The pastor disappeared behind the chancel area. The congregation looked wide-eyed and nervously at each other. Some sprinted towards the woman’s scream. Other people knelt behind their pews.
Finally the pastor appeared at the lectern. “Beulah, I don’t know exactly how to say this, but our beloved Fred Aims has apparently had a heart attack and died. Our elders have called for an ambulance. Two of our members are EMTs and they are with Mrs. Ellen and Beth now. I know this is awkward, but please try to remain calm. As soon as we know something definitive, we will put that information out. For now, however, let us join in prayer for the Aims family.”
Lily tried to focus on the pastor’s public prayer but she could not silence her own thoughts.
“In Jesus’s name, Amen,” the pastor concluded, but Lily had lost sense of time and place. How could she go to Mrs. Ellen? They’d never even met. How could she express her condolences to her, or especially to Beth?
Lily admitted to herself that her sadness had an element of selfishness. She felt Fred was her only friend in church, and Beth was his daughter. Beth! Who would replace Fred in leadership at Covenant? Beth is so unlike her father.
“Miss Lily, are you okay?” It was Donald. His soft white hand touched Lily’s left elbow, and his voice coated her nervous mind.
“Oh, Mr. Donald! Yes, I suppose I am,” Lily said, “but I cannot really believe what has happened.”
“But how are you? Are you friends with Mr. Fred Aims?” Lily asked, gathering herself.
“Yes. Fred and I farmed together out off Highway 91 for years. Our farms almost joined property lines except for some pines managed by the power company,” Donald said. “Fred is one of the finest men I know, Miss Lily.”
Confirmation gripped Lily’s soul. She and Donald understood something about Fred, about character, about friendship.
“Fred grew soybeans and peanuts. But I grew cotton and corn most years,” Donald continued.
Lily thought Donald’s fingers were too soft to be a farmer’s hands. She caught the scent of Jergens.
“I have grown sons who now farm it for me,” Donald continued. “But Fred had daughters. I think you know Beth, who went into education. Anyway, the other girls moved off and Fred left off farming when God called him to begin Covenant. I don’t even know what to think about what will happen at the school, Miss Lily.”
Donald at her elbow. That’s almost all Lily could remember of Sunday, after Beth’s scream. Donald at her elbow. His solicitousness. A new friend? Why am I drawn to older people and they to me? I have an old soul, she thought, a middle-aged Holden Caulfield with Beth phonies running the school. And dear Lord, she purports to counsel, with a soul hard as a pine knot?
February’s days lumbered. It was Monday, and Lily peppered herself by way of staccato interrogation: When will you cease pouting? Why repeat ‘Fred is gone’? So what if Beth becomes headmistress? Does God revoke his promises? Did God call you to Covenant?
FACULTY MEETING @ 3:30 P.M. THURSDAY. MAKE-UP FRI @ 7:00 A.M. MANDATORY.
When Lily entered the teachers’ lounge to make copies Monday at 6:45 A.M. that was the day’s first greeting.
(To be continued)