By Miriam Mandel Levi

Someone told me that I smile all the time. She said, “You never stop,” which sounded like I wish you would. I never realized I smile to excess. But today I smiled at a man fishing beer bottles out of a recycling bin, and at a group of uniformed school children at a bus stop.

When I was twelve, I got braces. My remodeled teeth were perfect. People remarked how beautiful my smile was. I couldn’t stop: I smiled when I was happy, embarrassed, afraid, sad. My cheeks hurt from holding up my lips.

“Smile,” a woman whispered from the pews as I walked down the aisle at my wedding. Had I forgotten to smile on, this, the happiest day of my life? I flashed my pearly whites. My husband has never been able to force a smile. “How do you do it?” he asks, incredulous that something so fake can pass for genuine.

It’s a fact that women smile more than men. And well known that when animals smile, they’re not happy; that bare-toothed grin signals submission or aggression. I once read that smiling evolved from its predecessor—fang-flashing.

As I age, my skin loses its elasticity and my face droops. Now, I rely on my smile more than ever. Unfortunately, it yellows and fades. Despite the fact that I see a dental hygienist twice a year. And have tried Colgate whitening toothpaste. I told my dentist that I have the strange sensation that my teeth move when I sleep. “Teeth remember,” he said. “They want to go back to where they used to be.”

My teeth want to go back to a time before their incarceration, when they were crooked and misaligned. When my mouth pursed, pouted, quivered, grimaced, retracted, snarled. When my smile was savage and you knew if you came close, I’d pounce. I’d tear you to pieces.

Miriam Mandel Levi’s work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Brain, Child, Literary Mama, Under the Sun, Poetica, bioStories, Sleet, Tablet, Blue Lyra, Chautauqua, Random Sample, Sky Island, JMWW, and is pending in Persimmon Tree and Sunlight Press.

Art by Lesley C. Weston (Pastel and Charcoal)

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