Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 40 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 had spent more than half the morning finishing the kitchen plans for Leah Weitzen. Simi spent that entire time closed in her room. Her husband must have gone to learn in one of the shuls in the area; Hinda hadn’t seen him come or go.
At noon, Hinda collected her papers from the kitchen table, leaving Leah a voicemail message that she’d finished, baruch Hashem, and then she went to the door of Simi’s room. She listened for a moment, and when she heard the baby wailing and Simi cooing to him, she knocked gently. There was silence inside; only the baby was still whimpering.
Finally, Simi answered, “Yes?” She didn’t say, “Come in,” so Hinda remained outside.
“How are you doing, Simi?”
“Fine, baruch Hashem,” the other woman replied through the door.
“I wanted to know if there’s anything special you’d like me to make for you,” Hinda said pleasantly.
“No thanks, don’t put yourself out.”
“Soup? Baked chicken? Potatoes? Letcho? Rice?” She thought for a moment. “Liver?” She should still have a tray of liver that Dov had bought when Penina was there.
“No thanks.” Simi sounded totally disinterested. “You don’t need to prepare anything for me; I’m not in the mood of cooked food.”
“Okay.” Hinda went back to the kitchen. Even if Simi wasn’t interested in a cooked meal, her father still deserved a hot, filling meal, right?
She diced an onion and resolved to think about other things, not about the conversation—if you could call it that—she had just had.
So what should she think about? About Michoel, who was ignoring her, blaming her, and disappearing for weeks on end? And who had then called her suddenly the other day, speaking strangely, and then concluding the conversation with a sound rebuke? Or maybe she should think about Chaya Cohen from yesterday’s phone call?
Hinda snickered to herself as she picked up the phone. If all her mind could do was ponder issues such as these, she would be better off calling Kol Halashon and listening to a parshah shiur.
She prepared chicken soup, letcho, and steamed squash, but only she and Dov ate. Simi and her husband sufficed with the pizza he brought her, and they took their meal behind the closed door, talking to each other in muted voices. Only the strong pizza smell indicated that they were even in the house.
“Thank you, the food was excellent,” Dov said, standing up. “What’s the story with Simi?”
“I have no idea. Maybe their stomachs hurt last night, and they’re afraid it’s from my food? Or maybe they just didn’t like yesterday’s lunch or supper?”
Creases lined Dov’s forehead. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I’m going to ask her.”
His wife stopped him. “Please, no. I don’t want her to think I’m offended or anything like that.”
Dov leaned on the doorpost. “And you’re not offended?” he asked her.
Hinda took a deep breath. “No,” she replied. “The fact that she has something against my food—and I’m not sure that she does—doesn’t mean she has something personal against me. Let’s leave her alone; a new mother can be so sensitive sometimes.”
He was quiet. “Why don’t you go rest now?” he suggested, after a moment. “You worked hard this morning. At least tomorrow you won’t have to cook. There’s plenty of food left over… Hey, what about Yosef? He’s not coming home for lunch today?”
“Doesn’t look like it. He’ll probably come at around five. If I’m still sleeping then, I’m sure he’ll wake me up.”
But what woke her up was actually the ringing phone. “Hello?” The voice sounded rushed and somewhat nervous. “Is this Hinda?”
“Yes,” she replied, still half asleep.
“I…my name is Martin, and I am helping Michoel Perl with his organization, Ohr Naftali V’Leah. Today is the clothing sale that takes place every summer, and I forgot to let the customers know about it. What should I do now?” Without even waiting for her answer, he plowed on. “The clothes are here already, in the Ohr Hachaim Hall. And there are no girls to man the registers.”
“You are Michoel’s assistant? Where are you?”
“We’ll talk about it afterward. First we need urgent help with the sale today.”
Hinda squinted. “What did you say? The sale is today?” In the early days of these sales, she would go with her girls to manage them, but in recent years, Michoel had started hiring Yerushalmi girls and paying them minimum wage, instead of making her travel in from Haifa to Yerushalayim. “What does Michoel say?” He probably couldn’t tolerate such a mishap.
