Outside the Bubble – Chapter 49


Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 49 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. 

“Get him away from here! Fast! Fast!”

Hinda paused at the beginning of the short hallway. The response was so uncharacteristic of Yosef, and it was certainly not in sync with the brooding and withdrawn state that he had been in these past two days. She glanced behind her, to the entry hall. Dov was just ushering Martin in; the boy had come down for supper and probably also for a conversation about his plans. Yosef had gotten out of bed just then, and come out to the kitchen for a drink.

Dov and Martin turned around together, as if synchronized. Yosef was standing there, his eyes ablaze.

“It’s you, from Michoel’s house in Yerushalayim!” he nearly screamed. “You came here another time already, I know! You came to Haifa to follow me, and now you came again!”

Hinda walked over to her son, not yet sure what she was going to say. But before she could respond, Martin beat her to it.

“You’re right,” he said. “And I’m sorry for scaring you. But I had no intention of following you. It was only because I was looking for a way to speak to your father and mother about Michoel Perl.”

“Who did you want to speak to?” Yosef demanded.

“With them.” Martin pointed to Dov.

“Oh, really?” Yosef shot back, and then returned to his room and slammed the door.

Martin rubbed his heel on the shiny floor. “Should I go?” he asked, after a moment.

Dov was quiet, allowing Hinda to decide.

“No,” she said quietly. “But maybe you should make it quick. Supper is ready; you can come into the kitchen.”

“Thank you for hosting me so…naturally,” the youth said, as he followed his hosts into the kitchen, “and for trying to help me.” He washed his hands after Dov, and stammered the words of the brachah.

“Remind me again—do you come from a religious home?” Dov asked after they began to eat.

“Not really. My grandmother kept kosher and lit Shabbos candles and even made Kiddush. But it could be that she lit only after sunset. I don’t really know.”

“You seem to know a lot of the concepts.”

“I read a lot when I was in Mr. Perl’s house. I also read the books you gave me.” He dipped his bread into the salad dressing. “In general, when I was in Mr. Perl’s house, and I was trying to figure out what was going on with him, I did lots of things as if I was him.” He paused. “I know that that doesn’t sound so clear.”

“Actually, it sounds very clear,” Dov said. “But why did you do it?”

“Because I was interested in getting into his shoes. Actually, it began on Erev Shabbos, when all the systems in the house went into Shabbos mode. I knew that he was a religious person, so I couldn’t do anything that would seem strange.”

“Strange to whom?”

“To the neighbors, let’s say, who would suddenly see lights going on and off.”

“Okay, I can understand that.”

“And then I kind of got into playing the part.” Martin smiled. “I didn’t keep everything, because I don’t know enough, but—”

The door to Yosef’s room opened. “Ima, did he leave?” he called out.

“Not yet,” Hinda answered calmly.



The second time that the bespectacled nurse unloaded his purchases from town, Michoel saw the other patient who kept kosher. With a measure of surprise, he discovered that it was the youth from the bench who had been holding a “calling device” and not a phone. He also saw that the boy did not wear a yarmulke, and that instead of smiling at another Jew who was in this place with him, he just scowled at Michoel.

Michoel was not planning to let him get away so fast. “Hi!” he said, putting a hand on the young man’s arm, knowing full well that he was generating the impression of an irritating older man. True, he did not remember his exact age, but it was still clear that he was at least two decades older than this boy, if not more.

Rob, the nurse, waved goodbye to them both. “Good, you have something in common. Mike, maybe tell him a bit about our place from the point of view of the patients. He’s intelligent—he’ll like what you have to say!”

At first, Michoel thought Rob was talking to him, and wondered how the nurse knew that many of his friends had called him “Mike” during elementary school. Then he realized that apparently both of them, he and the teen, had the same name.

“I guess your name is Mike,” he said, studying Mike’s bag of vegetables. “I’m Michoel. Nice to meet you!”

The boy muttered something impatiently and pulled his arm back roughly.

“What’s the matter—you don’t trust this kashrus?” Michoel took out a can from the bag. “Why are you eating only vegetables?”

“I’m anorexic,” Mike said, not even trying to conceal his impatience. “And as an anorexic, I can’t stand it when people interfere with what I eat.”

