Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 54 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.
“He needs to get out of his routine a bit,” Michoel told Hinda. “Believe me, this is what he needs, Hinda. And coming to me here won’t only be getting Yosef out of his routine. It would be an excellent treatment option for him, too.” He was quiet for a moment, then added, “It will be good for me also. It will be regards from home, from Israel… You know, I miss it all so much…”
“Send Yosef to you?” Hinda looked at Yosef’s back, as he stood gazing out the window. She didn’t know if he was looking at the lights of the port slowly coming on, at the birds flying to their nest for the night, or at nothing.
“Yes. Why not? Haven’t I proven myself to be a nice uncle?”
“A very nice uncle, yes,” Hinda agreed. “But if I don’t know where you are, how can I send Yosef to you? Especially since I have pretty strong suspicions that he hasn’t been good about taking his medications these past few days…”
“I imagine that when it will be relevant, the people here will agree to give me details—or at least they’ll give them to you, if not to me. Everything will be fine, you’ll see.”
“Do you feel like you’re…getting better, Michoel?”
“Absolutely, I’m improving,” he said. “I’m not completely recovered yet, but I’m definitely on the right path. And I hope to finish here soon, and then I can go home. Will you send Yosef to me? Maybe we’ll be able to come back to Israel together…”
Something about his last remark disturbed Hinda. Michoel was not as relaxed as he was trying to convey. Maybe it wasn’t all that good for him there.
“Are there Jews there? Do they understand the way you need to conduct your life? Are they considerate?”
“They provide me with kosher food, generously. There’s no minyan, unfortunately, but I put on tefillin, after they were convinced that I’m not in a state that I’d try to harm myself.”
“What is their specialty?”
“Mental health, mostly.”
“But your issue is the brain, isn’t it? Your head?”
“That’s right,” her uncle replied slowly. “But matters of mental health and the brain are very close to each other, much closer than the rest of the body. Don’t you agree?”
“There’s something to what you’re saying.” She looked at Yosef, crumbling the sandwich she had prepared into little pieces, and trying to scatter them for the birds. But none of the few birds still flying through the air paid him much attention.
“There are schizophrenics here,” he said. “I saw them. They seem to be in excellent shape.”
“Yosef is usually in excellent shape, too.”
“That’s true, but here they promise much more than a static situation…”
“You mean, complete healing?” Hinda wasn’t usually the suspicious type, but the words “complete healing” always made her retreat a mile or two.
“No, no, not complete healing, but normative behavior and regular function.”
“With conventional medications or without?”
“You’re very suspicious, Hinda. You didn’t use to be.”
She sighed. “I’m not suspicious, Michoel. I’m just a very realistic mother. As long as I don’t know anything about…this place where you are, what do you expect from me?”
“I expect you to trust me. And to realize that if your son comes here, we will be able to somehow come home together, hale and healthy, or at least almost healthy.”
This sentence also made Hinda feel uncomfortable. Was this a trap that someone had forced him to lay? But for whom? For her? For Yosef?
“Michoel, you weren’t abducted, were you?”
“Abducted?! Really!” He laughed. “Yes, yes, you got it. They abducted me, and I want Yosef to come and help me escape… What kind of strange ideas are you coming up with lately?!”
His laugh was different from how she remembered it in the past. And Hinda, who knew very well the way her Uncle Michoel spoke, did not buy his lightheartedness. She was just becoming more concerned. And she remained that way until Dov returned home with Martin.
“I couldn’t handle it anymore,” Mali said, sitting on the bench at the bus stop and checking that her reserve lens was in the camera case. “I couldn’t take it anymore, do you understand? Being the miserable orphan, the daughter of the local money collector, sister of the crazy twins… Well, Baruch became more normal as he grew up, but then Yosef’s issues were really horrific. How much could I take?!”
Shira Lev nodded vigorously. “Labels can be so hurtful,” she said, finally. “And I really get it, Mali.”
“What do you get?” Mali demanded to know.
“Why you ran away.”
“I didn’t run away. I decided to keep a distance, to build my life from new. Not as the daughter of the poor family, who probably is also a poor, wretched soul. That’s what everyone knew about us, you realize?”
“Do you think that living in my house in Beit She’an was much better?” Shira’s eyes were opened wide. “But my mother always told me, ‘Shira, you need to focus on only one thing – how to turn out the best you can be. Don’t focus on your brothers, or on what your friends say, and certainly not on what they say about you.’”
“Sounds like your mother was a smart woman.”
“And your mother, may she live and be well, also gives the impression of a very smart woman. I even asked her, when I came to take pictures of her…her husband’s granddaughter, if she is a psychologist or something!” She laughed. “And she doesn’t look or sound like a beggar at all. And you know what?” She suddenly went on the offense. “Even if she collects money because that is what works for her, and she is well-suited for such a job, and it helps her earn a living—it still doesn’t say anything about her!”
“She doesn’t collect the money for us,” Mali hurried to clarify. “Never did. She raises money for a small tzedakah organization. But no one in the neighborhood ever knew that for sure, because this organization is not very well known. And the truth is, I thought to myself…” Mali blushed midsentence and stopped. Just then the bus came, and they boarded.
“What did you think to yourself?” Shira asked.
“Well, I really don’t understand how her husband agreed to marry her! He’s a really dignified type of guy, normal family; I saw some of his daughters once… He wasn’t afraid to get into this broken family?”
