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)

 

Lily (Part forty-nine)

Monday morning’s first light found Lily in her classroom at Covenant. She sat behind her metal desk in a cheap metal swivel chair. The desk was covered with worn paperbacks of Hamlet, Great Expectations, books of poetry, index cards on which she kept notes, Post-its of various colors she had stuck inside books with cross-references, and papers to be graded. Pens and pencils of various colors were in a heavy ceramic coffee cup Mr. Fred Aims bought her as a welcome. On the cup in white letters was stenciled a biblical reference: 2 Cor. 3:6.

Her classroom had one window through which she could see a live oak tree and some of Covenant’s grounds. No other teachers had arrived yet but she had learned that Thomas McDavid arrived early, too. Lily stared at the oak outside. She checked her calendar for the date: March 1. Spring is nearing, she thought, with its attendant rains, richness of upturned soil, life pushing upward.

“Holloa, my young friend! Up early again?”

Lily heard Mr. McDavid’s merry voice and caught the smell of black coffee.

“Good morning, Thomas,” Lily said, smiling. “Yes. How are you?”

“All’s well. We’re looking into some of Caesar’s weaknesses in my classes today.”

“Some other lads, too. Mark Antony and Brutus. Ever heard of’em?” Thomas said, grinning.

“I think I have.”

“Beware those lads from March, right?”

“Something like that, Thomas,” Lily said, laughing.

“Just wanted to check on you, young lady. I’m off to hang out with Julius Caesar and other men closer to my age.”

He sipped from his coffee cup.

“You still on the Mississippi with Pip and Miss Havisham?”

“Well, how about in 19th century England with Pip and Miss Havisham and Denmark with Hamlet?” Lily asked.

“Yes, of course, just like I said.”

“Right, Thomas. Have a good morning, okay?”

Mr. McDavid stepped backwards and looked back up the hallway, then stepped forward again into Lily’s room.

“Ready to tame Covenant’s shrew?” Thomas asked.

“Huh?”

“You will see soon.”

Thomas McDavid departed, leaving only the smell of his black coffee. Suddenly Lily heard the sound of Beth’s heels and the metallic clinking of bracelets.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part forty-eight)

Thomas McDavid sat near the end of the pew. Nathanael was next. Lily sat farthest in. It struck her as strange to see Thomas without his coffee cup. Moreover, Lily did not think Thomas attended Beulah or any other church.

Lily mused. She stared at the pew on which she had laid her iPhone when Nathanael and Thomas McDavid had approached. A small brown crack in the pew caught her eye. She ran her right index finger over it and a splinter of the wood lifted out of the pew’s bottom–a tiny wooden skiff between her index finger and thumb. A splinter for a ship, she thought.

Lily considered whether to speak to Nathanael and Thomas more while already seated in the sanctuary, but chose to remain silent. Singers and instrumentalists found their places behind the pulpit and chords familiar to Lily sounded.

So, remember your people

Remember your children

Remember your promise, oh God

The congregation joined in singing this and another song. Towards the end of a hymn, the pastor approached. Lily watched him place his Bible down and wrap his fingers over the sides of the rostrum.

“Our Father and God,” the pastor said, “we confess today that you and your gospel are the reasons we sing. You and your gospel are the reasons we pray. You and your gospel are the reasons we hope. Move upon us, Lord; show us yourself. We pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.”

The pastor made several announcements about information in Beulah’s church bulletin, about classes and outreach, and finally about the text from which he would speak: Mark 4:35-41.

When the pastor mentioned the text, Lily scrolled to it on her app and began reading. When she raised her eyes again, she looked at Nathanael. Almost motionless he sat, balanced. Thomas sat next to him, half-smiling, it seemed to Lily. She fidgeted some on the pew, trying not to finger the splintered ship at her fingers. She lowered her eyes again to the text as the pastor read:

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

The pastor paused after reading and looked up from his Bible.

“We have some questions to answer, Beulah. First, who was in the boat? The Lord Jesus, right? And his disciples—his followers, those whom he called, right?” The congregation nodded. Lily dabbed at her brow.

“And when they were in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, what occurs? A storm, right? So tempestuous in fact that waves were flowing into the boat.” Again the congregation nodded.

“And where is the Lord Jesus?” the pastor asked. Several voices were heard in the sanctuary.

“Asleep,” they said.

“Who is asleep?” the pastor asked.

“The Lord Jesus,” many in the sanctuary replied.

“Was he Lord then, when he was asleep? Or was he just human?” the pastor asked. Fewer responses came. “Let me pose it this way, then. Was Jesus any less than God when he was asleep in the boat while his disciples were panicking?”

“No,” came the tentative response.

