Outside the Bubble – Chapter 48


Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 48 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. 

Dov and Hinda left the room. “He’s talking sensibly,” Dov said. “At least, in my opinion. It’s not an unusual response for someone who experienced a trauma from the death of someone he was close to. Or even relatively close to.”

Hinda nodded. “Right.” She leaned on the wall, and instinctively, Dov offered her the cup of water he was still holding. But once again, the cup remained in his hand, untaken. Hinda slowly walked over to the couch and sat down. She looked at the painting of the swans on the pond that Mali had drawn when she was thirteen, but didn’t really see anything.

“According to the dry criteria, there is not supposed to be a connection between schizophrenia and depression,” she said hollowly. “But I feel like, in this field, everything is connected, and everything is sensitive. He once began falling into a depression, and just about got out of it. And now again…?” She took a deep breath, and this time, she did take the cup of water that Dov was offering.

“First of all, I think that right now you don’t need to panic about this,” her husband said. He kept glancing at the door to the room, which was ajar. “At this point, it’s not depression. It’s normal grief.”

“For someone he knew for two days?”

“We don’t know what this person did for him. Sometimes the shortest encounter can be very deep.”

“Right,” she murmured.

“I think giving him two or three days to recover, without pressure from us, will help.”

“Right…” she said again.

And just then Michoel called, as if there was nothing more normal than the fact that he was calling day after day. “How are you, Hinda?” he asked warmly.

Baruch Hashem, fine,” she answered as she stared at the two orbs of ice melting in her cup.

“You don’t sound so good. Is everything alright?”

“Hashem will help.”

“Of course He will.” Michoel’s voice was full of encouragement, but suddenly, he grew serious. “It sounds like you have a negative answer regarding the shidduch I spoke to you about.”

“Um…” she answered. The image of Brachi Freiberg rose in her mind, merging with Mali’s drawing of the lake, so that it peeped out between the long-necked swans.

He was quiet for a long moment. “Don’t take it too hard,” he said. “I should have thought that my arrogance would cause problems. Was she offended when I turned down the offer before?”

“No,” she whispered. “I didn’t have a chance to suggest it to the other side. I had shared the idea only with you, to hear what you had to say about it.”

“And I said no.” He sounded resigned. “Fine, she’s also allowed to do that.”

“I didn’t speak to her at all, Michoel.” Hinda’s voice grew steadier, and she stood up and walked over to the window. “She got married already, that’s all.”

“Oh. Why didn’t you say so? Yes, time has passed since then… Okay, enough about me. What’s doing by you these days?”

“I’m busy right now with Yosef. Very busy. I’m sorry.”

“What’s the story with Yosef?” His voice suddenly sounded fatherly, similar to the tone he had always used when speaking about his great-nephews. “Again something with his rebbeim? Oh, right, he finished eighth grade a while ago. So what is it?”

“He’s working now at the emergency room in Rambam, as part of the auxiliary staff there. He’s been there for a few months, and he’s very happy. And they’re happy with him, too.” She sighed. “The problem is that he seems to have become friends with a patient who came there a few days ago, and the person just passed away, unfortunately. Yosef is taking it very hard.”

“So what happened, he got depressed again? Like that story when he was eighteen?”

“I hope not,” she said quietly. It looked like Michoel’s memory was not quite stable, certainly not with regard to the passing of time and everyone’s ages. “I hope he recovers quickly. But I won’t breathe easy until that happens.”

“I understand you,” he said. “I think…” Suddenly he fell silent. After a minute, he spoke up again. “I have something interesting to suggest to you.” Then he fell silent once more.

Hinda was not in the mood right now to listen to “interesting things,” but ultimately, this was a phone call from Michoel.

“Yes?” she asked, sounding curious. “Let’s hear.”

“No, no, I need to think about it more before I tell you anything. It’s not so simple. But it can certainly be a very interesting idea.”


Suddenly one day, without any advance notice, a fax came through from Mike.

He didn’t write much, but even the few words that were on the page were hard to decipher; as unclear as his handwriting usually was, it was much worse now.

“Don’t send private investigators after me; the guy has already asked around too much about me. You should stop the investigations. I’m even ready to tell you the truth: I got sick with anorexia, and they are helping me get rid of it here. So if you want me to be healthy, leave me alone.”

The last words had an undertone of a threat. Mommy said that right away when she came home and saw the fax. And without knowing it, she confirmed what Becky had been thinking: Something about this letter was strange, but it didn’t seem to be the writing of someone under duress, even though a faxed page wasn’t ideal for making graphology analyses.

