Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 38 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.
Simi’s manners were impeccable, to be sure. She offered her courteous thanks, like one thanks a waitress in a restaurant, adding a compliment about how tasty the food was, yet she collected her own dishes from the table. Even when Hinda objected, she insisted on doing so, but when it came to wiping down the tablecloth, she relented, smiled, and went with her husband to their room.
“The food really was excellent,” Dov said, as he wiped down the tablecloth himself. “Did you even eat, Hinda?”
“A little bit,” she replied. “I don’t have much of an appetite.”
“That’s not good,” he protested. “You need strength. Hosting these new mothers one after the other…it’s not so easy.” He squinted for a moment, and Hinda imagined that he was recalling the other times that his previous home had hosted his daughters after birth, and the other person who had been hovering and catering to them.
Hinda did not hover over Simi; she didn’t think Simi would appreciate that. Penina had seemed more hungry for her company, and Hinda had tried to give her what she could in that sense. It wasn’t always easy for her to forego her privacy, but she did make the effort.
It hurt to admit it, but Michoel was right. He’d been right then, and he was right now.
Her nature was to seek out quiet and privacy; she wanted to just remain ensconced in her own personal space. Loud surroundings irritated her. She had worked on this for years, and with great effort, and tried to ask polite questions of interest to the women who opened the door for her. She was surprised to discover how most of them responded to her casual interest. She would ask, chat, listen, nod, and just try to focus on what they had to say, without mixing in her own thoughts and opinions.
These days, it went much more smoothly. But there were those people—Simi’s type—that made it very complicated.
Well, wasn’t that what each person was here in the world for? To work on what was difficult?
Hinda didn’t knock on Simi’s door, which had been double locked (she’d heard the bolt clicking into place). Even if her role was to perform the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim to the ultimate extent, that did not include being a nudnik who pushed herself into places where she was not wanted. She prepared a tray with a pitcher of juice, cups, and slices of a cake she’d bought, and sent Dov to knock on Simi’s door with it.
She tied up the large, bulging garbage bag. “Yosef?” she called out. “Can you come here, please?”
“Is it the guy from the Emergency Room?” Yosef called back, sounding sleepy.
“The Emergency Room?” Hinda was puzzled. “Did someone from work look for you?”
“Maybe…” His voice sounded even sleepier. “Tell him that I waited for him in the supply room with an oxygen tank. Let him try starting up with me! Just let him try!”
“Who are you talking about?”
Yosef didn’t answer. She peeked into the dining room and saw him reclining on the armchair, his head lolling backward as he dozed.
She picked up the garbage bag herself to take down to the dumpster, wondering about Yosef’s remarks. He had been talking in his sleep, but she was not sure his words were based entirely on a dream.
When she returned to the stairwell, she noticed something peeking out of the mailbox. It was a paper—a rather dusty one, with shoeprints on it. As if someone had found a paper on the sidewalk and stuck it into their mailbox. What was the message scrawled on it?
It would be a good idea for us to talk.
She raised an eyebrow and then tried calling the number. There was no answer.
As she entered the kitchen to tackle the dishes, her phone rang.
“Hello?” she answered the call.
“Hi,” said a young female voice hesitantly. “Is-is this Mrs. Vilensky?”
“Rebbetzin Werner told me to call you…” The woman was quiet for a moment. “She said that you might be able to help me.”
“If I can, I’d be glad to.” Hinda squirted some dish soap onto a sponge.
“My name is Chaya Cohen…” Was that a tremor in the young woman’s voice? “I remarried a year and a half ago. I…I need some advice.”
Kornblit was like a leech as he followed Martin into the kitchen. He didn’t talk; he just stood and observed as Martin fried an omelet for himself. Then he followed him up the stairs and watched the youth sit down at the computer with a dry roll from yesterday. Martin ignored him and opened the email.
Tomorrow was the clothing sale for needy families, arranged by Michoel Perl. Martin was considering popping in there. The question was how much more complicated his life would get now because of this guy who had pushed himself into the picture.
Martin didn’t want to show how irritated he was, so he hummed to himself a tune he’d made up just then, and studied the screen closely. He didn’t look in the direction of the man standing in the room, pacing a bit. Meanwhile, Korblit opened some drawers and rifled through the papers inside.
