She was always making that face, so I don’t remember her smiling a lot as a child. She did it so much she finally got the reputation at school as a “a tough nut to crack.” Someone downtown at the market called her “a real piece of work” one day after a particularly intense shopping trip in which she made two kids cry and one adult, who was innocently shopping in the same aisle, leave abruptly. It was hard to ignore. She scowled at cars for moving towards their destination, at tree leaves for falling, at flowers for blooming, and sometimes at the clouds for floating in front of the sun on the most beautiful fall day imaginable.
One particularly cold morning, as I stood with her at the bus stop, staring at the steam rising from my coffee and silently cursing the approaching Midwest winter, I happened to see something out of the corner of my eye that was not a scowl. Sort of. It wasn’t a smile either, but the tense muscles around her squinted eyes, the upturned lip, and the bared teeth were gone. She was calmly looking up toward the sky, watching two sparrows chase each other from tree branches to wires overhead, a game of tag that ended abruptly as a squirrel came bounding precariously out of nowhere down the birds’ wire, startling them both and causing a flurry of squawking and feather loss. She came back to the world, clearly amused, and we locked eyes for a moment. I braced myself for the worst.
Just then, the bus pulled up along side us, and she broke my gaze and scowled at the squeaky brakes and then at the driver after she said, “Good morning, Hon.” Through the window I could see her scowling at the girl in front of her who had turned around to show her a new babydoll. The bus slowly pulled away, and I stared in anticipation through the window. But she never looked back.
Story by Robin Littell