Interruption

Lily heard Beth’s bracelets click against each other as they slid up and down her forearms when she and Desiree Dramal walked towards her, Thomas McDavid, and Donald. Instinctively Lily looked out through the Cup-n-Saucer’s windows searching for the live oak like she had outside her classroom window, but none was there. Outside the diner lay the flat land in that noiseless gray stillness after spring rain. The March sky appeared a dome of seamless gray. The noise of Beth’s bracelets and her yellow-orange ruined hair clashed with the gray evening. Lily braced herself as Beth’s shadow neared the table first. Desiree Dramal stood to the left of Beth, and slightly behind. Lily felt her chest tighten.

“Hello everyone,” Beth said. “Are some of Covenant’s faculty still meeting? If so, Desiree and I would welcome your hospitality.”

“Good evening,” Donald said. “We were about to leave, but you ladies are welcome to our seats if you like.” Donald slid his metal chair back and stood. Lily felt her chest suddenly release. She had again underestimated Donald.

“I’m sure you all are thrilled to have Ms. Dramal in counseling now. I’ll verify she continues to advise students in the ways they should go,” Beth said undeterred.

“Beth, please tell your sisters and families we said hello,” Thomas McDavid said, rising from his chair. “With Nathan at Covenant, I hope to have them come around more often.”

Beth glowered at the group, seeking for words. Lily rose from her chair, her coffee still hot and undisturbed.

“Excuse me,” Lily said, “I have had enough coffee today. I’m heading home.” Lily rose from her chair. Had one looked at Lily’s eyes, he would have seen Desiree Dramal’s long black slacks reflected there like serpentine coils.

Wheat and Weeds

The menopausal waitress at the Cup-n-Saucer saw Lily exit her car.

“Hi, hon. Welcome back. Your friends are in their spot.”

“Thank you,” Lily said.

“Black coffee for you?”

“Yes, please.”

Lily walked towards Donald and Thomas McDavid.

“Ms. Rood, thanks for coming,” Donald said.

“Bonum diem,” Thomas said.

“Afternoon, gentlemen. Am I late?”

“No, Ms. Rood. All is well,” Donald said.

“May I ask then why afternoon coffee?”

“Have you heard from Beth Aims, Lily?” Donald asked.

“No. Why do you ask?” Lily wondered why Donald now used her first name.

“What do you think Beth is up to?” Donald asked.

“Why do you ask me questions I cannot answer, Donald?” Lily remonstrated.

“First you ask me if I’ve heard from Beth, and I tell you no. Then you ask me to speculate what she has been up to. Why do I sense you know the answers already?” Lily continued.

“Ms. Rood, since you came to Covenant, you and I have become—well, friends. Have we not?” Thomas McDavid asked.

“I hope so,” Lily said. “I believe we have, Thomas.”

“But why am I being questioned?” Lily pleaded.

“Because we are your friends, Ms. Rood. And Beth Aims and Desiree Dramal are friends–with each other,” Donald said.

“Yes. So?”

“People like Beth don’t have friends, Donald. They have co-conspirators,” Thomas McDavid said.

Mr. McDavid continued. “Did Iago work alone, Ms. Rood?”

“No,” Lily said with finality.

“Correct,” Thomas McDavid said. “He divided people. He sowed discord. He sowed seeds of mistrust. He thrived on innuendo, did he not?”

“He did,” Lily said. “’I am not what I am,’” Lily quoted from the play. “If Beth is my Iago, Desiree Dramal is my Roderigo?”

Suddenly Donald interrupted. “I am not educated in this stuff, Thomas. What we are suggesting, Ms. Rood, is that Beth Aims has not gone away. She is planted in Covenant’s soil whether we like it or not. And Ms. Dramal is not much different. She’s from our town, too, and has certain connections.”

“Why must everything come back to being from this town? It sounds less like a town than like a cult,” Lily said.

