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Fiction Corner: Out with the Old

Sara Pachter

For a fleeting moment, I thought I saw a glint of compunction in her eyes, but if I did, it was gone as soon as it came

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

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Golders Green, London

“What?” I felt like my ears suddenly grew six inches longer from the shock.

Mrs. Lerner looked straight at me and continued her clipped speech. I had 30 days to wrap things up, leave, and find myself a new job. The semester was ending soon, in any case.

I was a dedicated and outstanding teacher. The girls always left my classes inspired and moved. I didn’t know of any incident that could account for this abrupt dismissal. Maybe I’d done something wrong, or there was some aspect of my performance that I could improve? But all Mrs. Lerner would say was, “Miss Heller, this decision is final.”

And so I sat in her office like an old, broken umbrella that just hangs around unclaimed. Surely this was all a mistake. It was chilling, the way she seemed not only impervious to my feelings and indifferent to the terrible injustice of firing me with no explanation at all, but perfectly sure she was doing the right thing. Firing me — the teacher admired by all the girls in Golders Green, the type who went to shul on Shabbos and nodded greetings to all the students and graduates who still remembered my shiurim and the heart-to-heart talks in Hendon Park, who couldn’t stand in line at Kosher Kingdom without being approached by mothers gushing in admiration and appreciation.

How could Mrs. Lerner do this to me? It just didn’t make any sense. And there was no one who could appeal to her better judgment. I was completely defenseless. If Sarah Malkah Levine had been fired, she would have called her wonderful husband and poured out her sorrow. If Frumi Kleiner had been fired, her husband, a sensitive mechanech, would have known just what to say. Who could I call now? I didn’t want to burden Mommy and Daddy with this.

Mrs. Lerner stood up, tall and erect, and gathered up her things. For a fleeting moment, I thought I saw a glint of compunction in her eyes, but if I did, it was gone as soon as it came.

We walked out of the building together in silence, she, a woman in her late fifties, mother of a fine family, in her tailored principal’s suit, and I, as single as I’d been for my three decades in This World, in a too-thin cardigan that made me tighten my arms at my sides like a penguin to ward off the cold. She hailed a taxi and left me there, alone in the cold London street.

 

I’ve always loved the London rain, quietly and elegantly washing the streets, but on that day, the cold was too fierce. I walked at a quick trot to the train station, just wanting to get home already.

Only when I came close to the fruit store next to home did I start feeling the tremors inside. I went in. The fruits and vegetables were arranged in perfect tiers. The bold oranges and the gentle yellow of the ripe bananas didn’t comfort me as they usually did.

I couldn’t bring myself to go home; I was afraid. So I just walked around in the gray chill, alone.

Like I’d always been.

I was a bit over 30. Over 30 and single. I’d had a good job at the school. I was beloved by 21 students who were like the daughters I didn’t have. I had a schedule, friendships with the other teachers, a regular salary, a reason to get up in the morning and get dressed. A reason to live! I may have been a failure at shidduchim, but I drew a wealth of success and accomplishment from my job.

I knew the trajectory: school, sem, a little job, then marriage and family. But in all honesty, I was perfectly happy with my lovely, quiet room in my parents’ home. When I wanted to spend time with sweet little children, I could just walk over to my nieces and nephews nearby. I might not have had too many single friends left, but I found real companionship in my personal trainer, Lori. Somehow I found myself sharing a lot of my personal triumphs and trials with her, over push-ups and sit-ups and jumping jacks. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 721)

 

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