Nobody likes a smirker.
In the town of Stornoway, at the turn of the 20th century, there were two men well known for their smirking. One, Smirky Smith (45) had a congenital condition called rigor smirkus which caused his facial muscles to sieze up into an infuriating smirk at unpredictable moments, much vexing his neighbours. Stress aggravated the poor man’s affliction and not being able to trust his facial expressions made social situations tortuous, and not in an even slightly sexy way.
The other smirker was a mere arsehole, and by mere, I mean utter. He was the local councillor for the powerful Seaforth Ward and was feared mainly for his ruthless smirk, and his “I know something about the municipal sewer system you don’t” smirk although he had many other kinds. He had pretensions up the skatoolumshinopterops (local euphemism for the bottom), fancied himself a wag and was the sort of fellow who, upon hearing about a devastating monsoon in Bangladesh, would send the Red Cross an umbrella, barely able to conceal his cleverness at the Post-Office and completely unable to conceal it later at the pub. An arsehole then. His name was Hugh Jorgan (42), and he was.
Even in the year 2000, there were many in Stornoway who didn’t believe in congenital conditions, only character flaws and punishments from God. Smirky Smith was deemed to be a puzzle. He was also deemed to be a butcher and one and half of these things was right. He was known far and wide as a fellow generous with his time and money, always the first to help a neighbour or do some kind service for some-kind-service-needer. But except for a few understanding old ladies, people couldn’t understand why he so often also appeared to be a prick.
In the shop, while he would give all his regular customers an extra sausage in their packets, sometimes his face would twitch into a knowing smirk right at the worst moment.
“Extra sausage in there for you this week” he would wink with a kind smile to poor Mrs. Matheson whose husband had run away with all her money and a freckled prawn-packer from Balallan, “I’m sure you can use it.”
But right then his kind smile would contort into a salaciously knowing smirk and Mrs. Matheson would get it all wrong about the sausage and declare “Oh! Oh! Did you hear that Mrs. MacLeod? I’ve never heard such impertinence in my life” and beat him about the head with her handbag. Sometimes other shoppers would join in.
Incidents of this nature happened about once a week. Not enough to put housewives off his delicious meaty vittles, which were the best in town, but just enough to make them wary of his sudden, disconcerting smirks.
As you might imagine, Smirky Smith was a lonely, unhappy man. Hugh Jorgan on the other hand never met a person he didn’t feel he could be smug and supercillious to. His smirks weren’t the comic or impishly charming smirks of the incidental smirker. Hugh Jorgan’s smirks were all about power. They were designed to put people in their place – to show who was the smartest at the table, to mark himself as the urbane fellow who knew the system because he kept the system in his pocket.
The odd thing, considering the size of the town, was that the two had never met. One day they did. It was at the annual regatta on the harbour. The weather was foul. Rain lashed the beshorted’n’tee-shirted islanders on their purple and white variegated legs, and wind whipped puffs of their candy-flosses into the hair of other people too cheap to buy their own which was dead unfair. But despite the thunder and occasional lightening, people were having fun. And the Bonny Baby contest was just about to be decided! Look!
Traditionally a butcher judged this event, having an eye for a good healthy hock and experience in identifying a superior breeding line. This year it was Smirky Smith’s turn and he was dreading it. What if he smirked when announcing the winner? What if it looked like he thought the island’s bonniest baby, the very bonniest it could manage, was really a little goblin? How upset would the parents be? How enraged the crowd? he thought as mounted the outdoor stage and walked up and down the row of dribbly little humans sitting on their beaming mammy’s laps. He made his selection, a fat, jovial little bubble-blower from Ranish, the one with the least snotty summer cold.
Hugh Jorgan, also sitting up on the stage behind a table full of trophies was the local dignitary selected to present the prizes this year. He sat there in full-on self-satisfied smirk, puffed with his celebrity and the thrill it was sending through the proles. A thrill that didn’t in fact exist, even in a parallel universe. Rather, in all other possible parallel universes, and even the impossible ones, the crowd was as one brain in thinking “God, would you look at that smirking bastard up there all smug and condescending. Why I’d like to…!” And there they split off from one another in a babble of preferred come-uppances for their councillor.
The time came for Smirky to announce the winner. Trembling he approached the microphone. The crowd hushed in anticipation, and, as if this were some sort of made-up story and not the absolute Gospel truth, even the rain and wind seemed to calm momentarily. For a minute he stood there, swaying, facing the upturned faces like a pinata who knows the beating he was born for was about to begin. He removed his cap and ran his fingers through barely there hair, staring into his cap as if it contained the answers to all his questions. He looked up.
“The, uh, th…” (Oh God, the dreadful twitching was starting) “…the winner …” (Oh please God, no! Don’t let me smirk, please don’t let me smirk!) “um… of this year’s bonny baby competition…” (Oh no! Here it comes! No no no!) “is…”
But Smirky never did get to say who had won, for at that moment the heavy heavens cracked open and righteous fire from God’s own finger* struck the mercury amalgam fillings in the head of one of the mammies on the slick, wet stage, sending heaps and heaps of volts through everyone on it. The crowd screamed or bellowed according to their voice-ranges and relative level of operatic training. The figures on the stage, jumped and jiggled and all their skeletons glowed bluely through their bodies. Percy Veerence, stoic and father of 7, just had time to notice with a groan another tiny skeleton sucking its tiny bony thumb, deep in his wife’s pelvis, as she and # 7 jerked up and down the stage.
And then it was all over. God put his finger away, zipped up the low-slung heavens and the people on the stage collapsed like charmed cobras might if a sudden snake-charmer strike with immediate effect had been announced.
Nobody on the stage that day died but some formerly straight-haired people weren’t any more. The same thing could be said of the straight-laced people whose morals suddenly went all curly. But something much more remarkable happened. For on that wonderful day Smirky Smith lost the smirk tht had plagued him his whole life, and Hugh Jorgan lost the smirk that had supported his ego.
Hugh experienced a catastrophic loss in confidence without his smirk, resigned abruptly from public life and slowly but surely, through means of a Deepak Chopra Audio lecture on DVD and a high-fibre diet, rediscovered the lovely person underneath the arrogant bastard.
Smirky Smith was never to lose his nickname but, now, finally able to control his facial muscles, he quickly became a beloved figure in the town, married a woman with a skellie eye and a twinkle in it, and lived pleasant-facedly ever after, out from under the shadow of the Vale of Tears And Smirks.