Calling Mrs. Gallagher

07/18/2012 4:00 AM |

Photo Bobby Doherty

On the playground, a moment of tenderness rendered

Her silk scarf billows from about her neck. Recess duty. Mrs. Gallagher leans against the stone wall of the school, watching a group of her students (Sarah, Cody, George, Alyssa and Tom) construct a maze out of twigs in the far west corner of the fifth grade field. Mrs. Gallagher checks her watch and is surprised to see that the minute hand has just overlapped with the mark at the top, and that the hour hand hovers precisely sixty degrees about the face. She takes one long stride from the wall and draws in a breath of autumn air. “Children,” she yells. They are like stunned animals, frozen mid-shout, mid-throw, mid-leap, mid-somersault. The baseball has frozen mid-way between Brad and Mike—no, wait, it has fallen.

Clouds caught in fast winds cast their shadows over the school grounds, throwing a brief darkness over the children who crawl out from under bushes and jump from every level of the jungle gym; they slink across the soccer field pulling leaves from the lowest branches of trees as they come, crouching to fix the strap of a sandal. “Recess is over, children,” Mrs. Gallagher says. The cars zoom past, broken by the diamonds of the chain-link fence, speeding well over 15 m.p.h.

Because of the movement her voice inspires and, thereafter, the order mustered as the children dutifully queue up behind her, Mrs. Gallagher has always considered this her favorite part of the day.

At school board meetings

The articulateness of Mrs. Gallagher’s presentations is indubitable. She stands at the podium flanked by pie charts to the right and left, line charts projected on the screen overhead. Words like “normalized curve” and “tergiversation” and “r-value” and “perquisite” stud her explanations and analyses. The red dot from her laser pointer jumps from graph to graph. Everyone in the auditorium knows Mrs. Gallagher; within the district at least, you would have to call Mrs. Gallagher something of a celebrity.

At the conclusion of the presentation, a board member asks Mrs. Gallagher to clarify her theory accounting for the gap between basic math improvement rates among third and fourth grade students, and Mrs. Gallagher says only, “Graph number twenty-two,” and angrily folds the posters and packs the overheads away.

A friend speaks about Mrs. Gallagher

“Mrs. Gallagher has this peculiar quality of making you think that you know her very well when in fact you know almost nothing about her. We often go to brunch together on Sundays. We’ll sit for two hours, even longer some days, at one of those small round tables by the window… I mean, understand that I call Mrs. Gallagher one of my best friends. But the thing is, later in the day I’ll think back and realize that over the whole two hours or however long the brunch was… even though she asks questions and speaks about general things like news stories and Hollywood gossip, looking back I’ll realize that she said nothing about herself at all.”

Regarding the representation of self

Mrs. Gallagher is also a wife and a mother. Her elderly husband retired long ago and, due to a degenerative muscle disorder, has been confined since the age of sixty-seven to his motorized wheelchair. (“We don’t say that someone’s weird,” Mrs. Gallagher will call from across a room. “We say that he or she is different from ourselves.”) She has an adult son who lives on the second floor of the garage. She loves white chocolate. On Christmas Eve, she pops in her favorite Christmas movie, collapses onto her leather couch, and eats as many chocolate squares as her stomach will allow. She enjoys crinkling the tinfoil wrappers into compact silver balls and sending them over the coffee table. Her husband, from his wheelchair, coaches her overhand throw.

Fall | Literary Upstart Winner: Owl Stretching Time | Literary Upstart Finalists