Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 42 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?” Dr. Kaplan stopped near the bench on which the young man with the light beard was sitting. “Yosef, wasn’t your shift over an hour ago?”
“That’s right,” Yosef affirmed.
“So, what are you doing here now?”
The young aide shrugged. “I’m not in the mood of going home.”
Dr. Kaplan lowered his voice. “And your medications?”
Yosef dug a small container of pills from his pants pocket. “I took everything with me.”
“Good. What’s going on at home? How is your twin? You have a twin, right?”
“Yes, and he’s even on vacation now; we call it ‘bein hazmanim.’ But he went to stay with my older brother, who is married. Because he also didn’t really want to come home. My mother has guests, and…it’s more comfortable for me here than at home.”
Dr. Kaplan thought for a moment. “Alright,” he said finally, drawing out the word. “If you’re ready to stay for another shift, and you have the energy, we’d be happy to have your help. The emergency room is very busy, as usual, and it would be great if you can see if the patient at the end of the row on the east side needs help. He’s an older feller; I think his wife came with him. He got something for pain a few minutes ago, because he’s in a lot of pain, and he’s waiting for some tests so that we can decide what to do next.”
He hurried on, but after a moment, he returned. “Did you tell your mother that you’re not coming home for now, Yosef?”
“Yes,” the young man muttered. He stood up and walked in the direction Dr. Kaplan had sent him, but when he got there and pulled the curtain aside, he wasn’t sure this was the right man. The occupant of the bed was someone who didn’t look like he was “in a lot of pain.” Maybe the painkillers had already kicked in, but if, according to Dr. Kaplan, he only got them a few minutes ago, it was strange. The man was sitting straight up in his bed, supported by a rolled-up blanket, because there was a chronic shortage of pillows in the emergency room, and he was talking on his phone. He wore a large, colored kippah, and his wife was sitting next to him saying Tehillim.
He paused his conversation when Yosef approached the bed. “Yes? Did you come to take me for an x-ray? Another x-ray?”
“Not right now,” Yosef replied. “I wasn’t given instructions to. I came to ask how you are doing and if you need anything.”
“I need a refuah and a yeshuah,” the man said with a smile. “Shlomo, we’ll talk later; there’s a nice young man who just came in to ask how I’m doing.” He hung up the phone.
The woman in the chair placed her finger at the end of the perek she had just finished. “Maybe there’s a way to get a pillow for my husband?” she asked. “It’s not very comfortable for him like this.”
“Honestly, it’s a miracle that they found you a blanket.” Yosef came closer and checked if the blanket could be folded in a better way. “That’s not always here either.”
“Everything is fine, and I’m very comfortable,” the man said. “I’m just wondering if they will tell me to go home.” A barking cough cut off his words. “Or if they’ll decide that I’m the one they need to fill the hole in the internal medicine department.”
“Pneumonia?” Yosef asked politely.
“And water in the lungs as well,” the man clarified. “Maybe you want to play chess with me or something? I’m frustrated that they won’t let me get up.”
“He’s not so stable,” the woman said worriedly. “Probably because of the high fever. He fell as soon as we got here. Yaakov, are you sure it’s okay for you to play a game now? It won’t be hard for you to concentrate?”
In the end Yaakov won the argument, and he and Yosef played on a small magnetic board that Yaakov’s wife had produced from her bag.
Yaakov won the game. Just as they were about to start another round, Dr. Weiss came in and instructed Yosef to take the man—whose name was Yaakov Alvashvili—for another x-ray.
“Take the chess,” Mr. Alvashvili said to Yosef. “It’s a gift from me. I have a few sets in my bag—it’s fine. Unfortunately, I’m used to hospitalizations.”
Yosef put the folded chess board in the wide pocket of his blue uniform shirt, and helped Yaakov into a wheelchair. By the time he had pushed the man to the x-ray department and then back to the emergency room, it was already very late, and he was tired. “Refuah sheleimah,” he told Alvashvili, and then went to take off his uniform.
A private detective is like a policeman, but even better. The private detective that their father had hired was the best private detective that could be found. That’s what he’d told Daddy and Mommy, and he’d promised to do everything possible to bring Mike home soon.
“Amen,” Mommy had said, blowing her nose. “Amen, amen.”
Later that day, Becky was lying on the grass, just under Mommy’s workroom window, the place where she could be near her mother without driving her crazy. She looked at the world from down below. It was actually nice.
“Baron, the detective, will be here at7:30 to interview us all,” she suddenly heard Daddy say to Mommy. “The workers, me, you, and Becky.”
Becky’s heart leaped at the sound of her name, and she sat up. She didn’t want to talk to any detectives! Detectives discover people’s secrets, and she did not want him to discover her secret!