Did Mike really mean what he was writing? That if they would get him out from wherever he was, or they would keep bothering him there, he wouldn’t be able to be cured of his anorexia?

The next day, the school guidance counselor could not understand what had happened to Becky. When she took out Becky from class, the girl wouldn’t talk about any subject besides graphology. They read a thin booklet together that summarized the levels of accuracy of this kind of analysis, and discussed what it said. Becky reached the conclusion that the margin of error of someone who was not experienced enough in the subject could be between thirty and eighty five percent. She repeated the numbers over and over, looking very worried. Toward the end of the session, when the counselor got up to prepare a hot tea for the precocious six-year-old, Becky remained seated silently at the desk. She did not share her thoughts out loud as she usually did.

“What are you thinking about, Becky?” the counselor asked as she carried the tea to the table.

“If I tell you, it would probably be a lie. So it’s better for me to just keep quiet.”


“Yes, really.”

“And if you tell me just about what subject it is, will that also not be the truth?”

“I’m thinking about…anorexia.”

“What kind of thoughts do you have about anorexia?” the counselor queried. Becky’s cheeks were full and pink as always.

“Can someone get it because he wants to, or is it a disease that happens to people just like that, like the flu?”

“Interesting question. There are probably things that are dependent on willpower, but that’s a subject I definitely have to look into before I answer you with inaccurate information.”

“I mean that, let’s say someone doesn’t eat, not because he wants to be skinny, and not because he’s afraid to get fat. Just because he wants people to say that he’s anorexic. Then is he really anorexic?”

“I can check this for you with a psychologist friend of mine who works in that field.”

Becky sighed. “Thanks.”

“And that’s it? After that you’ll be good?”

“No, of course not. I have lots of other things that are bothering me, too.”

“And of all of them, which can you tell me about without lying?”

“Graphology, of course.”

“What happened?” The counselor chuckled. “Which dreadful trait did you detect in my handwriting that you’re so afraid to tell me?”

“It has nothing to do with you,” Becky murmured miserably.

“Who is it related to, then?”


“Usually, the things we discuss in this room are related to you,” the guidance counselor said calmly as she settled back into her chair.

“Because somehow, everything in the world has to be related to me.”

“That’s also true,” the older woman said with a laugh. “But that’s a bit of an egotistical way of thinking, isn’t it?”

“That’s not true!” Becky objected. “My father’s rabbi taught him that every person needs to think that ‘the world was created for me,’ and my father taught that to me. There’s something very encouraging about that.”

“Really. What helps you feel encouraged about it?”

“To think that there are all kinds of things that happen in the world, and they are all intended for me. So that I should notice them, and know what to do about them…” She fell silent and blushed, as if she’d said something dreadful.

“Do you want to tell me about the last time something happened, and you took it as a sign that you were supposed to do something about it?”

“Sure,” Becky shot back. “The French teacher left me three pages in the workbook to do this morning.”

The counselor laughed again. “Nice. Okay, how about another example? The one you were thinking about when you shared this idea a minute ago.”

“I can’t tell that to you,” the girl said, her voice flagging.

“Why not?”

“Because our hour is over.” She stood up. And at the door, she added, “Anyway, what I was thinking about…it wasn’t really a lie. It just wasn’t the whole truth.”

For the rest of the day, Becky was uncharacteristically quiet. Her appetite had also disappeared. While her parents were speaking heatedly on the phone with Rabbi Birenzweig and the private detective, they hardly noticed her, or the miniscule amount of food she was eating. There was no question anymore about where Mike was; he hadn’t even bothered sending the fax from a private number. He was in South Carolina, with those people who thought that mirrors and photos were terrible things.

But what connection was there between anorexia and mirrors? Or photos?

Of course, someone who doesn’t look at himself in a mirror will not think that he’s fat or that he weighs more than he is supposed to. But that was a very superficial connection, Becky knew, and Mike was too smart to buy such a foolish idea. He may not have been as gifted as she was, but his IQ had always been high.

That night, when everyone was sleeping, Becky tiptoed barefoot to the office on the ground floor. She took out a blank piece of paper, and, intermittently glancing at the door, she sat down at the big office desk.

“Mike, I think I also have anorexia,” she wrote, in a much nicer handwriting than he had written. “And I’m too young to get messed up like this. Is there a way for me to be treated, too?” And without any hesitation—she’d been altogether too hesitant all day—she stuck the paper into the fax machine and punched in the number that was at the top of the page on Mike’s fax.

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