The Question of the Theater

“Christ,” Lily uttered.

“Ma’am?” Michael asked. “Ms. Rood, did you hear what I said?”

“Michael!”

“Yes, it is. Are you alright, Ms. Rood?”

“Michael,” Lily said again. “I’m sorry. What were you saying?”

“I came to give you a message from Mrs. Wilkins in the front office.”

“What is it, Michael? I apologize. I must’ve fallen asleep or something,” Lily said.

“You were talking, Ms. Rood. You said ‘Christ’ when I entered your class. But no one is here with you. I just came in early to get some assignments. Mrs. Wilkins buzzed me in. You remember, right? I’m going to be out a few days for the fieldtrip with the acting team in Atlanta for theater practice,” Michael explained.

“Of course, Michael. Thank you for that.”

“Are you sure you’re alright, Ms. Rood?

“Yes, fine.”

“Mrs. Wilkins and the bookroom lady are in the front office, if you need me to ask them to get something for you,” Michael continued.

“It’s fine now, Michael. I just…”

“It’s okay, Ms. Rood. I won’t say anything about it. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. The bookroom lady…”

“Her name is Alice, Michael, not bookroom lady,” Lily said.

Suddenly there was a knock at Lily’s open classroom door. Michael and Lily turned their heads simultaneously.

Desiree Dramal stood in Lily’s doorway, arms crossed, causing her breasts to appear still larger, even for her considerable height. Her legs were so long Lily thought they themselves could be characters in a Kafka story.

“I had heard you came to work early, Ms. Rood—and that you often had people in your classroom at odd hours.”

“Excuse me?” Lily said. “This is Michael. He is one of my seniors. He came for his assignments.”

“Of course, Ms. Rood. Not to worry,” Desiree Dramal said, uncrossing her arms and turning her palms upright to assuage Lily.

“What was it you needed?” Lily asked.

“I can see you have someone with you, Ms. Rood. I will return later. Just some unfinished business.”

“I was not aware we had begun any business,” Lily said.

“Michael, could you give us a moment, please?” Lily asked. Michael retrieved a journal and folder from his desk and disappeared.

“Yes, Ms. Dramal. I do come to work early. I did not realize that was worthy of discussion, but I must be wrong.”

“Not to worry, Ms. Rood. I was just sharing some things I’d heard. It doesn’t bother you, does it?”

“What bothers me is your not telling me what you came for. You did have a reason, I assume?”

“Ah yes. My friend Alice…you know Alice up front, right?…she wanted me to ask you if you’d had a chance to read her book on hearing from God. But that’s not what I came for. I was going to ask you if you would help with the spring play. I hear you’re good with working with students and their elocution,” Desiree Dramal said.

“Aren’t you in counseling, Ms. Dramal? You understand why I ask. What do you have to do with theater and elocution?”

“I like to be involved in a lot of things, Ms. Rood. I see myself as a kind of rudder, if you will, steering things…but behind the scenes,” Desiree Dramal said.

Lily felt bile rise in the back of her throat. Acrid. She was close to vomiting. “I will certainly consider it and let the right people know,” Lily said. “Is that all?”

“For now, Ms. Rood. Thank you. I can see that you enjoy working with students and others at many hours, so the theater would be a good place for your talents,” Desiree Dramal said. She slid saurian-like from Lily’s doorway and was gone.

(To be continued)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

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.

Desiree Dramal

Nathanael walked towards a rolling lectern stationed at the far end of the library opposite where Lily and Alice sat. For reasons Lily did not understand herself she peered outside to check the color of the sky. Bruise-colored clouds washed across the lowering sky; thunderstorms were moving in. March brought them faithfully. Lily swallowed and tried to moisten her throat and lips. Alice, seated next to her on the settee, seemed pleased at news to which Lily was as yet ignorant. Over Nathanael’s shoulders, under the florescent lights of the library and the gathering gray light entering from the windows, Lily saw Mrs. Ellen Aims, Donald, Sarah, Tim the Sunday school teacher from Beulah, two other men Lily had never seen before, a young woman about Lily’s age, and Thomas McDavid, seated a row behind the rest. He wore his familiar grin and appeared content, unflappable.

“Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for coming on short notice,” Nathanael said. “I will honor your time by trying to be brief. But I wanted to honor more than just your time. We have a new addition to Covenant’s faculty.”

Lily heard Alice emit a tiny squeal of excitement. She looked over at Alice, then back at Nathanael, who continued.

“Many of you have likely known Ms. Desiree Dramal for some time. She came up in this town. But to others among us, she may be new. She will be augmenting the staff of counselors we have at Covenant. My aunt, Beth Aims, though not in an official role as a Covenant counselor, may assist Ms. Dramal as she unites with our staff. Desiree Dramal, please come forward. And welcome to Covenant.”

Most of the faculty applauded as Desiree Dramal rose from her chair where she had been seated next to Nathanael’s chair behind the lectern. Alice stood and applauded, and looked at Lily as if to will her to join in the applause. Lily clapped lightly and tried to see the reactions of Thomas McDavid, Donald, Sarah, and Mrs. Aims, but she could only see Nathanael and Desiree Dramal near the lectern.

In looking for familiar faces, Lily glimpsed a plastic circular clock above the checkout desk: 3:55. Reflexively, Lily looked out the window. The sky was ashen, the color of burned charcoal.

“Thank you so much, Nathanael,” Desiree Dramal said. “Most of you know me, and of my long friendship with the Aims family, and of my love for Covenant. I am grateful to be here. I hope to earn your faith and friendship. I promise to counsel students in such a way that lives up to the best of what Covenant means for our community. Again, thank you.”

Alice and most of the other faculty clapped again. Lily clapped, too, and watched Desiree Dramal take her seat again as Nathanael returned to the lectern. As Nathanael rose, Lily noticed that Donald and Thomas McDavid were speaking quietly to each other on the back row of chairs beyond Nathanael. Suddenly Thomas looked over at Lily and winked, as if to reassure her. Everyone but Nathanael sat down again.

“I’ve asked Mrs. Wilkins to distribute some background information on Ms. Dramal and Ms. Rood as our newest employees. You will find those in your mailboxes in the main office, if you haven’t already. Also, please be reminded that we’re in March already. That means our spring play is in just a few weeks. What’s more, you should be nearing the completion of our core areas with our students. If you have students struggling with a particular area, please link them up with the appropriate teachers: Mr. McDavid for history; Mrs. Madden for math; Mr. Bloom for science; and Ms. Rood for writing and literature,” Nathanael said. “A complete list of teachers and subjects Mrs. Wilkins has already posted in the front office.”

When Lily heard her name, she straightened. She felt the glances of the faculty. Most nodded and smiled. Finally she caught uninterrupted views of Thomas, Donald, Sarah, and Mrs. Ellen Aims. They appeared thoughtful and cautious.

“If no one has anything else, we’ll dismiss,” Nathanael said.
“Ms. Dramal will be around for a few moments if you’d like to come welcome her to Covenant,” Nathanael said.

“Oh Lily, would you like to come meet Desiree?” Alice asked. “You’ll love her.”

“Um, sure. But would you mind if I just said hi to a couple of other folks first?”

“You bet,” Alice said. “I’ll be up front with Desiree, okay?”

“Okay, thanks,” Lily said.

Lily rose and walked towards Donald, Tim, Sarah, and the others she knew from Beulah. As she did, she saw Desiree Dramal wrap herself in conversation with each faculty member. She scaled her voice low, as if to used to hushed tones. Lily felt her dry throat again, and tried to swallow. She looked outside again, just before she spoke to Thomas McDavid. It had begun to rain.

(To be continued)