A caption for the smile

In attempts to imitate my walk and talk, there are two proper facial-expressions to assume while shopping: the absent-minded-professor look, and the kamikaze-shopping-trip look. I tend to favor the former; it requires less effort, and people don’t glare at an absent-minded professor as a twentysomething power-shopping for groceries in fifteen minutes or less.

On Friday afternoon, it was my karmic duty to discover the location of plastic scrubbies. Anyone with a history of kitchen scrubbing duty is familiar: they are the disks of plastic netting that one uses to scrub pots and pans that can neither tolerate steel wool nor the dishwasher.I am a complete disaster when it comes to plastic scrubbies. I destroy them without meaning to; given a couple of weeks of hard labor in my kitchen, they fall apart. In my world, at least, what I destroy I must restock. Thus I wandered, aimlessly, somewhat confusedly, through the detergents section, trying to wade through the vastly over-perfumed swath of cleansing agents without indulging my primary wish: to sneeze explosively.

Does the overabundance of perfume addle otherwise-conscious shoppers? I have always thought so, given that every person that wanders into the cleansers section forgets that there are other shoppers pushing equally awkward buggies while attempting to find the correct container of lemony antibacterial goodness.

So, I walked, wandered, lost. Would they be by the dish soap? I thought so—and thought wrong. I walked the aisles, back and forth, slowly ducking shoppers. I came to a slow plod behind a middle-aged couple. It was obviously her shopping trip, and he was just along to serve as cart-pusher.

He wore his hair beautifully, like a crown. His skin was a deep, softly burnished cocoa—the color of dark chocolate. Against that, his hair fairly glowed silver. Not white—yet, and not yellowed; a straight and true grey that, given light, almost glowed.

The woman behind him turned to me. Soft, genteel; a tasteful print dress and squared-off glasses. Her hair, styled but slightly tousled, pointed to a woman who cared for her appearance, but not enough to let it worry her throughout the day.

Her smile, when it came, creased her face from eyes to chin; a smile from a married woman whose tone speaks volumes. It is a smile, I know now, you learn after a long time in a relationship—a laughing acceptance and enjoyment of your partner’s foibles. A caption for the smile would have read, “I know he’s in his own world; he does that sometimes.”

Some faces build up, over years, the traces of common expressions. Smile once and it fades when the muscles relax; smile and laugh daily over a lifetime, and the smiles work as raindrops against soft earth, tilling valleys of least resistance.

Her path of least resistance was to a smile. Apparently, it seemed, almost always.

“Harold, share the aisle.” The voice: calm, sonorous, carefully modulated—perhaps through singing? The accent was deep, unexpected: no further north than Tennessee, and no further west than Alabama. Probably Georgia: “Haaaaaah-ruld, shay-yah th’ aiiii’le.”

He turned to her and, in turn, saw me. On him, the same lines around his eyes and mouth—and an absentminded, bright smile in apology.

She picked up her dish cleanser. I found my scrubbies and went home, and later that afternoon, found myself smiling as I scrubbed some pots.

Perhaps they’re a little contagious, those lines.

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