Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 37 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.
Yosef stayed in the supply room until three o’clock. When someone from the staff entered—and it happened a few times—he pretended to be looking for something in the drawers, making every effort to appear calm.
When he emerged, glancing furtively in all directions, Ra’ayah, one of the nurses, greeted him with an angry rebuke that Dr. Tennenbaum had been looking for him, and what was this all about, and how could he display such a lack of responsibility? He apologized politely, but she did not seem pacified by his apologies, and they certainly were not going to help the doctor whose shift had already ended. Oh, well. Dr. Tennenbaum was a nice guy who usually complimented him a lot; they got along really well. Now he probably wouldn’t want to be as complimentary.
But what could he do? There are emergency situations in life.
He boarded the bus and headed for home.
Ima did not come to the door when he knocked; Dov was the one who opened it for him after a few long moments. “Ah, Yosef!” He looked surprised. He stood for another moment in the doorway, and then moved aside. “How are you?” he asked. Then, turning to inside the house, he called out, “Hinda, Yosef is here!”
Something about Ima’s expression matched that of her husband. It was a mixture of surprise and worry, and a touch of disapproval. “Is everything alright, Yosef?” she asked. “Are you feeling okay?”
“Yes…” he muttered, heading for the kitchen. If Ima would make him some hot cocoa, that would be great. But he heard unfamiliar noises from the kitchen, and stopped before he reached the door. “Who is in there?”
“Dov’s daughter, who just had a baby, and her husband.”
“I thought she went home already.”
“It’s her sister.” Hinda smiled. “And I made a really delicious lunch. Do you want to eat?”
“What, with them?” He pointed to the kitchen with his chin. It was quiet now; they were probably sitting and listening to every word. “I can eat in the dining room.”
Ima didn’t say, “What are you talking about? You’re going to eat with everyone.” Instead she said, “No problem. Go wash your hands, and I’ll bring you soup. With noodles and croutons, right?”
“Yes.” He dragged his feet toward the bathroom. There was an impressive baby carriage parked in the hallway, and he studied it. Last week, it had been a baby girl, and she was always dressed in pink. Now, it was a boy, with a blue outfit, and he was whimpering quietly. Should he stick the pacifier into his mouth? Maybe it wasn’t a good idea. Ima was very strict about him washing his hands with soap when he came back from work in the hospital, and he still hadn’t done that.
He washed his hands and came out of the bathroom. The baby was crying louder now, and Yosef leaned over him. Where was the pacifier? “Where is your pacifier?” he asked. Instead of an answer, someone came from behind and tugged at the carriage.
“Excuse me,” the young man said, without looking at him. “I’ll bring him to my wife.”
“I wanted to give him a pacifier. He’s crying.”
“I know,” the man said, still not looking at him. “Thanks, it’s fine. His mother will give him a pacifier.” He smiled a strange smile, and then, when he was standing about six feet away, he said, “I’m Binyamin. Nice to meet you. Uh…it’s not a good idea to get too close to a tiny baby, okay?”
Yosef didn’t introduce himself, or say that likewise, he was pleased to meet the man. He looked at this Binyamin for another minute as he wheeled the carriage into the kitchen. Then he turned to the dining room and sank into the chair next to Ima, who had served him a bowl of soup.
“Thank you,” he said, gazing at his reflection in the spoon. “These people aren’t nice, by the way.” He poured croutons into his bowl. “The other couple was fine, but whatever. It doesn’t matter.”
It had been an exhausting excursion, and worse—it had led to nothing. From Yerushalayim to Haifa, from Hinda’s house to Rambam Hospital, and then back to her house. He didn’t go upstairs the second time; his futile tour of Haifa had drained him of the courage to face Michoel’s relatives and admit that he had been deceiving them for days on end, and perhaps they had lost precious time as a result. He left them a note in the mailbox with his phone number and the words: It would be a good idea for us to talk. Now the ball was in their court.
He headed back to Yersushalayim.
Martin walked up the path leading to the house, carrying a case of RC Cola. He listened for a moment to hear that everything was in order, and opened the door. He walked in and glanced around as he usually did, but everything was quiet.
But on the second floor, near the computer, someone was waiting for him.
“Good afternoon, Martin.” The man smiled and stood up, proffering a hand.
Martin stared at the man, wide-eyed and wordless.
“You can sit down,” the man said to him. “Take a chair from the other room. I’m waiting for you here.”
Martin finally found his voice. “And if I don’t want to?”
“You don’t have to talk to me,” the man said, his eyes fixed on the screen ahead. “But allow me to predict that this conversation will only benefit you.”
“Your voice… We’ve spoken before,” Martin said, with undisguised contempt.
“I see that you have a good memory,” the man complimented him. “So, do you remember who I am?”
Martin didn’t drop his gaze. “I don’t really care.”
The man laughed. “Okay, I’ll continue to work here. I just hope you don’t have any complaints against me that I intruded into a stranger’s house, yes? If you want to hear what I have to say to you—let me know.”
