The gathering crowd, and consequent buzz of voices, was impossible to miss. Feigning interest in her book, Adelin’s eyes shifted to her right where several older women had gathered, their body language screaming agitation. Shifting uncomfortably in her seat, she fought the urge to join them, not wanting to get pulled into their drama.
What was it Tevye had said in the musical, Fiddler on the Roof?— “Good news will stay, and bad news will refuse to leave.” Well, whatever it was, it wasn’t good news, and she wanted to deal with it without an audience.
Adelin hadn’t been with the office very long. It had only been about ten months since she had transferred from operator services across town, but she had been there long enough to know who the real workers were, and who were the ones simply collecting a paycheck until they were old enough to retire. The coffee klatch, as she called the group of older women who spent their days gossiping, drinking coffee, and doing as little real work as they could get away with, were one of these groups, and frankly they irritated her.
Since her transfer, she had worked in three departments while upper management figured out exactly where they wanted her.
Her first assignment had been with the customer service department, but that was a fast paced, tension filled, line of work that she was ill suited for. Her second assignment landed her in the records department, in close proximity with the gossipy old bats. This work was more in line with her skills, but she hated working with people who took no pride in what they did, and who openly disregarded the unfinished work they left for others to do.
When management decided to move her to the accounts receiving department she felt like she had come home. It was challenging, but not overwhelming, and she liked her coworkers. Their supervisor was about as laid back as it was possible to be, and still be management, and Adelin was steadily moving into different levels of responsibility.
She worked her way up in that department for about six months before the day when the notice was tacked up on the board, and she watched as one by one people read the announcement and walked away. Most looked relieved, with only the older women from the records department appearing to be stressed by it.
Adelin had been observing this activity from the break room, but after the others returned to their departments she walked casually down the hall, scan the board as she passed, her eyes drawn to the banner headline.
Coming to a stop, she read, "We are sorry to announce that across-the-board layoffs will take place at the end of the calendar year." A list of employees and positions to be cut covered the bottom half of the page. Adelin nervously skimmed the names, relief flowing over her when her name hadn’t appeared.
A more careful re-reading of the names revealed that all five of the women from the file department were being let go.
Well, she thought, they were just dead weight around here anyway. She felt sorry for them in a way, but at the same time it was hard to feel too badly about it. They spent more time talking than working, and were generally unpleasant to work with as well.
Before turning to leave, her attention focused on the column of jobs being eliminated. Wait a minute— she suddenly felt flushed, and queasy. She couldn’t have read that right. o it must have been a trick of the light. Her eyes traveled back over the page, but there it was in bold print— Clerical Non-Typist.
Her name wasn’t on the list, she kept telling herself. Her job was safe. But she had not taken a typing test when she transferred, and her keyboarding skills were modest at best.
What if it was merely an oversight, she wondered? It wouldn’t take them long to figure it out and add her name to the list. What would she do then?
And what if they didn’t figure it out, she argued with herself? Then all would be well, she rationalized, but somehow that didn’t make her feel any better.
After talking to some of the others in her department, and listening to the chatter each day in the break room, it didn’t take her long to realize that only a dozen were being let go, and it had been done according to seniority, so if anyone found out she wasn’t a typist she would be the first to go, and one of the older women would stay.
Quietly, she raised this point with one of her coworkers who she felt she could trust not to spread it around.
“I know I do my job and they’re a bunch of slackers,” Adelin whispered nervously, “but that doesn’t justify them losing their job while I keep silent, does it?”
“If you want my advice,” JoAnn replied, seriously, “you’ll not say anything. You do good work, and no one around here will miss them, that’s for sure.”
It made sense when she put it like that— well, kind of, and Adelin desperately wanted a reason to believe that it was the right thing to do, so she kept quiet, but her atmosphere had been disturbed, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was going down the wrong path.
Pensive by day and restless by night, the days turned into weeks and Adelin worried lest she would be found out.
“Miss Kendrick,” a voice shook her from her mental fog, “Mr. Chadwick has asked to see you.”
Feeling as though someone had punched her in the stomach, Adelin followed the woman down the hall, up a set of stairs, and into the district managers.
“Wait here,” she was instructed.
Walking to the window she leaned her forehead against the glass. Eyes glazing over, she stared at the cars in the parking lot, so stunned, she couldn’t even cry. How had they found out she wondered? Had someone in her department told on her? No, she couldn’t believe it, they didn’t want to lose her. If she was let go, then one of the old ladies from across the hall would stay, and they would get stuck with her. No, it couldn’t have been them.
Looking up, she focused for a moment on a group of brick buildings across the river. If she lost her job, how could she stay in her apartment? How long would it take to find another job that paid as well as this one did? She still had six months left on her lease. What happened when you couldn’t pay the rent, but your lease wasn’t up?
Questions, so many questions. Questions without answers— she was beginning to feel sick.
“Mr. Chadwick is ready for you,” the woman at the desk announced.
Taking a deep breath, she braced herself and moved toward the carpeted hallway that housed the executive offices, wiping her sweaty palms on her skirt in case he expected her to shake hands.
