‘A Figure Of Speech’ by Tess Gallagher

A Figure Of Speech by Tess Gallagher, 1982

The magic trick:

Throwing a bunch of metaphors and symbols out there for the reader to figure out

Today’s protagonist is caught between two poles – her husband on one side (out of town) and the young handyman (very much in town). It’s not as simple as that scenario may seem, though.

The handyman also represents purity and good – he’s a Mormon who doesn’t drink, smoke or swear. Meanwhile, her husband isn’t necessarily safe stability – he’s a reformed alcoholic.

OK, sooooo?

Then we have the unreformed alcoholic bum who turns up on the protagonist’s lawn – the living embodiment of her husband’s difficult past, right?

We have a conversation thrown in about the nature of salvation.

Oh, and let me not forget the middle-aged DJ next door with a penchant for handguns.

Yes, it’s an interesting mélange.

What does it all mean? No clue. I really don’t know. I thought I had a handle on things for awhile, but I soon lost my grip.

And that’s OK. There’s enough here metaphor-wise to get the reader thinking. Even if the explicit meaning isn’t always clear.

And that’s quite a trick on Gallagher’s part.

The selection:

About noon Dan came into the house. He’d been painting the trim on the shady side of the house.

“Is he gone?” I asked.

“Yes,” Dan said. “He went off toward the boulevard. But he’ll be back.”

“How do you know?” I said.

“If you give them money, they always come back for more,” he said. “Give them anything but money.”

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