A Candle

Lily rose from her cheap swivel chair. She walked to the rectangle of window and gazed towards the live oak beyond. She seemed fixed upon the outward. The soft early morning light held her. It was impossible to tell if she was listening to her own thoughts or was being scrutinized. Early morning light always held promise for Lily. She could think clearly in the hours before dawn. But as the day grew in noise and bustle she knew she would recede in a type of emotional counterbalance. Had someone entered Lily’s classroom as she stood there looking out, he may’ve pictured a woman contemplating escape or perhaps more.

“My friend, I see you don’t grow slack in keeping your early hours.” Thomas McDavid stood in Lily’s doorway where moments before Desiree Dramal had landed.

“Good morning, Thomas. How are you, my friend?” Lily asked.

“I didn’t pop a single button on my shirt when I dressed today. In short, marvelous,” Thomas McDavid said. “Before I know it, I’ll be able to see my shoes again when I look down.”

Lily and Thomas laughed together. Lily tasted again the beauty of friendship and envied Thomas’ indomitable optimism.

“Thomas, may I ask you a question about history?”

“As long as it’s not a date about when an empire fell or what time of day Oglethorpe invaded Savannah. I weary of how history’s lessons are murdered via banal questions that are nothing but recollections of data.”

“Nothing like that, Thomas. It’s about this town,” Lily said.

“Really. Go ahead, then. I’ve been here since Dr. Smith cut Mom’s umbilical, so I hope I’ll know the answer,” Mr. McDavid said.

“Can you tell me the history of the town’s name—Glim? I thought where I came from in Rook was antiquated. But Glim, it’s not a common town name, I don’t think,” Lily said.

“You’re right, of course. It means ‘candle’,” Mr. McDavid said.

“What makes you ask that, my young friend?” Thomas McDavid said, gazing at Lily.

“My surname is Rood, which means ‘crucifix’. I’ve always laughed at the fact of my last name. My family tree is a long line of Protestants; yet my last name hearkens to a crucifix. I don’t fit my name—historically. Not a Catholic back at least 500 years in my family,” Lily said.

“Glim has you thinking about all of this, does it?” Thomas asked.

“I was just thinking, that’s all. I’m still trying to find my way at Covenant and in Glim, Thomas.”

“Both will benefit, my friend. Study long, study wrong, as some of our older generations used to say.”

Lily looked at Thomas questioningly.

“Perhaps you’re our newest candle, my young friend,” Thomas McDavid said. He smiled and turned to go.

Lily smiled at him. She wished to thank him but the doorway was vacant. Lily turned her eyes outside and squinted. Sunlight fell in dappled patches on the grass, tiny oval pools of gold.

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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greater

Though March still, Lily felt hot. She perspired easily, especially when distressed. Thoughts of Beth’s and Desiree Dramal’s schemes roiled her emotions. She turned on her car’s radio as she passed Beulah, its white steeple and cross overwatching.

An established pastor-teacher’s voice was preaching from Luke 20. Lily listened to Dr. M____________ read Luke’s gospel:

And in the hearing of al the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Lily turned up the dial. She labored to reconcile these words with her life. Then she turned the dial back down, assured of God’s mysterious providence.

Lily neared her place and thought of her days ahead with her students. She wanted to push them to think through Hamlet’s many struggles to set things right in Elsinore. She wanted them to see how Pip and Estelle had reasons to hope for restoration in Great Expectations. She thought of how she might help with the spring play.

Lily’s drive today, like many, comforted her. Most of the fields were plowed, tilled, ready for seed. As she neared her home, she turned the radio dial up again. She wanted to hear the remainder of the pastor’s teaching.

She decided to drive out to Donald’s farm. As she turned onto the highway that led to Donald’s farm, Lily listened to the pastor: Jesus told his followers that the impostors would receive ‘greater condemnation’. God is not blind, beloved. He is not, as Paul says, mocked. ‘Greater condemnation’.” Then the pastor fell silent as if unsure of whether to end. Finally his voice returned and he prayed.

Lily neared Donald’s farm. As she did, she discovered she had arrived before Donald had returned from the Cup-n-Saucer. She pulled off the highway and gazed over towards his property as if in thanksgiving.

Cross

Lily focused her eyes upon the door of the Cup-n-Saucer. She longed to escape. Walking past the waitress, Lily nodded her head. The waitress nodded in return as if understanding. In the glass window in front of her Lily saw Beth’s orange hair reflected. Beth’s black nails curled as talons and Desiree Dramal’s long black slacks seemed to lengthen and writhe with each of Lily’s footfalls. Suddenly the image of Beth’s beige stationery with B.A. at the top and IT IS NOT FINISHED burned upon Lily’s brain as she heard the glass door close behind her.

“Lily!”

Looking up, Lily saw Alice.

“Hey, Alice. What’re you doing here?”

“A couple of my friends are meeting me here this afternoon,” Alice said.

“I see. Enjoy.”

“Lily, why don’t you—“

“I’m really tired, Alice. Going home now. See you at work, okay?”

“You bet, Lily. You know, I heard you mention coffee when we were still at work but I thought you were just kidding. But my friend Beth called me and asked me to meet our mutual friend Desiree at the Cup-n-Saucer, and—well, isn’t that ironic, Lily? I mean, we could all be together.”

“That is ironic, Alice. See you soon, okay?” Lily heard her own voice and wondered if it sounded cruel to Alice. She liked Alice but doubted her judgment.

Lily drove towards her rental property. She passed Beulah and contemplated its steeple and cross where they looked upon this city of man.

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.