Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 46 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.
Dr. Jerry Skulholt’s office was designed with clean lines, and was rather empty—in line with Michoel Perl’s taste. The wooden chairs were simple and straight, and actually pretty comfortable. The square desk was perfectly matched to the closet, and together, they blended in with the large window frame that took up most of the western wall. Perl felt a strong urge to examine the room more closely, but he knew that it was not a good idea. He was sitting and waiting for the doctor to come in; in the meantime, out of boredom, he studied the three square, framed pictures on the wall opposite him.
Someone closed the door. Michoel turned around. “You are Dr. Skulholt?” His arched eyebrows almost knitted together when he saw the man who, in the early days of his stay, had called him “Dad.”
“Yes, I’m Dr. Jerry Skulholt. Pleasure to meet you.” The man smiled and shook Michoel’s hand. Then He turned to the closet, opened the top door, and with slow movements—Perl did not know if it was deliberate or not—he took out a large purple binder. Michoel despised the color.
The man sat down on the other side of the desk. “I’m happy to see that you feel better, so that we can really get to know each other,” he said as he pulled a gold pen out of his pocket.
“I’m also happy to be feeling better,” Michoel said politely.
Dr. Skulholt put down the binder. “What can you tell me about yourself, Mr. Perl?”
Michoel shifted to a more comfortable position. “That I don’t remember how I got here,” he said heavily.
“What is the last memory you have before you found yourself here with us?”
Michoel thought about it for a minute, and then shook his head. “I have lots of jumbled memories,” he said. “I have no idea in what sequence they happened. I think there was a wedding, but I’m not sure. Maybe I was just taking one of my regular flights.”
“Do you remember a flight?”
“No, but I’m clearly not in Israel, where I live, now.”
“How is that clear to you?”
Michoel bit his lip. “I’m not sure. I just know.”
“Because of the language spoken here?”
“Well, that also, but it’s not only that…”
“And what are your ‘regular flights’? Why do you usually fly? For business?”
Michoel looked at the horrible purple binder out of the corner of his eye and said quietly, “I don’t know.”
“Okay. Let’s go back to my original question: Please try to tell me something about yourself.” The man put the pen down after a moment of rapid writing. “It doesn’t matter what. Family, place of residence, profession…”
“Family? Well, my last name is Perl. Place of residence? Jerusalem, Israel.”
“I think so…” He sat up straighter. “But I think we’ve spoken enough about me. Maybe you, Mr. Doctor, can tell me a bit about yourself, about your brother—the executive director—and about this whole place. Who brought me here?”
She hadn’t had such a quiet, empty morning for a long time. Dov was at work, their guest was apparently holed up in the little studio apartment they had arranged for him on the top floor, and there were no new mothers convalescing in her house.
Hinda sat down to work, but before she even had a chance to glance at the plans that she’d gotten, a call came from Michoel. His voice was thicker than usual, and Hinda didn’t know whether to blame the phone line, the distance, or an actual change.
“Michoel!” she said, and then fell silent.
“How are you, Hinda?” he asked.
“Baruch Hashem. I’ve been worried about you lately.”
“Yes,” he said, with a sigh. “There was what to worry about. I was injured in a serious accident, and my documents were apparently taken. Then I was unconscious for a long while, and I also have a bad case of amnesia.”
Something about the way he formulated his sentences was strange; it was not his regular way of speaking, though Hinda couldn’t put her finger on exactly what the problem was. She also remembered the intercom, when he’d spoken in a slightly funny manner and—oops, no. That had been Martin, whose Hebrew was passable, but not great.
“And we didn’t know anything about it!” she exclaimed. Martin’s planned trip seemed to be superfluous. “Where are you hospitalized? I want to come to you.”
“I…don’t know where I am hospitalized. They’re letting my memory come back at its own pace, so I still don’t have any idea where exactly I am.”
“Have you come back from Mexico yet?”
“I’m not in Mexico,” he answered.
“Are you in Israel?”
“Maybe. Maybe not. It doesn’t seem so.”
“So, can I speak to the staff? I want to hear from them what is happening and where you are. You can’t be alone like that.”
Michoel was quiet for a long moment, and then said, “They don’t recommend relatives’ visits; they say it might restore my memory too aggressively.”
“Can you give me the phone number to this place?”
“The doctors don’t want you to contact them; they want to speak only to me.”
Hinda’s forehead creased. How was it responsible for the staff to not want to find out a bit of their patient’s medical background from relatives?
“I’ll try to call more often,” Michoel said, as if trying to appease her. “I remember your number already, so it will be much simpler.”
“You called me a while ago already.”
“I did?” Michoel paused again. “Could be.”
