Outside the Bubble – Chapter 51


Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 51 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. 

They arrived at Chevy’s home, where the siyum and yahrtzeit seudah would be held. It was actually Dov’s house, but his daughter Chevy was living there for now, until her own apartment would be ready. It was the natural place for them to hold the event.

Dov and Martin had been engaged in conversation about possible study tracks for Martin, and they did not stop talking even as they called for the elevator, or when it stopped in front of the open door of the apartment on the third floor. Dov only fell silent when he saw Chevy and Yael in the entryway.

“Abba, welcome!” Chevy greeted her father. “We’ve been waiting for you.” She glanced beyond his shoulder, as if to make sure that no one—other than the unfamiliar boy trailing her father—had come with him. 

“How are you, girls?” he asked, putting the brimming bag he was carrying into Chevy’s arms. “Here are the bourekas, and cabbage salad, if I’m not mistaken. Come in, Martin. I’m right behind you.” He pointed to the dining room, and made sure that Martin had gone in, before turning to his daughters. “How are you doing?”

Baruch Hashem.” Chevy leaned against the wall.

“Who’s here already?”

“Everyone except Penina. Aunt Nechama’s boys are on the way, and Uncle Feivish should be here any minute.”

“I also brought a guest. I hope it will be okay.”

Simi peeked in from the kitchen, and he walked in and discovered himself surrounded by his daughters, almost like it used to be. They stood silently, and he faced them, standing close. Two of his girls were red-eyed, and Haifa was suddenly very far away as he felt his own eyes tearing too.

“You’ve all grown up so much, girls, since Ima’s petirah,” he finally said, quietly. “When Ima comes back, she’ll be very proud of you, I’m sure.”

“He—llooo!!” Little Batsheva’s carriage was first to be marched into the kitchen, followed by Penina herself, grinning from ear to ear. “Everyone is here already? I’m the last one?”

“Not really,” Simi hurriedly reassured her. “Maybe the last of us, but there are other people who still have to come. It’s fine.”

“What were you all just talking about?” Penina asked. At the same second, Batsheva began wailing from the carriage. Penina leaned over to her. “She’s been crying all day; I don’t know what’s with her!”

“Maybe the date has what to do with it,” Yael said. “My Batsheva was also edgy today, and no matter what I asked her or offered her, she kept saying, “Botty, boo-boo, paci…”

“But isn’t it supposed to be a Yom Tov for the neshamah? Every time period that goes by is another level higher, or something like that, isn’t it…?” Penina studied the faces around her in the kitchen. Her husband, Zevi, peeked in from the doorway, saw that it was an intimate family moment, and withdrew, heading for his brothers-in-law in the dining room. The atmosphere wasn’t quite as heavy there.

“What do we know?” Simi replied, and hurried to stir the pot of sauce on the fire.

“And besides,” Chevy’s voice was shaky, “we don’t always think about Ima’s neshamah. Like now, we’re thinking about ourselves and how we feel about this date.” And she hurried to the second pot, even though there was nothing in it to stir. Potatoes do fine on their own.

Dov wanted to answer Penina’s question. But then she turned to him. “Is Hinda here, Abba?”

“No,” he replied.

“Why not?”


“Because…the idea just never came up. Neither of us ever mentioned it being an option.” He looked at his youngest, Penina, who had lost her mother a mere three months after her marriage, and wondered if these things were quantifiable—who had struggled more than the others to recover from the tragedy.

“But I see that she sent her cabbage salad.” Penina motioned to the clear container, pointedly looking at other things and not her sisters. “That was very nice of her!”

“That’s right.” Dov smiled at his daughter. “You’re managing here with the food and all, right? I think that the bourekas are still warm—decide if you want to reheat them; I’m not sure you need to. I’ll go out to the men now.”

There was silence in the kitchen when he left.

Dov shook the hands of the others, and naturally walked over to the glass doors of the bookcase. Many of these sefarim belonged to him; he’d only taken some of his collection with him to Haifa. Hanging in a corner of the hallway, behind the plant, in a hidden spot, was a small picture of his first wife. He turned his head quickly, and met Martin’s eyes. The boy was sitting on the leather couch on the opposite wall. The couch that she had bought shortly before being diagnosed. The previous couch they’d had was faded and old, and was actually quite similar to the one standing in the Haifa house today—whose stitches on the back were already mostly undone.

Zevi, Penina’s husband, stood next to him. “How are you?” he asked his father-in-law politely. He lowered his voice. “Should I try to ‘schmooze up’ your guest? I’m good at that.”

Zevi wasn’t only good at it; he was great at it. “Sure, that would be nice of you. Just without interrogations, please.”

“Nothing at all,” his young son-in-law promised.

“Oh, and it’s good you reminded me; the subject flew out of my mind for a few minutes. Maybe offer him your phone—he needs to make an important call.”


“But you should know ahead of time,” Dov’s voice dropped, “that it’s a conversation that might bring the police to you. It’s not something criminal, don’t worry, but they might try to get to him this way. If they do reach out to you—and I’m not sure it will happen—tell them that you did a favor for a stranger and let him make a call with your phone, okay?”

“Fine.” Zevi’s outgoing personality covered up the fact that he was a quick thinker. “It’s probably better that I shouldn’t ask him his name, right?”

“Right. And now that I’m thinking about it, don’t give him your phone just yet. It’s better that he should call at the end of the siyum, even after we go up to the kever. So that if they are too quick, we won’t be here anymore.”

Zevi nodded. The story didn’t sound typical of his staid and predictable father-in-law, but then again, people aren’t always what they seem to be. He looked at the boy, wearing what was clearly a temporary yarmulke, based on his appearance, and the boy looked back at him; he apparently realized that he was the subject of the conversation.

Zevi made his way over to Martin and stuck out his hand. “Nice to meet you,” he said with a smile. “I’m Zevi, and I understand it’s better that you don’t introduce yourself.”

“I can tell you that my name is Martin. My guess is that if someone comes to ask you about me, they’ll know that it’s me, so it doesn’t really matter.” He looked at the cell phone peeking out of Zevi’s pocket.

“Yes, we just spoke about that.” Zevi pointed to Dov with his chin. “He said it’s better that you call just before you leave from here.”

Martin was quiet for a moment. “Right,” he said. “It’s better that it shouldn’t be from the house at all. Whose house is this, by the way?”

“My father-in-law’s,” Zevi said. “Right now, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law live here, because he’s living in Haifa.”

“That I know. But the house there is very…” Martin groped for the right word. “Different. Very different.”

“I know.” Zevi shrugged. “You know how it is; it’s not the man who furnishes the house, so what can you do…”

Martin chuckled but then grew serious. He stood up when he saw other men coming in and taking seats at the table. Zevi handed him a small, printed booklet from the stack in the middle of the table, and offered him a chair. It looked like the siyum—whatever it was—was about to begin.

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