The mural had become a part of the background noise.
Elementary schools nearly always have murals, and this one was no different. Oak
Valley Elementary School’s mural was a known quantity–an accepted part of the historical record.
Painted in the school breezeway, the hard acrylics depicted a few cycles of the school’s alumni, along with notable teaching staff, cafeteria workers, and even surrounding fauna and annual celebratory events—all compacted in the classic way a distorted “fish-eye” lens of reality usually does. It was like an artist from MAD Magazine had captured the essence of fifty souls, cast it against the wall and had it stick.
The mural was also the primary wall/entrance to the school’s library, and Mrs. Clay, the
librarian, passed by it several times a day. It was customary to subtly turn look and see her own avatar amongst the painted throng as she passed through the breezeway; her rimmed glasses and somewhat militant gesticulation– the artist decided that her tendency and reputation to “hush the room”would be captured with a finger wave and a look of “concern.” She was thought to be harsher than she was, and she didn’t really appreciate the school-marm persona that seemed to follow her. But she learned to accept it as time went along.
Mrs. Clay got used to seeing it as she walked by, and taking a running tally year-to-year
of her own advancing age, which was only reflected on the wall in terms of increasing
contrast. But every now then her mind would play a Where’s Waldo variant by quickly
glancing at a different portrayal, and then say in her mind the name of the person she saw.
Some were kids that came through her corridors, and others were peers from the
Teacher’s lounge. But she could pop them off, day-to-day, like some rhetorical and
historical savant. Playing the mental game children do to avoid sidewalk cracks, Mrs. Clay held her very soul’s eternity against a subjective clock—two seconds: No Name, No heaven
Then, one day she acquiesced to some odd desire to just stop and take in the whole
scene. It was a large mural; 12 feet high and easily 36-40 feet long. It showed the
nearby basketball courts, which has a background feel to them like the river banks and
trails behind the Mona Lisa. Mr. Landry, a popular sixth-grade teacher, was well known
for his bald crown, razor wit, and inspirational teaching style, figured prominently in the
middle, wearing the dark slacks and white dress shirt with the rolled-up sleeves that had come to define him. He sort of took up residence as the first thing one’s eyes would see, and perhaps became the de facto subject of the mural—even though he was surrounded by a cast of the school’s historical cadre.
Mrs. Clay smiled as she dragged her eyes over the mural with an intensity she’d never
previously employed. Realizing she had never really studied the mural like this, she
began to see subtleties not previously-known to her.
It would be at this moment, that her heart would nearly stop. Then, begin to race. She could literally hear her own heartbeat audibly. For a moment, it literally felt like it was going to break a rib.
Her eyes remained frozen to a single place on that wall. The morning traffic for school was developing round her, and she didn’t even hear it—children were racing to class, bells were ringing. Books were being dropped and retrieved. Lockers slammed.
“Are you alright, Mrs. Clay?” asked one young face.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” she assured him. “Go ahead and get to class.” Her reactions were
more muscle-memory than social grace at this point. Not to mention her gaze never left
But she wasn’t fine. She was frozen in time. She had no ability to collect her thoughts.
All she could do was retire to her desk in the library, and stare into space until the first
period of Library classes came through those doors. And even then, she was borderline
Something on that wall had frightened her. And there was no one she could tell.
© Copyright 2020, Ron Giesecke. All rights reserved.