The Way the Waves Break
by Benjamin J. Law
Jack stares up at the arcuate rafters and the round stained-glass window in the far wall. “Looks like a church,” he tells Grandma Genie as she prods him through the vacant house.
“Been sittin’ empty for an age,” she says. “I’d bet it’s too dusty for God’s kind.” She touches a wall lovingly and scans the space Jack assumes is the main living room. “Haven’t been willin’ to give it up.”
“Why now?” Jack asks in a yawn, the morning hour too early for his liking.
“Got a friend that’s a bit lost — needs a place to rest for a while.”
“I told you, I’m not lost–”
“Don’t BS me, boy,” Grandma Genie speaks over him. Jack shrinks away, his shoulders rising to his ears. “I may be goin’ blind, but I’ve seen more than you could know. You, Junior, are a lost man. ‘Least, you feel lost.” Jack doesn’t respond. “Look now, I don’t know what happened between you and the lady in your picture–”
“And you don’t need to know,” Jack snaps. “No one needs to know, or needs to talk about it.” He clenches his fists and turns towards a panel of windows in one of the walls. Grandma Genie stays where she is, watching Jack quietly.
“What I was gonna say,” Grandma Genie continues after a few minutes, now in a much softer voice, “is that my daughter used to say that the waves in the ocean always travel with the moon’s light. Whether the moon is visible or lost among the clouds, those waves are gonna get where they’re going — if they know it or not…” She moves to Jack’s side, staring out the window with him at the sliver of ocean visible between the two neighboring homes. “The position of that moon doesn’t decide if the waves will break, Junior, but only the way the waves break. You’ve lost your light now, son, but you’ll reach the sands yet.”
Jack turns his head to the ground, and a tear rolls out from behind his sunglasses. He opens his mouth as if to speak, but closes it before he can muster any words.
“I’ll leave you be, and you can think about the house,” Grandma Genie says softly and pats Jack’s shoulder before walking towards the front door.
“Fran,” Jack says, bringing Grandma Genie to a halt. “Is she your granddaughter?”
“No, sir. I adopted her as my own when her mother passed away. The father’s location was unknown, has been since before her birth. Why you askin’?”
“She saved my life,” Jack answers tearfully. “Thought you should know.”
“She what?” Grandma Genie puts her hands on her hips as if to prepare for impact. Jack remains quiet for a long time.
“I’d stopped here because…” Jack pauses again to take a deep breath. “I’d always loved the ocean. And I — I thought it’d be a nice place to die.”
Grandma Genie covers her mouth knowingly. “Junior, you–”
“I was enjoying a few moments of sun before venturing out to sea, hoping to never return. And then Fran came up to me, as aggravating as could be, and forced me up for some lunch… Truth is, my wife didn’t leave me,” Jack admits, turning to meet Grandma Genie’s eyes. Slowly, with shaking hands, he removes his glasses to reveal a deep cut over his empty left eye socket. “I left her and lost everything because no one would believe that I was the one getting abused. The only thing that anyone ever said to me was that I should be a man. But I was weak, and…” Jack pauses, turning away from Grandma Genie again. “And, yeah, I guess I’ve been lost for a long time.”
“Well, son,” Grandma Genie breathes weepily, but before she can continue Fran trots into the room munching on a bag of chips. Jack swiftly puts his glasses back on and wipes away his tears.
“So, you’re staying?” Fran says, smiling with a mouthful of cheese powder.
Jack looks at Grandma Genie, who only smirks.
“Yeah,” Jack says coolly. “Yeah, Fran, I’m staying…”
“Sweet,” Fran pumps her fists. “I’ll tell Kevin, too.”
“Rocco,” Grandma Genie calls after Fran, but not before the girl is long gone. “That darned Kevin,” she mumbles. “I can only pray he gets eaten by a big fish one of these days.”
“Why?” Jack asks, hiding his smile.
“Why? Because a small fish couldn’t handle him.” Grandma Genie grunts and goes after Fran as fast as she can. Jack laughs and spins around in a slow circle to look at his new home. He’s just taking a deep breath of the air when he hears a loud scuttle and a thud.
“Grandma Genie?” He calls. No response comes. Curious enough to pull him away from the windows, he ventures out of the living room and finds the front door swinging loosely. “You there?” He continues on, reaching the doorway before his feet stumble to a halt at the sight of Grandma Genie lying on her back on the walkway. He jumps forward, falling to his knees at her side. “Hey, you okay? Oh, come on. Not now.” He turns her head towards him and his lip starts to quiver. Her face is uneven, dropping on the left side. “No, no, no,” Jack mutters. “Help!” He yells out to the street. “Someone help me!”
“What happened?” Fran’s voice comes sputtering from down the street. Jack spins around, seeing her sprinting towards them with Kevin close behind. “Grandma Genie, whatchu doin’?” Fran shouts as she reaches the old woman and collapses at her side.
“Wait, Rocco, back up,” Kevin says in a panicked voice as he gently pulls a struggling Fran back by her shoulders.
“Don’t touch me!” Fran growls, yanking away from him.
“I got her,” Jack offers breathlessly and throws his arm around Fran. Kevin pulls out his phone and madly dials 911. “It’s gonna be okay, Fran. Don’t worry. It’s gonna be okay.” Jack squeezes Fran as tight as he can. “It’s gonna be okay.”