“This way,” the secretary directed her.
Halfway along the hallway the woman opened a door, stepped aside to allow Adelin to enter, and closed it, leaving her alone with Mr. Chadwick, a tall man whose stern expression did nothing to put her at ease.
“It has come to our attention, Miss— ” he hesitated, fishing through his notes for her last name, “Miss Kendrick, that you were not completely honest about your background when you applied for your transfer.”
“But no one asked me,” she began, hoping to explain that the question had never even come up, but he raised a hand to silence her protests.
“Let’s not prolong this,” he continued, “you are not much of a typist. Technology is moving forward, and without keyboarding skills you are of no further value to this company.”
“But I can get better,” she could feel the pleading in her voice, but he was unmoved.
“So can Mrs. Schmidt,” he looked over his glasses appraising her, “and she has more seniority than you.”
Sitting in stunned silence, Adelin felt her self-control ebbing away, waves of panic washing over her.
Mr. Chadwick stood up, walked to the door, and held it open expectantly.
“No,” she cried, “this can’t be.”
“Miss Kendrick, please,” he stood unyielding, waiting for her to leave.
“No,” she shouted, leaning back into the doorframe as if to secure her position there.
Moments later, the secretary was taking her firmly by the arm, steering her, stumbling down the hall as Mr. Chadwick’s door snapped shut, sealing her fate.
Pushing herself shakily into a semi-sitting position, Adelin realized she had fallen asleep. The interview with Mr. Chadwick had only been a dream, just a horrible dream.
Her mouth was dry and she took several drinks from the water bottle on her bedside table. Slowly she calmed her breathing, and laid back down. Realizing her sheets were damp from sweat, Adelin sighed, got up, remade the bed, and took a shower. Wrapped in her robe, cradling a mug of hot chocolate, she curled up in the corner of her sofa.
This mental torture wasn’t worth it, she decided. Settling in with a notebook and pen, she knew what she had to do. Let the chips fall where they may, she was going to do the right thing.
The next morning, she walked into the office, and straight up to the executive offices where she handed the secretary an envelope containing the letter she had composed. In it she explained the situation, and how she didn’t want to profit from a mistake at someone else’s expense.
After leaving the letter, she returned to her own desk and went to work. The day passed and she heard nothing. She had said nothing to her coworkers. Once she had made her decision she didn’t want others to start second guessing what she had done.
The waiting was hard, she told herself that evening while she was fixing her supper, but not as hard as when she had been living a lie. No doubt it would take some time for them to set the records straight, and make the necessary changes, but whatever happened, she was a peace with herself.
The next day she was looking over the work orders from the night before, when her supervisor came up and told her she was wanted in the executive offices. It was a small room, and everyone’s eyes shifted from their computer screens to watch her leave, their fingers held mutely over the keyboards wondering what was up.
She wished she could tell them that it would be okay, that Mrs. Schmidt wasn’t that bad, and that with a new work assignment, maybe she would prove to be a better coworker, but she kept her eyes forward, walking slowly out the door and down the hall, saying nothing.
She had a creepy sense of having been there before, despite her other foray into that part of the building having only been a product of her imagination.
The secretary was not the woman from her dreams, and she allowed herself to smile a little when she approached the desk.
“Adelin Kendrick,” she spoke, trying to keep her voice even, “I was told that they wanted to see me.”
“Of course,” the woman picked up the phone, “Please be seated.”
“Miss Kendrick to see you,” she announced when a voice on the other end answered.
A moment later two women stepped out of the first office and asked Adelin to come with them.
Following them into the office, the older woman motioned for her to sit, and then she sat on the edge of the desk facing Adelin.
“I’m Debra, Mr. Chadwick’s assistant, and this is Sheila,” she motioned to a younger woman standing beside her. “Mr. Chadwick is unable to see you himself. He has meetings all day, but he asked us to be sure you were informed of his decision.”
Adelin nodded, waiting calmly for what she knew was coming.
“He was very impressed with your desire to do the right thing,” the woman continued, peering over her glasses at Adelin’s stunned expression. You will not be losing your position here.”
Adelin wasn’t sure she had heard her right.
“But I’m not a typist,” she stammered, “I never took the typing test.”
“Yes,” the woman smiled, “Mr. Chadwick knows this, but you are a hardworking, reliable employee, and he doesn’t want to lose you.”
“Your supervisor has agreed to work with you to bring your skills up to where we need them to be,” the younger women chimed in.
“The decision to lay off workers was not an easy one to make,” Debra resumed, “but the business world is changing, and we must change with it.”
“But Mrs. Schmidt,” Adelin began?
“She is only a couple of years from retirement,” Sheila assured her, “and all of the employees who are being let go will be given a generous severance package.”
Adelin couldn’t believe what she was hearing, and as they walked her out to the foyer and she headed back to her work she felt lighter than she had for days.
Virtue is not always its own reward, but in this case it had been. Either way, it felt good to know she had the strength to stand for what was right, even when others didn’t see it the way she did, and even when the choice was a hard one.