Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 39 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.
Hinda didn’t know if “Chaya Cohen” was a real name or not. The young woman talked and talked, hardly giving Hinda a chance to respond. Hinda scrubbed the soup pot, every so often inserting an “Uh-huh” or “Really…” But suddenly, Chaya’s rush of words stopped.
Then, after a long moment of quiet, Chaya added, “A support group doesn’t work for me, because I’m not the type who can sit and talk about these things in front of a few women. But I do feel that I need to do something with myself, because I don’t want to reach the point where I’ll need to say, ‘It’s either me or them.’”
“You won’t need to, b’ezras Hashem,” Hinda replied. She was unable to understand why Rebbetzin Werner had given her phone number to this woman. Their lives were so different, no matter which angle you looked at it from. Which part of her life experience could help Chaya? Her challenges, it seemed, were of another nature entirely.
“Do you think so?” Chaya’s voice was laced with a sense of despair.
“I think that such a remark comes from a very pained and hurt place,” Hinda said, and despite various challenges and issues on all fronts, Simi’s image was the one that suddenly popped into her mind. “I think it comes from a sad, harsh place, and if you wouldn’t be in such a place, you wouldn’t be saying this kind of thing.”
“But I am there,” Chaya said tremblingly. “I feel like I’m on the brink. How can I not be there if…” She paused for a moment. “I know it sounds so petty, but the other day, after supper, I took out some chocolate, something that my husband bought for me because he knows I like this type, and just then his fifteen-year-old daughter came in and said, ‘Hey! Can I take that for my friends? We’re studying for a test.’ And without saying a word, he took the chocolate from the table and gave it to her!” She was suddenly crying. Apparently the chocolate was very bittersweet indeed. “You know, as long as the problems are only with them—it’s hard, but tolerable. But if he is also moving over to their side…”
There are no sides in these kinds of stories; that’s one of the most important rules, Hinda thought to herself. But she didn’t say a word. Some things might be logically correct, she knew, but emotions do not always allow the logic to be processed. Like right now, when she could hear the sounds of laughter and chitchat from Simi’s room. Dov was probably making a whole production there with the cake and the juice that he’d taken in there. They’d been talking and laughing for half an hour already, ever since Hinda had gone downstairs to take out the garbage.
Logically it made sense that Dov should be giving his daughter a good time. Was he not allowed to? He was. When Baruch came for Shabbos, Dov was extremely gracious to him. He also tried very hard with Yosef, as much as Yosef allowed him to. He went out of his way to make Hinda’s children feel comfortable, so why shouldn’t he play host to his own daughter, the way he knew how—and enjoy himself at it too?
Common sense is the most logical thing in the world.
And yet, Hinda found herself going out of the kitchen quietly, with her soapy hands, and approaching Simi’s room, feeling, for some reason…left out.
“The truth is, Chaya,” she said, stopping about ten feet away from the door to the room, which was almost all the way closed, “I have no idea why Rebbetzin Werner sent you to me. I wanted to tell you this from the beginning of our conversation. You probably have more experience than I do—I only got remarried a few months ago—and besides, our family situation is very dissimilar.”
“Yes, she did tell me that,” Chaya said in a low voice. “But she claimed that she’s sending me to you, first of all, because you are a wise person, irrespective of your situation. And she also said that a week of your experiences is like half a year of someone else’s.”
Hinda chuckled. “Nu, nu… In any case, now, as we are speaking, I’m noticing that despite the different external factors, there are certainly a few challenges that we do share…” And she began walking back to the kitchen.
The Ohr Chaim Hall was almost empty. There were long tables set up with clothes, and a pile of boxes was haphazardly stacked at the end. Someone in a blue shirt was walking around, overseeing two Sudanese workers who were arranging the clothes. He glanced at Martin who slowly entered, and then went back to what he was doing. He looked uptight. He kept trying to call someone, but was apparently not getting an answer.
“This is the sale for the Ohr Naftali and Leah organization, right?” Martin asked hesitantly, shifted the yarmulke he had borrowed from Michoel’s collection, on his head. As the main operative of the organization, he couldn’t appear here bareheaded.
The man turned to him. “Yes. But it only begins at eight in the evening. That’s more than three hours from now.”
“Oh,” Martin murmured. “Where does it say what the hours are?”
“I don’t understand that either,” the man said, looking again at his phone. “And Perl is not answering me. I didn’t see a single sign. Usually, the organization puts up signs and ads about a week before the sale. How do you know about it? Were there any advertisements or signs or something? Or a telephone message?”
No one would come because no one knew about the sale!
“I…I don’t know,” he said, looking around. “Someone told me—I don’t remember who.”
