Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 55 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.
“Chani, are you leaving now?”
“I already left. I’m at the bus stop now.” Despite the four empty seats at the stop, Chani couldn’t sit down. She paced back and forth with her phone, glancing at the street every few moments.
“What do you say? Do you think I should also go?”
She sighed. “You tell me, Baruch. Do you think you should go?”
“I don’t know. Last time he was hospitalized was two and a half years ago, and when I came to visit, he didn’t want to look at me.” Baruch fell silent for a minute. “And besides, it was during bein hazmanim.”
Chani heard all the unspoken words. “I don’t think it’s smart for you to go now, even though, to be honest, it would be much easier for me if you’d come along,” she said.
“Yes?” This time, it didn’t take a very sharp ear to hear the relief in his voice.
“What yes? Yes, that it would be easier for me if you came along, or yes, that you shouldn’t go to him?”
“That I shouldn’t go to him,” he whispered. “I can’t think of him in that place.”
“I know. Especially since, if I remember correctly, everyone who saw you in the ward told you how much you look like him, and that didn’t exactly make you feel good.”
“Right,” Baruch whispered again.
“I’ll give him regards from you.”
“Is the bus coming right now?” he asked suddenly. “Because if not, maybe dash over to the bakery and buy him some of those peanut butter cookies that he loves, the ones that Michoel always used to bring… I’ll pay you back, b’ezras Hashem.”
“I bought them already. I’ll tell him they are from you.”
“Is Ima there now?”
“No,” Chani said. “She was there yesterday from when she brought him in until late at night. I told her not to come today, and that I would take the day off and go there.”
“You…do you think they’ll release him soon?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I really don’t know.”
“Okay…” he said slowly, and it seemed to her that her little brother—at twenty-four— might be crying.
“Bye, Baruch. Don’t let this get you too down. Hashem will help.”
As soon as she hung up, a smiling young woman tapped her on the shoulder. “You’re Chani, right?”
Oy, her of all people.
“Right. And you are…Penina?”
“Yes! It’s so cute that we were able to recognize each other!” She tittered, her hand resting on the baby carriage with her.
“That’s to your credit; you were first… And is this your baby? She’s so sweet!” Chani smiled at the baby in the carriage. Then she looked at the bag she was holding. Pureed vegetable soup, mashed potatoes and chicken, three packages of chocolate, and a bag from Hatzvi Bakery. Change the subject, change the subject. She had no idea what Penina might have heard of her conversation with Baruch and what she knew. What they knew. What their father knew, in general.
“Yes, baruch Hashem… You know, I enjoyed it in your mother’s house. She really pampered me… She’s such a wonderful person.”
“And tell me, what’s with that guy? My husband and I cannot figure out who he is. He must be from your side, right?”
“Our side?” Chani echoed, almost choking on every syllable. That was a strange way to put it. Hadn’t her father told them that Yosef was a son? What had he told them, that he was a miserable youth who’d come to live in their house as a chessed, or something?
“Maybe not…” Penina stammered, abashed. “He came with my father to my mother’s yahrtzeit, and then went back to Haifa with him… We understood that he’s a guest there now, and we were sure he’s some American cousin or something, because you have family overseas, don’t you?”
“I have no idea who you are talking about,” Chani managed to respond.
“Yes, the guy who messed up my husband… Your mother didn’t tell you? In the end they gave back his phone, but they came and asked us a million more questions. They apparently figured out, and we have no idea how, that he is somehow connected to my father, and we were really scared. But we haven’t heard anything from them since. My father refuses to answer any questions about him. He just said that no police came to arrest him or anything, and that we shouldn’t worry.”
Sounded like this family had some of their own dark secrets.
“Believe me, I have no idea what you’re talking about. My mother didn’t say a word to me about anyone named Martin. Oh, wait!” Maybe she was referring to what Ima had told her nearly a month ago? “Some young man came over and told them things about my mother’s uncle from Yerushalayim… But I didn’t know his name was Martin, or that he stayed with them.”
“Is staying with them,” Dov’s daughter corrected. “At least, as of yesterday morning. He was still there then, based on what my father said.”
Aha. So her father shared with her everything going on in the house? Ima, why are you the only one keeping secrets from us?
“But he only told us,” Penina said hastily, as if reading Chani’s thoughts. “I mean, my husband and me, and even that only after that incident with the cell phone on the yahrtzeit. You realize that after my husband got involved, my father couldn’t just stay quiet and not tell us anything. But he wouldn’t say a word about Martin’s story.” She tittered again. “And I’m the curious type. So if you hear something from your mother, let me know, okay?”
Hear something from your mother. From the last person who would reveal anyone else’s secrets.
“It’s hard for me to believe that my mother would tell me anything about people’s personal matters,” Chani said, almost sounding apologetic. Where was the bus? She didn’t want Yosef to wait too long for her.
“Yes, she’s really amazing about that. And how is your brother? The one in the hospital?”
Oops. “Baruch Hashem.”
