The Remainders

By Matthew Arnold Stern All Rights Reserved ©


Chapter Eleven: Lake Forest

"Mr. Stromberg, didn’t we talk about why you shouldn’t depend on TV ads for medical advice?”

“But it said to find out from your doctor if Inutilisa is right for you!”

I gave a smile that I hoped wasn’t condescending.

“That medication isn’t really for your condition, Mr. Stromberg. Its active ingredient is Serpensoleum, which doesn’t address the inflammation.” I took out my prescription pad. “Let me give you a prescription for something else. This is for a stronger anti-inflammatory medicine that is available in generic. It should be covered by your Medicare Part D.”

“But people who use Inutilisa seem so happy. They dance, and scuba dive, and run through the sprinklers with their grandchildren...”

“And did you listen to the long list of side effects?” I tore off the prescription and handed it to him. “Give this a try. This should reduce the pain and increase your mobility. And if you don’t see any improvement, come back and see me.”

I led Mr. Stromberg to the waiting room. He shook my hand. “Thank you, Dr. Glass. Goodbye.”

I cringed, but I smiled and said, “Have a pleasant day.”

As he went out the front door, I looked over the waiting room. It was empty. I walked to Alison, who was organizing some charts at her desk.

“Don’t I have a one thirty?”

“She cancelled.” She looked up from the charts. “I got a call from Ms. Martin’s pharmacy. She wants a refill for Percocet.”

“We don’t give refills for that. Have her come in and see me. If she’s in that much pain, I need to take a look.”

“She told the pharmacist that she needs the refill now.”

“Then, she should come in right away. She can even come in now, if she likes.”

“I’ll give her a call.”

I gently tapped the counter. “I better grab something to eat.”

Before Rachel, grabbing something to eat meant running to a nearby fast-food place. Now, lunch was a sandwich on cracked wheat berry bread, romaine lettuce, avocado, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, and roasted pepper hummus. It was delicious, but I would kill for some bacon. I was never good about keeping kosher, even as a kid. When Grandma Dinah wasn’t around, Mom would take Maury and me out for cheeseburgers.

I was glad to give up bacon and cheeseburgers to have the life I’ve had since I started dating Rachel.

Before that, I was a mess. I was adrift for years after Mom’s death and the divorce. On top of that, my practice was in decline. I had to lay off one of my nurses. Other doctors I knew suggested that I move my practice to Irvine. “Patients don’t want to come to some dumpy building in Lake Forest when there are new medical offices in Irvine. They have richer patients there too.” I couldn’t afford rent on a new place, especially when I had to pay child support, Muriel’s softball, and Dylan’s military school. Eventually, I had to drop the military school because I couldn’t afford it, and it didn’t seem to do anything for him anyway. I even had to sell my condo and lease an apartment because I risked foreclosure.

Then there were the meds.

I started with the samples. Anti-depressants mostly. They helped for a while, but then a few pills weren’t enough. I started self-prescribing. It wasn’t illegal as long as it wasn’t a controlled substance, but I knew it wasn’t right. But after a while, the medications I could self-prescribe weren’t enough. I had a few friends who could. Yvette was one of them. She was getting prescriptions from another doctor for Ritalin to keep her focused during long shifts at the hospital. I learned there was a whole group of doctors who were prescribing controlled medications to each other. Some even sold them on the street. I knew I was risked going to jail and losing my license by doing this, but I had do something to stop those horrible voices in my head.

"Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’may raboh...”

The gray men in the black suits didn’t speak the crisp modern Hebrew that Rachel spoke. They said “oh” instead of “ah.” Instead of “ai,” they said “oy.” Their prayers sounded like murmured complaints.

“...Ul’asokoh yot’hon l’khayay olmo...”

I stood in my own black suit close to Mom. On the other side of her, Maury shifted uncomfortably. A hard grasp on the shoulder from Grandma Dinah got him to stand still.

In front of us was the mound of dirt where Dad was buried.

“...Ba’agolo u’vizman kori, v’im’ru omayn.”

"Your son was a fine doctor...”

“Josephine, we are so sorry for your loss...”

“I remember him in high school. He was my most conscientious student...”

I just sat frozen, surrounded by voices. And food. So much food. Bagels, lox, and cream cheese. Fruit trays with immaculately cut pieces of pineapples, cantaloupe, and strawberries. A dessert table with every pastry imaginable. A punchbowl with some reddish sweet drink with floating orange slices and some purplish sweet kosher wine for the adults. There was always food around when you’re a Jew. We Jews had to have food for every occasion, even this one.

I couldn’t eat. I sat in a chair in the corner of the reception hall.

“He looks just his father...”

“I hope those boys will be OK...”

“It’s a shame they will grow up without their father in their lives...”

They talked about me, but not to me. It was like I wasn’t there. I was as absent from that room as Dad was.

“He was gone way too soon...”

“Such a shame. He had so much promise...”

“He had his whole life ahead of him...”

They didn’t talk about how Dad died. I didn’t dare say a word, even though I was the first to find him.

At first, it seemed like some strange practical joke. His lifeless body hanging from the rafters in the garage between Mom’s 1979 Toyota Corolla station wagon and his brand-new 1981 Ford Thunderbird with the landau roof and opera window. He really wanted a BMW 528i, but Grandma Josephine wouldn’t allow it. It seemed strange to me that she wouldn’t allow German cars, but she found it perfectly acceptable to have one named after a man who published The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in his newspaper and received a medal from Nazi Germany.

And it didn’t seem possible that Dad would kill himself after buying a shiny new car, regardless of make or model.


It didn’t occur to me that he would never answer me again. I kept walking towards him.


His body swayed slightly from the drafts in the garage. His arms hung limp by his sides. His feet pointed downwards, like on tiptoes. There was a smell, like when I had an accident before I could get to the bathroom. I wanted to touch him, to see if somehow he was still alive. But I was too afraid.

On the floor below him was a tipped-over step stool and a piece of paper. The paper had Dad’s handwriting, but it looked neater and stronger than usual.

"I’m sorry. It’s not your fault. I love you all. Goodbye."

The doorknob turned behind me.

“Oliver, have you seen...”

Mom’s scream ripped through the garage. It was a sound I haven’t stopped hearing for 35 years.

"Dr. Glass, Ms. Martin is here.”

Startled, I looked around the room.

“Dr. Glass?”

I turned towards the office door. Alison had it partially opened and stuck her head in the opening.

“Ms. Martin has come in, as you requested.”

“Good. That’s good. Have Joy get her vitals and take her to room one. I’ll be right there.”

“Yes, doctor.” She pulled her head from the doorway and closed the door slightly. “Shall I...”

“That’s OK. I’ll be right out.”

I looked over my desk. My sandwich was only half eaten.

I wished I didn’t remember so many things. Life would be easier if I didn’t.

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