The Remainders

By Matthew Arnold Stern All Rights Reserved ©


Chapter Twenty-Six: Reseda

I woke up early. Nothing that happened the night before made sense. In a way, it was good I didn’t see Pearl at work for a day. I didn’t know how things would be if I had to face her.

Since I took a shower at Pearl’s, I didn’t have to wash up at the gas station. After sticking my dick in his sink the other night, I’m sure Reza wouldn’t be happy to see me. I had some spare time, so I decided to look at the book Hannah let me borrow. I opened the lift gate and sat at the edge of the bed. It had become light enough to read.

I stared at that pastel cover with the mountain stream, rainbow, and glowing angel. I then tried to place that with the pictures of Hannah on that website. I didn’t take that close a look at them. They were just pictures of her with ropes wrapped around her. And she was fully dressed. She was in short dresses, miniskirts and partially open blouses, but they weren’t that much different from what Pearl wore to work.

I then remembered. Pearl wore one of her mom’s dresses. The one that was baggy on her. The one I saw the first time I met her.

But why would Pearl be so upset about that? Yeah, having your mom pose for a bondage site is pretty creepy. But she wasn’t doing anything you wouldn’t see in some action movie or TV show where there was some damsel in distress, like the ones Grandma Genevieve was in. I’m sure guys jerk off to that too.

And if it bothered Pearl, why did she have it up on her computer? And why was her computer unlocked? Did she want me to see it? And why would Pearl dress like her mom did in those pictures?

It was starting to creep me out, so I went back to the book Hannah loaned me. Perhaps this Reverend Patricia Williams Story had something to say about all this.

Hannah had stuck a lot of Post-It notes on the pages, the same way people at our church tag a Bible. I started flipping through the pages. She had marked up passages in yellow highlighter, also like the people at our church.

One of Reverend Story’s passages caught my eye.

“God takes us where we need to go and teaches us the lessons we need to learn. When we understand this truth, we can feel at peace about our circumstances. We can stop looking for people to blame and stop feeling like victims in our own lives. God is present at all times and in all situations. In the midst of the trials and suffering in our lives, we can connect to His Infinite Intelligence to help us get through them.”

I stared at that passage for a long time. Something seemed oddly familiar about it.

I set the book aside and reached for Face Time with Jesus. Once again, Steven’s self-satisfied face stared back at me. No mountain streams and glowing angels for him. As I thought of all the times he lectured at churches or lectured me about one thing or another, I knew where the passage would be. I saw it the other day. It was right after he talked about getting his medals directly from President George W. Bush. And that’s where I found it.

“God takes us where we need to go and teaches us the lessons we need to learn. Whenever I tell people this in speeches or in ministries, they begin to feel peace about their circumstances. They stop looking for people to blame and stop feeling like victims in their own lives. God is in control at all times and in all situations. When you think He is bringing trials and suffering in your life, He offers His grace to get you through them.”

The words were a little different, but they said about the same thing.

I don’t know anything about writing books, but I know you can’t copy something someone else wrote and not give that person credit. I did that once on a paper at school. I copied and pasted some stuff from Wikipedia and changed a few words here and there. Not only did I get an F, I got suspended for three days for an “ethics violation.”

But who jacked whose book? They usually put the year the book was published right after the title page. So, I turned to that page in Steven’s book.

“© 2010 by Dr. Steven H. Dimity.”

And then I looked at the page on Reverend Story’s book.

“Copyright © 1988 by Reverend Patricia Williams Story.”

Why would Steven even rip off a New Age book from the eighties? Didn’t that shit go out with the Jheri curl? Yet, Steven always complained in his speeches about “hippie liberals with their crystals and meditation.” He might as well complain about parachute pants and Milli Vanilli.

So, why would he rip off this Reverend Story? And what else did he rip off?

The morning continued to get weirder. When I got to Magdalena’s restaurant, she wasn’t there.

I stopped by the door and looked around. Perhaps she was busy, or wasn’t ready to come out just yet. I didn’t expect her to do anything for me, but a morning wasn’t the same without her smile and kind words. Or her pan dulce.

I couldn’t be late for work, so I kept going.

“Hey, amigo!”

A guy was holding the bag of pan dulces. I recognized him as one of the cooks. I stopped and walked towards him.

He held up the bag. “Magdalena said to give you this.”

“Where is she?”

“Magdalena, she’s not feeling too good.”

“Will you tell her that I hope she feels better?”

“Sure thing.” He smiled, but that smile quickly faded. He handed me the bag.


He started to turn away. I called out to him.

“It’s nothing serious, is it?”

He forced a smile. “Have a good day.”

I watched him walk back into the restaurant with his shoulders slumped. I knew this wasn’t good news.

Things got worse when I reached the store’s parking lot. That black lifted pick up truck was there. I kept walking. If I just ignored them...

“Yo, faggot!”

