It Takes 42 Muscles

Fiction

By Claire Cooperman

Scene 1- The New Kid

Some people may think that writing an essay about what you could do to change the world can change the way a person looks at the world. It just wasn’t that way for me, until Lily helped me see myself and my surroundings in a way I never thought was possible.

“Write an essay about what you could do to make the world a better place. It has to be at least one page and done by…”

Right now I would love to fly away to a far away land through giant white clouds in the big blue sky, or swim in the cool blue ocean with the turtles and fish as my friends, but I’m stuck in the classroom not thinking a girl like me could ever change the world. I am not an amazingly intelligent witch like Hermione Granger, or a young heroine with a dazzling imagination like Anne of Green Gables. I’m just a quiet girl, looking for her place in the world, yet having no luck.

As my mind drifts off I find myself back in fifth grade walking to the front of the class, trying to prepare for my project on Ancient Egypt. I had read the presentation hundreds of times throughout the week, but never out loud. When I got to the front of the class my hands started to shake and I dropped my paper on the floor. The kids whispered and laughed as I bent down to pick it up, my face burning and red. As I finally started to present, my voice was quiet and shaky. Nobody except the teacher listened.  

I was never a girl who could catch a crowd’s attention with my words and I never will be. Right now I wish I were anywhere but here. My daydream is interrupted when the classroom door squeaks open and a girl with sandy blonde hair, freckles, and wondrous brown eyes walks in. She introduces herself as Lily and goes to talk with Ms. Mazen. Maybe a new girl will be a good change around here.  

The thought of having to come up with an idea for the essay brings me back to reality. How can a kid change the world? How can one person make a difference? Lily finishes her conversation with the teacher and starts to walk towards the empty desk next to mine. She looks like she never stops smiling,  yet the smile is not fake. Real smiles are shown in the mouth and the eyes. Lily’s eyes smile.

When she sees me staring at her, she smiles wider and gives me a little wave. My whole body suddenly starts to tingle and warm up with this wonderful sensation. I start to smile too.

Scene 2- The Picture

I had noticed the picture on Ms. Mazen’s desk before. It is a handsome young man with blonde hair and blue eyes beside a golden retriever with its tongue sticking out and its fur all ruffled. The photograph is in a brown wooden frame with ridges around the edges.  Ms. Mazen sometimes looks at it and smiles, the wrinkles on her face smoothing out, and a look of childhood optimism swirling in her big blue eyes. Other days a lonely tear rolls down her cheek making her look tired, worn, and old.

As I walk into class, Ms. Mazen is at her desk, holding the picture, with her eyes all teary. The kids walk in, as if it is just a normal day, and it is. Friday. Just four more days before my essay is due. The essay I have not yet started. I feel like a magnet, pulling in stress until I can’t take anymore.

As I sit down, Lily walks into the room. When she notices Ms. Mazen’s teary eyes and slouched posture she walks towards the desk. Ms. Mazen looks up from the picture. The kids talk amongst themselves, which makes it hard to listen to the conversation.

“Good morning Ms. Mazen,” Lily says. The kids next to me raise their voices in excitement as they talk about their plans for the weekend. I have this urge to hear what Ms. Mazen and Lily are saying. Questions flood my head. What are they talking about for so long? Who is the man in that photograph? Why does Ms. Mazen look at this picture every day? Why is Ms. Mazen so sad today? Did that man pass away? I try to calm my urge. The kids around me sound like a stampede of animals running through the grasslands making Ms. Mazen and Lily sound like little mice. I can see their mouths moving, but I can’t hear a thing that is being said. I look at Ms. Mazen and Lily again. Ms. Mazen has the picture tilted so Lily can see. I just know I have to hear. When I can’t take it anymore, I get up to get a new book from the classroom library, which is located just behind Ms. Mazen’s desk. I try to be quiet and not draw attention to myself, but my chair makes a loud screech as I try to push it in. I leave it halfway and slowly walk towards the front of the classroom to the many shelves of books. I browse through the first basket, finally able to listen in.“This was taken of my brother Peter when he was 18 years old, and that’s Paisley, our old family dog. Every day Peter and I would run around in the fields outside until mother called us in for supper,” Ms. Mazen said.

“That sounds like a lot of fun!” said Lily.

“Indeed it was.” answered Ms. Mazen. She paused for a second before continuing.

“Today would be Peter’s 67th birthday.” The tears returned to her eyes.

“I’m sure Peter wouldn’t want you to be sad on his birthday,” whispers Lily.

A melancholy smile forms on Lily’s face. Ms. Mazen looks up at Lily and instantly a soft smile forms on hers.  I remember hearing somewhere that it takes 42 muscles to smile. It amazes me how Ms. Mazen and Lily are working 84 muscles together just from something as simple as a smile. 126. I start to smile too. I look around me, finally realizing how all the students have been watching the conversation just like me. Soon the whole class is smiling.

Scene 3- The Long Way Home

After school on Friday, I walked home the long way, along the side of the pond and down the little path. As I neared the pond, I saw an older woman sitting on a bench, feeding bread to the ducks. Her eyes were droopy and her mouth was in a frown. The day was cloudy and windy with sunshine that only peeked out here and there. The old woman’s gray hair fluttered in the wind around her face like a cage protecting a little bird. As I got closer to the woman, I slowed my pace and stopped in front of the bench. The woman slowly looked up. I could see that her face was damp from tears. The old woman’s hazel eyes looked into my dark brown ones. My mouth slowly turned up and my eyes started to wrinkle at the edges. The old woman moved the hair from her face and dried her eyes. She then smiled back. I started to walk again, but it felt like I was floating. I looked back at the bench and saw the old woman still smiling and now looking around the pond as if realizing its beauty even on a cloudy day. I was still smiling too.

Smiles are exchanged by so many different kinds of people. Whether it be by a baby smiling at their mother, and their mother smiling back, or the smiles exchanged by a couple in love, between best friends, total strangers, and even dogs and their owners. There are so many different kinds of smiles, yet they are all powerful.

I lay down on my bed with a yellow pad of paper and my favorite black pen. The essay is due tomorrow night, but I am not worried. I had experienced something wonderful, and amazing, and inspiring. Lily helped to open my eyes and realize a way to make a difference in the world. I begin to write …

“ Martin Luther King did it. So did Malala Yousafzai, George Washington, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Anne Frank, and The Beatles. It doesn’t happen all at once. It takes time and effort, and sometimes even a chain reaction, but changing the world is possible …”

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