“Hope he gets well soon!” Penina wished her warmly. “My father is very worried about him, so it sounds. I caught him when he and your mother were in the hospital yesterday.” She was quiet for a moment. “Not that my father tells me about people’s personal things. But he always tries to answer when I call, because he knows I’m a worrywart… And I heard hospital sounds, so he asked your mother if he could tell me what was going on. That’s what he told me afterward, and she told him that he could reassure me that no one’s life was in danger, and there was no serious illness or anything. It was like dehydration or something?”
“I don’t know exactly, but something like that,” Chani said, swinging the bag from the bakery. “I haven’t heard yet what the doctors are saying.”
“But they’re not worried.”
“No, not really.” Why should they be worried? Yosef came to be hospitalized after Ima and Avigdor had spent a long time trying to convince him to admit himself there. Yosef accepted anything Avigdor said almost absolutely, maybe because he was the oldest. So Avigdor had traveled from Modiin Illit to Haifa, and for the first time since Ima’s marriage, had visited the house.
It was a good thing Penina wasn’t asking her which hospital Yosef was in; she’d probably only get an answer like “Rambam.” She wouldn’t understand what the “Tirat Carmel Mental Health Center” was about anyway. Or rather, she would understand, and that would be the problem.
To her great relief, the 921 bus pulled up just then.
Yosef’s room was rather crowded. There were greenish curtains hanging between each of the four beds; his was the last one. Besides him, there was just one other patient in the room, a young teen wearing a knitted yarmulke. He was standing near the window, but when he saw Chani, he fled the room.
She glanced back at the corridor behind her. It was pretty quiet, except for a couple of people walking around in pajamas, in near silence. She didn’t see anyone else. Still, she closed the door of the room behind her, and only then approached the last bed. She hadn’t seen Yosef in so long and had no idea what was waiting for her.
He lay on the bed, eyes closed, with a clear liquid dripping through an infusion in his arm. She came closer, trying to read what it said on the bag. Just then Yosef spoke up. “Oh, you came?”
“Yup.” She forced her eyes away from the IV. “How are you, Yosef? I thought you were sleeping. I didn’t want to wake you.”
“No, I’m not sleeping,” he said heavily. “I’d even get up, but I don’t like walking around with this IV.”
Her eyes were drawn to the infusion yet again, like a magnet.
“It’s just fluids,” he said, with a laugh that sounded more like a croak. “I got dehydrated. I was hardly drinking.” He paused, and then conceded, “Now I’m trying to drink more.” He pointed with his chin to a bottle of water on the nightstand. “But I’m not doing very well.”
For a moment, it all looked like a very normal hospital, except for the name and logo that appeared on the sheets and pillows.
“When they finish giving you the fluids, what are they going to do?”
He didn’t respond. She suddenly remembered the bags she was still holding, and put them down on the floor. Were there chairs for visitors in this place?
“Don’t know,” he finally said, after five full minutes of silence. “I have a session with a psychiatrist soon.” He sighed. “He’s going to want to talk to me about all kinds of things again. And about my pills.”
“When you take them, you usually feel great, don’t you?”
“Sometimes I feel very sad.”
“Every person feels very sad sometimes.”
He waved his hand in dismissal, not bothering to contradict her with words.
“Could be that he’ll suggest to me afterward to move into their housing program. They have a petting zoo, a greenhouse, a school…”
“What would I be doing if I was thirteen now, let’s say? Of course there’s a school.”
“You probably wouldn’t have learned there,” she said resolutely. “Is it frum?”
“I don’t know. But if the students there need help with math, I can help them. Or I can work with animals, or tend to the plants.”
“You’re good at a lot of things.”
He laughed her off, and then became quiet.
“You were also very good with the patients at Rambam. Ima always told me how happy they were with you.”
Yosef gazed wordlessly at the infusion. Chani looked at him, at the window, and at the clean floor, not knowing what to say, what to suggest, what to ask.
She picked up the bags from the floor. “I brought you a lot of good food,” she said, with forced cheerfulness. “How would you like a tasty lunch now?”
“No,” he answered heavily.
“Did you eat breakfast?”
He gave her one of his stares, the type that scared her, and remained quiet.
She finally put the bags back down. “Is there a chair anywhere? I’ll go find one in the hallway, okay?”
“I don’t want to go back to Rambam,” he said suddenly. “Or home. I’ll tell the psychiatrist to hire me here for work; they’re very nice in this place. If I have to work in an emergency room, I can work in theirs.”
She nodded. “Ima told me that you were very sad; that you took the passing of that patient from Rambam very hard.”
“I don’t want to go home either.”
“That man is there, Ima’s, and this boy from Yerushalayim who follows me. They’re hosting him, and they don’t know how bad he is.”
“The boy is from Yerushalayim or from America?”
He scratched the tip of his nose, as his eyes flitted around the room but avoided looking at her. “Don’t know. I saw him near Michoel’s house, and he’s not okay at all. Ima needs to be told that. But even if he leaves, I don’t want to go home.”
“Dov isn’t nice to you?”
“He is nice to me. But I’m not Ima’s anymore.” His words were clumsy, like a little boy’s. But he was able to express his emotions, and Chani noted to herself that despite being hospitalized, his condition seemed to be much better than it was the last time she had seen him. When was that? When had she last seen him, or Ima, for that matter? When had she last been in Haifa? She wasn’t Ima’s anymore, either.