The Waves Greet Us Home (Flash Fiction)

Dr. Koldun’s office is like a living room, decorated with wide windows and soft lights. The other patients in the waiting room are a mixture of gorgeous and unfortunate. Every one of them stares down at a phone or book, utterly oblivious to her curious glances. What brings them to this place?

“Muirgen Brady?”

Gen winces at the mangled pronunciation — another bit of family history she tries to hide. Unfortunate family names, unfortunate family looks. None of the other patients even blink. She stands and crosses the room to shake Dr. Koldun’s hand. “Gen, please.”

The doctor’s appraising glance is a bit too intense, her hand too tight — then she nods and releases Gen’s hand. “Of course. Follow me, please.”

They walk down a hospital-like corridor into Kolden’s office. Its every bit as inviting and soft as the waiting room, with two plush armchairs. On the small table between the chairs is a slim folder with Brady, Muirgen M printed on the tab.

Kolden gestures to one chair. “Can I get you a drink? Water? Coffee?”

“No, thank you.” Gen lowers herself into the chair and sits with her back straight, her hands on her knees.

“Very well.” Kolden sits and reaches for the folder; she regards the contents carefully before she looks up at Gen again. “You’re quite lovely. I’ve had women pay thousands for a figure like that.”

Gen swallows and tries to put on a mature face. “I’m blessed on both sides of my family there. I’ll be much older before that falls apart on me.”

Kolden flashes a half-smile and nods. “We should all be so lucky. Then again, I’d be out of a job.” The doctor clears her throat and smiles. “The file indicates that you’re interested in making some changes to your face. Tell me about that.”

“I have five sisters.” Gen folds and twists her hands in her lap. “They’re all stunning — they look just like our mother. I got my father’s rather more sturdy looks. I don’t want to be sturdy. I want to be delicate.”

Kolden leans closer; she only deviates from her scrutiny to make notes in the file with quick and precise motions. “Tell me exactly what you would change. Then we can compare notes.”

Gen touches her cheeks. “My face seems very square. And my nose; Adina broke it when we were in primary school, and Daddy — ” She pauses and clears her throat, dropping her hands from her nose. “My father didn’t think it was that bad. And my eyes. I feel like I should have bigger, brighter eyes.”

“I see. Yes, that all seems quite fine. I think you’ll find the whole process very satisfying. After all, a new face can change your whole life.” Kolden sets the folder aside and stands. She seems larger than life when she looks down at Gen. “I’ll need you to sign some papers.”

* * *

“Well, you have a skip in your step,” Adina says. She spreads the drop cloth over the floor before setting her easel in the center. Even with paint dried on her face and her dark hair all tied up at the nape of her neck, Adina is the most stunning of the six of them.

Gen smiles over her shoulder as she hangs her coat. “I met with Dr. Kolden this morning.”

“Muirgen Marie Brady!” Adina marches over and forces Gen to look up with fingertips pressed into Gen’s cheeks. “Don’t tell me you’re still going on about that. You’re lovely! You look just like Grandmother when she was 20.”

Gen twists her head out of her sister’s grasp. “And she has a face like a Shar-Pei now. I can afford to have the very best — and Dr. Kolden is the best.”

Adina scoffs and paces back to her easel, her hands moving compulsively over her paints, her brushes. “How much are you having done?”

“Just my nose. And my face and eyes.”

“You’re so young, Gen!” When this doesn’t garner a response, Adina sighs. “When?”

“Next week, after the gallery. I didn’t want to miss it, but I want to have my new face healed in time for the summer show. I’m going to do a whole display of surgically enhanced bodies.”


“That’s easy for you! You look glamorous in sweats! Some of us have to try harder.” She turns on her heel. Before Adina can make another sound, another scoff or protest, Gen storms into her darkroom and slides the locks after her.

In the dim red light, Gen feels comfortable, safe, stable on her quivering knees. She pulls the binder down with this year’s film, each month marked with separators, and turns to the pages from last week: April. She slides the strip out and carries it with the tips of her fingers to the enlarger.

