The Remainders

By Matthew Arnold Stern All Rights Reserved ©

Drama

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Lake Forest

One 145-milligram tablet of Fenofibrate. One 50-milligram tablet of Losartan. One 81-milligram tablet of low-dosage aspirin. One 5-milligram tablet of Cialis. All sat in their bottles. That night, I didn’t care if I had a flaccid penis, plaque in my blood vessels, or a diseased heart. In fact, the sooner I got off this wretched planet, the better. To help things along, I drove to the nearest fast-food place.

“Welcome. Can I take your order, please?”

“Yes, I want something that has at least 2,000 calories, 500% of my daily recommended intake of sodium, and enough cholesterol to clog my aorta like the 405 at rush hour.”

After a pause, the man on the speaker came back. “I’m sorry, could you please repeat that?”

I sighed. “Hell, give me a double bacon cheeseburger, a large fries, and a large Diet Coke.”

“That’ll be $8.45 at the second window.”

I edged my car around the curving driveway until I stopped behind an even larger Chevrolet Suburban.

I still hadn’t sorted out what happened that night. Perhaps there existed a parallel universe where I would still be at home with Rachel, David, and Moshe. We would be eating kale and wild greens salad with braised tofu and a cilantro lime vinaigrette. Then, I would cuddle up with Rachel in a warm bed. Instead, I sat alone and homeless in my Lexus SUV as I watched some young man at the window hand bag after bag of food to the man in the Chevrolet in front of me.

Finally, his tail lights dimmed, and his vehicle moved forward. I rolled up to the window.

“$8.45 please.” The young man looked about Dylan’s age.

I pulled out my wallet from my back pocket and took out my Bank of America Angels MasterCard. I handed it to the young man.

“Thank you.” He swiped the card on his register and handed the card back to me.

I still had money and a job. I didn’t need a mailing address because I got my credit card statements online and paid them with an iPhone app. I didn’t combine bank accounts with Rachel, and we didn’t buy anything together, so I didn’t have to worry about her taking anything besides whatever I left at her house. I could function without a home and anyone else in my life. I was free, because freedom meant I could ingest the contents of the bag and cup the young man handed to me without judgement.

“Have a good evening.”

“Same to you.” I put the cup in a cup holder and the bag on top of the console and drove off.

Freedom also meant I didn’t know where to go.

I could check into one of the residence hotels on Lake Forest Drive, or I could ask some of the other doctors I knew if I could sleep on their couch for a couple days. I didn’t have anyone I could call a friend. After I stopped taking those medications, many of the doctors I thought were friends, like Yvette, just fell out of touch.

Freedom also meant being completely alone.

I decided to stop in a parking lot and eat my food. It was an office building across from the fast food place. The parking lot was mostly abandoned. I parked at a far corner of the lot under a light. It must have been one of those energy-saving lights because it was dim and had a slight blue tint. It gave me enough light to eat without having to see what I was eating.

I reached into the bag, pulled out the double bacon cheeseburger, and opened the wrapper. The burger had some heft to it. It was thick, and the grease on the bacon glistened as the melted cheese draped over the textured patties. I understood how someone like Leo Shelton was seduced by fast food to the point that it killed him. Fast food is the perfect lover. It is sensual. It offers instant pleasure with little effort. It always satisfies, always comforts, and is always there when you need it. It never argues, never disappoints you, and never breaks your heart.

I opened my mouth and prepared to take my first bite.

“You shouldn’t eat that.”

My hand froze. The burger remained suspended a few inches from my lips. I slowly turned my head.

Grandma Dinah was sitting in the passenger seat. I lowered my arm.

“You again?”

“Who else is going to stop you from shoving that treyf mound of grease into your mouth?”

I shook the burger at her. “Do you think I give a damn this isn’t kosher?”

“Do you really want to wipe out a whole week of workouts?”

My imagination was messing with me. She wasn’t really there. She had been dead for 20 years. I was going to eat my damn bacon double cheeseburger. Once again, I raised the burger to my mouth. I turned my head slightly.

Grandma Dinah was still in the passenger seat.

I shoved the cheeseburger back into the bag. “Why do you still haunt me!?”

“What, you think I’m a ghost?”

Ghost or not, she was definitely Grandma Dinah. Answering questions with questions.

“Then who the hell are you?”

“I’m the voice in your head that keeps you from taking this stylish and powerful Lexus RX 450h in Eminent Pearl White with parchment leather interior, Lexus Enform App Suite with navigation and Bluetooth connectivity, and 15-speaker, 835-watt Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound Audio System and driving it straight off a cliff.”

“You? Save me?” I huffed bitterly. “You drove Dad to commit suicide!”

“I tried to save him for as long as I could.”

“By berating him? Belittling him? Treating him like garbage?”

“Your father was a sick man.”

“Sick!? He had depression! His neurotransmitters were...”

“Spare me your med school talk! His sickness was that he knew something was wrong with him, and he didn’t do anything about it! He could cure other people, but he didn’t see the illness in himself!”

She leaned towards me.

“Your father couldn’t find a way to silence those voices in his head. But I could.” She wagged her finger. “You know what it was.”

I thought about it for a moment. I quickly went through everything I experienced with her.

“Fear?”

She nodded. “Fear. That kept the voices in line.”

“But that’s the worst thing you could do to a...”

“Listen, Oliver. We’re not driven by what we love, but what we fear. Since your father couldn’t bring himself to love life, I made him fear death. I made him fear offending God and bringing shame to himself and his family. I made him fear leaving his wife and children, especially when he knew he would leave them with me. I even used the Holocaust. I’d tell him, ‘Six million of our people were murdered, and now you should kill yourself?’”

“That’s disgusting!”

“It worked.”

“No, it didn’t! He still wound up hanging himself!”

“If it weren’t for me, he would have killed himself a long time ago. You wouldn’t have even been born.”

I looked down at my fast food bag, which was getting stained with grease.

“Besides,” she said, “It worked on you.”

My head bolted up and turned towards her. She let out a small vindicated smile.

“You have the sickness too. So did your brother. But Maury didn’t have the fear. He tried to silence the voices with alcohol and drugs. You know what happened.”

“What about Dylan? Does he have depression? Does he have suicidal thoughts?”

“If you don’t know the answers to those questions, you haven’t been a good father.”

I stammered. “It’s been hard with Teresa, and the divorce...”

“I didn’t raise you to make excuses, Oliver! He’s your son!”

“He’s an adult!”

“And that’s when he needs you the most!”

I lowered my head.

“Don’t cower to me!”

I raised my head and stiffened my back.

“Be an adult, Oliver! Stop fantasizing about having a spine and grow one!”

“What am I going to do, Grandma Dinah? I don’t know where he is. He could be anywhere...”

“Or dead.”

My body shuddered.

“You better find him, Oliver.” She wagged her index finger again. “Before it’s too late.”

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