Lily and Desiree Dramal

Lily overheard Alice say her name. Lily intended to speak with Tim, Mrs. Aims, and Donald but when she heard Alice say her name again, she caught Alice’s eye. Lily sensed Alice’s excitement about introducing Desiree Dramal.

“Oh Lily, this is Desiree Dramal. I’ve known her and Beth since we were all girls. Desiree, this is Lily Rood. She teaches literature and writing with us now,” Alice gushed.

“Pleasure, Ms. Rood. Or is it Mrs. Rood?” Desiree asked, extending her right hand.

“Good afternoon. Miss, yes. Welcome to Covenant,” Lily said, shaking Desiree’s hand.

“I’m so excited to have you two meet. Desiree, you’ll be so impressed with Lily; she’s read everything. She’s got me reading an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel now. Isn’t that right, Lily?” asked Alice.

“I’m sure we all have our areas of interest,” Lily said. “Without music life would be a mistake, right? Reading is music for me. I don’t believe I can say I really chose it; it was more like it chose me.”

Wanting to remove herself as topic, Lily asked a question. “So what brings you to Covenant, Miss Dramal? It is Miss, right?”
“Yes, single still, Ms. Rood. We are still a small town here. Many of our young people have moved off for promises of careers in the city. Sarah and Ruth—you may know them already, I believe—they moved off. But others of us have remained. I guess some feel called to remain where we were planted. Isn’t that right, Alice?”

“You bet,” Alice said. “Desiree, Beth, and I have—oh gosh—we’ve known each other most of our lives. I’m so excited about how we get to work together.” Lily discovered herself longing to speak with Thomas McDavid, Tim, Donald, and Ellen Aims. But she forced herself to continue.

“And you will replace Beth Aims here, is that right?” Lily asked.

“I don’t know if ‘replace’ is the word. But I will take over a significant counseling role, yes. I see myself as a kind of rudder.” Lily’s abdomen tightened.

Donald’s gentle voice rescued Lily. “Ms. Rood, is that you?” He walked into the triangle of women. Lily caught the scent of Jergens as Donald shook hands with each woman.

“Donald, good afternoon. I did not know you were attending today’s meeting. Do you know Ms. Dramal?”

“I am familiar with her, yes. I watched her grow up alongside the Aims daughters, and Alice, too,” Donald said.

“I was just telling Ms. Rood,” Desiree said, “that some of us remain where we’re planted. We don’t move away. We have vocations here in our community.”

“Some do. Certainly,” Donald said. “I’m just a farmer–well, used to be anyway. I suppose it’s a matter of where we think we can do the most good. For my wife, our boys, and me, it would not have made much sense to pick up and leave.”

Lily listened. “But I know that we are thankful Ms. Rood was willing to leave teaching at Rook and join us here at Covenant,” Donald continued. Desiree said nothing.

“You bet,” Alice exclaimed. “It’s going to be a great rest of the term.” Alice turned to exit quickly as if she had forgotten something.

“Ms. Rood, it was a pleasure meeting you. I’m sure we will see each other regularly,” Desiree said.

“Welcome to Covenant,” Lily said.

“And welcome to our town, Ms. Rood.”

“Ms. Rood, do you have just a second? I know your teaching day is over and you’re probably tired, but I just have a quick question,” Donald said.

“Of course, Donald.”

“Thomas and I are going to the Cup-n-Saucer this evening. Would you care to join us?”

“Certainly,” Lily said. “What time?”

“Five o’clock,” Donald said. “See you then.”

Lily returned to her classroom to gather her materials she planned to work on later that night. The faculty and staff had largely dissipated when Lily passed back by the library. She looked for Tim, Sarah, and others but did not see them. As she passed through the front doors of the school, Alice popped out of the front office. Looking through the office windows Lily could see the bookroom door ajar from which Alice had sprung.

