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-three)

“We do not have enough time this morning for me to explain the whole of the family’s history, Ms. Rood, but I will try to set forth some stepping stones to help you understand how the path led you, led us both really, here. Okay?” Nathanael said.

“I understand. Go on. I’m listening,” Lily said.

Lily looked through the diner window to her left. The gray color and morning mist were dissipating. She saw her reflection in the Cup-n-Saucer’s window, as Nathanael continued.

“Mom did leave her home as soon as she graduated from high school. She met my father soon thereafter. He and Mom were both intellectuals, and tended to see to the underlying causes of things,” Nathanael said.

“I could tell early on that your sister and your father were bright. But that does not explain the division within your family,” Lily responded.

“Correct. Mom and Dad met, studied law, and went on to make good lives for themselves, and, yes, for me,” Nathanael said, “and my Aunt Ruth was a quiet one. She was like Mom, very smart, but she was not confrontational by nature. She reserved her views on the family’s ways until Aunt Beth’s ways became clear,” Nathanael said.

“Beth’s ways?” Lily asked.

“Beth is the baby, in lots of ways,” Nathanael said. “My grandfather was quite strict as a dad, especially when the three girls were young. My mom and Aunt Ruth left as soon as they could, as eighteen-year-olds, fresh from high school graduation. Admittedly, they may have viewed it as an escape from an overbearing father,” Nathanael said.

“I never knew your grandfather like that,” Lily said. “Plus, this community seemed to adore him.”

“He was changed by, I can say this to you and I think you’ll understand . . . he was changed by God. But that was done by God over time. My grandfather grew humble. But as he did, my Aunt Beth, even as a girl, was hardened. She carved a different path from her sisters. She was prettier than her sisters, at least as a girl. And she used her looks, her quick smile, to advance herself in my grandparents’ evaluations of her, and Aunt Beth grew up as a deceiver and manipulator,” Nathanael said.

“But your mother and your Aunt Ruth are beautiful women,” Lily said.

“They are now,” Nathanael said, “but as girls, I could show you pictures of them during their girlhoods, they were bookish and homely looking. They would admit that to you, even today. And Aunt Beth was beautiful as a girl. Blonde, a beautiful smile, et cetera. She seemed to know she would make her way in the world very differently than her sisters did,” Nathanael said.

Lily looked out through the diner window again to see sun piercing the vanquishing gray. Nathanael watched Lily as she thought.

“Is this too much, Ms. Rood?” he asked.

“No, I was just thinking about it all,” Lily said.

“Perhaps this is enough for this morning. We still have a day of school,” Nathanael said. “Will it be alright if we talk again soon, Ms. Rood? Not as Covenant’s headmaster to a teacher, but just as adults?”

“I would like that,” Lily said.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part thirty-two)

Lily pulled into the Cup-n-Saucer parking lot at six o’clock under gray misty sky. Questions hung like damp wreaths in her mind. Why would Nathanael ask to meet with me alone? What will people think when they see us here so early on a weekday? He’s younger than I and . . .

Lily parked, opened her car door, and stepped onto the old blacktop of the Cup-n-Saucer parking lot. A pothole, shaped like a bowl with loose gravel inside the color of the gray sky, seemed to mock her as she walked towards the door. She glimpsed Nathanael darkly through the glass windows—composed.

“Good morning, Ms. Rood. Coffee?” Nathanael asked, standing and pulling out a lime-green formica upholstered chair.

“Yes, thank you,” Lily said. “Am I late?”

“No. I did not sleep much last night,” Nathanael said, “so I am here even before Donald and Thomas,” Nathanael said, laughing.

A waitress appeared. “What’ll you have, hon?”

“Just coffee for her, please,” Nathanael said, looking at Lily. “Right?” he asked. Lily nodded.

“Thank you for coming in this early to meet with me. I thought you were owed some explanations. Perhaps background is the better term,” Nathanael said.

“I’m glad to. I’m a morning person, I suppose. Coffee drinker, too. One of the characteristics I seem to share with Thomas McDavid and Donald, too,” Lily said, trying to ease, but Nathanael was not to be distracted.

“Ms. Rood. Have you wondered why I asked you here?”

“I’d be dishonest if I said I hadn’t,” Lily said.

