The Remainders

By Matthew Arnold Stern All Rights Reserved ©


Chapter Twenty: Reseda

I hated days off. I had nothing to do. Nothing but lay in the Explorer. That’s what I did the first days after I arrived in Reseda. I’d lay in the back all day, hoping that if it got hot enough, I’d get fried to death. It worked on dogs and toddlers strapped into car seats, but it didn’t work on me. The minute it got too uncomfortable, I got out. I just sat against the shady side of the SUV until it cooled off enough for me to go back inside and dream about dying of heatstroke.

But on this day off, I wanted to go out. I wanted to see Reseda, or at least the parts I hadn’t seen. I took some cash out of the side storage compartment to buy some lunch, locked up the Explorer, and just started walking. It wasn’t like I had anywhere to go or anytime I had to be back.

I noticed things walking around that most people don’t see just driving by. Like the smell of flowers from the flower shop. All those fragrances blending together. Or the people working out in the fitness studio, shouting and squatting in their tight spandex. There was an art supply store with murals on the front and sides of the building, all of them beautifully painted.

They had a lot of auto shops. One had a Dodge with its front end caved in. Obviously, someone wasn’t paying attention while driving. Or someone was drunk. That’s what happened to David. He drove home buzzed from a party and totaled his new BMW M3. His dad was really pissed. He grounded David for two weeks and bought him another one. I still don’t know how David beat that manslaughter charge.

I finally came to that park, the one that was supposed to have showers. But I didn’t see any buildings that looked like they had showers. It was just a grassy area with picnic tables and lots of trees. But it looked like there was another part of the park on the other side of the wash. Maybe the showers were there. Or maybe they were at the buildings just past the park. My mission became to find those showers. I knew I needed some way to get clean. I couldn’t keep asking Pearl. I didn’t want to impose, and I didn’t want her to keep looking at where I was circumcised.

I followed along this street called Kittridge towards those buildings. But they weren’t a part of the park. It was a high school, the one Pearl went to. It was like everything else in Reseda. It looked old, but they painted it to make it look nice. The school colors were almost like the ones at Dana Hills, shades of blue.

I wondered how much better things would have been for me if I stayed in high school and got good grades. Muriel did great in school, and she wound up going to a university. Most of all, she got away from our family. I still believed she didn’t give a fuck about me. Why would she, when she had a great life in Minnesota?

But Pearl did all the things Muriel did and then some. So, why was Muriel able to go to college and Pearl had to work at Buck & Awesome?

I finally found the showers. I walked down this street next to the high school, crossed a bridge that went over the wash, and found some buildings by the softball field. The showers were part of changing rooms by the pool. The building didn’t have good hours on weekdays. They would be closed by the time I got off from work, and they were closed on Sunday. I could go on my days off. I guess I could handle showering only once or twice a week. I had gone without showering for a month.

But as I left the building, I felt sad. It wasn’t the usual feeling that made me want to step in front of cars, jump off buildings, or slit my wrists. It felt heavy. It made every step difficult. I could only manage to walk across to the softball field and plant myself on the metal bleachers.

I started thinking of something Steven used to say in his speeches, “God takes us where we need to go and teaches us the lessons we need to learn.” So, why did He take me to Reseda? And what was I supposed to learn here?

I stared out on the flat dirt of the softball field. I hated being dragged to Muriel’s softball games, but I admit that I was excited to see her play. I wondered what would have happened if I had stuck with the sports I played. Would my family root for me like they rooted for Muriel?

I wondered what Pearl was like as a softball player. And I remembered that Pearl didn’t live far away.

The heaviness and sadness started to lift as I walked towards her house. But when I got to her street, Amigo Avenue, I froze. What the fuck was I doing here? Was I just creeping on her? What if she saw me? How could she? She would be at work. She had just started, so Ngoc wouldn’t give her the day off so soon.

And if I went to her house, what would I do? Just stare it? And what would she or her neighbors do if they see some random homeless guy stare at her house? They’d call the cops, that’s what they’d do. OC sheriff’s deputies can be dicks, but there’s no way I’d fuck with the LAPD.

I turned around and started walking back. That heavy sadness started weighing on me again, but I had to shrug that shit off. I knew it would be a long walk back. And I hoped my Explorer was still there when I returned.

Then something blue whizzed past me. Was that Pearl’s car?

