SMILE, It’s What People Do Best
“Walk-in, or appointment?”
“Ah yes, 10:45.” The nimble-fingered receptionist quickly scanned the St. Louis community data base for Roy’s records. Once located, a special corporate password was given, which silently voided his outstanding bills, canceled his apartment lease, ended his current employment, and seized his bank accounts. “A nice clean slate then,” she stated. “We’ll soon see what SMILE can do for you, Roy.”
His steel gray eyes changed from an intense, immediate stare to a far-off gaze. Can SMILE really help someone like me? He took a seat to wait and find out. Pressing wrinkles out of the crumpled SMILE brochure he had been struggling with since his failed suicide attempt three days earlier, his decision to go for it was final. There, the deed’s done. What else was I going to do with my savings? He never got tired of reading that cursed fairytale advertisement:
Welcome to Successful Matches In Lifestyles Enterprises (SMILE)
Why get a college degree, or training in a career that may never fulfill you?
Why live in less than your ideal surroundings?
SMILE can save you time, money, and guesswork by choosing the path and place that are best suited for you in a judgement-free environment. How? By cross-analyzing your DNA, family history, aptitudes, and even your dreams, SMILE can successfully match you with your true lifelong endeavor. We’ll coordinate your training, job placement, and housing anywhere in the world. No kidding!
“SMILE told me I’d be happiest as a hotel manager in an exotic island setting. They trained me, and today I own one of the top rated Caribbean resorts. I love it!” -Jill Payne
Your success comes with a full guarantee. SMILE is so sure you’ll be happy in your new life that we’ll either restore your old life at no additional charge, or give you a second option free. Now, how can you go wrong with a guarantee like that? Visit any one of our five hundred nationwide locations today for your personal session, and find out why at SMILE we say, “It’s what people do best!”
Roy didn’t expect miracles by going to SMILE for help. He only wanted to know the truth about himself. The nice people waiting with him only wanted the same. SMILE had the answer to the one question that was on everyone’s minds: Who am I?
Roy studied the cheerful decor, the nice people, himself. Yellow smiley face sofas held a dozen or so patient, starry-eyed clients. He exchanged polite nods with them. The nice people appeared confident that these high-tech gypsies could spare them a ton of aggravation and misspent savings. Out of all the life enrichment agencies, SMILE’s success rate was the highest. They were the first and best in the business. Roy had heard that anyone with enough money was sure to be satisfied there regardless of their needs.
Just then a droopy-eyed gentleman entered the agency and sat down next to Roy. The man smelt of eucalyptus and shook from a raspy cough. His elongated teeth were stained pink from cherry lozenges. Roy leaned away, shielding himself against this intrusion and possible infection. He wanted to stuff the ailing slob into a plastic sack, but fought to shut out such harmful images and appear friendly instead. Nice people did that, suppressed their real desires under flimsy public masks. His harsh criticism was on his lips but then he remembered not to say anything.
He scuffed his boot heels over the patch of crimson rug that served as a subspace in a vast expanse of black floor tiles. A tiny blood red island that harbored silly sofas, nice people, and Roy from a cold black sea. Staring out across the shiny blackness, Roy remembered how much he had wanted to kill himself. But with what little hope he had left, he stopped to reconsider his options. Eventually, he got enough courage to call SMILE and make the appointment. The agency promised so much, and yet, Roy’s secret kept him so doubtful that he couldn’t decide which direction to let his emotions run away in. He clenched the SMILE brochure inside the pocket of his corduroy jacket until his knuckles hurt. Everything’s going to be fine. It just has to be.
So far, Roy hadn’t amounted to much, though he once showed promise as a foreign language student in college. He started having difficulties concentrating, becoming irritable, and often behaving inappropriately during his second semester. His odd condition steadily worsened, causing him to eventually drop out of school. Later, he moved around frequently, finding work as a photographer. An old hobby of his. The money was good, and he had learned ways of hiding his problem, but there was more to Roy than that, and he yearned to realize what it was. Dwelling on his illness while in public was dangerous, but he couldn’t always avoid it.
The waiting room began wrapping around him in the usual fish bowl manner as he feared it might. Objects bent, stretched, and smeared across his vision. Voices became muffled as though Roy was a goldfish submerged under water. He stood, plotted his foot-holds carefully across a pattern that resembled red pebbles, then slowly swam off the edge of the rug. It was a mistake coming here. They’re going to know there’s something wrong with me.
Whispering schools of yellow fish wove through a maze of tall, green plants. Water gurgled and rippled in their wake.
Sunlight cast its white warmth over the green plants, yellow fish, and red pebbles.
