Smile: A Short Story

“Can you pull back the sides of his mouth more toward his ears to show all his teeth?”

The undertaker fidgeted.

He looked at Gary Capehart stretched out on the embalming table.

“People don’t even want the hint of a smile. A smile would be creepy,” he said.

“Goddammit, show some respect,” Maureen said.

The new widow crossed her arms across her chest.

“Gary took a big bite out of our life’s savings for full dental implants,” she said. “We need to see Gary’s million dollar smile.”

The funeral director grimaced.

“With all due respect, ma’am, your husband is deceased. You really want him to look like he just won Dancing with the Stars?”

“Don’t be a smartass. Will you help me or not? I’ll pay extra.”

Now the mortician smiled.

“I’ll need special glue to seal the deal,” he said. “To keep Gary’s jaws from slamming shut under the lights and dropping the curtain on the show.”

“That monkey glue they advertise on TV ought to do the trick,” Maureen said.

“Or we could use that invisible fishing line to tie both ends of his lips to his ears,” the undertaker said.

“Gary pierced his ears when he turned 60 so there‘s already holes in the lobes,” Maureen said.

“We’ll figure something out,” the undertaker said.

Mourners stood beaming by the open casket at the viewing that night, marveling at Gary beaming back from the red satin softness of his coffin like he was lounging in a king-sized bed in the master bedroom of his favorite comped Atlantic City gambling casino suite. Despite their grief, a gala celebration broke out among the weepers. The festive atmosphere of Gary’s teeth rubbed off and caught on among the good sport mourners now consumed by gleeful euphoria.

Gary’s choppers made everybody chipper.

“I never saw a happier corpse,” Maureen said.

 “Ah, the gates of heaven will open wide for that lad,” the local Irish priest said.

“Laughing all the way to the afterlife,” Maureen said.

Looking delighted, Gary Capehart stretched out in his favorite lime green leisure suit from when he and Maureen were courting in the ’70s, the one he refused to allow his wife to donate to the Goodwill. Grinning his way to paradise, Gary flashed one final glimmer from ivory white front tusks and a double dazzle from two perfectly sculpted twinkling eye teeth that caught beams from the overhead lights and reflected into the audience like the headlamp of an oncoming freight train.

Gary dazzled the crowd until they closed the box after the funeral Mass.

All because of the dental implants people forgot the weirdness of the normally depressing scene. Instead, they joined Gary’s jubilance (his crowning glory, so to speak) laughing and showing off whatever teeth they had left in their mouths.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, wore a set of teeth like Gary’s. Not even Jesus, who gazed down from the cross with a sour look on his face that depressed the keeners. If the Lord knew so much he, too, would have had dental implants before the Romans brought out the hammers. Had they seen his smile, the centurions might have lightened up and we wouldn’t be in the dire straits in which we find ourselves today. But that’s another story.

Resting in peace with a smile as his umbrella, Gary Capehart capped his life with a burial that marked his grave, a cavity, if you will, with sparkling luster that paid tribute to his twinkle. Always one to crack a joke at parties, Maureen delivered a final one-liner when she beheld the $5000 etched grave memorial that featured Gary’s radiant portrait at the center of the marble stone.

“Fangs for the memories, honey,” she said.

You could see Gary’s gleam all the way from the highway even at night.