“Lily, I wanted to tell you I already finished Gatsby. Terrific! I can’t wait to discuss it with you,” Alice exclaimed. “I have it here for you. Nick Carraway would have liked our town instead of West Egg and East Egg, don’t you think?”

“Maybe so, Alice,” Lily said. “He misread much early on. Towns and cities had less to do with his struggle than with a dearth of  discernment.”

“Lily, we’re going to have such great talks. ‘Dearth of discernment’? Who talks like that but you, Lily? Anyway, let’s get together. We could even meet with Beth and Desiree,” Alice said.

“Um, we’ll get that coffee soon. Have a good evening,” Lily said. Alice returned to the bookroom wondering if she’d misread Fitzgerald’s novel or why Lily mentioned coffee.

Lily drove home. She thought of meeting Donald and Thomas McDavid at the Cup-n-Saucer. As she drove, she watched the fallow fields fill her car windows. Her thoughts flashed quickly as the patchwork fields–Easter in a few weeks; farmers would seed their fields; Covenant’s spring play; and Desiree Dramal.

The Meeting

Lily fought her emotions when examining Hamlet. She had read and taught Shakespeare’s dramas and poetry for decades but she could not put Beth from her mind. She worried about Beth’s schemes and about her remaining connections to Covenant. Lily was not from this town; Beth’s entire life was rooted here. Lily nevertheless persisted teaching.

She wrote on her dry erase board of Hamlet’s endless conflicts. Hamlet struggled with his mother over her remarrying so hastily after King Hamlet’s murder. And as son of the murdered king, Prince Hamlet should have been the next ruler at Elsinore, but he was denied that role. Additionally, Hamlet suffered amidst a kingdom of corruption. His life was stripped of almost anyone he could trust. And the ghost of his murdered father, prompting him to avenge his murder—well, Hamlet’s conflicts called for our compassion as reader-witnesses of his struggles.

Covenant’s faculty, not unlike Elsinore’s citizens, was seeking trustworthy personnel. Nathanael was headmaster, but Lily knew now that Beth had not been crushed; the terse note confirmed that.

Lily assigned topics for her students to write on in their journals. As her students settled into writing, Lily sat down into the cheap swivel chair behind her desk and looked outside. Clouds the color of bruises slid across the firmament. Winds stirred. Then Lily rose from her chair and walked over to the rectangle of window. As she neared the window she caught her reflection in the glass. Her muslin dress seemed to her as sackcloth. She beheld her aging frame. Did God ever hide his face, she wondered.

The day limped along. Finally the last classes dismissed. The afternoon meeting time neared. Lily walked the corridor to the library. Looking up, she saw Alice standing in front of the library doors.

“Hey, Lily. Are you ready to meet our newest employee?”

“I think so,” Lily said. “Are you familiar with her?”

“You bet,” Alice said. “She is a friend of Beth’s. They’ve been inseparable since girlhood.”

“Really?” Lily responded. “Interesting.”

“Why do you say ‘interesting’?” Alice asked.

“Sometimes it seems Covenant is skeptical of hiring outside of this town, with few exceptions,” Lily said.

“That’s ‘interesting’ you would say that, Lily. Beth would like that,” Alice said.

“Lily, would you like to sit together?”

“I usually sit in the same spot each time we have meetings, if you’re okay with that.”

“You bet,” Alice said, and followed Lily. Lily looked to confirm the settee near the shelves of Dickens’ works had not been moved.

Lily looked for Thomas McDavid’s face among the other entering faculty and staff personnel but did not see him. But Nathanael entered with his grandmother, Ellen Aims. Her face had the same warmth she exhibited at Beulah. Mrs. Aims saw Lily as soon as she and Nathanael entered. Lily rose and walked over to them.

“Lily, nice to see you, dear. Are you finding Covenant satisfactory? And is my grandson leading well?”

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Ellen. Covenant promises much—bright students and fine leadership.” Lily listened to her words, wondering if she’d be misunderstood.

“Well, Nathan is like his mother and father—a born learner. I am so proud of him,” Mrs. Aims said.

