Maeve Higgins

My ideal . . . expression


I was in my room the other day, reading my old yearbook and wondering what the girls were up to these days. I ferreted around online for a few hours, gathering information. I then created a crude but functional spreadsheet, with boxes for career, partner, weight, partner’s weight, etc and set about comparing myself to my old classmates. Turns out I’m not doing as well as the anaesthetist with a rail thin husband, but better than the girl with no eyebrows who helps out at her mother’s bakery three days a week. The process made me gloomy, so I decided instead to imagine the ideal facial expression.

Peoples’ facial expressions can be misleading. A knitted brow and concerned mouth make the wearer look as though they are considering the endless depths of what it is to be, when they’re actually just deciding whether to have a snack now, and then dinner, or the other way around.

I’m smiling as I write this. Smiling hard, with tears glittering in my eyes. It’s the ‘machinated 1950’s housewife’ – a confusing, spooky expression that I wear only when I’m alone. If there is a chance someone is looking at me, and let’s be real here – there usually is, I switch to a soft smile and wide, dry eyes. What I’m trying to say, if you could just put down your margarine on toast for one second and focus, is that I smile almost all of the time. An enchanted doll, letting everyone know how cheerful I feel and how nice I am. It has served me well – everyone is very careful around me. Now that I’m getting older (almost in my mid twenties now!) I need to change it up a bit, so people will take me seriously.

Let me tell you about a man I once knew. Not like that . . . I don’t mean in that way, my goodness! Anyway, this guy, let’s call him Leo Vradkar, had a default expression that was nothing short of sceptical. I’d say something and he’d immediately back his head up, chin doubled, eyes narrowed, disbelieving. It made me nervous. How did he know I was lying about being a doctor? My clothes? Nowadays, many doctors wear body-con dresses and sideways baseball caps. Maybe my neat handwriting gave it away? Or maybe it was my inexpert hands as I felt his butt for signs of diabetes.

The ideal expression is free from regret and panic – the person behind it is not racing into the future or fuming about the past, but lounging around in the moment, comfortable and secure. My dream expression is a very faint one, practically inscrutable. It holds the distant wisdom of a brand new infant alongside a still, almost bovine serenity. I’m talking a pure Mona Lisa buzz. People will queue up and guess what I’m thinking. They’ll gaze on, perplexed and speculating, but my self-contained mask will offer no clues. Then I’ll smile, thinly, and they’ll involuntarily return the favour.

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