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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lily is Questioned

Beth’s words, “It is not finished,” now assumed the colors blue and black worn by the lady Nathanael escorted into the counselors’ offices. Colors of bruises, Lily thought. Images washed over her mind. Beth’s ruined hair, Lily sneered to herself, was the color of Kraft Mac & Cheese. Her raven black nails at the ends of her mannish hands, the jangle of endless gold bracelets and tarnished rings betrayed want of character. Suddenly Lily was aware she was sweating. Seeking comfort, she glanced through the rectangle of glass in her exterior wall at the oak outside, as if a tree might herald refuge. But its limbs jeered at her, like creation scorned her gaze. The bruise-colored clouds above deepened her gloom.

“Good morning again, everyone. What questions do you have about Hamlet now that you’ve seen him plot to entrap his murdering Uncle Claudius?” Lily asked, trying to pull her thoughts, too, back to the play rather than to her melancholia.

“Do you think Hamlet loves his mother, Ms. Rood,” Michael asked.

“What makes you ask that?” Lily asked in turn.

“Hamlet aims to avenge his father’s murder–more than he longs for his mother and Claudius to repent for the murder of King Hamlet,” Michael said.

“I think he loves his mother, Michael. But he is prompted by his dead father’s ghost. He is importuned, in fact, to swear vengeance. Hamlet says, ‘The time is out of joint. O cursed spite/That ever I was born to set it right!’” Lily said.

“I know,” Michael said, “but he seems so hateful to his own mother.”

“I think Hamlet loves his mother and his father—both of them. But perhaps it is the murder, the corruption and cover-ups in the kingdom, that Hamlet’s personality–his constitution–cannot endure. For whatever reason, he takes justice, as he sees it, into his own hands. He cannot accept the dissolution. Hamlet does not abide fallenness well.”

“Fallenness?” several students asked.

“Yes, that things are not the way they were in the beginning, that something is rotten, not just in Denmark, but with the world. Make sense?” Lily said.

Michael persisted. “So you think Hamlet loves his mother but he loves the idea of a perfect Denmark, a perfect kingdom, an unfallen world, more? Is that what you’re saying, Ms. Rood?”

“I think I am, Michael. May I ask you all a question now?”
The class sat up in their desks whenever Lily did this.

“Do you think Hamlet loved the truth more than he loved people?” Lily asked.

Lily watched her students’ faces. For a moment the class was silent.

“I hope not!” came a voice from the corridor. It was Thomas McDavid, smiling.

“Mr. McDavid. Welcome to our discussion. Would you like to lend some historical perspective?” Lily asked.

“I don’t know if it’s a historical perspective, Ms. Rood, or just a commonsense one,” Mr. McDavid said.

“As you wish then,” Lily said.

“When people love ideas more than people, blood spills. Empires designed on the basis of bad ideas litter history. Carnage is as old as, well, the fall…to use your language.”

“I didn’t ask whether he loved ideas more than people, but whether he loved the truth more than he loved people,” Lily said.

“Are they mutually exclusive?” Michael asked.

“Are you able to expand on your question, Michael?” Lily asked.

“I mean, what if Hamlet loved his father, and was therefore justified to hate Claudius, his father’s killer? That seems like a natural response, right? How does that make Hamlet one who loves truth more than people? Why must loving the truth be opposed to loving people?” Michael asked.

“Michael, I didn’t say that it was, did I?” Lily asked.

“No ma’am, Ms. Rood, you didn’t. But I thought you were suggesting that.”

“I simply asked whether Hamlet loved the truth more than he loved people,” Lily repeated.

“Because Hamlet loved the truth, he hated the corruption, the fallenness of things. Is that what you’re saying, Ms. Rood?”

“I think so, Michael. But I think Hamlet assumed roles that did not properly belong to him,” Lily said.

“Setting things right was not his prerogative, was it?”

“Vengeance was not rightly his, but he made it his, and tragedy unfolded,” Lily said.

“Just as I was saying, Ms. Rood!” said Thomas McDavid, smiling. “By the way, I did not come to conjecture about Hamlet’s motives, my young friend, but to tell you that Mrs. Wilkins says we’re going to meet in the library this afternoon at 3:45 to meet the new counselor.”

“Yes of course,” Lily said. “Thank you, Mr. McDavid.”

Lily and her students watched Mr. McDavid turn away.

“We have a new counselor?” the students erupted. “Who is it? Did someone leave? Did someone get fired?”

“This is English class. We don’t entangle ourselves in banalities, now do we?” Lily asked. “How about we return our thoughts to Hamlet’s plot to avenge his father’s murder? Isn’t that where our focus should be?”

“We were just wondering, Ms. Rood. Aren’t you curious about the changes at our school?” asked a polite girl at the rear of Lily’s class.

“I suppose I should be,” Lily said. “You are right. I suppose I should be.”

(To be continued)

Solomon Visits Lily

Solomon’s words beat against the walls of Lily’s mind: much study had wearied her flesh. Her lower back and hips ached. She lost focus upon what she had planned to cover in classes. She stared long at the bold words on Beth’s stationery. Lily’s mind fed upon itself with Othello-like suspicion. Who is spying upon me at Covenant? Who is the new counselor? Where is Beth now? Lily folded the paper along its creases and slid it back into the envelope. She told herself to sit and gaze at the live oak beyond her classroom window. It reminded Lily of an old man. Its branches were weathered elbows, its bark a wizened face. At last Lily began to quiet when Alice reappeared.

“I found it, Lily!”

“Found what?”

“The book, silly…about hearing from God.”

“Yes of course,” Lily said. “Um, thank you.”

“I know what you’re going to say next,” Alice said.

“You do?”

“Yes. You’re going to tell me to keep going with The Great Gatsby.”

“Correct. Now what shall I say instead?” Lily asked laughing.

“Don’t worry. I’ll keep going,” Alice said. “I really like it. I just think Nick is more small-town boy than he realizes.”

“Correct again, Alice.”

“Do you enjoy Fitzgerald like you do Shakespeare and the other writers you teach, Lily?”

“This could turn into more than we have time for now, don’t you think?”

“Oh I see, I’m sorry. Maybe we can continue later, okay?” Alice asked.

“We have an agreement then,” Lily said.

“You bet,” Alice said.

As Alice disappeared from Alice’s sight, the bell rang for class. Lily struggled to focus her mind on the lessons she had prepared. Beth’s image filled her mind. She pictured Beth’s scorched orange hair and saw the raven-black nails.

Her students began entering. “Good morning, Ms. Rood,” some said.

“Good morning,” Lily heard herself say perfunctorily, hating the sound of her own voice.

“Hi, Ms. Rood. Miss Havisham today?” It was Michael. He could read Lily’s mood prophetically.

“Hello, Michael. How’d you know?” Lily asked, humbled.

“Some stories tell themselves,” he said.

“I may look to you a bit more than usual this morning in class, Michael, okay?”

“Of course, Ms. Rood. I wanted to ask you a lot about Hamlet’s relationship with his mother anyway,” Michael said.

“I have questions about that too,” Lily said. “But enough with the Miss Havisham references already, okay?”

“Of course, Ms. Rood.” Michael walked towards his desk and began talking with other students as the class continued to fill. Lily walked to her door in an effort to appear composed. As she watched students disappearing into other classrooms, she saw Nathanael walking with a woman dressed in black slacks and a royal blue blouse. Together they turned into the counselors’ offices. Lily felt herself begin to sweat under her left armpit. The bell sounded again as she reentered her classroom. Today, her years of study seemed to her to have raised suspicions more than solace.

(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)

 

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)