Lily (Part thirty-four)

The grayness of misty morning continued to lift as Lily drove to her faculty spot in Covenant’s parking lot. Nathanael pulled into the spot painted: HEADMASTER.

Mane bonum, Miss Rood,” Thomas McDavid said, his optimism and energy unabated. He gripped his stained coffee cup in his left hand.

“Good morning, Thomas,” Lily said. “I have just come from the Cup-n-Saucer. Looks like I am keeping the same hours as you and Donald.”

“Our gain, then, Miss Rood, our gain,” Mr. McDavid said. “I trust your early hours were profitable at the diner?”

“I hope so, Thomas. I am learning the weight of history. Have you ever thought that maybe we never overcome our childhoods?” Lily asked.

Historiae numquam moritur,” Mr. McDavid said. “History never dies, is that what you mean?”

“I think so,” Lily said. “The same wisdom is illustrated in literature, too, so I am disappointed in myself. After all, I am teaching Great Expectations and Hamlet right now. Pip has grand plans…great expectations…because he’s ashamed of his roots. He pursues this world’s allures, and they devour him. He is naïve to the depth of human depravity. And people he thought he understood, he didn’t. Those appearing malevolent often weren’t. And those appearing innocent were wicked. I’m just embarrassed at my own naiveté. I see myself in Pip–being educated in this world’s ways. Am I making sense, Thomas?”

“Indeed, my young friend. Literature is your field. You learn through and from stories. We all do. And we all have our stories, don’t we, Miss Rood? You have them, I have them, and Covenant, too,” Mr. McDavid said.

“I came here at Mr. Aims’ request. I thought I understood my future. Like Pip, I had great expectations…but I am involved in something I don’t fully understand. Now I question if I’m even qualified to teach. There is so much I am still learning,” Lily said.

“Life humbles the wise, Miss Rood. My dear friend, Fred Aims, would tell you that, too. Life humbles the wise but hardens the foolish,” Thomas McDavid said. “Do you believe that?”

“I do,” Lily said. “The Bible teaches that consistently. One’s teachability is inseparable from wisdom, if that makes sense to you.”

“I understand why we’ve become friends, Miss Rood. Don’t you feel the same?” Mr. McDavid asked.

“I do, Thomas. Thank you for being my friend here,” Lily said.

 
“Fred Aims was my friend of many years, Miss Rood. He was a good judge of character. He was wise to bring you into Covenant. Be patient. Teach Great Expectations and Hamlet the best that you can, and just be faithful,” Mr. McDavid said. “After all, I know your students are eager to see if Pip gets Jim off the Mississippi River.”

“Thomas, that’s Huckleberry F___…” Lily said.

Looking up, she saw Thomas McDavid’s eyes smiling at her, as he sipped his coffee.

“Time for us to get to our respective classes, Miss Rood,” he said.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part thirty-one)

Lily watched. Beth’s tears appeared as if on cue. She waved her arms in figure eights as she raised her voice towards Sarah and Ruth. Beth glared at Sarah.

“I won’t even respond to you, not after what you have orchestrated here. I should have known!”

“Beth, did you ask Ms. Rood to come here for this?” Sarah asked. “I’m sure she would like to know why she has been summoned.”

Lily feared perspiration was showing through her blouse. She stood silent.

“Well, Beth, what do you have to say to her?” Sarah continued.

“This must’ve been why you left home after high school, because you’re so hateful to people who are just trying to help!” Beth retorted.

“Beth, why will you not answer Sarah’s questions?” It was Ruth. Lily turned her eyes to read Ruth’s but Ruth was fixed on Beth.

“I’ll not stand for this. I’m supposed to be headmistress of Covenant. How can you two be so cruel? You come back to town just when I–…” Beth said.

“Yes?” Sarah said. “Just when you what?”

“O, forget it!” Beth shouted, and turned away. A storm of red blouse and the crash of tiny cymbals clanged against one another as she flung her arms above her head.

