Ghost of a Smile

Walking eastward along Ormond Road, on the sunny side of the street, she paused at the curb, just opposite the Elwood Food and Wine cafe. She was a pretty young thing and her carriage and the lightness of her step portrayed a wonderful happiness. Unconsciously and unbidden, the ghost of a smile started to form at the corner of her lips and in twinkle of her eyes. As she became conscious of the smile’s presence she half turned to glance over her shoulder, back the way she had come, remembering…

The white delivery van was driving west along Bent Street, somewhat faster than the 50 kilometre per hour limit, but not unusually so. The driver was behind his schedule. He still had two deliveries to make and he just received a text for another pickup from the office. If he went right at the roundabout and down Glenhuntly he would avoid the Ormond road shops and claw back a couple of minutes. Glancing up from his iMaps he realised he was entering the roundabout a little too fast, he’d still make it he thought and he steered harder to the right.

The rear tyres slid, just a little it seemed, but that movement swung the back of the van around and it bumped up over the curb with a dull thud. He managed to steer the van out of the turn and back on the road. He stopped just through the intersection, without hitting any of the parked cars or the traffic island. “Shit! That was lucky. I better have a look.” He said out loud to no one in particular, even though the van felt alright. A quick look out the window to make sure no cars were coming through behind him, and he got out the drivers side door, to walk around the front of the van so that he could checkout the passenger side panels.

Not a scratch, that thump must just have been the wheels bouncing up the curb. He relaxed, relieved. He really could not afford the grief of time off the road. It was then he saw the girl. She lay on the footpath, still, quiet. Her body as if in sleep. Her head pillowed on her arms, her face visible in profile, was unmarked. Still except for the ghost of a smile fading from her lips. Quiet, still and quite dead.

*

You think that ghosts are the spirits or souls of people who have died, perhaps in a tragedy, or with some unresolved issues, don’t you? That is not so. When someone dies, the electrically stored patterns in their synapses that make up the ‘self’, just leak away to nothing. Total, unending unconsciousness. That’s all.

No, it is not people’s who become ghosts, but the shadows of their emotions. Those rare physical expressions of emotion that are broken free of the person in the brief instant of time before the connection between the act and the thought establishes itself in the consciousness of the person. This is a rare occurrence, but with billions of people, everyone of whom must die sometime, even rare occurrences happen, quite often. For instance, when a young woman dies at the side of a road in the instant that she started to realise she is smiling.

The sad consequence being that the Smile is doomed to haunt the location of it’s unfortunate liberation, trying on the passing-by faces, one by one, searching for a match with the emotion that created it.

From that day on, any person lingering at that intersection, would feel a smile ever so briefly alight upon their face, leaving them bemused and wistfully happy. The Smile only alighted fleetingly across the faces of quiescent minds. It lingered longer on those faces that had a smile triggering emotion loosely forming in the mind behind the face, as the ghost of the Smile tried to reconnect, trying to go home.

A byproduct of this momentary formation of a mismatched smile on a person’s face, was the message such expression can give to others. Usually the effect was inconsequential, mildly uplifting even. A person crossing the road from the other direction, greeted with a quick smile from a stranger, usually walked on feeling good, even smiling themselves.

Sometimes it caused embarrassment and confusion, as someone misread the Smile as a sign of recognition or attraction, from a total stranger. The ensuing greeting causing suspicion and mistrust in the person afflicted with the ghost. Sometimes it would cause a dangerous, mid road flirtation, twice it resulted in the formation of relationships. Yet other times it caused offence to be taken, with one poor man having his face slapped by a woman who had not even noticed him before he responded a little too enthusiastically to her unaware smile.

*

But on the very last occurrence it was disastrous, to all concerned. Not the least for the Smile.

On that day, just as evening was falling, a young woman was walking towards Glenhuntly road and the Smile alighted on her face, just as she passed a quiet middle aged man walking the other way. The Smile lingered on her face a long moment, evaluating the emotions in the woman as she passed. That moment proved to be fatal. It was during that instant of time that the passing man glanced at her face.

The woman’s emotions were similar, but not quite a match, to those that originally gave birth to the Smile, so it finally moved on, and attached itself to the man, just after they passed each other. The young woman walked on, feeling momentarily happy, but as she could not identify the cause, the feeling faded the further on she walked.

The man, on reaching the opposite side of the road, the very spot where the young girl had died, stopped, turned and watched the receding woman. He had a smile of his own forming at that moment, a smile brought on by the message he misread in the Smile he glanced on that woman’s face.

He stood, still.

Watching.

Thinking.

Planning.

Smiling.

The ghost was caught up in the strength of the man’s own smile, in the depth of his emotions. These were not the emotions that had given birth to the Smile, far from it. They were not happy emotions, they were of unalloyed evil. But their strength and the coincidence of the man standing unmoving in this very spot, trapped that other, older smile.

It was locked to his face. The connection between it and the emotions inside this man’s head grew and grew. Realisation of the man’s immediate intentions towards that young woman, that one so similar to it’s home. The understanding that these emotions, these plans, this unavoidable atrocity that was about to be enacted, were brought about by itself. By this man’s seeing of a smile on that woman’s face. Seeing this particular Smile.

The horror of it froze the Smile. Binding it permanently to this evil man’s face. As fixed as the deed he was about to commit. As unavoidable as the suffering that woman was about to have visited on her. As unchangeable as the consequence to the man of the idiotic smile now forever frozen to his face.

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