Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 44 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 served a late lunch of bread, cheese omelets, and tomato salad that had been left from last night’s supper. Dov and Martin ate in the dining room, and Hinda, feeling that she didn’t have a drop of energy left to converse with Simi and give her explanations, sent Dov to Simi’s room to do the explaining. She could always serve Simi a meal later on. At worst, Simi would just order pizza or falafel; she and her husband certainly seemed to have experience doing that.
After Dov returned to the dining room, she didn’t even remember to ask him what Simi had said. She joined him there, in the chair near the window, and studied the Canadian boy who was digging in as though he hadn’t eaten in a good few hours.
“First of all, I think I need to call Shimon Weisskopf and milk him for more information. You said that he was his regular driver,” she said.
“Yeah. Good idea,” Martin said, his mouth full of food.
“Then maybe we’ll call those people from Mexico. I think they were the last ones to have contact with Michoel.”
“You had contact with him very recently,” Dov interjected. “He spoke to you the day before yesterday, or yesterday, didn’t he?”
“Yes, that’s true. So at least we know he’s alive. But he sounded strange,” she said fretfully. “I think we need to go even further back, to the beginning. Before he disappeared.”
“Still, it’s good to know he’s alive,” Martin said, after a moment. “Unless it was a prerecorded conversation, like his responses on the intercom?”
Hinda mulled this over. “No. He responded in context to what I said. In the past, though, we had another conversation, in which he asked me to go and do something in his house, but I didn’t understand what. I sent my son Yosef at the time. Now I’m thinking that maybe that was a recording.”
“He must have wanted you to see the message in the email to contact Shimon Weisskopf.” Martin wiped his hands on a napkin. “Look, I’ve spoken to Monsenego from Mexico, and with Weisskopf, but I couldn’t tell either of them the whole truth.” He blinked rapidly, and Hinda didn’t know whether this was an apology or not.
He had already apologized when he’d told them the whole story, and he’d also tried to explain himself. But apologizing for such a thing was not something that could start and finish in three minutes. Although she’d said that it was fine, and that she was certainly trying to understand, it would take some time until she’d digest it all, and forgive.
Martin kept eating, and just then, Yosef entered the house. From far, he saw someone sitting in the dining room with his mother and her husband, and he opted to sidle into the kitchen instead. Hinda stood up and went to him.
“What’s doing, Yosef?” she asked. “You’re probably hungry. Did you eat lunch yet? Today we’re eating late, and it’s milchigs. What about you?”
“I ate at the hospital,” he said. “You have guests again?”
“One guest,” his mother said. “And you don’t have to be shy; he’s just a teenager.”
“I have no patience for guests anymore,” he muttered. “I’m sick of them all.” He noticed his chess set on the shelf. “Do you want to play me checkers or chess?”
“Me?” She looked at him as he opened the small magnetic set on the clean table. “Yosef, I’m terrible at these games. Should I send Dov to play with you?”
“Maybe,” he said. “Do you think he’ll want to?”
“But he is probably busy with his guest.”
“I’ll check.” She poured him a cup of water with two ice cubes and left the kitchen.
Dov walked over to her. “Can I help with something?”
“Do you want to play a game of checkers with Yosef for a few minutes?”
“Sure,” he replied. “What will you do with our guest in the meantime?”
“Let him make himself comfortable and look at the scenery outside. I’m going into our room to call Shimon Weisskopf in Boro Park.”
“Should I suggest to Yosef that he should come out to the dining room?”
“It looks like he prefers to stay in the kitchen. He doesn’t have much tolerance for strangers these days.”
“Fine.” Dov headed for the kitchen, and Hinda heard him say, “Wow, Yosef, how did you know that I haven’t played checkers in years, and that I miss the game? Who gave this set to you?”
“There was this nice patient in the emergency room…” That was as much as Hinda heard before she disappeared into her room to find out from Weisskopf how much he knew about Michoel.
And she learned that he didn’t know any more than whatever Martin had told her.
It was a good thing that Dov was so practical. He was the one who remembered that the Zaids from the third floor had a small room on the roof that they sometimes rented out for Shabbos, and he went up with Martin to speak to them about it.
Yosef went out for Minchah-Maariv, and in the suddenly quiet house, Hinda heard the beeping of the washing machine, signaling that the cycle was over. She went out to the small laundry porch off the bathroom to hang the wet laundry, and only after two long moments of tumultuous thoughts about Michoel, Shimon Weisskopf, and this messed-up boy who had arrived at her home, did she hear someone clearing her throat at the doorway.
“My father went out to work?”
Hinda turned around. “Not yet.” She smiled at Simi and then went back to her laundry lines. Dov had said something about them going home today, hadn’t he?
“Oh, good, because I don’t want to leave before saying goodbye to him, too.”
