A Grin So Wide It Hurts
Illustrated by Axelle Rojas-Legault
I wish I could tell you the last time I smiled. Genuinely, I mean. Not because Carl spilled coffee on himself at the office that morning or because Karen brought home her friend from school—June or Judy or Julie, something or the other—and as a good parent, you have to smile as politely as you can at some other good parent’s bratty six-year-old you’re pretty sure makes your daughter feel like shit all the time but who she calls her best friend.
I mean smile because your wife makes you coffee in the morning just because she wants to (even though she hates coffee), and she looks so beautiful you have to take a moment to physically catch your breath. Because your brother tells that one story about your parents all those years ago that never fails to light up the room and fill your chest with warmth of nostalgia for the good-old-days. That makes you forget how you’re secretly kind of happy they’re gone now.
I mean smile the way you did when you got tipsy at your best friend’s eighteenth and Kelly Thompson kissed you so hard on the mouth you felt it in your toes. Smile like you do when you’re proud of yourself or your favourite character on that one Netflix show does something super badass or you open a present and actually like—really like—what’s inside.
Jill looks tired of her life when I walk in the office this morning, forty-five minutes late. Carl swings by, clutching a thermos filled to the brim with half-soy non-fat decaf cappuccino—two sugars, no cream—and singsongs about my tardiness.
“Been working here twelve years, Carl.”
Jill shoots him a look that spells: ‘If you continue to sing sentences to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody, I’m going to kill the office fish, you, and then myself.’
He doesn’t seem to notice. “Need those papers from you today.”
I don’t say anything, and Carl makes his way to the next cubby of cubicles, humming Somebody to Love.
“If I hear him sing one more Queen song I’m going to kill the office fish, him, and then myself,” Jill mutters as I sit down.
I smile. “Add me to the list?”
“Got any preferred ways to go?”
“Strangulation. Make it quick.”
The rest of the day passes without incident, unfortunately, and it’s late by the time I finish Carl’s insufferable paperwork. Jill’s the only other person still in the office and she finds me by the printer, her expression unreadable.
“You ever wonder why we stay at this dump?”
“Spouse and kids?” I suggest. “Groceries.”
“Kim’s got a job, doesn’t she?”
I shrug. “Pull your weight, right? Who else would hire people like us?”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“Nah,” she says. “There’s an ‘us’ and a ‘them’.”
“Yeah.” I want to say more but can’t find the words. “I guess so.”
“This is what I have to look forward to for the rest of my life, huh?”
“Didn’t you major in film?”
She nods but doesn’t say anything else.
I wave to her on the way out, though all I really see is her silhouette by the large windows.
Those are the last words I ever hear Jill say. She gets into a car accident that night. I take a sick day. It would be weird without her there. Kim sits with me at the kitchen island with her arm draped over my shoulders and her nose pressed into my shoulder. I rub my eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a funeral for a friend.
lonleypeachAugust 31, 2020
At first I clicked on this story because I quite enjoyed the cover art. I was expecting a piece from an angsty teen maybe talking about the difficulties in keeping up appearances. Instead you deliver something that is so raw and powerful. It is extremely evident that a lot of time and thought was put into this piece. You use repetitive words such as: because, not and I mean smile, without permitting the story to drag on; which can be a very strenuous objective to achieve.Certain sentences rhyme, it is unclear whether this was done purposely or purely by coincidence. If by coincidence it’s like the universe is suggesting this story had to be written. Almost half way through after you explain genuine happiness you experienced the story takes a shift. A conversation between two similar people arises, here you talk about a topic that is all too familiar. The fear that all life is meant for is working a job you dislike to provide and survive. The conversation comes to a natural end until it is interrupted and takes a sharp turn and crashes, literally that is. The ending is not one that could not have been predicted but it’s an imperative and satisfying ending nonetheless.
I sincerely hope that things have gotten better since the publishing of the story as well as seeing more publishings from you in the future. You have a talent for writing captivating stories and I wish to see you continue.