Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 43 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’s shift on Wednesdays began at seven in the morning. He left the house at ten after five for vasikin, leaving the small chessboard on the shelf in the living room.
“Will you be coming home late again today?” Hinda asked as she tightened the belt on her morning robe. She tried to walk him out each time he left, even when it was very early.
“I don’t know,” he said. After a moment he asked, “Are they leaving today?”
“Who, Dov’s daughter?”
“I have no idea,” she said in a low voice. “But Yosef’l, the house is yours. You don’t need to avoid coming home because of them.”
“I don’t avoid coming home because of them.” He hugged his tefillin bag to his chest. It was the same bag as Baruch’s, except for the first initial. Identical twins, except for a few things. “If I want, I’ll come home on time, okay?”
She studied his face. “Alright,” she said quietly, knowing that she could not control everything in the world, even if she’d really want to. She would also prefer that Simi not stay for much longer, but she could certainly tolerate her presence, for Dov’s sake. She knew how good it made him feel. So what if the young woman was aloof and distant? Hinda had dealt with worse things in her life, and had prevailed.
She got herself together, davened, prepared breakfast for Dov and herself, and straightened up the house. When they finished eating and Dov left for work, Hinda knocked at Simi’s door and asked her what she’d like for breakfast. Simi said she shouldn’t bother with anything; she could prepare something on her own, and Hinda told her to feel at home, because she would be out for the morning. She didn’t detail where she was going, but when Simi opened the door a few minutes later, she saw Hinda and her large pocketbook, as well as the receipt book that Hinda was just sticking into the bag, and Hinda knew that Simi immediately realized where she was going.
She smiled at Simi’s transparent expression, and at the thoughts that were flitting around in her head.
Why was she going to collect? Because the bank account would be very happy to receive the money, and there would be use for it, she was sure, even if right now Michoel was deep in one of his strange moods.
She went from building to building, and this time the monthly intake was bigger than usual, perhaps because it was Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan. When she returned home at twelve, she discovered that Simi had either not eaten a thing or had not left a trace of having done so. The kitchen was as sparkling clean as she’d left it in the morning, and she sat down at the table to organize the lists.
Simi came to the kitchen; she was holding the baby, whose head was nestled on her right shoulder. She studied the small bags of money and the bills, but didn’t say a thing.
“Did you eat something, Simi?” Hinda asked in a friendly tone.
“Yes, thank you. Someone came to the door about two hours ago.”
“Yes. He said he is from Yerushalayim, and he needs to speak to you about your uncle. He’ll be back later today.”
“About my uncle,” Hinda repeated slowly.
“Yes,” Simi said, still leaning on the doorpost.
Hinda nodded and said, “Okay, thanks.” And she went back to counting the money.
“Can I ask you something?” Simi asked, in the tone of voice of someone who is about to jump into ice-cold water.
“Why not?” Hinda smiled.
“I understood from my father… that you are an interior designer.”
“That’s right, baruch Hashem.”
“So what is all …” She swallowed and made a vague motion toward the table.
“You think that I collect this for us?” Hinda’s voice was smooth and pleasant, which discomfited Simi even more.
“No,” she said, her voice thick with tears. Ugh, it was only because she had just given birth. What was it about this Hinda?! “But when I realized this about you, it kind of…”
“Made you nervous?” Hinda asked.
“I don’t know.” Simi’s voice sounded firmer now. “It didn’t seem…appropriate to me. I mean, not bakavodig for my father.”
“The Vilna Gaon’s wife also collected tzedakah for the needy, you know.” Hinda put the organization’s wallet into the bag; everything was organized and in its place now. “Not that I reach even her ankles, of course, but it is a big mitzvah, Simi. It’s not meant to embarrass anyone, and your father is not ashamed about it.”
Simi didn’t say that perhaps he wasn’t, but she was—but she also didn’t ask if there was a way to make it clear to people that her father was not living off the tzedakah money his wife collected. She simply nodded and, after a few long seconds, turned and left.
“Simi,” Hinda called after her.
“Yes?” Simi turned around.
“Do you want something in particular for lunch?”
“My father says that your letcho is delicious.” Simi had no idea where the words had come from. “I’d actually love to taste some. But you don’t have to put yourself out for me.”
Hinda promised her that it was not a big deal, but in the end, she didn’t put herself out and didn’t prepare the letcho, or anything else for lunch that day either, for that matter. Because just as Dov arrived home, Martin Posner knocked at the door once again, and his unbelievable story confounded her so completely that she could not focus on something as mundane and everyday as preparing lunch.
Becky knew what a cult was. Three months ago, there had been an article in the paper about Scientology, but she could not understand what it had to do with Mike. She told that to the detective, and explained to him that cults tell people what to do, and Mike liked to do whatever he wanted, so cults would totally not be for him. But the detective didn’t even listen to her. What bothered her most was that Mommy and Daddy didn’t, either.
“This cult that I’m talking about,” he told them, thinking, like everyone, that she didn’t understand a thing, “has abolished the use of most technological innovations, and they have a few other idiosyncrasies. Mirrors and photos, for example, are a terrible thing in their view, because a person gets rooted in his own image and cannot break out any further. And have you heard about the ‘second Kristallnacht’ in Charleston, three months ago? The believers or supporters of this cult, I don’t know what to call them, methodically entered shops and hotels, and broke mirrors or glass that they thought looked like mirrors or pictures. There were lots of arrests, a wounded policeman, and two fatalities on their side.”
“Oh, the crazies from Carolina?” Becky asked. She glanced at her mother who, she was sure, could most aptly be described at that moment as ‘paling and reddening alternately.’ “I heard about that night. Are you saying that our Mike is there?”
Becky had read about Kristallnacht a few times, and had seen scary pictures from there, which had kept her up half the night. It frightened her to think that there were people like Nazis living in America, in South Carolina. “Maybe,” the detective said, “although it’s not certain. His ticket was to South Carolina. It’s very possible that he flew there to join them.”