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  • Jan Flynn

I’m Not Mad and I Like You

But you might not know that from the expression on my face

Image by Jeff Kingma from Pixabay

“Are you mad at me?” my husband asks.

I look up from my laptop, blinking at him in bewilderment. “What? No. Why would I be mad at you?”

“It’s just, from the look on your face,” he explains, “I thought I’d said something to upset you.”

I’m not upset. I’m not mad. I’m not even mildly ruffled. Honestly, I don’t even remember whatever he thinks he may have said that could possibly have caused offense.

I’ve been sitting here in complete contentment, reading something that deeply interests me. My interior is serene, tickety-boo, all fine and dandy. But I understand that once again, while my attention is elsewhere, my face is doing its own thing.

And with every passing year, it seems that thing appears more disapproving, more offended, and madder than a wet cat.

What happened to developing a sweet old lady face?

I look a lot like my mother. Everyone who knew her says so. She was a kind, gracious, gentle soul, and as she got older her face communicated precisely that. She only looked disgruntled when she was, in fact, disgruntled.

So what’s with my visage? Why can’t I trust my face, when I’m not managing it, to look as gruntled as I feel?

I’m afraid I’m turning into the Story Lady.

I realize that requires some explanation. Back in the 90s, like a lot of moms I had a small TV in the kitchen so I could watch the morning news while I fixed the kids’ breakfasts and packed their lunches before we all headed out for the day.

These were the days when network TV was still the boss, before personal screens and YouTube and the general tsunami of video content came at us. On late Sunday mornings, there was no TV news to watch while I was whipping up waffles or pancakes.

But there was public access TV

One Sunday morning, tired of pallid reruns, I happened upon our local access channel. And there I discovered the Story Lady.

This dear, sweet woman, evidently a retired primary teacher, wrote and illustrated children’s picture books. She published them herself, and reading them aloud on Channel 3 allowed her to share them with entranced tots from all over the county, for free.

I have no idea how large a viewership she had. Nor do I know how old she was. Possibly younger than I am now, but at the time she looked superannuated to me.

I admired her for writing and publishing her own books. I was impressed that she produced her own show, wherein she perched on a garden bench on a set decorated like a nursery school spring pageant. But what absolutely entranced me about the Story Lady was the extreme disconnect between her intentions and her demeanor.

From the neck down, she looked like anybody’s kindly grandmother. Alas, with time her face had settled into lines best described as fearsome. It wasn’t that she was ugly or unpleasant looking.

It was that she always, unfailingly, looked enraged.

As her show’s saccharine theme music faded out, the Story Lady would greet viewers in her gravelly voice, glaring at the camera as though wishing to eviscerate all the toddlers in her unseen audience.

“Today I’m reading about The Very Quiet Cow,” she rasped, casting her book a glance like a thunderbolt of fury. “Sometimes the Very Quiet Cow doesn’t know what to say,” she explained, looking like Torquemada contemplating a new method of torture. “Do you ever feel like you don’t know what to say? Yes, I’m sure you do.”

At that point, she would don her spectacles, magnifying her eyes as they blazed beneath her stormy brows, and begin to read. Her stories were as sweet and inoffensive as her expression was ferocious.

I was entranced. Over the season her show ran, I developed a deep affection for the Story Lady, my fondness underpinned by the jarring contrast between what she so clearly wanted to communicate and her murderous-looking countenance.

She made me laugh.

Apparently, the gods heard me laughing

And for my hubris, they have chosen to avenge my effrontery for giggling at the Story Lady. Being timeless themselves, they have waited several decades — a blip for them — to encourage gravity to weigh down the corners of my mouth and pull my eyebrows halfway past my eye sockets.

Nowadays, unless I’m consciously smiling or at least trying to look alert, my face subsides into its default conformation. To me it looks way beyond RBF (Resting Bitch Face).

I think of it as DCF: Disappointed Crone Frown. Perhaps I have indulged in dark or unworthy thoughts over the years, ones that are only now seeping into my skin and rearranging it into a drooping, dispirited, and unwelcoming mask.

If so, I didn’t mean it. And I don’t feel that way at all, I promise. If anything I’m eager to make friends with almost anyone. I’m a happy person, honest!

So if you see me out and about, don’t be put off by my DCF. Please, approach. I’d love to say hi, and I look way less scary when I’m smiling.

It’s only that I’m paying my dues to the Story Lady.

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