1. Tame a Giggle, Train a Smile
I am small and want to giggle like Barbara Windsor. Simple. I need a sound that bounces out and tickles whoever I’m near. I fling my arms about, clutch my chest like Babs in a yellow bikini outside pitched tents. Nothing pops out of me. My mother says Barbara Windsor’s common.
I learnt: There’s NO known way to practise giggling. A giggle is common, but I don’t have the giggle gene. Don’t let anyone tell you anything’s possible.
2. Smiles Stretch from a 1 to 10 rating
Ages 4-15 are all about smiling. School takes annual photos to measure the progress of kid’s smiles. My mother doesn’t have to buy the smile I take home at 6. I forget to tell her the photographer’s coming. I’m wearing the wrong jumper. She tuts at the frayed sleeve and says, ‘You could have smiled at least.’ I thought I was ‘smiling at least’. I start studying smiles to get it right.
I learnt: Smiles are trickier than they look.
3. In the Right Light a Grimace Passes for a Grin
I hear about the Mona Lisa and stare. She isn’t pretty, but her smile is famous. This seems the right smile for me. I say ‘cheese’ between sealed lips, but the photographer won’t release me till I show teeth. Two are missing. I’m goofy, but my mother likes the photo so much she buys us wear matching t-shirts and takes us to the baby photographer in the foyeur of Tesco’s. Women with carrier bags stop, watch. I learnt: I can’t think what I learnt.
4. Classify your smile and bring the right one to the occasion
I’m still bringing photos home. My mother buys them because only the parents of scruffy kids don’t. Not all smiles make the wall. She gets a new boyfriend and takes them down. I classify each. There is the, I’m fat, please forgive me smile, Camera, WHY are you stealing my soul? The Mona Lisa gone wrong. The resigned to being bad at smiling. The You want teeth? I’ll GIVE you teeth.
I’ve learnt: None’s a sure thing. I can do a Mona Lisa, but it is not smiling properly on me.
5. Kylie’s Smile is a Chipmonk on Anyone Else (one size doesn’t fit all)
I notice smiley girls have gold jewellery and get to borrow boyfriend’s jackets. Kylie is a problem. I cover my exercise book with Number One and stand before the mirror trying to shape my mouth like hers. It’s just not the same. When I can’t get Kylie’s smile down, I draw flies in her teeth. Teachers tell me wipe to ‘that smile off my face.’ They sound like my smile leaves dirty marks on tissues like cheap make-up.
I learnt: I can smile, but the one that feels best is the wrong kind.
6. Smiler : Beware
I’m a discerner of titters, chuckles, grins and beams – I don’t actively practise. But when I least expect it my lips do a thing; laughter lobs itself from my mouth. I’m too old for smile progress to be charted much. I bring home my last photo: a documented smirk (Avril was doing something mad with her lipstick.) My mother says I look like my Dad on the photo; I have his laugh. I etch a protractor in. My mouth is white paper, I practise a better laugh.
I’ve learnt: An ill-thought smile can remind someone of something sad.
7. Purple Lipstick is a Bad Smiler’s Disguise
No photos now, smiles, but the ones I try on when friends have new outfits. I dye my hair black because Morticia Addams and Nick Cave really know how not to smile. Nicola sees me on the bus to college and knocks at my door. ‘I saw you on the bus and thought we might have something common.’ I think she means the purple streak in my hair, but I’m not sure. I let her in.
I learnt: Two people not smiling on a bus of guffaws makes a friend, or something like it.
8. Facsimile Smiles
Gotham Town is a smorgasbord of smiles. One for the guy with the tat of a crucified wolf, one for black fingernails, another for kids who think they’re The Crow. I don’t use the right one each time. Nicola and I stand close for the flash. My smile is a facsimile of hers, teeth drawn. We look like we eat the entrails of smiles for breakfast. She softens hers for a guy who bring Black Russians.
I’ve learnt to fuck smiles, I am, mostly, too cool.
9. If you can’t quite smile, have a default
I read the Japanese have a different way to smile. It has nothing to do with the endowment of perfect teeth. A Japanese woman looks at a blank husband and knows things. It is all in the eyes. At university there’s a maths student with a gap in his teeth; his smile’s a trap set for people less clever to fall into.
I’m learning: What my lips do when I’m scared passes for a smile. Most people don’t look too hard.
10. If Someone Else’s Smile is Your Umbrella Beware of spokes
I want my last smiling lesson to be an umbrella, something positive,
but I’m never positive which smile will come out. I can’t count on a smile. The same muscles I move today don’t make the same smile as yesterday. I marry a man whose giggle is the Laughing Gnome. I hope his grin’s big enough for the both of us. Our life is the Pepsi Cola challenge. I’m not sure I can taste the difference between the smile he has for me and the one he does all day. Each night we look at each like other people who don’t speak the same language. I try to read the smile on his lips, he looks for one in my eyes. Learning takes time.
By Angela Readman
Angela Readman writes little things, sometimes people read them. Her stories have appeared in Metazen, Pank and the National Flash Fiction Day Competition. She is bad at smiling, but good at making pancakes.