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.

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)

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 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)

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)

Lily, Mr. McDavid, and Shakespeare

Paper clips and manila folders in her left hand, Lily walked the tiled hallway towards her classroom. She listened to her flats slap the tile floor and caught scents of coffee from the counselors’ offices. She looked at the trophies inside cases lining the hallway. Wrestlers twisted and taut, frozen in positions of agonized struggle, gripped her. She studied them. Musing, she saw her own reflection in the glass and students’ fingerprints on the sliding, but locked, glass.

Hamlet an insufficient match, my young friend? Taking up wrestling, are we?”

It was Thomas McDavid.

Lily smiled to see Thomas. He wore loafers, a tan shirt with a coffee stain above the third button from the bottom, just above his navel, full coffee cup in his right hand.

“Hardly,” Lily said. “How are you, Thomas?”

“Handsome as ever, don’t you think?” Mr. McDavid laughed, and spilled another drop of coffee on his shirt.

“Did you ever wrestle, Thomas?”

“Of course—but only when I tried to read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall.” Mr. McDavid and Lily laughed together.

“If I had had this belly when I was young,” Mr. McDavid said, “I’d look like a bowling pin trapped in a spandex balloon. That would have made for quite the impression.”

Lily laughed again and asked, “Where are you now with your students?”

“Still with Caesar. Having the students read the play, you’ll be glad to know, and research lessons we might draw from the first triumvirate,” Mr. McDavid said.

“You’re having them read the play looking for that?” Lily asked.

“No, no, my young friend. Having them read the play to understand people’s psychology. Your field, Ms. Rood, does a better job of that than mine. When they read the play, students grasp these historical figures as real men and women with conflicts and ambitions and fears—not just as figures on a timeline.”

“Sounds like the literary bug has bitten you, Thomas,” Lily said.

“You stay in Sweden with Othello, Ms. Rood. I’ll cross the Rubicon with my cohorts,” Thomas said laughing.

“Hamlet is a Dane, Thomas McDavid. Othello is a Moor,” Lily protested in laughter. But Thomas had taken his leave.

Lily saw two drops of fresh coffee on the tile floor where Thomas had stood.

She laughed at herself, looked again at the trophy cases, and walked on towards her classroom.

“Oh, Miss Rood. I almost forgot,” Mr. McDavid said. He had turned around in front of his classroom door and turned his head towards Lily.

“Forgot what?”

“Beth has not gone gently.”

“What do you mean?”

“Her replacement, I hear, is a close friend of hers.”

“How do you know?” Lily asked. “Who is it?”

“Someone from here, of course,” Mr. McDavid said.

“What do you mean by here?” Lily asked. “From this town?”

“You said it. She’s not Beth, but close.”

“Thomas, what are you saying? Am I still not safe?”

“Was Caesar? Was Hamlet? No one is safe, Ms. Rood. Hasn’t literature taught you that?” Thomas asked, only partly in jest.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part fifty)

As Thomas McDavid disappeared from Lily’s door, Beth appeared, orange and ruined hair the color of brass, and tight white slacks, better suited for a young woman.

“Good morning, Ms. Rood.”

“Hello. May I help you?” Lily asked.

“Did I interrupt anything? I thought I saw a man leaving your room.”

“Did you not say that you saw him?” Lily asked.

“I thought maybe it was Mr. McDavid, but I was not sure. I try not to be alone with a man in my classroom—I mean, my office. It does not paint a professional image.”

“I see,” Lily said. “I suppose having another professional teacher, a peer, a man twenty years my elder, a friend—yes, I suppose you’re right. It could paint the image of two teachers greeting one another early in the morning as they work on their lessons.”

“Ms. Rood, we try to set an example at Covenant.”

“By not collaborating with fellow teachers, I take it?”

“I like to think our students are a reflection of the best of us here at Covenant. For us to ever present ourselves as less than Christian—well, it undermines my father’s vision and what we have built here in our town.”

“My speaking of Shakespeare and Dickens with a respected teacher could be interpreted as moral turpitude, perhaps? Might that phrase be in your mind, Beth?”

“I see no reason to make this personal, Ms. Rood.”