“Besides,” the man said, “I think the sale is only for women and children. Perl is pretty strict about it.”
“Okay,” Martin replied. He just wanted to escape from there, as fast as he could. But after a moment, he recovered. “Who do people know here? Who are you?”
The man shrugged. “I’m just the importer, that’s all. My workers are here to help find the right sizes and styles, but Perl always brings his own salesgirls and cashiers. I don’t know who they are.”
Martin nodded, and did what he wanted to do five minutes before: he escaped.
At least one good thing had emerged from Kornblit’s visit: Now he could leave the house freely, without worrying. They could be following him; he wasn’t able to tell, and he didn’t really care. He would check it out before he left the house for good, and he’d get rid of his telephone. He had a bit less than twenty-four hours for that. But that meant twenty-four hours to be Michoel Perl for a little longer.
Tonight he’d also finish up the vouchers for the chickens; those vouchers had landed in Perl’s mailbox three days ago. In the drawer, he’d found official envelopes of the organization, and a list of those who were entitled to the vouchers this year. He’d spent half the night copying the names and addresses by hand. Then he’d put the number of vouchers that appeared on the list into each envelope, and he’d gone out to the post office in the morning to buy stamps and send out the envelopes.
Maybe he’d still go back to Canada one day, and he’d tell Brian that there are people in the world who worry about the poor.
But what would be now? He hadn’t thought about the fact that they needed to inform people about this sale!
How could he publicize it, and to whom? Where would he get cashiers within the next three hours?!
Martin took a deep breath.
He’d call Hinda.
It would be interesting to know how much time he had been lying here before he woke up. It was better not to ask them; the problem was that he had no idea if enough time had passed that people back in Israel would start to worry about him. It had happened in the past that he had traveled for fundraising trips that were supposed to be just a few days long, and then he’d extended his stay to a month or more, even two months. And it was precisely for that reason, and because of that break-in two years ago, that he’d set up that whole system at home with Shimon Weisskopf.
This time, he was scheduled to be traveling for at least three weeks; there was a wedding, and he wanted to continue on to America to visit some donors. Had he attended the wedding? Where had it been?
Where was he now? They spoke English here, but he wasn’t sure he recognized the accent. It wasn’t a real New York accent. Canada, perhaps, or Britain, or a more Western part of the United States?
He could ask to make a phone call. They should not find any reason for him not to make an innocent call, even though that guy who spent the most time hovering over him, the guy who he had called “Daddy” at the beginning, had not looked pleased at that previous conversation he’d had, with Hinda.
Wait! Hadn’t he had his own cell phone?
If he would be home now, he’d take a pen and paper and make a list of all the things that were clear to him and all those that were not. But he didn’t want to make any lists here; he didn’t want them to be able to read, black on white, what he knew and what was still fuzzy in his mind.
His name was Michoel Perl, and he was probably about thirty-five or forty years old. His hands looked older, but maybe they’d been injured, because he felt very young. He had no way to see himself because he hadn’t seen even one mirror on the whole floor.
He had been a yeshivah bachur in Lakewood until a few years ago, and then he’d come to Eretz Yisrael. Unfortunately, he was still single, and his efforts at shidduchim in America had not given him much of an interest in continuing with it in Israel.
What else? Besides Hinda, he had no family in Eretz Yisrael, it seemed. Was that for sure? Yes, he thought he had no one else. Hinda herself had been widowed a few years ago, poor girl; he tried to support her and get her back on her feet. It wasn’t easy to raise five children alone.
And to marry off Avigdor… How old was Avigdor already? Maybe it had been his wedding that he had traveled to? No, that couldn’t be. Hinda wouldn’t take a girl from abroad for him.
Michoel got up from the bed and went over to the sink in his room. The two apples he’d eaten last night had helped calm his rumbling stomach, but it wasn’t enough. He needed to find something else that he could eat here before morning…Hey, tefillin! Where were his tefillin?
The time had come to do something about his missing possessions. Irrespective of the reason he was hospitalized here, he should have his personal possessions.
He walked slowly out of the room. A tall nurse with glasses stopped and smiled at him. “Good morning, sir,” she said in a friendly tone. “How did you sleep last night?”
“Wonderfully,” Michoel replied. “Can you tell me where my personal belongings are?”
“What do you mean?”
“I came here from somewhere, right? I’m sure that I didn’t come empty-handed.”
“Oh!” the nurse said. “You’ll have to ask the director of the department about that, okay?”
“Which department is this?” Michoel inquired.
“Head injuries,” the nurse said pleasantly.
“I have a head injury?”
“Do you not?” Michoel stared at the nurse, and sensed that he’d better withdraw before he crossed a boundary. “You might be right, now that I’m thinking about it,” he murmured.