“Are we listening to our own answers?” the pastor asked. “Is Jesus still Lord—when the winds toss, when the waters come in our boat, when we say we’re followers, but he appears unconscious—asleep, as it were? When this same Lord Jesus does not seem to us to respond when we want, is he still the Lord?” Lily dabbed at her face.

“Yes,” sounded voices through the sanctuary. “Yes,” she heard herself say. Nathanael glanced over at her, but she did not look up. She set the tiny splinter-skiff back into the pew’s bottom with her wet index finger.

(To be continued)

 

 

 

 

Lily (Part forty-seven)

Nathanael’s composure never left him. Self-possessed, he remained near the wall where he could see down the main corridors of the church and into the narthex. Only weeks earlier Lily had entered this same way and seen Fred Aims, Donald, and attended Tim’s class for the first time.

Lily surveyed the parishioners as before. She found a seat three rows behind Donald and his wife. She pulled her iPhone from her purse, verified it was still on silent, and opened the Bible app. It was still in Ruth. Momentarily Lily’s thoughts turned again to Tim and his class. Naomi’s bitterness in the early parts of Ruth reminded her of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. Miss Havisham eventually sought forgiveness for her treatment of Pip. And Naomi’s story ends with her being blessed by her peers, bitterness replaced by benediction.

“Ms. Rood, may we join you?” It was Nathanael with his guest. When Lily raised her eyes, she saw Nathanael smiling politely. Jovial Thomas McDavid stood behind him.

“Of course,” Lily said. “O Thomas, hi. I had no idea Nathanael was waiting for you.”

“I hope I didn’t keep Nathan from you long,” Mr. McDavid said. Looking at Lily, Thomas said, “He has been asking me to come to Beulah nonstop since he assumed his new role.”

Lily watched Nathanael for a response but his equanimity remained fixed. He only smiled and took his seat beside Lily and Thomas McDavid.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part thirty-seven)

Why Beth? Why do I attract busybodies? To teach, to find a few true friends here, Lily thought, and yet… When Lily exited the counselors’ offices, she caught her reflection again in the glass panes of the wrestling trophy cabinets. She saw streaks of gray in her otherwise brown hair, and her face pale. Trophies behind the glass captured athletes throwing opponents to the mat, gilded shapes of calf muscles and triceps swollen with blood. She felt mocked by the reflection. She now longed to be alone. She thought she would fail at teaching here, believing Beth to have cast suspicion over her character.

“Ms. Rood!” It was Nathanael. “Please let us continue our conversation from earlier, but not here.”

“Which one is that—the cryptic childhood of the Aims sisters, or the libel about me from your aunt?” Lily returned.

“Ms. Rood, please. May we agree that you’re owed some explanations, and an apology?”

“I came to teach here because your grandfather recruited me from Rook. I did not ask for the rest of this!” Lily said.

“Agreed. My grandfather was right to recruit you for Covenant. And no, you certainly did not ask for my aunt to plot against you. This is, I am ashamed to say, her custom,” Nathanael said.

 

“Custom—that’s what you call it. Why must she meddle in my life? What have I done to encourage her?” Lily asked.

“Nothing, Ms. Rood. That’s what she hates.”

“I don’t understand. I moved from Rook to teach at Covenant. I do my best here, just as I did there. I think my students, and most of my peers, agree I do a good job. Yet your aunt is determined to destroy me. Why? I cannot even escape her at church. She nests there, too,” Lily said.

“There are some people that cannot leave others alone, especially those by whom they feel threatened.”

“Threatened! I don’t want be a counselor, a headmistress, or anything but a teacher,” Lily said.

“She hates that, Ms. Rood. I know that hate is a strong word, but my Aunt Beth finds her joy only when working against what my grandfather wanted.”

“Which was?”

“In short, a redeemed place where learning is modeled and passed on to the next generation,” Nathanael said.

“Holloa! What do we have here—our new leader with our literature aficionado?” Thomas McDavid had stepped into the hall from his classroom, and seen Lily and Nathanael.

“Just speaking with Ms. Rood, Thomas. Is all well?” Nathanael asked.

Amicorum omnia communia,” Mr. McDavid said. “And we three are friends, yes?”

Lily smiled at Mr. McDavid. “Yes, Thomas,” Nathanael said, “of course.”

Mr. McDavid returned to his classroom, and Nathanael looked again at Lily. “Might we get together after this day ends?” Nathanael asked.

“I just want to be alone,” Lily said. “I don’t think I would be good company. Plus, I have several classes still to teach today. I’m just hoping to be able to focus on my students and point them to what we’ve been going through this year.”

“I’ve no doubt you will lead them well, Ms. Rood. My grandfather was a wise man, and he brought you here for a reason. He saw something in you.”

“Some days that something feels like a target,” Lily said.

(To be continued)