Of all the photos she took at the park, these five are her favorite. Of these five, the one she snapped when he smiled and remembered her name is the best. He has a smile that could melt the heart of Sister Mary Constance from that stuffy old high school. Women would go to war over that smile — women would do anything for that smile.

She slides the head of the enlarger up and brings his sculpted face into focus on the easel.

Hi! Gen, right? I don’t know if you remember me. I bought a bunch of your pictures from your father’s gallery — they were beautiful. My mom has your picture of that sunset on the Monaco coast hanging in her dining room, she loves it so much. I’m looking forward to your next show. Two weeks, right? By the way, how is your sister, Adina?

Everything about Aaron is perfect.

* * *

“Are you excited, Gen?” Kolden leans over the table, her features obscured by a green surgical mask. Nearby, the monitor beeps and the nurse looms on the other side, preparing the anesthesia.

“I’m ready to start a new life.”

Kolden laughs.

Gen blinks, and everything changes. She’s buried, smothered. The whole world is out of focus and too bright, though she doesn’t find that it worries her too much. Nothing hurts.

Every time she blinks, the light shifts. Dark and light on some indistinct clock. Eventually Dr. Kolden’s voice breaks the rhythm, clear when there’s only the vague impression of her face.

“Gen,” she says, her voice serious but not panicked. “There were some complications. Once you’re healed, I’d like you to see a specialist — but I expect your full vision will return with time.”

* * *

“You look really beautiful, Gen,” Adina says as she takes the seat by Gen’s bedside. In the dimness created by her new, light-blocking curtains, Gen can only see the shape of her sister, like some visiting shade. For all she knows, Adina is the ghost of their mother. “The wounds have healed. Have you tried to — ”

“Yes.” Gen swallows her pain, her fingers trailing the hard metal and plastic of her camera. She’s taken some pictures, but she can’t tell if they’re even in focus, let alone what she wants them to be. Every time the flash goes off, her head throbs. “Dr. Furst tells me that it could be months still. If at all.” Her voice catches. She fumbles to set the camera on the nightstand, then closes her eyes. She can move around her camera in her sleep; she knows the placement of each feature, of every dial. But she needs her eyes take photos.

“Daddy wants to hire someone to help you around. I thought that one of the girls could do it, but they’re hopeless as always. Grandmother wants to sue Dr. Kolden, but — ”

“I don’t care!” Gen gasps through her tears and throws herself into her pillows. Its unfair! Its unreasonable! She curls on herself and aches all over, loss filling every crack and corner of her body.

When Adina speaks, her voice trembles with tears. “Some guy asked after you at the gallery, said you’d spoken with him. A little older than you, dark hair, dopey smile? He was dying to buy more of your large prints. He asked if there was anything he could do to help. It think he could be very helpful in the darkroom. He has some experience, or so he says.”

This gives Gen pause.

* * *

Aaron learns the layout of her darkroom in no time flat. He makes sure that she’s using the right chemicals, that the prints — all old photos, since the new photos have been rubbish — are in focus and properly aligned. She ought to let him do the work, but she finds some peace in running through the motions.

When she shows him the prints she worked on before the surgery, he’s thrilled by the one of his smile. All the same, she never lets him see the April negatives, lest he realize how long she spent snapping clandestine photos before he looked her way.

“Its a tragedy,” he says one day, as they drink coffee on the sun porch. He’s beside her on the wicker love seat, warm and solid, but she still can’t make out the sharp lines of his face that she loves so dearly. “I’ve never seen an eye like yours. You make the real world into art. Every time I see that photo of Monaco, I want to really see it. I want to hear the waves and feel sand under my feet.”

“Its my mother’s home,” Gen says. She clears her throat and gathers her nerve. “I’ve been meaning to go; we haven’t visited since I was in middle school.”

Aaron swears. “You took that picture in middle school? You’re brilliant.”

Gen shrugs, but her cheeks flush and her stomach flutters. “Would you come with me, if I went? I want to take new photos, but…” Her lip quivers, and she turns her face away from him. She’s tried her damnedest to hide that pain. How could he find her beautiful, if he knew how deeply she pitied herself?

He touches her arm, and then brushes her hair from her face. “I would be honored.”

