Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 31 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.
In one of the kitchen drawers he found an invitation to the wedding of Eliezer Monsenego and Rivka Lutati. It was printed in three languages: Hebrew, English, and Spanish, and the wedding had taken place in the Don Josef Plaza in Mexico City one month and one week earlier.
Martin turned the invitation over. There was a phone number for R.S.V.P. He glanced at it for a long moment, toying with his phone as he did. Let’s say he’d call; how would he introduce himself? Why should these people answer a stranger’s questions, especially questions as odd as whether or not someone named Michoel Perl had participated at their wedding, and if they knew of his plans for afterward?
The truth was that he could reach out directly to “Shimon Weisskopf from Boro Park,” as Michoel had instructed his niece Hinda to do in case she couldn’t reach him. Martin had online access on his new phone; he could look up Shimon Weisskopf easily.
There were twelve Weisskopfs listed in Boro Park and the surrounding area, but none of them was named Shimon. If so, it was either a) some type of code word, b) these Weisskopfs were not under the right address, c) they were new there and not listed just yet, or d) Shimon was the son of one of the Weisskopfs that were listed, so his name was not in the telephone listings. And there were surely other possibilities too, which hadn’t come to his mind at that minute.
Maybe the best way was to find that Hinda and ask her directly. But how would he introduce himself to her? What would he say? “I’m the one who’s squatting in your uncle’s house, and I scared you away when you came here”?
He could just ask, without identifying himself.
In the top drawer was a green, worn-out address book. He had no idea what Hinda’s last name was, but how many Hindas could there be? He quickly leafed through the pages and found “Hinda Schorr.” Actually, it said “Shmulik and Hinda Schorr,” but the word “Shmulik” was crossed out with a thick black line. So maybe it wasn’t her, because she had come with her husband.
But there was no other Hinda in the book. Martin put the invitation from Mexico on the desk in front of him, and the address book beside it, opened to the relevant page. He looked at them both. He would try calling Hinda Schorr first, and then Monsenego from Mexico. Which would be more productive?
The phone at the Schorrs’ rang and rang, but no one picked up.
He tried the cell phone number that appeared on the same page; it had been written with a different pen, apparently added in some years later.
“Hello?” said a voice.
“Hello, is this…the Schorrs?”
“Not exactly, but that’s alright, it doesn’t matter. Who are you looking for?”
“Hinda,” he said hesitantly.
“Speaking,” Hinda said. She was sitting alone at one of the round tables, far from the cheerful chatting. It was after bentching, and Simi and her family were taking pictures with each of her sisters’ families. Dov was still standing at the mechitzah; he was speaking to someone she didn’t know. She had nowhere to hurry to right now.
Without even realizing it, Martin switched to English. “I…it’s about Michoel Perl.”
Hinda tensed. “What about him?”
“Well…do you know Shimon Weisskopf from America?”
“The Weisskopfs are relatives. Who are you?”
“Hmm…it doesn’t really matter; I just wanted to ask about them.”
“Weisskopf. Shimon Weisskopf.”
“Shimon?” Hinda repeated slowly. Hershy Weisskopf was her mother’s cousin, and Michoel’s cousin. Maybe Hershy’s younger son’s name was Shimon? Or the second to youngest?
“Yes, yes,” Martin quickly confirmed.
“I don’t really know the bachur himself, but it’s a very good family. The mother is lovely, really warm and friendly. The father learns half a day, and the other half a day he works—he has a business importing baby products…” Hey, maybe Simi would want something for her baby? When Chani had had her baby, Hershy had arranged for some beautiful things to be sent to her, all for amazing prices. The infant seat, the highchair, a set of bottles and pacifiers, clothes and some creams and soaps for the baby… She should ask Simi if she was interested. Maybe she’d do it through Dov.
“Do you have his number?”
“No, I have his father’s number, but at home, and I’m not home right now.” She was quiet for a moment, and then said, “Forgive me for asking, but you noted before that this is related to Michoel Perl. Is…is he the shadchan here?”
She heard a murmur of sorts on the other end of the phone, but could not interpret it.
