Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.
“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:1-5
Eleanor sucked in her breath and squeezed her eyes shut, expecting great pain, but instead there was a moment of bitter cold followed by the sensation of heavy material being draped about her. She opened her eyes. A wool coat that extended well past her dangling toes was being fastened around her by a second metallic being. The fire in its eyes was green. “Your disguise, Peasant Girl.”
The panic dropped out of her. Surely this was a rescue arranged by Silversong. She smiled in relief and looked around her. The windows in the small dwellings below glowed with yellow light. Smoked curled upward from their chimneys and the snells of cooked meats and yeasty treats with them. Ahead, tall structures stretched toward the sky, their curves and straight lines outlined in cold, white lights. In the distance, dim lanterns illuminated wooden ships.
Principal Sokolova stood at the west bank of windows on the third floor of the school, looking down on the red-tinted river and, near it, a pen of sheep. The sun seemed to rest on the deep green trees of the city before removing its light from this place to shed it elsewhere.
She held a half-full goblet in her hand; one finger tapped the glass in time with the scherzo her daughter danced behind her.
The door creaked open. “You needed to talk to me?”
The finger stopped tapping.
“Shut up, Google,” Talia called out. The music stopped and Talia grabbed a towel from the barre. “Hey, Larry,” she said, smiling.
Mr. Washington smiled at her uncertainly before she stepped out of the room. When the door had shut, Mr. Washington turned toward Principal Solovenka. “Why does she call me Larry?”
Principal Sokolova threw her free hand in the air. “No idea.” She cleared her throat. “I see you’ve turned our top dancer into a shepherdess.”
“It was in the reports.”
She grunted and looked back out the window.
“It’s only for ten weeks.”
“Ten weeks she could be training.”
“These children aren’t automatons; they’re human beings. I want them to feel that, I want them to begin to understand it. They need beauty and history and they need music that is something more than a taskmaster. They need nourishment for their souls, an understanding of their deep worth and how they are connected to the soil and the river and galaxy they belong in. If one breaks, I want them to know that we won’t throw them away. They need to learn to care for others, for themselves. I think caring for sheep is the best way to teach Miss West.”
“There’s a lot of pressure on me, Mr. Washington. To produce top performers. To build the school’s portfolio. To win competitions. To win prize money, frankly.”
“Then walk way, Ninette.”
Her heart seized. This was not the first time Danuwoa Washington had said these words to her.
A sycamore tree. Cicadas singing. Lightning bugs pulsing on the green campus lawn. “I know that it’s not good for me.”
The feel of his sweater on her wet cheek. His words in her ears. “Then walk away, Ninette.”
“I want to.”
“I need to go to the studio one last time.”
Danny had urged her not to. “Just call Stevens. Resign over the phone.” But she went. And she should not have. And the shame and the anger still burned down deep within her. She clutched the goblet in her hand and set her jaw like steel.
“You’re dismissed, Mr. Washington.”
His footsteps on the wooden floor echoed in the large room. When the door was shut again, Ninette hurled the drink at the door. The goblet shattered against the transom and the red wine trickled down the wooden door, staining it forever.