When she awoke, her eyes were where her ears used to be and her ears jutted sharply forward from her face. What had she done?
“It’s okay. It’s fine,” her mother told her, rubbing her grown daughter’s back.
“It’s a whole new you,” her father said though his long fingers latched white-knuckled to the wheel, and his gaze adhered molten to the road. “A definite improvement.” He was smiling, but he wasn’t. And it didn’t feel like an improvement. It felt like a mistake: an enormous, irreparable mistake. Oh. She’d had such high hopes!
“Now, once I make this change, you will feel a slight disorientation. But after a week or two, you will be unabashedly glad you went forward with the surgery. I’ve never had a disappointed client.” He was very convincing: young and handsome and such a calm, yet energetic voice. His eyes were positioned boldly on each side of his head, bright blue circles where his ears had been once, and it worked beautifully. He seemed more in touch with the world. More knowledgeable somehow than the rest of the forward-looking people. What did her parents know? They were old. They had been forward-looking their whole lives. Her kids got it.
“Go for it, Mom,” her son said.
“If it makes you happy,” her teenage daughter offered, using her mother’s own line of encouragement.
The doctor’s office was clean and bright, and everyone there floated about their tasks. They all had eyes on the sides of their heads, care of the doctor of course. One man, who administered the gas, even had his smile positioned on the back of his head. That was impressive.
“But if I do this,” the patient asked her doctor, “will I be better able to find a man?”
“Oh, of course, dear. Men are very into sideways seers. Women who look forward are at a definite disadvantage. They may as well stay home and eat themselves silly.” He said this without ever really looking at her. He was listening with his forward facing ears, but the not looking at her in the eye part was, well, unsettling. She should have stopped there. She should have pulled the plug on the whole idea. But, on went the music and those slides of the Befores and Afters and how the Afters’ forward facing ears were so much pinker now, and how their sideways eyes shimmered in the phosphorescent light. It was too enticing. She could not resist.
“Okay. Let’s go for it,” she said, her mind racing with the possibilities of new hat choices, and deep, plunging shoulder-lines on her dresses; the “in” styles that without the surgery simply were not an option. And then of course there was that guy back at the office. The one who never gave her the time of day, but who she thought was just about as handsome a man as she had ever seen. This would get his attention. Once the scars faded (and she knew there would be scars at first. That went without saying.); once the scars faded, her beauty would entrance. She imagined the two of them sitting and talking for hours and never having to gaze into one another’s eyes. She could listen to him, and he would feel no pressure. And when he felt like seeing her reaction, he’d just move his head to the side of hers to gage her thoughts. It was a win win.
“You will be so beautiful,” the doctor said, and then the needle went in and she drifted off.
“Honey, don’t cry.” Her mother was seated beside her on the living room couch, dabbing her daughter’s tears on this side and that; tears that fell along new, strange tracks, over bruised jawbones and the back of her neck.
“It’ll be okay, Mom,” her teenage daughter urged. “Everything comes back into fashion.” But she said this quickly while closing and setting aside the heavy, glossy-covered magazine, the one her mother received every month, that adorned their coffee table and never collected dust, that predicted the future and banished the past. It had only been two weeks!
The woman’s father and son sat in the bay window looking out. Some boys were playing street hockey though, due to the thickness of the glass, there was no sound. This scene was happening right in front of the woman and yet she could not see it, and there was nothing to hear, so she turned her head. Gaining sight of the hockey players, she was overcome by a sense of awe, though she could not take her thought beyond that, could not conjure the genesis of the emotion. Perhaps it was the view of the wall behind her that distracted. Her heart thumped inside her chest. She returned her head to its new, natural sideways seeing position.
Her daughter, to the right, sifted through a bowl of Chex mix and to her left her mother collected used tissues, picking them up with one hand, placing them in the other, compacting them into a ball. The woman could not see the tissues lying on the ground before her and so was unsure as to why her mother kept reaching down, drawing her face close to her daughter’s ears, so close as to be heard breathing in a sort of warm huff. When her mother ceased bending and sat very still, the woman took the opportunity to rise. Her legs were shaky. She apologized for her state, saying, “I’m not who I should be today. So sorry all.” She thanked her family for their support, then with care, shimmied from behind the coffee table, turned her head again and proceeded out of the room. Right eye facing forward, she closed her left.
When she reached the staircase, she stopped and stood for a long while. Difficult as it was, that day and every day since, she took the stairs sideways.
Lisa Napolitan's short stories have appeared in Avalon Literary Review, HelloHorror, Font, Narrative Northeast and will appear in the upcoming inaugural issue of AMP. She received Hofstra University’s Axinn-DeMille Graduate Fiction Award for her in-progress second novel, Two Mothers, and her first novel, Secret of the Stradivarius, is out for agent consideration. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Hofstra and her BA in Semiotics from Brown. She teaches creative writing at Hofstra in a hybrid (in class/online) format.