“I’m sorry for asking, and I don’t mean to pry, but can you tell me if you’ve spoken to Michoel Perl recently? It’s very important for me to know…”
She glanced at the screen. Either the reception here was poor, or something had disconnected on the caller’s end. And she couldn’t call him back, because he had called from a private number.
Martin picked up the invitation. He hadn’t learned much from his conversation with Perl’s niece; maybe the number from Mexico would yield more information.
“Hello, is this the Monsenego residence?”
“No, this is the Lutati family.” It was a deep, male voice with a heavy Spanish accent.
“May I speak English?” Martin asked timorously.
“That’s fine if you’d like..”
“I wanted to ask you, did you send a wedding invitation to a Michoel Perl of Yerushalayim?”
“What? I don’t like such questions, young man. Unless you explain to me who you are and what you want.”
Martin groped for the right words. “I’m…I’m a friend of his.” He could actually say almost everything to this guy. “I live…in his area, and I know that he traveled to Mexico in recent months.”
“And then what? The truth, young man.”
The truth. Why not? Only the truth. “I haven’t seen him lately, and I know he was supposed to be back already. So…I’m trying to find out what’s with him. I’m worried.”
“Okay…so how do you know about Eliezer and Rivka’s wedding?”
“I saw the invitation,” the youth replied, and added, “One time, when I was visiting him.”
“I see. And what is your name?”
Martin blurted out the first name that entered his mind: “Yosef Kirschenbaum.” It was a good, Israeli-flavored name. If he was not mistaken, Yosef Kirschenbaum was the one in charge of the dikduk track at his boarding school, for those boys who were truly fascinated by the machinations of the Hebrew language.
“I see, Yosef Kirschenbaum. So you know that he received an invitation, and he showed it to you. If so, why are you asking if we sent him an invitation?”
“I wanted to know if I got to the right number.”
“Yes. You got to the right number. Any more questions?”
Martin narrowed his eyes. “He came to the wedding?”
“And is he still there? In Mexico?”
“Young man, you call me one fine day and start to badger me with strange questions. I have no idea where Mr. Perl is right now. He was invited by my mechutan, Senor Monsenego, and to the best of my recollection, he came. What he did afterward, I have no idea.”
For a moment, Martin regretted not being the real Yosef Kirschenbaum. He would have surely been enthused by Mr. Lutati’s fluent command of the English language, even if Yosef’s specialty was Hebrew and not English. “You saw him at the wedding, and that’s it?”
“He attended the Shabbos sheva brachos afterward as well.”
“Can I have your mechutan’s phone number?”
“No. I don’t think he’d appreciate me giving over his number to any random person who calls, Mr. Kirschenbaum.”
“Just for a small question, please? It’s important…”
It seemed hopeless, so Martin’s jaw dropped a moment later, when Mr. Lutati slowly recited the number, digit by digit.
Martin thanked him warmly and ended the conversation, antsy to move on to the next step.
But the phone number that he had gotten went straight to a complicated recording, apparently to navigate his call to the right extension—all in Spanish. It sounded like a company or a business of some kind. Martin tried to press all the different numbers and a few combinations. Only after he went from extension to extension, and heard endless recordings and metallic voices in Spanish, did he suddenly get a live voice, and one that actually agreed to switch to English.
“Senor Monsenego? It’s impossible to speak to him by phone. You can make an appointment to meet with him. I see there are a couple of open slots, tomorrow or the next day.”
“But I can’t come in for a meeting!” Martin was nearly shouting by now. “Does he not speak to people from overseas?”
The clerk on the other end seemed taken-aback by the irate answer. “Senor Monsenego is not usually available, unless you make an appointment ahead of time,” he stammered in English. “He’s an important and busy man. Do you want to make a phone appointment with him?”
“Fine. So I won’t speak to him. Maybe you can tell me instead: what’s his connection to Michoel Perl?”
“Wait.” The man put him on hold, and Martin heard a long piece of elevator music. Finally, he heard the voice again. “Senor,” he said, “if you give me your name and number, Senor Monsenego will call you back tomorrow, when he will be in. His secretary will tell him that you called, and he will speak to you. Because he’s a bit worried about Mr. Perl.”