“Sorry.” Michoel raised both hands in an exaggerated defensive pose. “Don’t be angry at me. I’m new here and just trying to make a few friends, that’s all. I thought that as Jew to Jew—how did Rob put it?—we could find some common ground. But if you’re not interested….” He took a few steps back.

“Oh, you’re Orthodox?” the teen suddenly asked.

“Of course.”

“Do you have tefillin here?”

“Yes. They brought them to me just three days ago. I was apparently injured in some type of accident, and lost my memory.”

“You don’t look like someone who’s lost their memory.”

“And you, excuse me for saying so, don’t look like someone who is suffering from anorexia.”

They leveled their gazes at each other. “You mean to say I’m fat?” Mike was the first to speak, and his face was red. “Dr. Jerry said that whoever tells me that is outta here. It’s one of the worst things to tell an anorexic person, in case you want to know.”

“I never meant to say that you are fat,” Michoel replied calmly. “Although the idea of being sent outta here, like you say, really doesn’t scare me. I’m waiting anxiously to get well enough to return to my home in Israel.”

“You’re from Israel?”

“That’s right. From Yerushalayim. The German Colony.”

“So what do you mean when you say you lost your memory, if you remember these details, and your name, and you are having such a normal conversation?” The boy was skewering him with his fiery eyes. “But actually, it’s more important that you explain to me what you mean when you say I don’t look anorexic.”

“As a Jew, I like to answer the questions in the order that they are asked.” Michoel smiled mirthlessly and followed Mike down the path leading to the woods. “Baruch Hashem, my memory is starting to come back, but there are still lots of things that are just a blank, or muddled.”

Mike nodded.

“As for you, it’s not so complicated. I’m sure that any professional in the nutrition field would not be particularly alarmed at the way you look. I’ve seen an anorexic person before, and you,” he shrugged, “how should I say it? You’re very slim, but it’s normal slim.”

“Because they treat me very well here,” Mike said. He glanced into his bag and sat down on the stone bench at the edge of the path. “I eat a lot better now than when I got here.”

“I’m happy to hear that,” Michoel said sincerely. He sat down beside him. “Does that mean that their methods are effective? Without the mirrors and the pictures, and the odd conversations with the doctor, and the potions they mix up here…all that really heals?”

Mike folded his arms. “Look at your own self. Don’t you think that their quality treatment is what brought back your memory?”

Michoel was quiet. “Maybe,” he said, finally. “It’s possible.”

They sat in silence. Mike swung his legs like a four-year-old, and after two long minutes he stood up. “It was nice to meet you,” he said, sounding more than happy to end the conversation. “I hope you get well soon.”

“Thanks.” Michoel watched him walk off. “Mike,” he called suddenly.

The youth turned around. “Yes?” he asked, almost aggressively.

“Tell me, what other things do they treat here?”

“Lots of mental illnesses, but also some physical stuff.”

“Like what?”

Mike thought for a moment. “Digestive issues,” he said. “There was someone here with celiac who recovered completely.”

“Celiac? That’s not curable.”

“So now you know that it is.”

“Do they treat depression here?”

“Yes. The friend who recommended this place was treated for depression.”

“And he came out of it?”


“What about schizophrenia?”

“There are a few people here with it,” Mike said. “I’m not here that long myself, but since I came, I think they’ve improved significantly.”

“I want to bring someone here,” Michoel blurted, unsure of why he had chosen this complicated teenager as the sounding board for his idea. “He has schizophrenia. Do you think he has a good chance here?”

“I think he does,” Mike said, and then turned without a word and walked away, the bag of food swinging from his right hand.

How did this old man know how to step on his most painful blisters? He, Mike, also wanted to bring someone here. But Dr. Jerry had said that “that foolish letter” was just an effort to track him down, and that someone had dictated it to Becky.

The problem was that Dr. Jerry did not know Becky and what kind of girl she was. She was eight times smarter than most of the people here, and the short fax she had sent was very much her style. And maybe—just maybe—she felt that something was wrong with her, and she was reaching out to him for help. And that was even before allowing himself to think about how much he missed her, his younger, gifted sister.

It was clear that his family knew more or less where he was. It was just like Becky to get information about this place, and to read up on it and be impressed. Her grasp was extremely advanced. Would the Skulholt family’s methods work on young children as well?

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