“I don’t know; I can’t reach him.”
She recovered quickly. “I can ask my daughter, who is in a dorm in Yerushalayim, to come with a few friends,” she said. “As for advertising the event…maybe you can hire a car with a loudspeaker, to go through the frum neighborhoods? I think people do that kind of thing.”
“How do I go about getting such a car? And what do I say on the loudspeaker?”
Hinda could not help herself. “Michoel didn’t give you instructions about all these things? Since when are you his assistant?”
Meat, potatoes, and egg salad all remained on the supper tray. The male nurse looked at the empty vegetable plate, and then at him. “Why didn’t you eat everything, sir?” he asked.
“Because I am an Orthodox Jew,” he replied. Let them know he remembered this much. “I only eat kosher.”
“How will you be able to recover if you don’t eat properly?”
“G-d will give me strength, and you will be His emissaries. Can I go out to buy myself something? Maybe there are kosher stores in the area?”
“You cannot go out, and there are no stores in the area. I’m going to the nearest city tonight; I can buy you something.”
“Thanks,” he replied. “Which city are you referring to?”
The man didn’t answer. He took the tray and got ready to leave the room.
“Can I go outside today?” Michoel asked timorously. “To the garden, to breathe some fresh air… I saw from the window that there’s a large garden here.”
“I’ll find out,” the nurse replied courteously. “Do you think you have strength to walk? To go down the stairs? We don’t have an elevator.”
“I am strong enough,” Michoel said firmly. Even if his hands were shriveled and his voice trembled a bit, he felt strong. Maybe the lack of food over the past few days was making him weak, but he could deal with steps.
The nurse went out of the room, and Michoel did not wait. He collected himself with the strength that he had, and left the room. If his sense of direction was not misleading him, the stairs should be there, behind the nurses’ station. He would just walk, and he’d see what they said.
He walked slowly. Good, there was the staircase. To his relief, no one stopped him from going down the stairs.
But the floor that he he reached did not look like a hospital; it seemed instead like an office building.
Instead of going down further, Michoel entered that floor and stopped at the first door he found, belonging to “Edmond Skalholt, CEO.” He studied the door closely and then knocked on it three times. When there was no answer, he turned the knob. As someone with a head injury, he could behave unpredictably, right?
The door was locked and did not cede to his attempt to open it, but suddenly, someone inside unlocked it, and it opened. The office inside was large, and contained a long, shiny table with ten velour-covered chairs, six of them occupied. Sitting at the head of the table was “Daddy,” looking at him with that same concerned expression as the other people present.
The man who opened the door had gray hair, brushed away from his face. He did not look familiar to Michoel. “Yes?” he said. “Are you looking for someone, sir?”
The uninvited guest rubbed his forehead. “Ahhh,” he said, after a moment. “I’m looking for a mirror.”
“Daddy” stood up. “I’ll walk you back upstairs,” he suggested.
But the door-opener waved him off; there was no need. “There are no mirrors here, Mr. Perl,” he said. “Just like we have no elevators, and no cars. Almost.”
“Why?” Perl asked. “Oh, right, my name is Perl. I keep forgetting—thanks for reminding me. But why is it so bad for me to see myself? My dentist always advises us to brush our teeth in front of a mirror, to make sure the brush gets to all the corners.”
“It’s a long story, and we’ll be happy to share it with you another time, but for now, we’ll stop here, alright? You interrupted an important meeting.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Perl apologized, and stepped back. “Are you part of the management of the hospital?”
“Something like that.” The man was already closing the door. “And I’ll be happy to speak to you at the next opportunity. I was actually waiting for you to recover so we can do just that. But not now.”
“But can I just ask you: How did you know that my last name is Perl?”
“When you began to come out of the coma, you spoke a little bit, and you said your name.”
“Did I give you my exact address? Did I give you other details about myself? I think I need to call my niece again, in Israel.”
“We’ll talk about that, too,” the man promised, and then he all but shut the door in Michoel’s face.