“Have you thought about what people here might think and say if they saw us together at a diner before school?” Nathanael continued.

“I have. But when you asked me to meet you, I didn’t know what good choice I had. You are the headmaster at Covenant now, right? What was I supposed to do—decline?”

Nathanael conceded her point. “I knew you would have thought of all that. The people that come here, Ms. Rood, have known me, my parents, my whole life, if you will. Even though my mother moved away after high school, this town has a way of sticking to you. Mom left it when still just a kid, but it never left her,” Nathanael said.

“Many books are about that very thing,” Lily said. “I suppose Thomas Wolfe, Philip Roth, and Carson McCullers . . . um, sorry, literary passions don’t fade either, at least for some of us.”

“It’s okay. I told you earlier, English was my favorite subject, too,” Nathanael said. “Anyway, I don’t know if saying my mother was ever a kid is exactly the right term either.”

“How do you mean?” Lily asked.

“Ms. Rood, how much do you know of my family’s history?” Nathanael asked.

“Little, I suppose. Donald—from Beulah—told me a bit about how he and your grandfather, Mr. Aims, used to farm near each other. And he mentioned how your mother, Sarah, was the oldest Aims daughter. She and Ruth, the middle daughter, apparently left here soon after completing high school. They went “to the city”–is the way Donald portrayed it. Is that correct?” Lily asked.

“That’s accurate in what it denotes,” Nathanael said. “But did Donald tell you why Mom and Aunt Ruth left?” Nathanael asked.

“No. He just mentioned that your mom was very bright, and that your grandparents were strict on the girls as they were growing up,” Lily said. “Am I missing something?”

“That, too, is accurate,” Nathanael said, “but my grandparents’ strictness—especially my grandfather’s—was not the only part of our family history that led to why two of them left, with what has happened with Covenant, and with my Beth.”

“Why do I think this is going to take more time than our cup of coffee?” Lily asked.

“Hence my wanting to at least begin to provide you some background, so that you see the whole picture. Beth can be, well, conveniently selective in how she deals with truth and details she may not want revealed,” Nathanael said.

“I’m listening. But is this appropriate—I mean, for me to hear this? Is it, after all, my business?” Lily asked.

“You’re in it now, Ms. Rood. My grandfather brought you here, but Beth has her own web, and not for your good,” Nathanael said.

“Go on,” Lily 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-nine)

“Miss Rood, someone else is at your door,” Michael said.

“I’m very sorry, guys,” Lily said. “This is keeping you from our examination of Hamlet’s methods and/or madness, isn’t it?”

Through the rectangle of glass of her classroom door, Lily glimpsed Beth’s frame and red blouse.

“Ms. Rood. Would you do me the favor of coming to the counselors’ offices during your planning period today, please?” Beth asked.

“Today? I’m trying to get through Hamlet and Great Expectations with my seniors. Does it have to be today?” Lily asked.

“Thanks so much, Ms. Rood. I will see you then,” Beth said, turning her back. And she was gone. Beth personified dismissiveness towards those by whom she felt threatened.

Lily heard the clinking of Beth’s bracelets as she faded down the hall towards the counselors’ offices.

Reentering her class, Lily labored to refocus her mind upon Michael’s earlier question about ghosts. But her thoughts were of meeting with Nathanael early tomorrow at the Cup-n-Saucer, his cryptic intimations of what happened in his mother’s past with Beth and Ruth, and now being called to the counselors’ offices… de trop.

“’When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.’ Who said that?” Lily asked her class.

“Jesus,” the class said.

“No, not Jesus,” Lily said.

“Shakespeare?” the class said.

“Yes. In this very play you’re to have read and understood,” Lily said.

“You always tell us the Bible and Shakespeare supply most of the world’s wisdom,” Michael said.

“I stand by that, Michael. And I’m sure Lily Rood figures in a close third.”

“You’re too much, Miss Rood,” Michael said amidst laughter.

As Lily had their attention again, she tried to reenter Elsinore and the question of Hamlet seeing his father’s ghost.

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief, she heard in her mind.

It was only first period and her planning period was hours away, when she would walk to the counselors’ office; the irony was too much. Beth, a counselor, then headmistress for a blink, and now—what? To counsel Lily? To bring her into whatever past the Aims daughters apparently had never outgrown?

(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)