“How about we get settled, okay?” Nathanael said to his grandmother. “I should move things along this afternoon.”

“Of course, Nathan.”

 
Lily returned to the settee near Dickens’ works.

“You know Mrs. Aims?” Alice asked.

“Somewhat,” Lily said. “I have been visiting Beulah. She is a very kind woman.”

“Like our founder,” Alice said. “We have good people here, Lily. I’m so glad you’re here. You’ll like our new employee, too. She’s a lot like Beth. It’ll be good to have them working together, even though Beth’s role has changed. Aren’t you excited?”

(To be continued)

Solomon Visits Lily

Solomon’s words beat against the walls of Lily’s mind: much study had wearied her flesh. Her lower back and hips ached. She lost focus upon what she had planned to cover in classes. She stared long at the bold words on Beth’s stationery. Lily’s mind fed upon itself with Othello-like suspicion. Who is spying upon me at Covenant? Who is the new counselor? Where is Beth now? Lily folded the paper along its creases and slid it back into the envelope. She told herself to sit and gaze at the live oak beyond her classroom window. It reminded Lily of an old man. Its branches were weathered elbows, its bark a wizened face. At last Lily began to quiet when Alice reappeared.

“I found it, Lily!”

“Found what?”

“The book, silly…about hearing from God.”

“Yes of course,” Lily said. “Um, thank you.”

“I know what you’re going to say next,” Alice said.

“You do?”

“Yes. You’re going to tell me to keep going with The Great Gatsby.”

“Correct. Now what shall I say instead?” Lily asked laughing.

“Don’t worry. I’ll keep going,” Alice said. “I really like it. I just think Nick is more small-town boy than he realizes.”

“Correct again, Alice.”

“Do you enjoy Fitzgerald like you do Shakespeare and the other writers you teach, Lily?”

“This could turn into more than we have time for now, don’t you think?”

“Oh I see, I’m sorry. Maybe we can continue later, okay?” Alice asked.

“We have an agreement then,” Lily said.

“You bet,” Alice said.

As Alice disappeared from Alice’s sight, the bell rang for class. Lily struggled to focus her mind on the lessons she had prepared. Beth’s image filled her mind. She pictured Beth’s scorched orange hair and saw the raven-black nails.

Her students began entering. “Good morning, Ms. Rood,” some said.

“Good morning,” Lily heard herself say perfunctorily, hating the sound of her own voice.

“Hi, Ms. Rood. Miss Havisham today?” It was Michael. He could read Lily’s mood prophetically.

“Hello, Michael. How’d you know?” Lily asked, humbled.

“Some stories tell themselves,” he said.

“I may look to you a bit more than usual this morning in class, Michael, okay?”

“Of course, Ms. Rood. I wanted to ask you a lot about Hamlet’s relationship with his mother anyway,” Michael said.

“I have questions about that too,” Lily said. “But enough with the Miss Havisham references already, okay?”

“Of course, Ms. Rood.” Michael walked towards his desk and began talking with other students as the class continued to fill. Lily walked to her door in an effort to appear composed. As she watched students disappearing into other classrooms, she saw Nathanael walking with a woman dressed in black slacks and a royal blue blouse. Together they turned into the counselors’ offices. Lily felt herself begin to sweat under her left armpit. The bell sounded again as she reentered her classroom. Today, her years of study seemed to her to have raised suspicions more than solace.

(To be continued)

A Note Arrives

Lily reentered her classroom. She sat in her cheap metal swivel chair and gazed through the rectangle of window at the live oak outside. Mysteries hung in the boughs of her mind—what to make of Thomas’ comments about Beth and Beth’s replacement in the counselors’ offices, of Beth’s machinations and designs on Lily’s future with Covenant. Beth’s family, she thought, was inseparable from Covenant.

Suddenly there was a knock at her classroom door that startled Lily. It was the bookkeeper, Alice.

“Oh Lily, I am sorry to interrupt anything but there’s a message for you Mrs. Wilkins forgot to give you. I thought I’d just bring it down.”