* * *

They’re in Monaco for two days before either mention’s Gen’s photography. Its over breakfast on the sun porch; Aaron clears his throat and says, “Your composition is still excellent; its just your focus. I know you like classic film, but maybe we can find you a good digital camera, one that focuses automatically. It wouldn’t be perfect, but you could take pictures.”

They go to the store together, and pick out the very best digital SLR they can find. For the first time since the surgery Gen feels in control, even if she knows next to nothing about the camera in her hands.

Every day, Aaron guides Gen on the beach to keep her from stumbling. She endures the headaches by wearing the largest, darkest sunglasses she can find, and taking too many painkillers when that’s not enough. They spend warm summer afternoons laughing and talking. Gen takes pictures of the surf, of the impressive homes, of the people when they permit, but mostly she takes pictures of Aaron. He learns to sail from the locals; she rides along and revels in the feel of the water under them.

Sometimes, when its too much bear, she waits on the dock and weeps.

Every night, he leads her to her room and kisses her hand at the door with a jaunty, “Sleep well, my lady.”

When he leaves, Gen feels the first surges of hope. She still sees the world like someone has smudged it, but she can handle a lifetime of impairment if it means that she can spend it with Aaron.

* * *

They’re into late August when Gen works up the courage for a hard walk — the slope up the nearby bluff.

“It looks…like a death trap,” Aaron says when she shows him the path beside the house. “I’m not sure.”

“Trust me,” she says, leaning on his shoulder and smiles. Her head is a little fuzzy from the painkillers, and Aaron has a picnic basket full of cheese and crackers and wine. Its nearly a perfect date. “I could do this in my sleep. Its not so scary as it looks.”

They reach the top without incident, though Aaron insists they sit several feet away from the edge. He sets up the blanket, and Gen lays out on her back, her eyes closed. “When I was little — back when our mother was still alive, you understand — Adina and I used to sit at the edge of the bluff. We’d listen to the waves crash on the rocks. It’s melodious. Mother always insisted on listening to the music in the world.”

Aaron is quiet for a long moment. “Your mother sounds like someone special.”

“Everyone says so. I barely remember her. I suppose you always say that the dead were incredible. It would be no good to say, ‘Well, she could sing like an angel, but she was a spoiled brat.'” Gen laughs softly at her own joke.

* * *

Eventually, they have to return home; but they do so beautifully tanned and with hundreds of pictures on Gen’s new camera. By the time Gen recovers from the jet lag, the darkroom has been changed to accommodate a new computer with both a laser and giclée printer. Her old supplies are shelved and pushed aside, the red lights replaced with standard lighting.

Aaron does the computer work — the first time they look through the photos, Adina stands at his other side and gasps through the review. “These are really good, Gen!” She claps Gen on the back, and leans down closer to Aaron. “It was a perfect solution, Aaron. Thank you.”

* * *

It’s Autumn when the next gallery showing comes. The specialist has started to consider alternative treatment. Gen pulls on her sunglasses and hopes she looks artistic and aloof rather than broken.

Aaron greets everyone who enters their side of the gallery on her behalf, even though he insisted that his name not be included on the showing. (Gen had the gallery manager slip it into the program.) “Muirgen took all these photos herself,” he says to an indistinct group of onlookers. He pats the small of her back as he speaks.

Gen tries to see his face clearly, but between her own blurred vision and the glasses, she can hardly see anything at all.

When they have a moment alone, Aaron leans close and whispers, “Being here with you is an honor.”

Gen’s heart skips a beat. “You’re incredible,” she replies, but they’re interrupted by the gallery manager before she can say anything more.

* * *

Thanksgiving morning dawns bright. Gen jumps as her door slams open and Donna, the second youngest of their father’s daughters, comes rushing through the room.

“Get up, get up, Genny!” Donna jumps on the bed and snuggles close to Gen. “Daddy wants us all together for breakfast. He says there’s a big announcement. That our family is growing. Do you suppose he’s finally remarrying? Its been forever since Mother died.”

But Gen thinks of Aaron, of their moments in Monaco and the casual intimacy of their work together. Daddy is old-fashioned — of course he would want to be in control. She sits up like someone yanked her strings, and she fumbles for Donna’s hands. “Help me get dressed. I want to look my best today.”

