"Oh no, I only read the parts they want me to--they circle the parts I'm not supposed to read and mark them private."
Meryl North makes a sound between a laugh and a choke and Gwendoline's pale skin reddens. I try to catch Gwen's eye to give her a nod of encouragement--she is the closest thing to a friend I have here at Heart Lake--but she is resolutely staring down at a worn volume of Emily Dickinson.
"They do seem to be under a lot of stress," I say, more to cover Gwen's embarrassment than because I want to open this particular line of conversation. There were two suicide attempts last year. In response, the administration has instituted weekly faculty seminars on adolescent depression and "How to detect the ten warning signs of suicidal behavior."
"Anyone in particular?" The question comes from Dr. Candace Lockhart. Unlike the rest of us at the table she has no stacks of papers to grade or texts to study for next period. Her fingers are never stained with ink, her exquisitely tailored dove gray suits never tainted with the ugly yellow chalk dust that the rest of us wear like a wasting disease. She's the school psychologist, an office that did not exist in my day. There is an aura of secrecy surrounding her appointment here. I've heard some of the faculty complain that Dean Buehl hired her without going through the proper channels. In other words, without giving the resident faculty a chance to gossip about her credentials. There's a whiff of jealousy about the complaints, to which I am not immune. The rumor is that she is conducting research for a groundbreaking study on the psychology of adolescent girls. We all suspect that once her research is done she will leave us for private practice, a glamorous lecture circuit with appearances on "Oprah," or perhaps a tenure-track post at an Ivy League college--some existence more appropriate to her wardrobe. In the meantime, she resides among us with her pale, almost white, hair, blue eyes and thin, ascetic figure, like a lilac point Siamese slumming with drab tabbies.
Poor Gwen, in her faded Indian print jumper and fussily old-fashioned high-necked white blouse, looks especially dowdy in comparison. Although Candace Lockhart and Gwen Marsh are both in their early thirties, the effects of teaching five classes a day, not to mention sponsoring half a dozen clubs, have left their mark on Gwen. Her complexion is muddy, her hair limp and going gray at the roots, her blue eyes washed out and bloodshot. Candace, on the other hand, clearly has time to get her hair done (that platinum blond can't be entirely natural) and her blue eyes are as clear and cold as lake water.
I am sufficiently unnerved by those blue eyes to make a mistake. Of course, I should say, "No. No one in particular." But instead I name a name. "Athena . . . I mean Ellen . . . Craven. I noticed today that she has an awful scar on her arm."
"Well, yes, I know about that of course. That's old news and not surprising given Ellen's history."
I should be glad for her dismissal, but something in the way Dr. Lockhart's blue eyes glaze over, already looking past me toward whatever illustrious future fate has in store for her, irks me. I am forever thinking I am past such vanities and finding that I am not.
"Some of the pictures she draws on the back of her homework assignments are . . . well . . . somewhat disturbing."
"You let your girls turn in homework with pictures on the back?" Myra Todd looks up from her stack of papers, appalled, only to meet Dr. Lockhart's cool look of disdain. Gratified to have someone else silenced by those eyes, I go on. It has occurred to me that this is exactly what I should be doing. My responsibility as Athena's teacher, as an especially trusted teacher in whom the girl confided, demands that I seek help for her emotional problems. To whom else should I refer those problems than the school psychologist?
Excerpted from The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman Copyright 2002 by Carol Goodman. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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