Pfeffering by Gloria Garfunkel

             Hermann Pfeffer’s greatest achievement was creating a brilliant accounting short-cut referred to by accountants the world over as Pfeffering. As a child, he had been a piano prodigy. As an adolescent, a chess prodigy. But he came from a poor family of farmers and he had to choose a practical profession as an adult to support his own family of five children. It became clear that the only practical genius he had was for accounting, which was unfortunate, because he hated accounting. He’d chosen it simply because it was so easy he figured he’d have time for doing the things he loved for free. Instead, he took on so much accounting work to put his five exceptional children through school, it left no time or desire for anything else. He always came home exhausted.

When his last child graduated from college, law school, business school, graduate school and medical school, Hermann was seventy-five years old. He never thought he’d live to see the day when he wouldn’t have to look at another number. It was a weight off him. He stood up straighter, walked faster, smiled more. After his wife died, he sold the farm and became active in the chess clubs of his synagogue and seniors’ center. He began to volunteer to play the piano at the seniors’ center as well. People loved him. Sometimes he’d play all day, not noticing the time passing at all.

One day, on the way to the piano, he saw an elderly woman and her daughter poring over some papers and he said, “Oh, that’s simple accounting” and he quickly filled out their forms. In gratitude, as you can imagine, they told everyone about Hermann’s kindness and the next day at the piano there was a line of people holding forms. Hermann hardly got to play any music at all that day. He knew he had only himself to blame. He should have just kept playing, enjoying his own music, and kept his mouth shut about his accounting prowess.

Hermann realized he would have to plan an escape from the senior center. He would have to volunteer at one in another town and stick to piano and chess, never revealing his accounting genius. But word quickly spread through the county and beyond about his amazing accounting skills. One evening, he was so preoccupied with plans for escape that he slipped on the ice upon leaving his center. His head hit a pipe and he blacked out briefly. He had a nasty gash on his forehead that looked worse than it was, but which did result in a mild concussion. His doctor recommended bedrest for several weeks.

When Hermann returned to his senior center, he had a large bandage on his head, larger in fact than was necessary. He had explained his dilemma to the nurse at the clinic, that the only way he could get back to just playing music and chess was if he could claim the miniscule concussion had wiped out his accounting skills. Confidentiality of his medical records was key to his plan.

When he returned to the senior center, a long backlog of people from his and other centers approached him at the piano with their paper work. He looked confused and deliberately wrote gibberish instead of numbers. Word got out quickly that his head injury had wiped out his accounting skills. People felt sorry for him. Widows brought him home-made casseroles and pastries instead of Medicare and Social Security forms, putting some pounds on Hermann’s fragile little frame. He could now stay at the senior center, playing piano and chess. A bounce returned to his step and he never slipped on ice again. He had successfully escaped Pfeffering for the rest of his long happy life.

About Gloria Garfunkel

Gloria Garfunkel has a Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Relations from Harvard University and was a psychotherapist for 35 years, listening to others' stories. She is now a writer of flash fiction and memoir, telling her own tales.
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