The ‘too’ rang in Hinda’s ears on a few octaves as she clipped Dov’s shirt to the laundry line with a clothespin. “When are you planning to leave?” she asked.
“We have a bus in an hour and a half.”
“Do you need help packing up or anything?” Hinda turned around to the door again. “If you want to take some food, be my guest. Maybe I’ll still manage to make you some letcho…” She chuckled ruefully. “I’m sorry that in the end I didn’t prepare any lunch for you. It got a little hectic here.”
“Yes, I noticed. It’s okay. At home it often happens that we don’t get to eat a proper meal until the evening.”
“So in a few minutes you can join me in the kitchen, and I’ll show you what’s in the freezer, and you can take whatever you’d like. I’ll pack it up for you, alright?”
“Okay, thanks,” Simi said, and retreated.
A few minutes later, she appeared again, when Hinda was in the kitchen. No, she hardly wanted to take anything, because her mother-in-law and her sister Yael were arranging meals for her, but she would be happy to take the schnitzel that her husband liked, and yes, the letcho. Hinda took out the frozen schnitzels, and then got busy dicing onions, peppers and tomatoes.
Simi disappeared again, and then returned. She had a big blue bag in her hands, and Hinda noticed the logo of Nechama Ben Ohr’s shop on it.
“This is something small, for everything you’ve done…” She smiled. “I hope you’ll like it. Yaakov went to buy it, and tried to describe all kinds of things for me… I think it’s something you’ll like.”
“How nice!” Hinda returned the smile. “A token of gratitude is always heartwarming. But just by the bag, I think it’s too big for what I’ve done.”
“No, it’s not,” Simi said, blushing a bit.
Just then, Dov walked in.
Hinda wiped her hands as Simi looked on expectantly, and then pulled out a wrapped carton. She peeled back the scotch tape and opened the wrapping paper.
“I thought it would be good for your teacart, there in the corner,” Simi said.
Hinda took in the mini baby carriage that was the gift. It was made of rattan, with wooden wheels on the bottom, and peeking out of it were red wildflowers and green plastic leaves. Around the carriage was a lacy border with a red embroidered pattern; that was the only thing that Hinda could look at from the whole kitschy mess without cringing.
“What a special gift!” she exclaimed. “Thank you very much, Simi. Do you see that pretty lace, Dov? It’s so artful. It’s a carriage like in the olden times…brings back a real feeling of nostalgia!”
Dov studied the gift and nodded vigorously. “I’m happy you like it, Hinda,” he said. “Thank you, Simi.”
When he walked away, Simi blushed and said, “I felt like I wanted to buy you something, not just for your hospitality, but also because…I see that my father is happy.”
Hinda knew she needed to keep that precious remark for the days ahead.
Michoel stopped. The woods were pitch black, and he did not want to lose his way, especially as he had no idea what kind of place this was. He turned around and tried to retrace his steps from memory. After a few seconds, he discerned the weak light of the lanterns, and reached the stone bench. The low, sprawling building was someplace further ahead, across the lawn, and he began to walk. Only after a few steps did he realize two things: that he’d become quite weak lately, and that the black letters on the building read, “The Gilbert Skulholt Hospital.”
Michoel stared at the letters and kept walking. So this was officially a hospital. But it was a strange place, no matter what they called it.
“Sir?” The bespectacled male nurse appeared out of nowhere. “You disappeared on us.”
“I went down to get some air,” Michoel said coldly. He didn’t have much energy, but he wouldn’t show that to the other man.
“I told you that I’m going to town this evening. You wanted me to buy you kosher food?”
“Yes. The question is what you know about kosher food.” He rubbed his forehead. The names of the kashrus organizations in America had flown out of his memory. This was America, right? He wasn’t in Mexico anymore. Of course; everyone here spoke perfect English.
“I’m trying to remember which kashrus symbol I prefer, if you know what I mean about these things.”
“Oh, there’s someone else here for whom I do this service, too,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve learned a bit from him. I wanted to ask you what you like.”
“Don’t buy me meat,” Michoel said, having no idea what the anonymous other guy’s kashrus standards were. “If you could check in the nearest Orthodox Jewish community which kashrus organizations are acceptable to them, it would help me a lot. I have no idea where we are.”
“I understand.” The nurse did not fall into the trap, and shared no information.
“I guess just stick to fruits, vegetables, and dry products,” Michoel said. “What do you buy for the other Jew who keeps kosher?”
“It doesn’t really matter,” the nurse waved off the question as he walked away, “because he hardly eats in any case. Fine, I’ll find you something, and if I don’t know if something is kosher enough for you, I’ll call the hospital and ask to speak to you. And I suggest you go back there now, so that I can reach you by phone if need be.”