He smiled, but it was a carapice. It wasn't real. It was the mechanical. It was what you do when you have to do it. Now he had to do it. He was surrounded by people who needed his approval, needed his smile.They saw the choppers. They saw the constant smirking. They heard the laughter from deep within him. He gave it. But in that molecule of space between the mask of ebullient eyes and flashing teeth, of dimples and laugh lines, that was where the reality was.
And the mood was humid, and heavy. It was like a hundred rainstorms ruining a thousand plans in the sun, a sickness ruining a long journey, a best friend using dark secrets to hurt. All of the darkness, the melancholy and pain were his now.
Yet he shook more hands, and looked people into their eyes. He made the connections. He did the entertainer's dance. He let every last person he contacted feel like they were interesting and the only person on the planet. It felt good to give to them.
But the heaviness. The grief. The sorrow. It pulled at his chest and weighted his shoulders as unbearable things do. He had no option in this one. He had to take the pain, and the pain was beyond paramount. It was as if the gravity of the planet had all gathered at his feet, to pull him in. It was like the best meal one could ever cook, going to ruin because of a fight with an intimate. It was the realization that the chequing account had bounced. It was the realization that he'd been taken advantage of. It was betrayal and misery and gloom. The darkness swirled about his head, pricking him with pain. The feelings were unbearable. The lid that he'd kept on them was cracked and rusting. It was going to blow open, and all of the thick, oozing melancholia would blacken him and his surroundings. It was loss and it was hopelessness. It was the realization that the failure was final and unforgiveable.
And the kids looked up into his eyes. He smiled and joked. He squatted to interact with them, and shot knowing glances at the parents. He remembered the names of those he was introduced to. He used the names in the flippant sentences he constructed. He gave of himself. He let them have him. He let them see him. But it was only as deep as the mask that held his sorrow in place. The mask at this point was his best friend. Without it, he would be exposed as a weakened, miserable creature. He had to lie to them. He had to hold his happy poise in place. He had to reveal only the positive. He had to decieve and manipulate those around him.
Inside it brewed and churned in his stomach. It was a cold burning. An ice cube held to a window on a hot day. The morose feelings that held his brain in place were like foul, blood-soaked cotton balls. Like a bandage that should have been pulled a week previous, a grain of sand in the corner of his eye. The sadness was as tangible as the strained muscles under his eyes from all of that smiling he was doing. There was no purpose. There was no reason. It was all lost. It was nothingness and it didn't matter.
And then there was a moment of respite. The crowd slackened. He was allowed to be with himself for a moment. And he allowed himself one indulgence. The tear that swelled under his right eye sucked and pulled all of its worth out of his tear duct. The release of saline stung him, as he hadn't cried in years. His eye squinted and reddened. The tear hit its maximum density and then rolled.
To the left and the right he looked. Then he dashed his face with an open palm and caught the detractor from his charade.
And he continued, pressing the flesh, with that warm sweet smile of his.