Hinda played with the phone cord. “It’s good that we can speak at least by phone, even if it’s not face to face,” she said resignedly. “Still, I think it would be a good idea for you to tell them that your only niece wants to be in touch with them. I want to hear directly about your condition, what the prognosis is, and if there’s anything more that can be done.”
“Hinda,” he said sharply, “I really appreciate your concern and dedication, you know, but I don’t like it when people interfere too much in my affairs. You remember that, right?”
“Yes, of course,” she said, and glanced at the phone for a minute to confirm that this conversation was actually taking place. Michoel was talking to her; he was alive, and responding to the point. Responding like Michoel.
“There’s just one thing, something that you got involved in some time back, and I think that I owe you an apology for it…” he said, his tone suddenly sounding different. “I’ve thought a lot about the shidduch you once suggested, with your friend, Freiberg or something… Do you remember?”
“Yes,” Hinda whispered. Was he actually apologizing for the way he had verbally attacked her back then, when she’d dared suggest Brachi Freiberg, a neighbor of her parents, aleihem hashalom, for him? He had fumed that she was suggesting a divorcee while he had never been married before, and that Brachi had three children and almost no money.
But what had suddenly bought this story—which was history, in her view—back to the fore? In the nearly thirty years that had passed since she’d suggested the shidduch, the whole matter had receded into some hole deep in her brain. Brachi was almost seventy by now, and happily remarried. She had her own grandchildren, her husband’s grandchildren, and at least two from the son they’d had together.
Michoel coughed. She didn’t know if it was just the awkwardness of it all; something about it sounded too genuine. “I don’t remember when exactly you made that suggestion,” he said. “But I remember you said that it’s something really good… Based on my calculations, she should be about forty, forty-five now. And if she’s still interested in getting married, maybe we can revisit that shidduch… I was too arrogant back then, I think.”
Mike’s medical forms had just one record of a visit to a clinical dietician, but Paul Kanishevsky, the dietician he’d seen, refused to give her parents any information, as Mike was over age eighteen.
Still, Daddy had said that the private investigator had ways of obtaining information even if the clinical dietician wasn’t happy to give it, and he came back two days later and said that indeed, it was noted that Mike was suspected of developing anorexia nervosa, and it was wise to keep an eye on it.
It was not clear to her what the words ‘suspected of developing’ meant—what was this, ballistic missiles? These adults and the way they used words… It was funny, as were those people in the medical field who also liked to use strange words.
“Anorexia nervosa,” the investigator told Mommy and Daddy. “That confirms what we suspected. Either he is hospitalized in some eating disorder department, or he is in South Carolina by those guys. They ostensibly treat mental illness.”
“Anorexia nervosa? For a boy?” Mommy wondered.
“The percentage of males who suffer from this is indeed one-twentieth of females, but still, if we speak about America alone, that’s tens of thousands of people.”
“But he’s not even thin,” Daddy protested. “They always say anorexics become skeletal, don’t they? He’s nowhere near looking like that!”
“He was doing lots of sports in recent weeks,” Mommy murmured. “Maybe to lose weight.”
“But he wasn’t very successful.”
“Still, the dietician took this possibility seriously; he probably showed enough of the symptoms,” the investigator interjected.
Becky wanted to say that he was speaking nonsense. Because there had been one time, maybe two weeks before Mike disappeared, that he had taken a huge serving of ice cream, and had offered her a cone too. Then he didn’t feel so good, and he even threw up… He threw up! She was almost sure of it.
She didn’t wait, and took the stairs two at a time, dashing right into the open door of Daddy’s study.
“Becky?!” her father chided sternly.
“There were more symptoms, Daddy, Mommy,” she said, not looking at the investigator.
“More symptoms?” Mommy asked.
“Yes. He threw up once,” she said, and suddenly she felt very embarrassed. A big girl didn’t listen to adult conversations, and certainly didn’t mix in, especially when there were strangers around who would think that she was talking nonsense and that she was an impolite child with no manners.
Well, it was sometimes very hard to be polite, but she had to at least try.
“I’m sorry,” she said, and swallowed. She turned back to the stairs to go up to her room. She was supposed to be doing math homework now; too bad she hadn’t stayed doing just that.
“Don’t go, Becky,” Daddy said. She couldn’t decide if he sounded angry or not. “Come in, we want to hear more. When did Mike throw up?”
“One night, about…maybe a month ago. You weren’t home from work yet, and Mommy was…I don’t remember where Mommy was.”
“And what happened?” Mommy asked quietly.
“Mike was in the kitchen, and he was eating ice cream. He gave me some also. Then he said he didn’t feel well, and that the ice cream was dancing in his stomach. He was pale, and he sat on the chair without moving. Then he went to the bathroom, and I heard him almost crying there. And I think he also threw up.”