“Ms. Rood,” Sarah said, “I am sorry for what you have witnessed here. I hope this does not sully your image of our father. This is not his fault.”

“I am just confused,” Lily said. “I would not think this is the way your father would have wanted the school to handle things.”

“Exactly,” Sarah said. “The school has procedures in place for replacing leadership and faculty. This is partly why Ruth and I are here. Beth did not follow the procedures. Instead, she wanted to remake Covenant in a different image.”

“Different image? Aren’t we just talking about selecting a new headmaster? Image carries different meanings, does it not?” Lily asked.

“Again, you are right,” Sarah said. “But remaking the image is exactly what our little sister is about, Ms. Rood.”

“How much time have you spent with Beth?” Sarah asked.

“Minimal, really,” Lily said. “I see her here at work, of course. But I’ve been attending Beulah since moving here, and I have been in her Sunday school class.”

“Whose class,” Sarah asked.

“Tim is the teacher,” Lily said. “I was just saying Beth’s because…”

Lily looked at Sarah and saw her smiling kindly at her, almost pitying.

“It’s okay, Ms. Rood,” Sarah said. “That is what I mean. Beth’s a master manipulator. She presents everything—Covenant, Beulah, every story—with herself as the center. She is, as you probably teach your literature students, the protagonist.”

“I see,” Lily said. “But where do things stand with Nathanael…with Covenant, I mean?”

“I think he will discuss that with you soon,” Sarah said. “For now, I just hope we have not bruised our father’s legacy, or Covenant’s, by what you have witnessed.”

The image of the Cup-n-Saucer burst upon Lily’s imagination. She was still slated to meet Nathanael there in the morning.

“Okay then,” Lily said. “I guess we are through here for now.”

Suddenly Ruth spoke again. “This is not the first time we have come back due to our sister, Ms. Rood.”

“I see. Well, I should get back to my classroom. I have a bit left before my planning is over,” Lily said.

“Of course,” Sarah said.

Lily turned to go. She seemed to feel the tile floor tilt. Haze filled her mind as she walked away from the counselors’ offices and towards her classroom.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part thirty)

Planning period, Lily derided herself. The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps, she told herself. I am supposed to be able to use this time for my students, to grade papers, to call parents, to refine lessons on Great Expectations, to explore Shakespeare’s intimations of Hamlet’s mind, etc. Yet I am walking this hall at Beth’s behest. Mockery.

Lily heard Beth’s bracelets clink against one another before she entered the counselors’ offices. Beth turned at Lily’s entrance.

“Ms. Rood. Come in. I think you know my sisters,” Beth said.

“Somewhat, yes. Good morning. But may I ask what this is about?”

“Good morning, Lily. This is Ruth, our middle sister,” Sarah said.

“Lily Rood. I’m new to Covenant. Your father hired me. And . . . I am sorry for your loss . . . I teach English . . . but I am sorry, I forget myself. I am not sure exactly what to say here,” Lily said.

“It is alright, Ms. Rood,” Ruth said. “Nathanael and my sisters have told me about you. We are thankful you are at Covenant.”

“Thank you,” Lily said. Unsure whether to speak more, she waited.

“Ms. Rood,” Beth interjected, “after the disrespect you and others witnessed in my library this morning, I’m sure you, like many others, desire some explanations. I, too, would like one. This is why I asked you to come to my offices during your planning period.”

“Does that tell you anything, Ms. Rood?” asked Sarah.

“I’m sorry, but what are you asking?” Lily returned.

“Our baby sister here. Her tone. Her bringing you into her web. In short, it’s Beth’s method of operation, as always. Take charge, and when things don’t work out, play the victim,” Sarah said.

“How dare you speak of me that way? I cannot believe you’d libel me like that in front of someone,” Beth said.

“You do not even know Lily Rood. Dad hired her, and she has come to my Sunday school class at Beulah, and I’ve showed her around this community!” Beth continued.