It wasn’t going to work.

The fat guy with the “Need Beer” cap was the one who called me out. He was sitting in the bed of that lifted pickup truck with a bunch of his equally fat, t-shirt and baggy jean wearing redneck friends. One guy had a stained and stretched out white t-shirt with a faded picture of a Confederate flag and a skull and crossbones. The other guy had a yellow-and-black Cobra Kai t-shirt.

I knew that you couldn’t show dicks like these that you’re afraid of them. They get off on that and just fuck with you more. I walked over to them. They looked up. They seemed surprised, not thinking I’d step up to them. Probably planned out how they’d fuck with me if I ignored them.

The guy in the “Need Beer” cap jumped off the bed and stepped up to me. “You know, you got some balls, like a white boy should.” He then stared me down right into my eyes. “So, why you take orders from a gook?”

I stared back at him. “’Cause he’s my boss. You do what your boss says. You’d know that if you had a real job.”

I couldn’t help but smile. I soon realized that was a mistake, especially when I noticed the rifle rack with the big-ass shotguns in the back window of their truck. Then “Need Beer” thrust out his hands and pushed me hard on my shoulders. He stepped up to me again and stuck his face into mine. He reeked of stale chewing tobacco.

“You think you’re fuckin’ funny, don’t you?”

My mouth took over. “At least I can think. What do you keep in your skull anyway?”

He shoved me back again. Now, his buddies were getting off the truck bed.

“Listen, you little cocksucker! I can beat the living shit out of you!”

He couldn’t. I knew he couldn’t. If he could, he wouldn’t need his squad of fellow inbreds with him. I bet he couldn’t even throw a decent punch. And we were right in front of the donut shop and other stores with customers around. If “Need Beer” started shit, someone would call the cops. I might be in the hospital, but he and his boys would be in jail. And getting food from an IV for a week or two is better than spending a year licking jelly out of someone’s ass crack.

And they knew it too. None of them made a move. Except for the guy in the white t-shirt with the flag and skull and crossbones. He was the only one who really scared me, because he had those crazy eyes that were wide open with pupils that darted from one side to another. He wasn’t a tweaker. He looked too fat to be a tweaker. He was just fucking nuts. And he looked like he was ready to jump me right then. But the guy in the Cobra Kai shirt grabbed his arm. They all turned to the end of the parking lot. A black-and-white pulled in.

“Need Beer” stepped away from me. “You’re lucky, motherfucker!”

I stood up straight. “I have work to do.”

I turned away from them.

“Need Beer” shouted from behind me. “This ain’t over, motherfucker! Not for you or your terrorist friends!”

I could have glanced back and said something witty like a hero in an action movie. But I wasn’t in an action movie. I had a minimum-wage job to go to, and those trailer-park assholes already made me late.

It was a day I was grateful to work. I restocked housewares and soft drinks, straightened up the toy aisle after another mother let her kids run wild, and cleaned the bathrooms. All with a smile on my face. Anything to take my mind off of everything that happened.

“Dylan, will you restock hardware?”

“Of course, Kishana.”

Anything to take my mind off of...

A box of rope.

Each coil of rope was neatly packaged in a clear cello bag with red, white, and blue printing.

“Nylon Rope - 10 feet (3.05 meters)

Proudly made in the USA!

Hundreds of household uses!”

I knew about uses that proud American manufacturer couldn’t have imagined.

I figured the sooner I got this rope on the rack, the sooner I didn’t have to think about those uses. The plastic bag had a hole on the top. I stuck the metal peg through the pole.

“Where is Pearl?”

Mrs. Cimino stood there with her pleasant smile. I had to give a pleasant smile back in return.

“She’s off today, Mrs. Cimino.” I reached into the box for another package of rope.

“I think she’s quite smitten with you.”

I stared at the rope in my hand, then turned to Mrs Cimino.

“No need to feel embarrassed about it,” she said. “I met my husband Hugh at our first job. We worked at the drive-in. You remember me telling you about the drive-in, don’t you?”

“Yes, Mrs. Cimino.”

“We worked at the snack bar. He worked the grill and fryer, and I worked at the cash register. We hit it off well. After our shift, we’d go to his Studebaker in the parking lot. His father owned a liquor store, so we always had something fun to drink. We’d share a couple bottles of Schlitz or Brew 102, and we’d have a nip or two of Cutty Sark. Then later, well.” She let out mischievous grin. “Let’s say we fogged up the windows of that old Studebaker, if you know what I mean.”

I did. I couldn’t imagine kindly Mrs. Cimino getting buck wild, but hell, she was young once too.

“Those were wonderful times.” Her grin faded. She sighed.

I glanced at the rope and then looked back at Mrs. Cimino. I knew I had to get back to stocking the rack before Ngoc caught me, but her face deepened into a sadness I hadn’t seen before. A sadness I couldn’t turn away from.