Martin left the room and walked over to the glass doors by the porch. He looked out, but he did not see any of this character’s men downstairs waiting for an order to arrest him. Of course, though, he realized, such an order could come at any given moment, even if he didn’t see anyone.
He went back to the computer room. “When will you give the order to arrest me?” he asked.
“Order to arrest you?” The man laughed again and moved the computer screen closer to the wall, so that he could see Martin’s face better. “Why, what did you do that deserves an arrest?”
“In your view, I caused two Arabs to be run over, intentionally.” Martin leaned on the wall. “Is that not enough?”
“If we are finally getting into the conversation for which I made the effort to come here,” Yaron Kornblit said, standing up, “then maybe we should go downstairs and do this calmly, in the living room, alright? I see that Perl has a pretty good couch.”
“Seems like you’ve toured the house.” The man could mock his invasion of this house, but he really felt like his territory was being invaded without permission!
“Uh-huh,” Kornblit said with a smile. He left the room and turned to the stairs. Martin followed, but when he reached the bottom of the staircase, he didn’t go into the living room. Instead, he turned to the kitchen, where he jerkily took two cups out of the cabinet, and tore the plastic wrap around the case of cola that he’d left on the floor there.
“Here,” he said, entering the living room, where Mr. Kornblit was already sitting comfortably. He set the soda can down on the table with a thud.
Yaron Kornblit sipped his drink quietly, and then put the empty cup on the floor near the sofa. “Look,” he said, looking straight at Martin. “Let’s erase what was, okay? You came to Israel, you got a bit too enthusiastic about the politics and the mess, and you joined some radical, right-wing youths and were a candidate for deportation. We’ll erase that, okay?”
Martin didn’t react.
“At one point, you hit—I want to believe unintentionally—two Arabs, and you were suspected of attempted murder. They weren’t killed; one is completely recovered, and the other is in the advanced stages of recovery.”
“I hit?!” Martin stared at the man. “As if I was the driver! I tried to turn the wheel at the last second, when Rudy fell asleep! I tried to prevent the accident, not make it happen!”
“Very possible,” Kornblit said, in a bored tone. “But because we are erasing this incident from your file in any case, these details are irrelevant.”
“Erase?” Martin didn’t plan on believing any of this for a moment. “As far as you’re concerned, I can go back to school?”
“For my part, yes. The problem is that I don’t decide alone. I came here on my own initiative, and I’m not authorized to erase everything.”
Martin stood up and began to pace around the dining room. He faced Mr. Perl’s large china closet, and saw his distorted image reflecting back at him from the base of a candlestick. “So what is it?” he finally asked, turning to his guest. “What did you come to tell me? I don’t get it.”
“I came to offer you to cooperate with me.”
The boy looked at him. “Meaning?”
“If you are able to join your group of friends, that would be great for us. It—”
“To be an agent for you guys? No thanks.”
“Don’t say ‘you guys.’” Kornblit filled his cup again. “I told you I’m here on my own.”
“And how do you think I’m supposed to do such a thing, anyway? I got them annoyed, big time.”
“What, as Shadow? You for sure were like a leech, I have to say. I enjoyed reading your correspondence each time. But now you can tell them that you were afraid, and wanted to throw us off your tail, and that’s why you wrote what you wrote. We can guide you each step of the conversation; you’ll see how they will believe you. We have excellent experience.”
“Training spies? Wait a minute, first you were speaking in your own name, and now you’re back to the plural.” Martin’s eyes smoldered. “In any case, I don’t care whether you are speaking for yourself or for others; I’m not a disgusting collaborator!”
Kornblit looked rather amused. “I’ve done some homework about you, you know. I understand that in Canada, you did cooperate with the law against your friends, which is why you panicked at the idea of being deported there.”
“That’s not true.” Martin pressed his lips together in a thin, firm line. “It was all a story. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
“And if you’ll be deported, what will you do?”
“It’s better this way, when you threaten me and show me who you really are.” Martin sat down again, taking care to keep a distance from the man. “If you deport me, I’ll go to America. With my visa, I can get in there as well.”
“And what will you do there?”
Martin laughed. “I’ll start again from scratch.”
“Wouldn’t that be a shame?” Kornblit shifted toward him, ignoring the boy’s intentional retreat. “You were in Canada, you got thrown out of school, hooked up with some street gang, got messed up with the law, and got shipped out here. And it all happened again, just in the reverse order—you got hooked up with the street gangs, you got in trouble with the law, got thrown out of school, and you’re about to get thrown out of the country again… You plan to start it all over again? Aren’t you starting to bore yourself with this life?”
“Each one and the life that G-d ordains for him,” the boy said philosophically.
“Oh, you’ve started mentioning G-d? There are a few important things that He tells man. Do you know about them, or do you use Him only when it works for you?”
“Can I help you with anything else, sir?”
“Certainly. What about Michoel Perl? It seems that you’re trying to find him.”
The boy, who was walking to the door, turned around at once. “How do you know?”
Martin was quiet.
“Nu, did you find anything interesting?”
Martin scowled. “Check it out the same way you found out that I’m looking for him.”