I used to know a man whose smile began in his eyes. It spread like flowing nectar down his face and claimed his mouth. To turn his radiant glance upon me, I’d slay dragons though all he wanted was my time. He’d suck me into volunteering: walking, knocking on doors, collecting clothes, tutoring, donating. I claimed a lot of virtue to bask in that glowing look.
Since then, I have collected smiles, a kind of modern hobby that takes no room in the cupboards and requires no monetary commitment. I turn away anything that looks fabricated. The corners of the mouth can widen and those perfect white teeth flash, an advertisement for your wealthy father’s orthodontic investment. But that’s no smile; it’s something else, a half-hearted concession intended to beguile or a snake’s baring of its fangs. Spare me that; I run from such bewitchment.
No, give me the toothless grin, the helpless curving of a weary mouth tired of pursing whose wearer hears something unexpected and soothing. The smile on the face of a child who doesn’t know you’re watching as he turns the page of a book he’s just learned to read. That dagger to my heart: the upturned blistered lips of the weary soul holding coins I’ve placed into her chapped hands with their frayed fingerless gloves. I’ll keep that smile. That’s a priceless addition to my collection.
My cousin Kati has one of those mouths which always smiles, a sweet violin bow made for enchantment. I’ve always envied her. When we attended SLU together, I’d stand in front of the bathroom mirror trying to make my mouth match hers. We looked alike in some ways, except for her blond hair and perfect smile. I felt like her evil twin, dark and frowning. But I loved her nonetheless.
One of the virtues of not complaining lies in the beams that people flash when I bestow compliments or kind remarks. It’s a secret plot of mine to grow my hobby, my hobby of collecting smiles. I’m clever, aren’t I?
It’s the very last day of the thirty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.