“You have a good connection with this guy, or what?” he finally asked, after fifteen minutes of absolute silence.
“Very.” Martin was terse.
“And he didn’t tell you where he was going?”
Kornblit stopped pacing. He leaned on the doorpost and looked at the boy. “Okay, I’m going,” he said suddenly.
“Will two days of thinking about it be enough?”
“Thinking about what?”
“About my offer.”
“To become your agent? To tattle on my former friends?”
“That’s not what I said, if you recall. I said to join your friends again, get back into their group.”
“Oh,” Martin sneered. “What for? Because you want me to continue being a troublemaker? Are you bored when I’m not out there?”
The man didn’t respond to the question itself. “I think you are very edgy right now, Martin, so you are not even letting me share the details of the proposal. Let’s say two days, okay? Take my number. If you have sweet dreams tonight and get up tomorrow in a good mood, maybe you’ll decide to call.”
Martin wanted to say, “Never,” but then he thought that these two days could serve him rather well. First of all, he’d be able to go and observe Perl’s sale tomorrow, and besides that—as Rabbi Eisenthal had once told him—it’s not worth losing too much over ego games.
Not that he was playing ego games here; collaborating with this guy was not something he’d ever do. But maybe his proposal wasn’t really about being a disgusting traitor? Maybe it was a bit different…
“Fine,” he muttered.
“Do you want to hear now what my plan is?”
“No, I prefer to eat my dinner in peace.”
Kornblit chuckled. “You’ve got blood, kiddo, huh? Fine. Eat in peace for two days. We’ll talk after that. Just remember that I won’t be able to extend that period of time. As it is, I am hiding a few things from my colleagues on the team.” He left the room and headed for the stairs, but a moment later, doubled back and came in again.
“Hearty appetite!” he called, and then disappeared.
The corridor was long and dark.
He actually felt stronger tonight, as if that fog that had been lodged in his brain for a long time already had moved aside a bit.
What was this, a mental hospital or a geriatric center? He didn’t dare enter any other rooms, so he couldn’t find out for sure. Was he in the former Soviet Union, where they forcibly hospitalized healthy people in mental institutions?
Here and there, he felt pain in his head and his limbs, but he didn’t think he had any mental issues. Why was he here? He was functioning, walking, talking; what had happened? True, his heart was beating a bit rapidly, but if he was not mistaken, that was an old problem, something his doctor had mentioned to him two years earlier. Dr. Dvir had given him an excellent pill for that…what was it called? It didn’t really matter; he was thousands of miles away from his doctor right now.
He hadn’t taken the pills they gave him here since last night. Only yesterday had it dawned on him that he was better off not taking any medicine from them until he could figure out who they were and what they were doing.
He hadn’t said anything to them. Often, direct talking didn’t glean much information. He actually considered himself to be a direct person, in general. Apparently, until now, things in his life had worked well with him being direct, even though Hinda often claimed that he had to know how to say things so that people should hear them the way he meant them.
In this case, she was right. He had to continue playing their game, but it was not clear what the rules were, and he felt too old for such adventures.
And also quite hungry.
Oops—the corridor came to an end here. And there was a nurses’ station.
One of the nurses stood up and looked at him. “Grandpa?” she asked in English, with a heavy Southern accent. “Is everything okay? Why are you wandering around in the middle of the night?”
“My head hurts,” he replied, after a moment’s thought. “Maybe I need an apple or something; that would probably help me. I also wanted some fresh air. Can I go outside, perhaps?”
“It’s better not to,” she said amiably. “But we can ask the doctor tomorrow. Come, let’s find you an apple, and I’ll give you something for the headache. Take it, and you’ll see that within a few minutes, the pain will pass and you’ll fall asleep.”
“Okay,” he said obediently. She walked him back to the room, poured him a cup of warm water, and made sure that he swallowed the pill. And she looked very pleased. As pleased as Hinda’s Yosef and Baruch had looked when he’d showed them his sleight of hand, the way he’d pretend to swallow something and then open his fingers to show it was still there…