Mildred Smiles

Mildred was sitting upright in her bed, the gray covers and white sheets pulled up to her waist, a pillow behind her back. She had changed into her tasteful gray pajamas and put on her glasses with the thick bridge and slightly pointed corners. She had combed her hair to the point where it fell straight and like silk to just below her shoulders, a medium brown with a slight but discernible red tinge.

Expressionless, she perused some notes she had written on a yellow legal pad, the first dozen pages flipped over the top and tucked behind the cardboard backing. She really had no expression. She was concentrating, clearly, but without looking like she was concentrating. She simply was not present, her mind elsewhere, on her notes, recreating mentally the images and thoughts and feelings from when she had written them, erasing any and all expressiveness from her features. As it was, there was no one present to witness her being lost to the physical world, and so who really was to care that she was not present?

Mildred absentmindedly sipped at her mug of herbal tea, a ritual she always found comforting before bed time. She noticed that the mug was empty, pulled back the sheets, swung her legs over the side of the bed, got up, and made her way into the kitchenette just next to the bed in her efficiency apartment, her mind all the while still on the notes. As she had done thousands of times before, without conscious intent, she set her mug down on the countertop and reached for the still half-full pot of tea that she had brewed. Tonight, however, she had placed the pot just a few inches from its usual place, and as her grasping fingers missed the handle, instead encountering nothing but air, she was yanked out of her deeply inward-turned thoughts. It took her a confused moment to recreate in her mind the purpose of her being in the kitchenette and reaching for something. What was it? Oh, tea. Right.

There was very little visible sign of Mildred’s actually profound if momentary shift in perspective. She had appeared to be staring at the counter, but with unfocused eyes. In breaking out of her reverie, the only sign was the contraction of her irises as she became aware that she would have to use them. Her mind, however, felt like it had been ripped out of the deepest sleep, as though she was waking from a pleasant dream to thick curtains thrown open to blinding mid-day sun. She was of course entirely accustomed to the sensation, as reality so frequently intruded on her inner world.

A slight tightening of her lips, not a grin, really, then accompanied her now conscious act of refilling her mug. It was still a quiet, personal moment, but only a moment, because she suddenly but without surprise became aware that I was in her apartment with her, watching her pour herself a cup of tea. In slow motion her eyes widened slightly as her mouth stretched into a warm and welcoming smile. Perhaps welcoming is not the word.

It was more the greeting of someone who had been waiting for the arrival of someone they had very much been looking forward to seeing. And yet there was no sign that she had been waiting impatiently. Her eyes read hope and vulnerability and innocence and a genuine pleasure that I had finally arrived.

Against the dim lighting of the apartment, with its whites, grays, taupes and grayish-greens, her blue eyes and her slightly crooked teeth shone brightly as she smiled, as did her lips that were red even though she wore no lipstick. Her hair as well seemed more red. In my original conception I had thought that she would be mousy and plain looking, but when she smiled, she was heartbreakingly radiant. And then the kitchenette and Mildred grew dim and blurry and slid off to the right of the camera frame that was my eyes. I tried to rotate my camera-eyes back towards her, but it had become too dark and she was lost in the shadows just beyond peripheral vision.