everything is excellent,” he said, and, now that everyone was seated and eating, he finally began to eat.

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