Donna laughs and takes off into Gen’s closet. She picks out a dress that emphasizes Gen’s fiery hair and curvy figure. Once Gen is dressed, Donna sits her down at the vanity to do her makeup.

“I get why you did it,” she says softly as she applies eye shadow in the same thoughtful strokes that Adina uses on a canvas. “If I had Grandmother’s terrible old face, I’d get it taken care of too.” She leans back and sighs. “You look stunning, Gen. Like a princess. Now, I need to get dressed!”

Gen plays with her camera for a moment. She takes pictures in the mirror, even though she can’t see anything more detailed than her figure. At least it was worth it. At least it’s leading to her happily ever after.

They’re taking breakfast in the formal dining room. Daddy sits at head of the long table — Grandmother on his right and Aaron at his left. The girls titter and giggle, and the smells of their cooking Thanksgiving dinner waft down the hall. Gen takes her seat and folds her hands on her lap. She flashes a shy smile in Aaron’s direction.

Daddy clears his throat and stands. “On this day of celebrating family, I’m pleased to announce that our family is growing.” His voice betrays his pleasure. Gen’s knees shake. She holds her breath. “Not only am I gaining a son, but I’ll be a grandfather at our next Thanksgiving.”

The girls shriek and jump up from their seats, but Gen can’t move. Without announcement, her sisters have clustered around Adina. Aaron stands, and Daddy drops a hand on his shoulder.

“Girls, girls! We’ve arranged a small Christmas wedding at your mother’s home, since time is a bit constricted here, and Aaron speaks so fondly of it.”

Gen shudders, her hand covering her eyes. Immediately, her grandmother and Aaron are at her side.

“Child, are you alright?” Grandmother asks, boxing Aaron out.

“The lights,” Gen whispers. “I should have brought my sunglasses, I forgot how bright the formal dining room is.”

“Someone shut the curtains!”

“No, please, I can’t — I’ll just need some time to recover,” she says. “I’ll go up to my room and have a lie down before dinner. Adina, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to — ”

“No, dear! Of course, go lay down. We can chat later.” Adina sounds so sweet, her voice soft and kind.

“I’ll take her,” Aaron says, his hand on her forearm. She wants to shun him, throw him away — no, she wants to cling to him, to beg him that it’s a lie.

They leave the formal dining room behind. When they’re halfway up the stairs, the laughter and squeals begin again.

Aaron stops at her bedroom door, but doesn’t release her arm immediately. “You’re my dearest friend, Gen, and the most talented photographer I know. I can’t tell you enough how grateful I am that we met.”

She nods, but only to get away. Her heart pounds so hard that surely he must hear it. “I feel the same. Please, Aaron; I need to lay down.”

She waits until he’s out of sight before she enters her room. Her composure fails just inside the door. She covers her mouth with her hands, sinks to her knees and curls forward, her eyes clenched shut. She can’t think. She can’t breathe.

When she can’t cry anymore, when there’s nothing left but bone-deep loss, she forces herself to sit at her vanity and wipe away the makeup that Donna so carefully applied.

When she looks at her father or Aaron, her memory fills in the details. But this — who is this person in the mirror that she paid so dearly for?

She shatters the mirror with her fists, until her hands are bloody, until her grandmother comes running to pull her away from the mess.

At least everyone believes her when she says its her eyesight that has her so distraught. (“I just — I can’t believe I might never really see Adina’s baby,” she says.)

* * *

Monaco is comfortably cool when they arrive the week before Christmas, and bustling with tourists. The house fully staffed when they arrive, and every surface decorated for the season.

Gen goes to her room immediately. Only her grandmother notices, following her on the stairs. “Child. Won’t you celebrate with your family?”

“Its been a long flight.”

Grandmother follows her on the stairs, only a few paces behind. “Can’t you relax in the sitting room?”

“I prefer space,” Gen snaps. “I’m exhausted. Its been a really, really long year.” The attitude gives her grandmother enough of a pause that Gen escapes, following the familiar path to her room. She takes a handful of pills to alleviate the headache and draws the curtains around her bed to block out the light.

