The Remainders

By Matthew Arnold Stern All Rights Reserved ©


Chapter Twenty-Seven: Lake Forest

"Help me bring in the bags.” Rachel opened the lift gate of the Sequoia. David dutifully dashed to the rear of the vehicle and picked up a couple of plastic bags. Moshe slowly got down from the car seat and slumped his shoulders on the way to the back.

The Sequoia had the biggest cargo bed I had ever seen in an SUV. It was bigger than my old Explorer. But Rachel managed to cover the entire floor of it with grocery and retail store bags in a range of whites, beiges, and grays. She tackled shopping with the aggressiveness she gained in the Israeli army. I had never seen anyone argue so vigorously to get a store to accept a coupon, which I suspect was expired.

I scooped up a couple bags. David came back for his second load. Moshe straggled behind.

I couldn’t blame Moshe for being exhausted. Rachel drove us all over South County to find the best deals, from Kohl’s in Laguna Niguel to a Persian market in Costa Mesa. She probably spent more on gas than she saved on merchandise.

Moshe finally made his way to the back of the Sequoia. Rachel handed him a bag.

“Be careful, this has glass.”

I set my bags on the kitchen counter. I took my iPhone out of my pocket. No reply from Dylan. I did get a reply from Muriel.

“Dear Dad,

Thank you for writing back to me. I’m glad you sent Dylan another email, but we really need to file a missing person report. I know you don’t want me to miss my midterms and hurt my softball, but it’s getting really hard for me to...”


I put my iPhone on the counter and rushed to the front door. Moshe stood trembling in the entryway. He had a beige plastic bag from Ralphs clutched in his arms. By his feet was a shattered glass pickle jar. Pickles and shards of glass scattered in front of him. The pickle brine spread out around his feet, across the entryway, and into the carpet.

I could hear Rachel’s gasp before she appeared in the doorway.

She instantly scolded him in Hebrew. He replied with cries and pleas. To my right, David froze in place. His posture seemed uncomfortably familiar.

Rachel raised her voice while Moshe whined back. I never imagined that Hebrew could sound so angry. The deep throated fricatives, the hissed out “sh” and “tz,” the “ah” and “ai” that sound like howls. I only knew of Hebrew from the Torah, prayer, and the uplifting verses of “Hatikvah.” I didn’t think of Hebrew as an ordinary language parents could use to chew out their kids.

And Rachel’s Hebrew was growing especially harsh.

I walked over to Rachel and Moshe. I kept my voice soft and calm. “Look, it’s just an accident...”

She snapped at me, “I told him to be careful!”

Moshe whined back, “I was careful!”

Rachel started the angry Hebrew again.

I looked down at the pickles, brine, and glass. “We should clean this up...”

She shouted at Moshe. “Moshe, you broke it! You clean it up!”

He cried, “Ima!...”

“A kid his age shouldn’t be handling broken glass.”

“When I was his age, I was learning how to respond to air raid sirens and what to do when terrorists attack. So don’t tell me that Moshe is too young to clean up broken glass!”

I held out both palms and started backing away. “OK. OK...”

As I headed back to the kitchen, I felt foolish. She was right. Moshe was her son. Who was I to tell her how to raise him, especially when my kids had problems of their own? I picked up my iPhone to read the rest of Muriel’s email.



I stuffed the phone in my pocket and rushed out of the kitchen. As I turned the corner, I saw that Rachel had closed the front door. Her face became reddened and contorted. David stood stiff and frozen in place.

And next to Rachel, a quivering Moshe hung down his head and clutched his cheek.

My run turned into a stomp. “What did you just do!”

Rachel’s face tightened more. I slowed down and walked over to Moshe. My feet squished into the carpet where it had been soaked with brine. I gently pulled back Moshe’s hand and looked at his cheek.

I jerked up my head towards Rachel. “You hit him!”

“I disciplined him!”

“That’s not discipline! That’s abuse!”