“What does Becky have to do with this?” Mommy protested. “You know what the psychologist said; as it is, the child is so sensitive and far too involved. We can’t draw her even deeper into this mire of pain.”
Mire of pain. Becky loved the ring of those words.
“We are all in this mire anyway,” Daddy said. Becky imagined him shrugging his shoulders. “And if we want Baron to get results, we have to give him a free hand. If he wants to speak to Becky, then he will, simply because we don’t have other options.”
So she had to speak to him? Becky bit her bottom lip, hard.
Goodbye house, goodbye neighborhood. It had been nice being Michoel Perl all this time. Now the time had come for him to move on, before Kornblit or his people got there.
And even without thinking about it for more than a few seconds, it was clear to Martin that his next stop would be in Haifa, at the home of Hinda, the niece. He had no idea how he would be welcomed there, how they would react, or what they would do. But the time had come to take this heavy responsibility off his shoulders, as the only person who knew about Perl’s disappearance. He had to tell them everything, and let them decide themselves.
True, they had ignored the paper he had left on their mailbox, but to be fair, he hadn’t written any details about the issue itself, so they probably hadn’t felt it that important to call.
He left 500 shekels under the tablecloth in the dining room, packed up the few belongings he had acquired in the past few weeks, and locked the door. The phone he had purchased just a few weeks ago was buried here in the ground; let Kornblit try to track him down using it. He was going to buy a new phone—also an anonymous one—and then start again.
The yard was large. So very large, that he could see a wall on the right side, but nothing on the left. Just a massive lawn that ended with trees. Were there some small structures there? Could be.
Michoel squinted. His long-range vision was actually excellent. Were there bungalows there or not?
He began walking in that direction, wondering if he’d meet anyone on his way. What was the point of not using mirrors? A principle?
He had to call Hinda and speak to her. Eventually, he’d get out of here, and the time had come to change some things. It was inconceivable that a person should be as isolated as he was now, and no one would really worry about him. The time had come to stop being so stubborn.
He would tell her to try to revive that suggestion with Freiberg, her widowed or divorced friend—he couldn’t remember which—that he had angrily rejected when she’d first mentioned the idea.
But first, he needed to get out of here, and to do that, he needed to understand the motivation behind the directors of this place. If it was only his health that they were focused on, that would be one thing, but he wasn’t sure about that. This place was not being run like a normal hospital.
In the middle of the lawn there was a muddy, wet path. He walked along it slowly, enjoying the mud squelching under his shoes. At the end of the path, the trees began, and there was a bench hewn out of rock. Someone—it looked like a youth—was sitting on the bench with his back to the path.
Michoel walked around the bench and slowly sat down next to the young man. On his right, a lantern hung on a pole, with a candle glowing inside. It wasn’t electric, it was real, and Michoel stretched in his place, wondering about the strangeness of this place. And about the strangeness of the young man next to him, who jumped up in alarm and quickly stuck his hand in his pocket.
“Whoa, such panic,” Michoel said calmly. “I’m happy to see that you have a phone. Can I make a short call with it? I’ll pay.” He still wasn’t thinking about his wallet, which was definitely not in his possession right now.
The young man looked him up and down. “I don’t have a phone,” he said in a hostile tone, his protruding cheekbones moving angrily as he spoke. “It’s not a phone.” The accent was familiar, and Michoel felt right at home.
“Oh,” he said. “With all those heavy southern dialects around here, I’m happy to hear English in a slightly more normal accent! Are you from New York?”
“No,” his bench-mate said tersely.
“Why are you saying that you don’t have a phone when I saw that you do have one?”
“It’s not a phone. It’s just a device for making calls.”
“Oh, it’s all about how you say it? Fine. So, can I use your device-that-makes-calls for a moment, please?” He paused. “I won’t tell anything to anyone, of course.”
“I don’t give my devices to anyone,” the younger man grumbled. Standing at full height, he didn’t look more than nineteen or twenty years old. “And you can tell whatever you want to whomever you want.”
Michoel studied him patiently. “Really?” he said. “Well, if you don’t want them to see that you have a device for making calls, as you referred to it, don’t sit with it here as if nothing is going on. It could have easily been someone else who came here and saw it.”
“I don’t care if they see it; I’m allowed to have it.” The youth moved off toward the trees.
“Can I ask them to let me have such a device, too?” Michoel shouted after him. “And can I tell them that if they let you have it, then I also want one?”
“Tell whatever you want to whomever you want,” the youth said again. With that, he disappeared into the dark woods.
At that point, all Michoel wanted to do was retrace his steps to his now-familiar room, but he felt too roiled-up inside to do nothing about this bizarre encounter, so he stood up and followed the young man.
It didn’t take more than a few minutes of walking in the dark woods to realize that he now couldn’t see a thing. Even the moon’s rays could not penetrate the thick foliage, and there were no candle-lanterns in this area to light the way, either…