I visited my dentist for a cleaning, a mundane and slightly dreaded experience made all the more off putting by COVID. The hygienist welcomed me with a temperature gun to the forehead, a dousing of hand sanitizer, and a list of blanks to initial on a clipboard form. All acts were necessary for both our safety. And any one who might follow in our wake.

After the appointment ended, I returned to the reception area where four clerical staff sat in a row staring into the glow of individual computer screens behind a plexiglass wall. A voice asked, “Can I help you?” It was impossible to discern who’d spoken. No one had looked up from their screen. And their masks hid my cue–the speaker’s smile of engagement.

Once the mystery was resolved and my next appointment set, one of the receptionists left her barricade to unlock the front door to let me out. Her eyes crinkled in the corners. A smile. As I stepped onto the street, I told her, “I miss seeing smiles.”

“Me too,” she replied and her crinkles deepened.

While walking to the corner, I pondered pre-COVID smiles exchanged during interactions in real-time. I used to think eyes smiled. But not any more. Smiles are collaborative efforts, communications that call upon mouths and eyes. We have to smile so hard now, compress our eyes into little slits to signal what’s happening below the mask line. Points are no longer awarded for tired smiles where only the mouth hitches in the corners, but the eyes can’t do the heavy lifting.

As I neared the corner, a slight young lady with an ethereal Audrey Hepburn quality approached maskless at a safe distance. She gifted me with a smile the Dutch masters would loved to have painted. She could have been Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, if not for her backpack covered in sewn-on appliques, two of which were a hamburger and a Super Man crest

Something in her youthful lightness inspired hope. And for a moment, there was no COVID angst, only the happiness of having received and given a smile in real life.

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Sacrifice, betrayal, family secrets! A widower and young mother struggle to overcome their tragic pasts in a dying mill town. The Last Hoffman is the story of a quiet man who is tested and discovers his courage. It will restore your belief in second chances.

“For all the novel features characters that are alone, it is a story driven by human connections (…) With vivid descriptions, natural dialogue and in-depth characterization, Tuinman compels us to look beyond the surface. The ending is triumphant.” –Gail Murray, Historical Novel Society