This Smile

Kelly Kuterbach

She has this smile that shouts across her face, head cocked coyly, teeth like bare white tile, symmetrical and straight. She turns as if smiling like that is a private matter, like we've just met and she's revealed too much, too soon.

She smiles like this when she catches me singing little tunes my mind fabricates. Songs that give wings to my anxiety. Subconscious sing-song recitations that I'm a few stanzas into before I realize they've escaped, set adrift while I'm cooking or folding laundry, everyday tasks my body performs by rote. She smiles like this when she catches me leaning against the tall glass window of the apartment we share, staring long and hard at nothing more than a pair of squirrels arguing in the yard, or when she finds me standing in the hall mesmerized by our soapy clothes tumbling round and round in our port-holed washer.

She smiles at my ordinariness.

Years ago, her long, long hair would fall from behind an ear, across her face and be stopped by her long, long nose, the same nose I imagine would have stopped her mother's hair, if I could imagine her mother ever smiling. Years ago, she finally mustered the strength to defy one of the sacred Commandments of Chicana womanhood, "Though shalt not cut thy hair." When her mother saw her short, short hair, she made a sign of the cross and begged for it not to be true. Begged God and the saints, the Virgen de Guadalupe. Begged and cried while my internal metronome tapped out, five, four, three, two, one, the exact moment when she turned to me and spat,

"Why did you do this to my daughter?"

"Porque? Porque le cortaste su pelo?" "Why? Why did you cut her hair?"

Me. It's always me. Me who made her marimacha, jota, chueca, but never, never, lesbiana, that unspeakable word. Me who took her away from home, first 3 hours away, then 3,000 miles. Me who is always guilty, never any question of her choice, her disposition, only questions like, "Why are you doing this to me/us/her/God?" "Don't you love God, mija?" or "Aren't you ashamed?"

I'm never ashamed, I say. And you, I respond, have never seen her smile, the one that stretches across her face, reaches out to narrow the distance between us. Have never seen her cheeks full and round and puckered with delight. Never seen her lovely teeth perched on her plump bottom lip, nor the way her eyes remain fixed while the rest of her face turns shyly away as if the force of such a smile is too intense, so real that it renders her vulnerable. You have never seen your daughter I say.

But I do. I see her smiling, unbound from the future of her past.