I turned around and headed up Amigo. It was Pearl’s car. It pulled into the driveway in front of her house. Her red tail lights flashed bright.

And I found myself walking towards those lights. I had no idea why. I had no reason to be there, and I shouldn’t be there.

Until I discovered why.

Pearl opened the hatchback and took out a wheelchair. She seemed strong. That wheelchair must have weighed twenty pounds, and lifted it up and opened it like it was no big thing. She opened the passenger side door.

I continued walking up Amigo. Pearl didn’t seem to know I was there, which was a relief to me. But she seemed to be arguing with the person in the passenger seat.

“C’mon, Mom. I have to get back to work.”

“But, Pearl, I’m so tired.”

“Mom, please!”

I cut across the front lawn of the house next to Pearl’s and hid behind some bushes along her front yard. That was super sketchy and stupid. Especially because that street had a Neighborhood Watch sign posted on it. I expected the LAPD to show up any minute and give me a serious ass-whooping. In LA, cops whoop white people’s asses, not just blacks and Hispanics.

“Please, Mom! I just started there! If I come back from lunch too late, they’ll fire me!”

“But I have to gather my strength...”

I got out from behind those bushes and started walking, then striding, then running. I slowed down when I stepped onto their driveway and approached Pearl.

She looked at me with shock and anger. She didn’t speak. I couldn’t speak until I caught my breath.

“Let me help.”

I looked inside the car. Pearl’s mom looked thin and pale, and she had a pink floral bandana around her head. My Grandma Josephine, Dad’s mom, looked like that after a chemo session. And she looked that thin and acted that tired the month before she died. And my heart sank for her and Pearl.

As I looked at Pearl’s mom, it was hard to tell how old she was. She looked old from how frail and thin she was. At the same time, her face looked young.

But Pearl needed to get back to work. So, I held out my hands to her mom. And her mom reached out to me. She started to lift herself out of the car.

“Watch your head,” I whispered.

Slowly, she raised herself out of the car. Pearl held the wheelchair steady as I held her mom’s hands. She pivoted and lowered herself into the wheelchair. I moved the footrests into place and put her feet on them. I moved out of the way as Pearl started backing up her mom and taking her to the front door. I closed the passenger door of Pearl’s car.

Pearl unlocked the front door of her house and then glared back at me.

“Wait here.”

After about ten minutes, Pearl got out of the house and locked the door. She glared at me again.

“Get in.”

I complied. I assumed she was going to drive me back to Sherman Way. Unless she was driving me into the mountains to die.

She didn’t say a word as she stepped into the car and turned the key. She remained silent as she backed out of the driveway. She went down the entire length of Amigo Avenue, turned left onto Victory Boulevard, and stopped at the signal at Reseda Boulevard before she spoke.

“I won’t ask why you were here.”

“Why not?” I said. “I would.”

The green light came on. There wasn’t a green left turn arrow like the traffic lights in Orange County. She had to creep forward into the intersection and wait until the way was clear before turning. At that point, the signal had turned yellow. She turned onto Reseda Boulevard. And spoke.

“If you want to have sex with me, you can’t.”

There were so many ways I could have responded to that. Only one sounded right.

“What’s her prognosis?”

“Depends who you ask. Six weeks. A year. One says she can still make a full recovery.”

“What do you think?”

We stopped at a traffic light. She stared ahead at the cars in front of us.

“I don’t have a say in it.”

The light changed.

I fell silent. I remember how awful Dad felt about his mom. Even though he was a doctor and could bring other people back to health, he couldn’t save his own mother.

We turned onto Sherman Way. We went past the abandoned movie theater. Buck & Awesome appeared on our left. I exhaled softly.

“If there’s anything I can do...”

“Help me tell Ngoc why I’m late.”

Ngoc was a lot more understanding than either Pearl or I anticipated. He still tightened his face and wagged his finger.

First to Pearl, “If you need extra time to help your mother, let me know in advance.”

“Yes, Ngoc.”

Then to me, “And you, Dylan, you get out of the store. Don’t come back until work tomorrow.”

“Yes, Ngoc.”

I knew I couldn’t hang around and say good day. I turned and headed towards the exit. When I stepped out the door, Pearl had returned to her register. I didn’t expect her to stop and say thank you. She had a job to do.

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