The staff at Simplex Pond High School should have been suspicious. The faculty at her previous job held a retirement party; however, she was not invited. The teachers there experienced emotional rapture when they learned she was leaving. Her recommendation called her “one of a kind.” The duel meaning was misinterpreted, and so Helena Bottomley was hired to teach English at Simplex Pond.

Ms. Bottomley never learned that the way to impress Maine people is to not try to impress Maine people. Instead, she talked about her aristocratic upbringing, her summer home on Cape Cod and the wealth of her hometown in Cambridge. Verbose ad nauseam, she loved the pronoun “I,” and soon her colleagues would not go into the faculty room if she were there.

Dr. Hilda Bennett, a respected faculty member, heard a conversation about housing between the principal and Helena. He said he hoped she would find a comfortable place, but that she could stay with his wife and him until she moved into such a home. The newly hired teacher saw an opportunity to uplift her social status. “I drove by your home yesterday. I like it, but it’s not like anything I’d everbuy.” Principal Greer withdrew his offer.

By chance, a childhood friend of Helena came to the high school and wanted to surprise her “Best Bud.” Belinda Cleary told a gathering of five or so staff members that she and Helena had lived in abject poverty in Revere, that the “summer home” belonged to Belinda’s uncle, and that the two of them never graduated from high school. (A subsequent investigation revealed that Bottomley’s transcript was fraudulent.)

The meeting between the Superintendent and Helena was brief. His memo of explanation to the staff ended with a quotation from Sir Walter Scott:

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive.”

Morton Soule teaches Latin at Cape Elizabeth High School. He can be reached at [email protected]

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