Angela Readman
Dorsal Winner

It all came down to a smile, why he'd lingered so long ago in her father's hardware store. The smell of metal wool and wax on the wooden shelves curling up in his lungs. Her legs weren't that great. When she took out steps to reach for brass polish he saw a run in her stocking, plump ankles, then he noticed her smile . She placed the tin on the counter and wiped the back of her hand against her flushed face. He must have made her go up and down those steps forty times. After a bad day he'd pop into the shop and ask for whatever was too high for her to reach. It always made him feel calm. Sweating, embarrassed, she smiled as if it might cover her flaws. He walked away with bottles of drain fluid, brushes, feeling her smile behind him fade.

When they were married, her smile was a whitewash. It seemed to widen over the years. People liked her because of it. Next to it, his own face was stern. It was how he was wired, his mouth not connected to his eyes. Once, he'd shoved her, with no serious intention. She chipped a tooth when she fell against the table. Her smile snapped back into place like stretched elastic once he apologised. Now they were older, he didn't have the energy. He looked at his wife and couldn't take a shot at an old woman.

At night their dentures sat side by side in a glass on the night stand, leering through pale water. He wondered if if she had smiled less, he would have smiled more throughout the years. He remembered that smile in the hardware store and felt cheated it was given to everyone and said nothing special about him. While she was sleeping, he took both sets of dentures into the bathroom and looked closely at the plastic gums the colour of a band-aid, her smile that patched over everything. He dressed slowly, lacing his shoes and buttoning his jacket. He combed his hair and pushed his wife's dentures into his mouth, feeling the oddly shaped plastic press into his jawbone, the pinch. He placed his own teeth in his jacket then made his way downstairs. Grimace in pocket, he walked down the street feeling her smile cut into his gums. He imagined his wife waking up, looking through drawers, giving up and being too embarrassed to leave the house. He kept walking with his wife's smile. It was all he took.

First published: August, 2010
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