“Hey, you know, I was just thinking,” I say excitedly to her as we sit in the pizza shoppe we like to frequent, eager to share some interesting ideas with her.
“Just thinking what?” she asks, smiling.
“Hm. . . I don’t really know anymore,” I answer, puzzled.
Then I realize what’s going on.
It all began with a single observation as she waited for her father to finish work one day. Through the wide glass window, she looked into the conference room and saw her father obscure all the elephants there. The moment he smiled, these mighty mammals standing in the corners of the room were suddenly nowhere to be seen. Sitting now fully upright upon the couch in the lounge she blinked incredulously, sensing that her father had just done something very significant, yet with ease. She gazed intently upon the scene in the conference room. The elephants had clearly been there just a second ago, but nothing else had discernibly changed. Then her father’s meeting began.
“Weren’t there just some. . . ” she heard one of the participants asking—a tall man seated at one end of the oblong table, his voice muffled through the window.
“Some what?” her father asked, his voice muffled too.
“Never mind,” the man said.
When the meeting finished, her father lingered in the conference room after everyone else had left, to pack up his meeting materials and give the elephants some peanuts. He looked tired. Languidly he stroked the trunk of the elephant closest to him before leaving the conference room.
“Let’s go home, honey,” he said to her, placing a hand on the top of her head.
“How did you do that?” she asked.
“Do what?” he asked, smiling.
And instantly her father seemed different. . . not energetic exactly but more a little more lively.
She stared at him with wide eyes. He let his smile fade and looked tired again.
“That!” she exclaimed.
“Oh, that,” he said, nodding. “You mean about the elephants.”
“Yeah! Is it magic?”
“I suppose you could call it that!” her father answered heartily. “Well, what have you learned about smiles at school?”
“Um, that they show feelings like love, happiness and excitement.”
“Okay, and this is what they don’t teach you in school: you can conceal things with smiles too. You’ve probably done it yourself and not realized it. It’s actually a very natural thing to do.”
“But how can you hide with something that shows?” she asked, confused.
“Ah, that happens all the time. Here’s a quick example,” he said, setting down his briefcase.
He opened it, took out a chart and held it up in front of his face.
“Now I’m showing you a chart,” he said from behind the colorful lines and numbers. “But I’m using it to hide something. It looks like I’m showing you something, but I’m hiding something too.”
“Maybe more than you think,” he added, then lowered the chart to reveal his cross-eyed stare. “I see,” she said, nodding.
He put away the chart and said to her, “You’ll learn all about this as you get older, but remember, you should conceal with smiles only when you think it’s best for everyone involved or when you think it’s important to conceal something.”
They left the lounge and walked down the hallway.
She took his free hand in hers, then asked, “So how much can a smile conceal?”
“You’d be surprised,” he said simply, his voice seemingly tinged with a reluctance to talk about it.
So she didn’t say anymore about that. And instead asked about dinner.
“We have all that broccoli we should cook,” he said.
“Can we make broccoli pie?” she asked.
He turned to her and smiled. She tried to tell if he was hiding something, but there didn’t seem to be anything to hide, and so she concluded that her father was showing his approval.
And then began her experiments with smiles. After school, in the bathroom at home, she diligently practiced all kinds of smiles in front of the mirror and carefully watched as they hid feelings partially or wholly, testing everything from annoyance and ennui to despair and contempt. Encouraged by her successes with emotions, she then challenged herself to obscure a broad range of things: varying magnitudes of truth (simple facts, pieces of evidence and whole chunks of reality), different kinds of mistakes (gross errors and trifling blunders) and problems (trivial snags and miring quandaries), myriad intentions (ambitious goals, earnest wishes and intense desires). With every disappearance she was able to achieve, she felt the satisfaction of accomplishment which often strengthened the abilities of her subsequent smiles, allowing them to conceal more and more.
Gradually, she became confident that when she would need to deploy the concealment of smiles for everyone’s benefit or for a very important reason, she would be able to do so expertly and hide whatever she needed to vanish. She also became confident that she’d be able to tell if a smile was being used to conceal something even if she had no idea what that something might be.
It feels like it often does—subtle at first, the vague sense of something missing, then blaring absence once I’ve figured out what’s going on.
“Stop it!” I blurt, more childishly than I had wanted.
And she bursts out laughing and my thoughts become clear to me again.
Now, she’s so adept at concealment by smiling that she can hide my emotions and thoughts with her smiles. Most of the time she does it for fun, just to tease me. But she deserves it. She has used her talent to accomplish a great deal of good.
Reminded of her abilities, I smile too, hoping to conceal the remnants of my annoyance.