Immediately Lily saw her words wounded Donald. “I’m sorry, Donald. I didn’t mean that—well, not that forcefully. I just meant that…”

“It’s okay, Ms. Rood. I am an old man, a tired old farmer. I have lived here my entire life and I know the people, and they know me. I’m not here to defend this town or make it appear better than what it is. Thomas and I only want you to know what you’re up against. Fred Aims was our friend. And his daughters could not be more different from one another. Beth has always been—driven. But not by the good,” Donald said.

When he finished speaking, he folded his Jergens-scented hands in front of his face as if he were going to pray. But then he looked over at Thomas McDavid and spoke.

“Thomas, I’ve said too much. I’ll let you talk while I drink my coffee.”

The waitress appeared at the table, refilled the men’s cups, and poured Lily’s. Mr. McDavid inhaled deeply, held it, and slowly exhaled. He began to speak, but then looked away from Lily and towards the door.

Desiree Dramal and Beth Aims had entered. They stood at the threshold of the Cup-n-Saucer. They looked over to where Donald, Mr. McDavid, and Lily sat. Beth stared at Lily and smiled, her teeth shiny as swords.

(To be continued)

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)

Lily (Part forty-nine)

Monday morning’s first light found Lily in her classroom at Covenant. She sat behind her metal desk in a cheap metal swivel chair. The desk was covered with worn paperbacks of Hamlet, Great Expectations, books of poetry, index cards on which she kept notes, Post-its of various colors she had stuck inside books with cross-references, and papers to be graded. Pens and pencils of various colors were in a heavy ceramic coffee cup Mr. Fred Aims bought her as a welcome. On the cup in white letters was stenciled a biblical reference: 2 Cor. 3:6.

Her classroom had one window through which she could see a live oak tree and some of Covenant’s grounds. No other teachers had arrived yet but she had learned that Thomas McDavid arrived early, too. Lily stared at the oak outside. She checked her calendar for the date: March 1. Spring is nearing, she thought, with its attendant rains, richness of upturned soil, life pushing upward.

“Holloa, my young friend! Up early again?”

Lily heard Mr. McDavid’s merry voice and caught the smell of black coffee.

“Good morning, Thomas,” Lily said, smiling. “Yes. How are you?”

“All’s well. We’re looking into some of Caesar’s weaknesses in my classes today.”

“Some other lads, too. Mark Antony and Brutus. Ever heard of’em?” Thomas said, grinning.

“I think I have.”

“Beware those lads from March, right?”

“Something like that, Thomas,” Lily said, laughing.

“Just wanted to check on you, young lady. I’m off to hang out with Julius Caesar and other men closer to my age.”

He sipped from his coffee cup.

“You still on the Mississippi with Pip and Miss Havisham?”

“Well, how about in 19th century England with Pip and Miss Havisham and Denmark with Hamlet?” Lily asked.

“Yes, of course, just like I said.”

“Right, Thomas. Have a good morning, okay?”

Mr. McDavid stepped backwards and looked back up the hallway, then stepped forward again into Lily’s room.

“Ready to tame Covenant’s shrew?” Thomas asked.

“Huh?”

“You will see soon.”

Thomas McDavid departed, leaving only the smell of his black coffee. Suddenly Lily heard the sound of Beth’s heels and the metallic clinking of bracelets.

(To be continued)

Lily (Forty-four)

Aaron was the last to exit the room. His disappearance left a hush in Tim’s Sunday school class. Ruth, the middle sister, departed silently, along with Sarah. Nathanael remained beside Lily in equipoise.

Tim knew to refocus the class on the passage under discussion. “Do you feel sympathy towards Naomi?” Tim asked the class.

Lily wanted Nathanael to speak up but he remained quiet in observation, stolid.

“I do, Tim,” Lily said. “She is not from Moab. She went there with her family with thoughts of it being better than where she had left. And yet—”

“Yes?” Tim said. “Is there more?”

“Well, rather than better fortune for her and her family in Moab, she has experienced misfortune and suffering. Her husband and sons have died. She has two daughters-in-law. And she is battling bitterness towards God because she believed she had done the right things,” Lily said.

Tim nodded and looked out at the class from his stool. Several people nodded silent agreement with Lily’s analysis.