“I feel like giving you a slap on the face, you know,” Shira said. “Broken family indeed! You’re exaggerating! Because of the tzidkus of your mother, and your brother’s illness, you’re already labeling your family with every name in the book?!”
Mali was quiet. They were on the way to a photography project that would summarize their third year of study, and she really did not want to get into something that might cloud the coming hours together. She had no idea how they had even gotten into this conversation to begin with. Who had brought it up? Shira? Her?
She suddenly had an urge to go home for Shabbos, but she knew that this longing—which had risen within her a few times in recent months—would fade as soon as she’d pick up her phone to call Ima. True, she missed her mother. And even Yosef, a tiny drop. And she was a little curious to see how her mother’s new life was going there in Haifa.
But like the previous times, she probably would not be able to bring herself to do it.
In the fax that Becky had sent, she didn’t only write that she thought she was anorexic; she’d also added a report from her last visit to Dr. Scheiner, their longtime pediatrician. He had written that the girl had lost a drastic amount of weight with no apparent physiological reason. He’d referred her to an eating-disorders specialist who worked primarily with children.
“One of the risk factors of anorexia is genetics,” Becky had written in the fax. “And the influence of the surroundings plays a big role, too. Please, Mikey, maybe it happened now because of you. And it’s a life-threatening disease! Please, I want to come to your place, so they can heal me also.”
“We can’t handle minors,” Dr. Jerry concluded as he scanned the letter. “And I expect you to understand that, Mike, my boy.”
“What if I bring her in for a visit for just a few days? I’ll take responsibility.”
“Will your parents agree? In the event that they are not involved in this whole conspiracy.”
“I doubt it.”
“So you want the whole South Carolina police here? Or the FBI? I don’t need them here, Mike, and I expect you to understand that.”
“I repeat, everything will be my responsibility,” Mike said. “At worst, I’ll forge a letter from my parents that says they allow me to bring her here, and you can say you didn’t know anything. Please, doctor!”
Flashes of doubt crossed the doctor’s face, and after a moment, he shook his head from side to side. “I’m sorry, Mike, but the answer is no. I’m still afraid that this is a scheme with your parents behind it, together with the detective they hired.”
Mike laughed bitterly. “They’d never put their precious Becky in danger, doctor. Me, no big deal; I’m just a disappointment, only moderately talented, nothing more. But their only daughter, born twelve years later, the gifted child in every way? My mother won’t let her out of her sight. This is coming only from my sister, not my parents, believe me.”
“So you realize even more that your plan is not relevant at all, don’t you?” the doctor snapped, dashing any hope that the desperately homesick boy may have had.
In the evening, Mike walked along the lawns, frustrated and aching, longing and worried, when the bearded Israeli suddenly appeared behind him.
“How are you, Mike?” he asked cheerfully. “What’s doing?”
“Nothing’s doing. Leave me alone.”
“You don’t think I might be able to help you out with whatever is troubling you?”
“You can help when my sister is going to die of anorexia? You have a way?”
“What do you mean?” Michoel looked at him quizzically. “Don’t you know what the solution to this problem is?”
“You mean, she should come to this place? Listen, I’m an adult, but she is a minor. And as long as my parents don’t agree to send her here, all my wishing in the world won’t be able to do a thing for her.”
“Convince them,” Michoel said simply.
Mike sniggered; he’d all but given up.
“That is exactly what I’m busy with now, convincing the parent of a suffering relative to send him here for healing.” Michoel put a hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“And you think you’ll succeed?”
“I hope so.”
“You’re so convinced about the methods of this place?”
“I thought that anyone who comes here admires their methods.”
“But it doesn’t necessarily mean that my parents admire them.” He hastily diverted the discussion from himself. “And you—I see that you’ve become one of us already, huh?”
“It was enough for me to speak to some of you. You’re very persuasive,” he said cautiously, smiling. “You also hope I’ll be able to persuade your sister, right?”
“Yes. The life that we come from is destroying her—it’s clear to me. The crazy pressure of being ‘the child of,’ the hours when no one has any time for you at home, the constant pursuit of nothing…” He stopped, brushing the wrinkled hand off his shoulder. “And I really want to see her, just to see her.” His eyes flitted all around. “I didn’t think I’d miss her so much…”
“You chose to come here, didn’t you?”
“I did not. I came here after a head injury.”
Mike nodded. “I know. When I came, you were unconscious.”
“Are there other patients here in that condition?”
“I don’t think so. It really is interesting, because usually, people come here themselves, or because relatives demanded that they come here for treatment.”
“And conventional hospitals agree to send people here?”
“If someone signs that he’s taking responsibility for himself? It’s like going home.”
“But I didn’t sign anything,” Michoel said. “I have no idea what the accident was about, and if I came here right afterward or if I was hospitalized somewhere else first.”
“It’s hard to believe that a normal hospital would have released you in an unconscious state, and there’s no family to take responsibility.”
“On the other hand, if my documents were stolen and they had no evidence of health insurance that I do or don’t have?” Michoel murmured in a low voice. Then he shook his head, and went back to the topic at hand: “Okay, now I’m here, and it’s useless to just talk about it. We’ll see which one of us is able to bring their relative here first: me, with my nephew, or you, with your sister.”