“What happened, Mrs. Cimino?”

She looked down at the floor. I had never seen her be that silent before.

“Mrs. Cimino? Are you OK?”

She looked up at me with a strange intensity.

“We don’t always appreciate the people we love. Until one day, they’re gone. That’s when you realize how much they meant to you. How much you miss them.”

“Is that what happened to...”

Mrs. Cimino held up her hand to silence me. “Just take my advice, Dylan. You’ll know how much love someone by how much miss that person when they’re gone.”

I thought about what Mrs. Cimino said on my walk to the library after work. Since it was a long walk, I had a lot of time to think. What happened to her? And what happened to her husband? And her daughter Beatrice? And why did she have to tell me about all that? Was she really trying to save me? If so, from what?

What she she said about love made sense. She said you know you love someone by how much miss them when they’re gone. Did I feel that way about Pearl?

I didn’t feel that way about any of the other girls I had been with. Most of them were just random hoes anyway. And Zoey, who wanted to run away with me so we can have our child, I wasn’t so broken up after it was over. She made it clear I couldn’t be with her anyway. It was what it was.

But Pearl, whenever she would leave, I felt a heavy sadness afterwards. A sadness I haven’t felt about anything or anyone. And even the sadness kept me from thinking about my usual hateful thoughts about myself. I didn’t think about jumping off buildings or stepping into traffic. She was kind to me. She let a homeless guy like me into her home to shower. And washed my clothes and served me dinner. No sane woman would to that. Yet, she did that for me.

And I felt bad about her mom and her cancer. And how Pearl had to give up her dreams and become practically a servant to her, knowing that she might still die in months despite all her care.

But there were also things about Pearl that put me off. All those awkward questions. All the times she focused on my dick. And yet, she told me that I can’t have sex with her. Was she just being a tease? Or was there something holding her back? She seems ashamed of her mom’s past. And yet she looks at her pictures. And what was the deal with her bookcase? Didn’t she have Fifty Shades of Grey? And Nancy Drew, doesn’t some girl get tied up a lot in those books too?

I still didn’t know how I felt about Pearl. If I could know her better, I could find out. Or if I really missed her if I didn’t see her anymore.

That was why I started looking for room rentals on Craigslist. I didn’t want to feel dependent on Pearl for a shower and laundry. I wouldn’t know if I really loved her as long as I depended on her for things I should do myself. I also didn’t want her to get resentful or feel like she’s my slave. The way she seems to feel taking care of her mom.

I also knew how sketchy my situation was with my Explorer. I had parked behind the abandoned movie theater for over a month. I didn’t want to go back there one day and found it was stolen or towed. I felt lucky that it hadn’t been already.

But what I found on Craigslist discouraged me. Most of the listings in Reseda were in Spanish. Now, I wished I knew more Spanish than swear words and conjugations of “ser.” But I didn’t need to translate how much they charged for rent. They were more than I could afford.

Then I saw this ad for a roommate in Encino.

Kind elderly man (age 74) seeks live-in help. Male preferred 18-24 in good shape. Perform odd jobs for room and board.

By “odd jobs,” he probably meant blow and rim.

I still had one other option. I checked my email. Dad’s previous emails were still there, including the one I started to reply to. The email was still saved as a draft. I could still edit and send it. But I saw a new one.


We’ve become frantic wondering where you are.”

Again with the “we.” Who the fuck did he mean by that?

“Muriel is very upset. She wants to come home from Minnesota to look for you, even though she has midterms next week.”

Fuck Muriel. If she was so upset, why didn’t she write me herself? She had my email address if she couldn’t reach me by text. And she was trying to guilt me by saying she’ll ditch midterms to look for me. Doesn’t this passive-aggressive bullshit come from the Jewish side of our family?

“We’re considering calling the sheriff and filing a missing person report.”

Then why haven’t you? Most parents who give a shit file a missing person report the second they know their child is missing. Even if they murdered the child themselves and just wanted to use it as cover.

But what was I doing, having such rude thoughts about Dad and Muriel? Didn’t Magdalena say to always be kind? And didn’t Mrs. Cimino say you know you love someone by how much miss him? Obviously, Dad loves me enough to keep writing to me. So why haven’t I written back to him? Did I miss him? Did I love him?

Mom told me that Dad didn’t get custody of me because he didn’t care enough to try. I believed that at first, and so I hated him for not caring about me. When I found out what really happened, I still hated him for not trying hard enough to keep me and standing up for himself.

In church, they tell you to honor your mother and father. What if they don’t honor you? Do you have to love someone only because they used their sperm and egg to make you? Shouldn’t love be earned?

That was when both sadnesses hit me at once. The heavy sadness of feeling alone and the hateful sadness of deserving that loneliness. Of crying out for someone to love me and wanting to step in front of a bus to silence that cry.

I logged off the computer without reading another word of Dad’s email.

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