“Exactly,” Sarah said. “Do you even listen to yourself, Beth? Your library. Your Sunday school class. You showed her around this community. Your counselors’ offices. Beth, have you ever considered that perhaps other people don’t find you as fascinating as you find yourself?”

“How dare you speak to me like that, Sarah? I remained here when you went off to school, met Aaron, law school, marriage, the whole thing. I remained as caretaker. When Dad launched Covenant, you were not here to help. Ruth was not here to help. She left as soon as she graduated, too, just as you had done. And it was me!” Beth continued. “I was the one who kept it all together.”

“Do you think perhaps you are leaving some things out?” Sarah asked sarcastically. “Or are you done playing the victim?”

“You think you’re so smart, Sarah. Lawyer lady come back to legislate her way at Covenant!” Beth continued. “You are so cruel.”

Turning to Lily, Beth said, “I am sorry you had to see this, Ms. Rood. Perhaps you can see now some of what I have suffered growing up with these two.” Beth’s mascara smeared at the corners of her brown eyes, where she’d begun to cry.

“Still at it, are you? Just like old times. When you are done playing the victim, perhaps you could familiarize yourself—and Lily here—with the truth,” Sarah said. “But probably not. Because the truth would not have you as the heroine, and that is what chafes you.”

“Is this the way you practice law?” Beth screamed. “So cold, distant, as if you are unaffected! No one here knows what I’ve done, how I’ve worked—slaved—, with Mom and Dad . . . and now he’s gone, and I have to . . .”

Lily watched the thickening of the mascara stream at the corners of Beth’s eyes. Lily began to sweat.

(To be continued)

 

 

Lily (Part twenty-eight)

Michael’s questions spurred Lily. Why? Always the question. Lily remembered stepping from her car onto Beulah’s blacktop parking lot for the first time. Weeks ago now when she met Donald, Fred Aims, Tim the Sunday school teacher, and Beth. Even with Beth, Beulah called to her. Tim taught Scripture the way she taught literature: read the text, explain the context out of which it was created, and then probe the situations and characters based upon the type of literature it is. Only by doing at least these things could one rightly interpret literature. Tim asked thoughtful questions, too, a hallmark of powerful teaching. Donald was there. And Mrs. Ellen Aims. And the pastor seemed humble and wise. Yes, she thought, she appreciated Beulah and her people.

And at Covenant, she believed she had a friend in Thomas McDavid. He encouraged her delicate disposition each time they were together. He was too old to view her sexually, so she felt safe with him. Moreover, he appeared to have read everything. He feigned not knowing which characters did what in Shakespeare’s plays or in the great novels, but Lily knew that he knew them all.

But what about Covenant’s leadership? What would happen to Beth, or between her, Sarah, and Ruth? And there was Nathanael.

“Miss Rood, did you hear me?” Michael asked.

“I’m sorry, but what did you say?” Lily said.

“I asked you whether you think Shakespeare expected us as readers of Hamlet to believe in the reality of ghosts. After all, King Hamlet appears as a motivating force for many, if not all, of Prince Hamlet’s actions,” Michael said.

“Excellent, Michael. What do you all think about the question Michael has raised, class?” Lily asked.

As hands went up to respond, Nathanael knocked upon Lily’s classroom door.

“I’m sorry, class. Give me just a minute, okay?” she said, and walked from the front of her classroom to the door. Heads swiveled in unison following Lily to her door.

“Good morning, Ms. Rood. I’m sorry to interrupt your class,” Nathanael said.

“It’s okay, but is everything alright?” Lily asked.

“Actually, I came to ask you a few things,” Nathanael said.

“Really?” The question hovered in the hallway air between them.

“Perhaps I should say that I feel like you are owed some explanation of what has occurred at Covenant, and a bit of background on my mother, her sisters, especially Beth, and how I came to be here,” Nathanael said.