“That seems spot on, Lily.”

“Of course Naomi had a battle to wage. But she needed to just get on with it,” Beth retorted. “Death occurs in our families. I should know. But we must go on. That’s what I would have done.”

Lily felt movement at her elbow. “Beth, how long has my grandfather been dead?” Nathanael asked.

“Why you!” Beth snarled. “This is not about Daddy.”

“Exactly, Beth. This passage about Naomi and Ruth is not about Granddaddy–and it’s not about you either,” Nathanael said.

Lily felt trapped as if among brambles. She looked up at Tim.

“There is much occurring here,” Tim said. “Can we all agree that Naomi had at least a lot to sort out, to battle, to perhaps even learn from?” Almost all of the class appeared to nod in agreement.

“Yet, as Beth brought up, Naomi did continue in spite of death and deep sadness, even in a place where she was an alien,” Tim said.

This seemed to mollify most of the class. Lily wanted Nathanael to say more but he remained silent and composed. Beth sat with her forearms folded across her chest. Her bracelets clanked upon one another in cacophony as the class bell sounded in the hall to dismiss for the worship service.

“May we pray together about what we have seen here this morning?” Tim asked.

Most of the class members closed their eyes. Many heads leaned forward as if in petition. Beth remained upright on her metal chair. Lily leaned slightly towards Nathanael to feel his presence. He pressed one forearm towards Lily as if in solace, as Tim addressed the God of Naomi.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part forty-three)

“I’m fine,” Lily whispered to Nathanael. Tim’s ways of letting Scripture explain itself captivated Lily. Tim asked questions of his Sunday school class and listened to the class’s responses but he invariably returned to the storyline of Scripture itself. Lily understood herself to teach literature the same way–read the play, novel, or poem; then ask questions about what was read; then return to the texts themselves as their own interpreters.

Lily knew Ruth’s story in Scripture well but Tim’s teaching drew her in once again to the plot. “Okay then,” Nathanael said. Nathanael sensed Lily’s focus.

“Does anyone think we might learn from Naomi’s questioning God like she did?” Tim asked.

“Tim, I think Naomi was wrong to do that. We should just trust that the Lord won’t put more on us than we can bear,” Beth interjected.

Lily pressed her own fingernails into the fleshy parts of her palms. She grimaced at the bromides that passed for biblical theology. She longed for Tim to rebuke Beth. She sat back in her chair again to keep from speaking and to release tension in her hip and lower back. She sensed Nathanael watching her.

“So Naomi was self-pitying, Beth?” Tim asked. “Is that what we should understand the story to be teaching at this point?”

“Well, I just know that God has put me in some really tough situations, Tim. And rather than giving in, I fought back. And I—well, I overcame. Now I try to impart that wisdom to the students I’ve led and counseled over the years at Covenant. I see it as my mission field,” Beth returned. Lily felt some acid rise in the back of her throat. She felt forming vomit.

Movement in the classroom. Suddenly Aaron, Sarah and Ruth rose from their chairs and walked out. Looking up from his Bible, Tim said, “Aaron, is something the matter?”

“Excuse us please, Tim. It is not you,” Aaron said. The class alternatively stared at Aaron and Tim, grasping for explanations. Lily looked straight at Nathanael, who had not moved.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part forty-two)

As if nothing has occurred, Lily thought. This mocks the very name of Christ. And yet we are allowed by God to sit here and partake of her goodies’?

Lily seethed as the rest of the Sunday school class placed Beth’s ceramic dishes onto trays against the back wall of the room, their outsides clean of crumbs.

“Thank you again, Beth, for feeding the class this morning.”

“You guys are so welcome, Tim. I wanted to do it,” Beth said, smiling.

Lily had neither eaten nor drunk anything since the day before. She sat with her right leg over her left in the folding metal chair, waiting.

“This morning I would like to turn our attention to the story of Ruth in the Old Testament,” Tim said. “As you turn there in your Bibles, would anyone like to share any insights into the history of Ruth or things you would like us to discuss?”

