Of Death and Smiles

Photo © 2010 rawryder CC BY-ND 2.0)

He smiled over his Sunday morning oatmeal, plain and steaming, his grapefruit cut into halves. Smiled with his eyes. Gotta remember, always with the eyes.

That’s your problem,” pointing at his wife’s sausage and pancakes, drenched with syrup.

“And that’s yours!” She pointed back, at his grapefruit, her well-rounded face slinging condemnation.

“It wouldn’t hurt you to get up off your ass once in a while, either, and exercise.” He suddenly realized he was no longer smiling. Remember, always with the eyes.

He had read that people who smile with their eyes live longer. Seriously. Researchers at Wayne State University in Michigan studied photographs of baseball players from the 1950’s. Those who were smiling with their eyes in the photos lived an average of 7 years longer than those who were not smiling at all.

A week later, he eyed her toast, golden brown and delicious. Of its own accord, his hand reached out and snarfed a slice.

“Be careful,” she said. “That has butter on it!”

He knew she was mocking him, but he couldn’t help but chuckle. He stopped, staring at it, debating whether to put it down or to put it in his mouth.

“You’re too much!” She interrupted his thoughts.

He focused on her headlight-blue eyes, which were beaming astonishment at him. He grinned at her and shoved the dripping shingle into his mouth, chewed and swallowed.

Gack! He choked. “I think I’m going to be sick!”

The following month, she slept poorly. He made her breakfast, between shudders of disgust, just the way she liked it. He brought her a tray in bed. Then he leaned over and kissed her tenderly on the lips.

“What’s that for?” Surprise.

“What’s what for?” he asked.

She motioned at the tray. “Breakfast,” she said. “And you haven’t kissed me like that in… forever.”

“What? I can’t kiss my own wife?!”

A pause.

He stared at the tray of what might be loosely termed food, grinned sardonicism. “I still don’t know how you can eat that.”

“See!?” As if to prove her point. “That’s what I’m talking about. You can kiss my fat ass!”

His face fell. “I just want you stick around. Because I’ll miss you when you die.”

After a year, they were carving smiles on each others’ whole-wheat bagels and feeding each other bites of egg-white omelet with onion and green pepper.

Sundays passed. The weekend of his big promotion at work. The months after the big layoff. The war. The great blizzard and other winters. Lazy weekends reclining under the summer sunrise. The colors of the autumns, the freshnesses of springtime.

She sat shiva with their daughter and sons, friends and family, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Onto a bagel slice, she carved two eyes and a grin.

“I already miss his smile,” her daughter’s voice said sadly.

Crows’ feet around her eyes, the old woman hugged and kissed her little girl. “I know. But it’s still here,”—resting her palm on the younger woman’s heart—”and will never die.”

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Very touching story. The characters tossed tension back and forth and then at the end it all became clear.

Thanks, Lara.

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