Lacy sat primly before the principal, her straight brown hair holding its artificial curl in his air-conditioned office, while outside the woods themselves seemed to be sweltering in the fierce summer heat of north central Florida. Lacy could see the heat shimmering through the tinted window behind the principal’s desk, where he was leaning far back in his chair now, unabashedly exhibiting the sweat stains around his armpits, hands behind his head.
Dr. Delmar Linet’s hair was ink black, although he must have been over sixty, and his face was tan and leathery. His Ph,D was in Agriculture. He’d spent some time behind a plow, and he was in the habit of tossing off his sports coat and un-cinching his tie the second he hit the friendly confines of his own office. He was the kind of man who chewed tobacco. He was the kind of man who would conduct a job interview around a toothpick, which he tongued now from the right side of his mouth to the left. This was a down-home interview.
“Imone tell you straight out I like you,” Dr. Delmar Linet drawled. “I like your . . . demeanor. Way you conduct yourself.”
Of course Lacy had dressed sensibly for an interview, if not the heat, her blouse buttoned up full to her throat in contrast to his half-mast tie. Lacy was a model of etiquette, and she had been forthright in stating her objective: she wanted to teach high school math, and she didn’t care where. Actually she did care, but there wasn’t much she could do about it.
“Thank you, sir,” Lacy said smartly.
“I like your experience too. Working in a bank, working as an insurance adjuster, working with numbers, ‘ats good.”
“I know my math.”
“I bet you do, missy.”
Lacy didn’t bat an eye and neither did Dr. Delamr Linet. He was in no hurry. It was after lunch in the middle of summer and the school was dead and empty except for the secretaries and administrators in the front office.
“I may not have a lot of teaching experience,” Lacy volunteered. In fact, she had none. “But my mother was a teacher for over thirty years and . . .”
“This is the dog days, aint it?”
“Beg your pardon.”
“Was over ninety when I got up this morning. And that was at five a.m.” Dr. Delmar Linet swiveled his chair toward the window and looked out. “Sky started out blank. Few clouds bubbled up around mid-mornin. And they’ll prob’ly bust sometime this afternoon. It’ll wash out the sky, but you’ll see, it’s just clearing the way for more clouds. And then the rain will pour down.”
“If you’re worried about my lack of experience then . . .”
“You know anything about basketball?”
Dr. Delmar Linet kept his chair angled toward the window, and told Lacy out of the side of his mouth, around his toothpick, “We were the state champs not too long ago, didn’t you know that?”
Suddenly he was the Principal, and Lacy hadn’t done her homework.
“How’d you come here? You come through Canterside, didn’t you?”
“I . . .”
“You didn’t stay on the highway. You didn’t see the sign, honey.”
“Sign says HOME OF THE STATE CHAMPIONS.”
“Why do you ask?”
“Cuz you gone be the coach.”
“I beg your pardon.”
Dr. Linet pitched his toothpick into the trashcan and leaned toward Lacy. “This a small school, missy. Everybody’s got to pitch in and hep out. Aint nobody does just one thing. You understand?”
“I wanchoo teach math. But I wanchoo coach them girls too.”
“I don’t know. . .”
“You think I was talking ‘bout the boys?” He laughed long and hard. “Don’t worry ‘bout that. Daddy Combs coaches the boys. Daddy Combs won the state championship. I’m just asking you to coach them sorry girls. Don’t believe they’ve won a game in a while, and that’s . . . ok. If there’s a problem . . .”
“It’s just that . . .”
“You don’t know anything about basketball.”
“That’s a point in your favor.”
“I’m not sure I . . .” Lacy met his stare finally. “Just what are the issues here?”
Dr. Delmar Linet smiled. Talking turkey here. “Imone be frank and you gone be earnest. The issues are these. Race. It’s gone be ‘bout race, cuz you’re white and they’re black. It’s gone be ‘bout sex. As in teen pregnancy. It’s gone be ‘bout a lot of things. But it aint so much about basketball.”
“And of course they’re dirt poor. Which breeds crime and violence. But we don’t need to do some sociological study here. I just want you to coach the team. In addition to your duties as a Math teacher.”
“Seventh grade math and pre-algebra in the high school. Is that right?”
Dr. Delmar Linet glanced at the schedule on his desk. “At’s right.”
“Is anybody going to help me coach this team?”
“If you can get anybody to hep you, at’s fine by me.”
“Is they’re anyone you’d recommend?”
Dr. Delmar Linet turned back toward the window. “There’s them clouds I was talken about.”