“Roy Wilder?” Bright shining eyes looked closely at the goldfish that was Roy. “Sir? We’re ready for you now.”
Roy strained to free himself from his 'episode' in order to see the tiny hostess at his side. Her smiley face smock could have fit a child.“Our technicians will help you with your cross-analysis session,” she repeated.
Roy smiled warily. “Oh, am I next?”
Staff members wearing yellow coveralls and waiting near green floor plants, followed Roy and his escort into a private, sunlit salon in the test area. The yellow clad people pricked his arm with a needle. “For your DNA sample,” one of them explained then left the room.
“What are your mother’s maiden name, and your father’s full name?” Roy was asked.
“Ah, Margaret Kay Simmons-Frank Lee Wilder,” he said. Jotting that down, another yellow technician left the room.
“Please, fill out this questionnaire,” the next one said. “When you’re finished, go down the hall for your aptitude tests.”
“Height, 6'2". Weight, 185. Eyes, gray. Hair, brown. . .”
Roy hated being handled by these strangers, but the last yellow person gave him delicious refreshments and ordered soft music piped into the salon. He was invited to lounge on one of the silly sofas while he thought out his answers. That was where he stayed for the next hour. The questions dealt with his preferences for a home life, work activities, social environments, self-image, and career expectations. All good information that made good sense to Roy. The twelve-page packet gave a detailed accounting of his truest nature. He hoped the yellow people would appreciate the brutal honesty of his answers.
Down the hall, Roy relinquished his stack of personal tidbits to the awaiting technician. She showed him around a large open room divided by half-walled cubicles, which contained various aptitude tests. Roy had fun with them for the next two hours.
“Please, lie down in that room and take this pill,” the test technician said. “It will put you to sleep in our Dream Center. Your data will be quickly analyzed by our computer, so we can determine what the future has in store for you.” Her nose scrunched up as she pinned an official SMILE smiley face pin on his shirt.
“Well, your computer’s guess is as good as mine,” Roy said playfully.
He entered another salon, laid out on the sofa cushions, and swallowed the coated capsule as directed. His lack of hesitation was an act of trust seldom permitted, but the addition of refreshments on a side table and soft music worked well in getting him to relax.
After a few minutes, Roy was joined by a clinical looking woman. “Okay Roy,” the nurse said, “let’s hook you up to our Dream Center computer. Comfy? Good. If you’re ready, we’ll begin.” She never waited for his response. Technical equipment, drizzled with tangled wires, stood at the ready on a nearby gurney. Sticky things were placed on his head and wires got plugged into them. In another room, a video monitor flicked on to display Roy’s thoughts. Computers recorded the mental pictures he projected.
A stale grin on the nurse’s face gave Roy reservations about this procedure. He tried to sit up, but his arms and legs were already numb from the pill. I’ve got to get out of here. They’re going to know . . . I shouldn’t have come.
“Just close your eyes, and leave everything to me,” the nurse said. “What brought you to SMILE?”
“I wanted to be successful,” Roy answered groggily.
“Try to be more specific. What do you like doing most of all?”
“I take photos.”
“Photos of what?”
“And where would you like to live most of all?”
“Anywhere . . . all over.”
“You like to travel? Good.”
“I travel . . . take photos. . ..”
Images flashed over the dream monitor of every place Roy had ever been and every subject he’d ever photographed. The staff marveled at the breathtaking and masterfully crafted scenes. But then a cautionary message broke across the transmission. The nurse quickly scanned the printout from the DNA lab. She examined Roy’s twelve-page questionnaire, his aptitude tests. All evidence suggested he was suffering from a rare DNA virus, which caused severe mental instability. Given this information, it was clear what the SMILE staff needed to do next.
“We’re sorry,” the child-like hostess said, “but you’ll have to leave now.”
“Take your deposit back. SMILE can’t help you,” the nurse added gravely. Roy’s test papers were stamped VOID.
"I don’t get it,” Roy said. “SMILE is supposed to work for everyone. There must be something I can do well. Check those tests again. You’ve got to give me a new life.” His fingers were wrapped around the nurse’s neck.
She managed to pull herself free and hit the alarm switch. A security guard came in looking big and angry, but old and winded. “This maniac tried to strangle me,” the nurse complained.
“Come with me,” the elderly guard insisted.
Roy slapped the nurse in the face for panicking so easily. Curious yellow people showed up to see what was going on. The guard unfastened his gun holster. He went for the handle of the loaded weapon entrusted to him, but wasn’t very convincing. Sensing that the inexperienced old fool needed encouragement, Roy shoved the tiny one against a desk. Her shrieks convinced the guard to take out his gun.