“That was the way I was raised!”

“We don’t raise children that way here!”

“And that’s why American kids are entitled brats!”

I looked at Moshe, who was still holding his cheek and sobbing. I then turned to David, who was still standing rigid and frightened, just the way I used to do.

I spoke softly to him, “Take your brother to his room.”

He started walking to Moshe, but when he looked at his mother, he froze.

“Go on,” I whispered.

He continued. He touched Moshe on the shoulder and started leading him towards the hallway. Moshe and David did not look at their mother. I waited until they went to their rooms and closed their doors. I didn’t want them to hear what I was going to say.

"That is what I’m talking about, Rachel!”

“They have to learn!”

“What? That hitting people is OK!?”

“How did you discipline your children, Oliver? Give them timeouts? Tell them to use their words, their indoor voices, honor each other’s feelings, or some useless garbage like that? No, I know how you disciplined your children, Oliver. You didn’t discipline them at all!”

“Abuse isn’t discipline!”

“Do you know what abuse is, Oliver? Not teaching them responsibility! Not making them face the consequences of their actions! Not preparing them for life! My parents hit me, and I’m glad they did!”

“Are you kidding me!? What the hell’s your problem!?”

“I grew up surrounded by people who hate me!”

“So, you blame the Palestinians!?”

“You arrogant American ass! You don’t know what life’s like outside a suburb, do you!?”

“I know you don’t beat kids, Rachel!”

“You try growing up half-black around white kids! You try being told you’re not a real Jew because you’re not Orthodox! You try doing twice as much and get half the credit because you’re a girl! That’s why I’m glad my parents hit me! It made me strong!”

“It made you a brute!”

“Is that what you think of me!?”

“I don’t know what the hell to think of you!”

“Do you know what I think of you, ben-zona!?”

“Hey! You curse me out, you do it in English!”

We stopped talking. We just screamed over each other. It didn’t matter to us that her children could hear us down the hall. We shut ourselves into a ball of noise and hate that neither of us could escape.

Finally I screamed, “If that’s how you feel about it, I’ll leave!”

She screamed back, “Fine! Go!”

I wasn’t bluffing. I assumed she wasn’t either. I stormed down the hallway towards the bedroom and into the closet. I pulled down my suits, shirts, and slacks and draped them over my arm. I knew how to leave a home. I had done it before.

Behind me, Rachel screamed, “That’s it! Leave! That’s been your answer for everything, hasn’t it, Oliver? Run away! Don’t deal with anything!”

I grabbed some dress shoes from the floor and placed them on top of the clothes. I stormed down the hall again towards the garage.

Rachel followed behind me screaming. “You coward! You spineless worm! You came off so worried about the kids a few minutes ago! Now, you leave them!?”

I opened the lift gate of my Lexus and tossed the clothes into the cargo bed.

I headed out of the garage and back to the bathroom. I swiped my Sonicare, toothpaste, mouthwash, and prescription bottles off the counter and rushed back to the garage to dump them in my Lexus. I then headed back to the bedroom.

“If that’s what you want, Oliver, get out! Get out of here! Get out, you worthless piece of slime!”

I went to the dresser and scooped my underwear and socks out of the drawer.

“You’re not a real man! You’re not a real father! You’re not a real human being!” She spat out a bunch of Hebrew obscenities. I stopped listening. All her screaming became just noise to me.

I went into the study and threw the underwear and socks on the sofa. I tossed my MacBook Pro, power supply, and Lightning cable into my briefcase, along with that copy of the Orange County Register. I bundled my clothes under my arm, picked up my suitcase, and stormed into the hallway.

“I knew you can leave anytime.”

I turned to my left. Moshe’s red and tear-streaked face stared up at me. I turned to my right. A frightened David stared at me. I looked back over my shoulder. Rachel’s red and hate-filled face glared at me. I turned my face forward and headed to my Lexus. Screams and sobs followed me.

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