“I would welcome all of that,” Lily said.

“Do you know where the Cup-n-Saucer is?” Nathanael asked.

“I do.”

“How about there about 6:45 tomorrow morning?”

“Sure,” Lily said. “I’ll be there.”

“Very well, then,” Nathanael said.

“Sorry again about interrupting class. Literature was my favorite subject in high school, and I’ve taken you away from your class for too long,” Nathanael said.

“Well, you’re the headmaster, right? I suppose they may excuse my brief absence from discussing Hamlet,” Lily said.

“Oh, do we not teach Dickens’ Great Expectations to seniors nowadays?”

“We do, for sure. But we are discussing drama this morning, especially how our past… you remember King Hamlet, right? Anyway, his ghost, or Hamlet’s mind, or whatever…well, the past played a crucial role in his future,” Lily said.

“As it did for Pip in Great Expectations, if I recall correctly,” Nathanael said. “Funny,” Nathanael continued. “The past is really what I wanted to discuss with you tomorrow morning.”

“I will see you at 6:45, then,” Lily said, and returned to her class.

(To be continued)

 

Lily (Part twenty-seven)

“Miss Rood, why did you leave Rook and come here to Covenant?” Reserved by temperament, when Michael asked a question, the class (and Lily) knew to listen.

“Am I not the one to ask questions here, Michael? It’s my classroom,” Lily said.

“I know, Miss Rood. And I’ll answer your questions about Pip and Joe, and about whether Hamlet was mad or not, and whether I think Hamlet actually loved Ophelia. I was just wondering, that’s all. You ask us all the time how these characters we study—Hamlet and Ophelia, Romeo and Juliet, Pip, Joe, and Miss Havisham—how they all show us truths about ourselves, about our human position, as you say… so I thought I would just ask you to apply those questions to yourself. Does that make sense, Miss Rood?”

“It does, Michael,” Lily said, pausing. “I suppose I came because I felt called, in the sense of vocation. What I mean is that moving here from Rook, coming to Covenant, finding my way here is the way of faith.”

Lily could see her entire first period class listening. Michael led this tiny army of questioning teenagers in discovering their teacher’s motives.

“Do you mean faith in a religious sense, Miss Rood?” Michael continued.

“Michael, you are asking important questions. And I’m not sure that I can answer them sufficiently in this setting. Do you remember how Hamlet’s family, and even his friends, thought he was sometimes mad, or that he was doing things that upset the world’s expectations of a prince?”

“Yes ma’am, I do,” Michael said.

“I suppose my response is somewhat analogous to that. Moving here, leaving my comfort, walking by faith, et cetera, is my duty in faith. A deeper question, Michael, might be in whom or in what is my faith? Put another way, in whom or in what is your faith? That question could be addressed by each of us as thoughtful people, couldn’t it?” Lily said.

Michael paused and looked away for a moment, then looked back at Lily.

“I’m glad you came, Miss Rood.”

“I am, too, Michael,” Lily said. “Now may we reenter Elsinore to see how the play is going to turn out for Claudius and Gertrude?”

Lily’s students opened their paperbacks of Hamlet. As they turned the play’s pages to find the right location for today’s study, Lily looked out through the rectangle  of glass in her classroom door. Thomas McDavid was holding a crimson-colored sweatshirt in both hands above his head and mouthing, “I have you a sweatshirt!” In bold letters across the front and back was written: COVENANT.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part twenty-five)

As soon as Lily passed over the threshold of the library’s metal door, she heard Beth’s voice. And there were other women’s voices, too. Composed voices, dissimilar, measured. The voices came from the counselors’ offices on the right side of the corridor leading to Lily’s classroom. Lily walked slowly and lighter than normal, alone towards her classroom. She hoped to evade negative fallout from Donald’s announcement about Nathanael assuming the role of Covenant’s headmaster.

