Crafting a Smile

by Edward Stanford


I knew a man once who manufactured smiles. He lived on top of the hill in the middle of town. I lived at the bottom. Every now and then I’d walk to the top and watch him. That’s all I wanted to do: watch.

He worked around the clock — picking at the edges and bending the smile at just the right angles. He rarely ever made mistakes, but when he did someone in our town would wake up and smile a most hideous smile. Sadly, if that ever happened, the owner of the grin would have to live with that disfigurement for their entire lives. For, you see, it is impossible to reverse.

Once the owner gets wind of their condition, they become depressed and feed the frown. In memory of his mistakes, he hung a single picture of the victim on his workshop walls, so he would continue to remember those he ruined. Their twisted faces a reminder of abilities lost.

I’d come by sometimes and yell in the window. “Hey Zeek,” I’d say. He wouldn’t reply. Too busy, I suppose. For some reason I never got tired of walking that path up the hill and getting ignored. He’d poke and prod; slam and bend. It was a marvel to behold. Every tool known to mankind was scattered about in a seemingly nonchalant manner.

Even though he never talked to me, I’d catch phrases of conversations held between he and himself. This one time I swear I caught something like, ‘E’er smile hatchup rice’. I don’t know for sure.

There was a rumor going around a while back. People were growing tired of the old man’s ways. They said that someone who doesn’t contribute to the community doesn’t deserve to live within it. I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant. I guess thirteen years wasn’t a long enough time to figure out those things. But they were my elders. And I thought they were right. Pretty sure, anyway.

It wasn’t too long ago when the words became action. Fed up with his laziness, the townsfolk decided to run him out of town. They went up to his cabin and broke down the door. He was inside, as always, working on someone’s smile. They tried to scare him, but couldn’t. They threatened to kill him for his sloth. He didn’t say a word.

Well, they took him down to a wooden pole beside the Townhall. They tied him up and burnt him. I watched them from atop the hill. After his body stopped fighting I went in his cabin and looked at the pictures. There were hundreds of them. They hung from ceiling fans and curtain rods. They sat atop bookshelves and some had been knocked over by the townsfolk.

Something on his desk caught my eye. It sparkled and had a liquid-yellow appearance. It’s one of the smiles, I told myself. It was still malleable so I bent it where it was crooked. Just in time, too. It turned to dust before my eyes. I got a sense of fulfillment from it. In its place another came. And after that another. And another. Before long birthdays passed and I don’t remember any of my dreams.

As the faces look down on me with their radiant smiles, I can’t help but wonder when they changed. Maybe if I focus I won’t mess up. Maybe they can stay like that forever. Just one more perfect smile and everything’ll work out.

Just one more... Just one more...


Copyright © 2006 by Edward Stanford

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