[Your cell phone buzzes at your makeshift workstation on your kitchen table.]
COWORKER: They want us back in the office!
YOU: I saw.
COWORKER: We’re all going to get sick!
COWORKER: You’re okay with that?
YOU: Not really.
COWORKER: Why can’t we just keep working from home!
[Your COWORKER exhales sharply in frustration. The exhalation transforms into a sigh that drags on until every bit of resistance has been completely expelled from their body.]
COWORKER: Maybe it’s for the best. We’re all going to get it eventually. And working from home like this, I’ve been losing track of time. One Saturday I worked until lunch before I realized what day it was.
COWORKER: Hey, what, uh—
YOU: It’s Friday. I just checked.
COWORKER: Hey hey!
COWORKER: Back in the office!
COWORKER: Until the next variant shuts everything down again, right?
[YOU and your COWORKER share an uneasy silence. YOU don’t want to be commuting back to this place, but YOU also desire stability and don’t want your life to keep being upended. If YOU unpack your pictures and bric-a-brac to personalize your desk once again YOU will be submitting to the pre-pandemic office life YOU thought YOU had escaped. If YOU don’t, anticipating another shutdown, YOU will implicitly be rooting for mass death and societal collapse. YOU clutch your bag tight. Will YOU choose to be a defeatist or a sociopath?]
COWORKER: So, how do you like the new look?
[YOU examine your COWORKER, unsure of what changed.]
COWORKER: I went so long without getting a haircut, when I was finally able to get one, I figured I’d try something new with all this hair.
[No matter how hard you concentrate, YOU simply cannot picture what your COWORKER looked like before.]
COWORKER: Too much?
[Even now, if you look away for just a moment, you are unable to hold their image in your mind. It’s as if your brain rejects making this person a part of your life. Your conscious and subconscious desires have never been more in sync.]
YOU: I love it.
COWORKER: Slice of Norwegian gold cake?
YOU: Oh, thank you.
COWORKER: I used the time from the last lockdown to try some new recipes. What’d you do?
COWORKER: During quarantine. What’d you get into?
YOU: How do you mean?
COWORKER: Like what’d you do to pass the time when you weren’t working? Instead of just sitting around worrying.
[YOU rack your brain for how YOU passed the time. YOU certainly weren’t just sitting around.]
YOU: I was mostly lying down.
[YOU stand in the break room absentmindedly staring out the window at construction across the street.]
COWORKER: New building go up?
YOU: Looks like it.
COWORKER: I hope it’s safe.
YOU: Looks safe enough.
COWORKER: It looks like it could topple over any second.
YOU: I’m sure it’s fine. Buildings don’t just fall down.
COWORKER: That’s what they said about the World Trade Center. And look what happened.
[Your COWORKER triumphantly strides away. YOU forgot that any idle conversation in this place can escalate into something to be won or lost at any cost. YOU will never forget again.]
COWORKER: Do you smell something?
COWORKER: It smells sour.
YOU: I don’t smell it.
COWORKER: I think it’s coming from this trash can.
[Your COWORKER points to the trash can where YOU recently discarded a plastic baggy that contained the apple slices YOU consumed as a mid-morning snack.]
[Your COWORKER stares at YOU, waiting for your admission of breaking the prohibition against eating at your desk. YOU will make no such admission for YOU have grown accustomed to eating whenever and wherever the hell YOU want to while working from home and YOU will never give that up again no matter where YOU work. Seconds turn to minutes. Minutes turn to hours. Hours turn to days, and days to weeks. Months pass. You never break eye contact. Your COWORKER never flinches. YOU will never blink. YOU and your COWORKER remain locked in opposition for years, decades. One day your descendants will inherit this feud. They will forget who or what started it, but neither side will ever give an inch.]
[EVERYONE in the office stops what they are doing. THE GUY WHO LISTENS TO MUSIC TOO LOUDLY turns off his music. The PHOTOCOPIER pauses mid-print job.]
YOU: Just some phlegm. I don’t have it.
[YOU clear your throat in an exaggerated manner to demonstrate an abundance of phlegm rather than a dry cough.]
COWORKER: The new variant causes phlegm.
[YOU are tempted to explain that YOU have been diligently following all the rules and byzantine guidelines distributed by SHARON FROM HR. YOU are vaccinated, YOU never do anything or go anywhere, and your tests have all been negative. No one YOU have had contact with has it. But YOU cannot point any of this out or otherwise defend yourself due to having a mouthful of saliva and mucus. YOU begin packing up your pictures and the bric-a-brac on your desk as EVERYONE silently glares at YOU.]
[YOU set your laptop up at the kitchen table.]
YOU: Hey hey.
YOU: Back working from home.
CHILD: Hey hey.
CHILD. Hey hey hey hey.
YOU: Well, until cases go back down again.
CHILD: It’s Saturday.
YOU: I’m going to go lie down.