When Lily passed the counselors’ offices, she turned her head and eyes to the right and looked in without slowing her pace. A wash of red blouse, the tinny clinking of Beth’s bracelets sliding back and forth on her forearms. Sarah and Ruth stood around Beth, listening.

“What do you mean I didn’t receive the unanimous votes required? I have been at Covenant for several years now. Where have you two been?” Beth implored.

Neither Sarah nor Ruth spoke now, convinced Beth was not ready for the answer.

“Sarah, you left town nearly before your diploma was even in your hand. Off to college you went, then law school, with almost no communication between you, Mom, and Daddy” Beth said.

Sarah gazed into her baby sister’s eyes with pity and in silence for the moment.

“Sure, you were smarter than the rest of us. But you graduated college, went to law school and married, and years went by before you, Mom, and Daddy ever addressed the past,” Beth continued. “And I remained here to pick up the pieces that you left through your silent ways. And here you are again, back with your same means. And once again, things have blown up. Why do you think that just because you’re book-smart, you can reappear into our lives and legislate things?

I am the daughter that remained in town. I am the daughter that works at Covenant. I am the daughter who has counseled these kids that come through these halls. And I am the one who should lead this school.”

Sarah stood speechless but unintimidated. Beth turned her burning eyes towards Ruth.

“And you! You think you can reenter our town just because Daddy died. And then you vote against my taking over here? I am the one who stayed on the farm after you and Sarah left. Like Sarah, you think you can return, and act as if nothing happened. But things have happened. Daddy left farming, and we began Covenant,” Beth shouted.

“Are you through?” Ruth asked.

“Here you go again, Ruth. You think you’re so clever, just like Sarah. But I’m the daughter who has stayed with our parents. I’m the one who will take care of our mother now,” Beth continued. “And you two will just go about your lives away from here after we get this all straightened out.

“I know Daddy would want me to run this school, not his grandson, who is not old or tough enough to handle it,” Beth said.

Sarah and Ruth stood looking at Beth and then at each other in silence, waiting for the proper time.

When Lily touched the silver knob of her classroom door, she opened it slowly, not wanting the Aims daughters to know she had heard anything.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part twenty-four)

Nathanael walked to the rolling lectern and Lily searched for Beth, but she had disappeared. Vanquished by Donald’s announcement? Lily mused. This is not the way a board should work. This is unlike Donald, a gentleman.

As Lily labored to gather her thoughts, Ruth Aims slid her chair back from the table where she and several others were seated, and followed the path by which Beth departed, followed by Sarah. Nathanael, standing as the applause faded, gripped the sides of the lectern, and smiled at his  mother’s back as she and Ruth left to search for Beth.

“Well, Nathan, the faculty are here for you. Are there things you would like to address this morning before Covenant’s students arrive?” Donald asked.

“I will only say that when we lost the man you all knew as headmaster and friend, a man I loved as Papa, Fred Aims, we lost a man with few equals. But I don’t believe that you or I abdicated the ministry he built. After all, look around. You are here. Students are on their way. And Covenant will continue,” Nathanael said.

“Nathan, you are your papa remade, son,” said Thomas McDavid.

“Thank you, Thomas,” Nathanael said. “But I cannot lead the way Papa did, but I do aim to love Covenant’s faculty and students in a manner that honors his vision.

“My thanks to each of you for what you have done thus far, and what I pray you will continue to do,” Nathanael said. “Some explanation of what has happened here this morning, and before, is forthcoming. For now, however, unless you have questions or comments, we will conclude this and get to work.”

No one spoke or moved for a moment. Then Thomas McDavid said in his classroom voice, “Alea iacta est. This is Covenant’s Rubicon.”

The faculty exhaled, as if given permission through Mr. McDavid’s voice, and began to chat and exit the library. Lily stood up from the settee where she sat near the shelves of Dickens. She looked for Beth, Ruth, and Sarah, but saw only their absence. Nathanael spoke with faculty as they left through the library doors en route to their classes.

(To be continued)