Roy was expected to back down at this point. A nice person would have backed down. He didn’t. Instead he grabbed the guard’s forearm with one vile hand and the deadly black cannon with the other. An explosion shook the frightened staff. The elderly guard collapsed to the floor. Screams were heard. That was to be expected. More explosions rang out, then a few more people fell. Fewer screams were heard still, then a few more explosions and dead bodies. Then nothing.
Roy stared down at the paper dolls lying on the floor, their yellow coveralls and happy smocks stained red to match the rugs. There’s no way out for me this time. I should never have come. They shouldn’t have tried to make me leave. Couldn’t they see I needed help?
* * *
“Well Roy, we’ve had quite a time together,” the nurse said. Her name was Charlene, and she was actually a neurologist.
“Yes, we sure have,” Roy replied meekly. Weeks earlier he’d been shown a play-back from the dream monitor of his imaginary mass murder spree. The staff had provoked him while in his dream state in order to observe his reaction. He still couldn’t believe how out of touch with reality he was, how dispassionate he felt about taking the lives of others.
Charlene, who immediately took over his case, handed Roy his release papers. “The medication you’ve been given have started reversing the effects of the virus.”
“I feel great,” Roy said. “How can I ever thank you?”
“Oh, we’re not done yet,” she said. “Treating your illness is only one of the services offered here at SMILE. You did the right thing by coming to us. But you’re also guaranteed a new and fulfilling life, remember? I have your second test results with me. Don’t you want to know what they say?”
“Yes . . . please.”
“You’re to fly to Sydney, Australia to meet your mentor, and begin training as a photo journalist. The two of you will travel the world over. How does that sound?” She wore the thin smile that Roy had come to accept as sincere.
“Terrific, but who’s my mentor?”
“Her name is Ann Reed. She’s a successful freelance photographer, who’s both lovely and single. You can’t ask for much more than that.”
“But does this Ann know about my condition?”
“Don’t worry, Roy, your secret’s safe with us. She only knows that you’re a talented photographer who speaks four languages.”
“SMILE really can make fairytales come true,” Roy said with a bittersweet sense of uneasiness. I don’t deserve such a perfect life.
* * *
“Shut up, Wilder. You murderous freak.”
Roy hadn’t heard the metal hatch on his prison cell door sliding open. The angry guard’s reddened face slowly came into focus.
“Oh, was I speaking?” Roy said. “I didn’t mean to kill anyone. I belong here if I did.” Confused by his own lack of recollection, he cringed in the corner of his small gray cage. “All those nice people. . ..”
“You killed them, all right. And if you don’t believe me I’ll read the newspaper story to you again. The guard reached into his pocket for the crumpled clipping.
“Please, I just want to see my doctor,” Roy pleaded.
“DEADLY SMILE: Crazed gunman shoots down 12,” the guard read aloud. He held up the article for Roy to see and accept.
“But it wasn’t my fault. I have an illness. But I shouldn’t have gone there.”
“Right, you should’ve stayed home and hung yourself.”
Actually, it was a train trestle, not a noose, that Roy had considered ending his life with before going to SMILE. His boots wavered over the edge of the greasy railroad ties. “Jump coward,” he remembered scolding himself. “What are you waiting for?” He leaned forward until his balance was unsteady. “Do it.” Only a bit more and the fall would be brief. Surely, the impact would kill me instantly. Perhaps an angel would reach out for me, catch me just before I hit the rocks below. Strange how the thought of taking your own life can seem so horrifying, while the idea of killing others tugs less at your sense of good judgement. . .
* * *
“Roy, you’ve got to tell your doctor about these nightmares. Your medication may need to be increased again,” came the voice of a concerned woman.
Roy was jolted awake by a lovely figure sitting on the edge of his bed. She knew about his illness and the treatments he received through SMILE. He had told her himself before they were married. Ann’s blue eyes and dark wavy hair filled his vision. He stopped to admire her beauty, take comfort in her sweetness, and catch his breath. “You’re right, of course. When I’m on the higher dosage I never have any problems. I’ll call Charlene right after breakfast, I promise.”
He squeezed his wife’s hand, reassuring himself that she was no mere dream and that his angel was indeed there to save him. Ann was as real and as perfect as he needed her to be. They wanted to live, travel, and publish their work for many years to come. SMILE guaranteed Roy that he would be completely satisfied in his new life, or his old life back at no additional charge. His test results had clearly showed his other career option would have been mercenary. And they would have happily arranged that for him too as a service that stands by their motto--SMILE: It's What People Do Best.
© 2020 by Andrée Gendron