“If you prefer surnames, Ms. Aims, we can keep it on that level.”

“That would be welcomed by me and, I’m sure, by my other colleagues here,” Beth said.

“Understood, Ms. Aims. Let me see if I can clarify for you. You are somewhat different from Mr. Aims. He recruited me from Rook where I taught for many years. He interviewed me over weeks. He spent time—brace yourself—in my classroom. He spoke with me face to face,” Lily said.

“What’s more,” Lily continued, “he got to know me and understood the concept of vocation—calling.”

“Am I being professional enough for you, Ms. Aims?” Lily continued.

“How dare you speak to me like this!” Beth exclaimed.

“Wait, there’s more, Ms. Aims. This vocation—this calling—into teaching, into trying to continue the study of, and appreciation for, literature’s greatest achievements—well, your father, Mr. Aims, he seemed to grasp all of that. He understood what it meant to learn, to teach, to inspire others in appreciation of the true, good, and beautiful.”

“I’ll have you know that my father was a brilliant man, Ms. Rood. He was very strict as a father, especially when we were young girls, but you do not have to tell me how brilliant a man my father was. I should know; I remained at home with him while my other sisters left us. If anyone knew Daddy’s heart, I did,” Beth said.

Lily continued, “Your father got to know me by spending time with me. He did not gossip or spread innuendo. And I came to Covenant because I thought this is where God called me. I believe that he used your father to bring me here.”

“Hmmf! I have never had such a conversation with a faculty member in all my years at Covenant, Ms. Rood. I don’t understand why you must make this personal.”

Looking over Beth, Lily saw a group of people at her classroom door. Sara and Ruth were standing with arms akimbo in the threshold. To their left stood Donald and Nathanael. Thomas McDavid had stepped out of his classroom door.

“Go on, Beth. Let us hear how we left and you are the family heroine,” Sarah said. “Somehow I think Ruth and I can already tell you how your story will end.”

“How dare you! I simply came down here this morning to see Ms. Rood. But when I did, I saw a man leaving her room, and—well, I mean, I have heard things about Ms. Rood,” Beth said.

Suddenly Ruth spoke up. “Thomas, would you come up this way, please?”

Mr. McDavid smiled and walked back towards Lily’s classroom intrepidly. “Good morning, all. How may I be of assistance to the Aims family?” Thomas looked at Lily and winked. Ruth started to speak but Sarah interrupted her. “Thomas, I am sorry to involve you in this, but may I ask how you would characterize your relationship with Ms. Rood? Is it professional only?”

“No.”

Beth raised her head and eyes in triumph. “See!” she said.

“It is more than that. Since Ms. Rood came, I have rediscovered my calling.”

“Can you elaborate, Thomas, please? Is it a more-than-professional relationship?” Sarah asked.

“Certainly. Since Ms. Rood came to Covenant, I have seen a woman who loves her field and the passing on of its wisdom. And as to our relationship, yes—it’s more than professional. She is my friend,” Mr. McDavid said.

“I will not stand for this!” Beth shouted. “She does not belong here.”

“Nathan, I think I’ll let you handle the administration stuff. I’m off to look into the likes of those with the lean hungry looks from Caesar’s circle.”

He turned to go, but then looked at Lily. “Isn’t that right, Ms. Rood?”

Nathanael turned to Donald.

“Donald, would you help me walk my Aunt Beth back to the counselors’ offices, please? She will need to be getting her items removed.”

Sarah and Ruth nodded their heads toward Lily and turned to go. Mr. McDavid had already returned to his classroom.

Suddenly Mrs. Wilkins’ voice came over the intercom:

“Good morning, faculty. Students will be arriving soon, but the headmaster wanted me to remind everyone of the faculty meeting tomorrow morning in the library. We will all get to meet Covenant’s newest employee. She will be working as our new lead counselor. See you tomorrow at 7 a.m. Have a great day, everyone!”

Lily looked up from her chair. Thomas McDavid suddenly reappeared in the hallway. Nathanael and Donald turned around to look back towards Sarah, Ruth, and Beth. Speechlessness filled Lily’s class. The only sound was the clang of bracelets and the crash of Beth’s fleeing heels like fading cymbals.

(The end)