The wedding is set for the afternoon on Christmas Eve. Then, on Boxing Day, Adina and Aaron will leave to honeymoon in Rome.

Gen imagines it will be lovely.

* * *

The night before the wedding they have a large, private feast. The wedding will be a flurry of Daddy’s business associates and their mother’s old family friends, but Daddy wanted one more night with his girls. “We’re taking a picture in front of the fireplace,” Daddy says, leading them off into the family room. Lydia laughs and Donna chatters about how it’ll be their last photo as as single girls.

Adina leads her by the arm. “Are you okay? You’ve been so quiet lately. I feel like we haven’t had a chance to talk at all since Thanksgiving.”

Gen swallows. “This isn’t how I imagined my Christmas. I wanted — ” Everything you have. “I don’t know.”

“It’ll be fixed with time, love. Next year will be better.”

Gen bows her head. “Do I look blind?”

“You look beautiful. No one would guess your vision is damaged.”

Gen sits dutifully in front of her father and takes her glasses off. When he sets his large hand on her shoulder, she reaches up to pat it. She smiles through the dozen different flashes and doesn’t let her pain show.

* * *

The sun shines through the high windows in the ballroom, and the wind whistles through the cracks when Aaron and Adina exchange their vows. Aaron’s parents seem lovely, but Gen’s opinion of them sours when she overhears his mother whisper, “Quite lucky that their crippled girl needed an aid; Adina says she fell in love with his compassion.”

She sits silently through the reception, like a ghost of her former self. No one seems to take notice of her, or perhaps they think they can’t hear. The same words filter in, over and over again: poor girl and lucky Adina. When she’s in the restroom and out of sight, she overhears two cousins chatting in French.

“All that trouble for her face. Such a waste. I suppose her father will take good care of her, though.”

“Be fair, Yvette! If I had been stuck with her mannish face, I’d choose to go blind too. At least now she only has to find a man who will tolerate her handicap. Should be easier now that she’s pretty.”

They giggle their way out of the bathroom. Gen waits for as long as she thinks she can until she’ll be missed, even though she’s long since passed the point of feeling hurt. She’s cried enough for two lifetimes.

At the end of the night, when the formal guests have gone, the family heads out for a bonfire on the beach, all wrapped in blankets and carrying food in bags. Gen feels like a wet fog over the celebration. She waits until her father is drunk on champagne, singing songs and telling stories; she waits until Adina has fallen asleep in her chair with her quilt wrapped over their mother’s wedding dress. Her sisters tell stories about nothing, giggling over the embers of the fire. They don’t even notice her leaving.

She shivers in the cold and steps carefully. Its harder to see at night, but she knows this path up better than anything inside the house.

“Gen! Are you alright? Do you need a hand to your room?”

She cringes; she hadn’t even seen him in the dark. “No, thank you. I’m fine. What are you doing out?”

Aaron laughs. “Collecting Adina; Lydia just texted me. The pregnancy just takes it out of her, you know? Poor thing.” He pulls Gen into a hug, so hard and sudden that she nearly falls. “I’ve never been so happy. I can’t believe how lucky I am.”

For a moment, she nearly tells him everything. Let him carry the burden of her pain, let him suffer that guilt. She doesn’t want it anymore. But the moment passes. Instead, she returns his hug. “I’m happy for you. Really. You and Adina — you’re both wonderful.”

He squeezes her one more time before heading down the path. Alone, Gen climbs up. She stumbles once or twice, but she feels the way the wind blows past when she reaches the top. She slides on hands and knees to the edge, then sits with her feet dangling.

Monaco always smells like home — it smells like her mother, even though she can’t remember even what her mother sounded like. Gen closes her eyes and tries to remember. All she hears is the wind and the ocean below. With careful movements she stands, wiggling her toes as they dangle over the edge.

She can’t stand by forever. She really can’t stand it for another moment.

She leaps.

Ashley M. Hill found her voice in science fiction when her curiosity about technology coupled with the lifelong urge to tell stories. Her interest in social and feminist issues shapes how she approaches the genre. She's pursuing computer and network repair for her day job.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.