“Yes, of course. Thanks, Alice.”

“You bet,” Alice replied.

Alice entered Lily’s classroom and handed her an envelope. Lily stood up from the metal chair and stared at the envelope. Alice had not turned to go.

“I’m sorry, Alice, but is that all?”

“I was just curious if you’d like to borrow my book on hearing from God.”

“Well, it may be some time before I could get to it,” Lily said. “I have my literature classes going on; those consume a large portion of time. Plus, in the afternoons, I help interested students who struggle with writing,” Lily said.

“I know you do, Lily. I remember Beth talking about how you had people in your classroom many times that…”

“I’m sorry but what are you suggesting, Alice?”

“Nothing at all. I was just saying that Beth—the counselor, Ms. Aims. Anyway, she mentioned several times to Mrs. Wilkins and us in the front office how you often had people in your classroom. That’s all, Lily. Did I say something? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything,” Alice said.

“It is fine, Alice. As I said, I help interested students who struggle with writing. And my peers are certainly welcome in my classroom, as I assume I am in theirs. Does that make sense?”

“Of course, Lily. I’m sorry. I just came to deliver a message you had missed, that’s all,” Alice said.

“I will be glad to read that book on hearing from God if you think it’s important,” Lily said.

“You bet, Lily,” Alice replied excitedly. “I’ll go get it, okay?”

Alice’s back disappeared from Lily’s classroom door. Lily stared at the envelope Alice had brought. Inside was a beige piece of stationery that had sullied to the color of dark orange the color of Beth’s ruined hair. B.A. was embossed at the top in black letters. In the middle of the piece of paper were four words: IT IS NOT FINISHED in all caps.

Lily swallowed and looked again through her rectangle of window. Winds stirred. Lily pined and watched the oak’s leaves bristle against each other in agitation as if a thunderstorm were forming.

Lily and Alice

Lily could tell right away, as soon as she entered the faculty bookroom, Alice wanted to talk. Alice was the bookkeeper at Covenant. She was a divorced woman in her early fifties who pulled her auburn hair into a tight bun that revealed a prominent pale forehead. She wore eyeglasses on a silver chain like a woman much older might exhibit. She had on a two-piece black business suit and pumps. She viewed herself as an intellectual, and undervalued by most people. Lily had treated Alice kindly since coming to Covenant and Alice fancied them close friends. Lily liked Alice but could tell she wanted validation. Lily had come for some paper clips and manila folders.

“Good morning, Lily. How was your break? I missed seeing you.”

“Good morning, Alice. Nice to see you, too. Refreshing. I visited some family back in Rook and took some time at the beach. But I’m glad to be back,” Lily said. “How are you?”

“Just great, Lily. In fact, I am reading a new book about hearing from God. I cannot wait to pass it on to you.”

Lily swallowed and searched for a kind word. Anytime she heard people speak of “hearing from God” she got nervous. In Lily’s mind, if you desired to hear from God you opened the Bible.

“I see. I am so encouraged, Alice, that you’re a reader,” Lily said, hoping she did not sound dismissive.

“Did you have a chance to read the Fitzgerald novel I passed along to you?” Lily asked.

“Oh, I am so loving it, Lily. Thank you. I mean, poor Nick Carraway. He is out of his league with Gatsby, isn’t he?” Alice exclaimed.

“It gets better, Alice. Keep going. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the book, okay?”

“You bet,” Alice said excitedly, envisioning a time when she and Lily could dialogue about deep issues.

Lily thought she had said enough but Alice had not forgotten.

“Oh Lily, I almost forgot. Did you say you had not read this book about hearing from God?”

“Um, no. I have not read that one,” Lily said.

“Well, you’ll just love it!” Alice exclaimed. “I’ll be sure you get it after I’m done, okay?”

“Yes, of course. Thank you.”

Lily smiled and continued to the bookroom for her supplies.

(To be continued)