Suddenly the sound of bracelets slipping down forearms onto Beth’s masculine hands preceded the voice Lily dreaded.

“Oh Tim, I just love the story of Ruth. It is about a powerful woman God used to accomplish mighty things,” Beth said. “It has always held a special place for me in my walk with the Lord.”

For a moment, Lily contemplated swallowing her own tongue.

“That’s interesting, Beth,” Tim responded. “Can you elaborate on what you mean?”

“Of course,” Beth said. “I just think that Ruth was so important to God because she didn’t leave when others left. She remained with her family. She did not go off. She stayed and God used her to become an even greater woman.” Beth scoped the classroom as she spoke, in case her sisters were present.

Lily felt perspiration begin to form on her forehead but she did not speak.

“That is an interesting take on Ruth as part of the storyline of Scripture, Beth,” Tim said. “Does anyone else have some things you might share about Ruth—either as a woman, per se, or perhaps as part of what God was doing?”

Suddenly four people appeared at the door.

“I’m sorry we are late, Tim.” It was Aaron and Sarah. Ruth walked in beside her sister, and Nathanael entered last.

“No problem, guys. Welcome. Please grab some goodies your sister-in-law brought, and join us. We’re discussing the baker’s namesake,” Tim said.

Lily straightened up in her chair, and patted her forehead to check for perspiration. Nathanael sat next to her. Aaron, Sarah, and Ruth sat adjacent to Nathanael.

“Well, I don’t think Beth is a book of the Bible,” Aaron said, “so I guess that means you’re in Ruth today?”

“All that law school paid off, Aaron,” Tim said, smiling. “I was asking the class what insights about Ruth as a person, or as a woman, per se, or as a character in Scripture, they might have.”

No one spoke for a moment, until finally Tim continued.

“Well, Beth mentioned that Ruth was a powerful woman used mightily by God.”

Nathanael turned his eyes towards Lily without turning his head. Lily cleared her throat and adjusted into a more comfortable position in her chair.

“What actually was the setting of Ruth?” Tim asked.

“Wasn’t it during the time of the judges?” Nathanael asked.

“It was, Nathan. Exactly. So that was the 900s B.C.,” Tim said. “And what was the time period like for the people in the story? Was the nation experiencing a time of blessing by the Lord? Was the nation politically and nationally stable?”

Nathanael and Lily both smiled sadly, and shook their heads, as did several others in class.

“It was not,” Tim said. “As Nathan said, this was the time of the judges. When the story of Ruth opens, we are told right away that there was a famine in the land. And so a man, Elimelech, and his wife, Naomi, and their two sons go in search of better fortune in Moab. Once in Moab, however, Elimelech died. And Naomi is now widowed, with two sons, in a land not her own.

“And then more bad news strikes. Naomi’s sons married Moabite women, but after a while, her two sons die, too. Now Naomi has two daughters-in-law, and she’s still away from her home back in Bethlehem.”

Beth made some motions in her chair when Tim said ‘away from her home’, and adjusted some rings on her hands.

Lily could hear the metallic clink of Beth’s bracelets carried on the air. No one else in the room seemed to stir.

“Tim, this is the part I just love,” Beth interjected. “You see a woman who does not leave her family when times are tough.”

“Ah, you mean Ruth, of course, Beth,” Tim said. “Yes of course, but we are not there yet in the story. At this point, we are still reading of Naomi, of how she felt God was against her, how she felt bitter, et cetera. Is everyone with me?”

Except for Beth, the class nodded in agreement. “At issue here, it seems to me,” Tim said, “is this woman, Naomi, who had gone with her husband and sons to a territory not their own. And yet tragedy had set in—in several ways. For her, she lost her husband, her sons, there’s famine still back in Bethlehem, and now she has a complicated life as a woman in the ancient Near East with two daughters-in-law, and she questions God. Does anyone else in here think that we might do the same thing if God allowed those circumstances in our lives?”

Lily was unaware that she had begun leaning forward in her seat. Gently, Nathanael leaned into Lily’s left shoulder. “You okay?” he whispered.

(To be continued)