Instead of relief, Penina felt her heart sinking
enina Wasser felt a little rush of pride as Mr. Hirsch finished reviewing the expense report for July and August.
“No one does it better than you, Mrs. Wasser,” he said grandly, as if he’d gone through tens of office managers until finding her and couldn’t get over his good fortune. In truth, she’d been there since before her wedding, never working anywhere else, and no one else had ever held the position.
It was almost three-thirty, and she had to leave back to Lakewood. She didn’t want to have the conversation, but it was inevitable.
Back when she was on the verge of getting engaged to Sholom, she’d updated her boss. His moustache had been a rich brown then, and Mr. Hirsch pulled at it as she proudly told him that she was marrying a talmid chacham. Yes, it was a bit different from what her family expected, it’s true, but they would all grow to respect Sholom, she was sure of it. Three weeks before the chasunah, she came in to speak about the fact that she was moving to Lakewood, ready with a pitch about opening a Lakewood office — many businesses were doing it. He hadn’t seemed interested, though, and she’d let it go.
After she moved to Lakewood, he’d been fine with shortening her hours, and then, as each child was born, adjusting them a bit more. Penina Wasser was great at what she did, and Mr. Hirsch didn’t mind if she worked partly from home so long as the work got done. Now, she came in to Brooklyn three days a week, usually for half a day each time — and she needed to cut that as well.
She sat down on the orange chair with the metal arms and held on to the edge of his desk.
Mr. Hirsch didn’t do drama, and he didn’t move his gaze from the computer screen — reading a story on Yeshiva World News about a Department of Transportation disaster on the West Side Highway. Then he snorted and shook his head and turned back to her.
“Yes, what is it?”
“So, I was telling you that we’re moving, my husband’s new yeshivah is open and it’s pretty far, in Modena….” She held her breath.
“Yah, yah, no big deal. You don’t really have to come in ever, you work well from home and I wouldn’t need you on site other than on the first of the month.”
Instead of relief, Penina felt her heart sinking. This office was special to her. Mr. Hirsch had signed the lease on the second-floor walk-up office on 18th Avenue in Boro Park, but she’d done the rest. She’d decided where his desk would be. Then, when the business did well and others had joined, she negotiated with the landlord for the extra space. She’d added the therapy lamp, which Mr. Hirsch had first scoffed at and then came around enough to claim it had healed his allergies, and she had set up the row of philodendrons. She’d updated the computer system and gotten Mr. Gelbman, the landlord, to spring for wifi, an act of benevolence that he mentioned every month when he came shuffling up the steps to collect the rent.
When the men’s room had been jammed, she had called a plumber and submitted the bill to Mr. Gelbman, who looked at it in disbelief, wondering aloud if she realized that his shvogger, who owned half of 16th Avenue, didn’t pay for wifi in his buildings and had said that he wouldn’t “dream of it, he wouldn’t dream of it, Mrs. Wasser.”
She’d been the one to set up the company gas card system, instead of having all the employees bring her little scraps of paper every month, and then joined Shell Savings so that five percent of all the money spent on gas went to charity, which happened to be Mr. Hirsch’s son’s yeshivah, against tuition — also Penina’s idea.
(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 795)
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