By Bryan Vale

Katey adjusts her mask and cracks her knuckles behind the desk. The actions remind her about disinfection — she presses down on the sanitizer dispenser and rubs the alcohol-smelling viscous liquid over her hands. This done, she leans back in her rolling chair and with a casual flick opens a laptop on the desk. She wonders what would happen if the wifi went out — whom would she call?

The lobby is tall — the height of two normal-sized rooms — and wide — six copies of Katey’s desk could fit alongside each other. An abstractly shaped blue rug covers part of the concrete floor, its curves stretching from underneath her desk to within a couple yards of the double doors at the office’s front. Two couches occupy the left side of the room, perpendicular to each other. Magazines sit unread on the squat table next to the couches.

Through the glass of the office’s front wall she can see the street: two lanes, two wide sidewalks, parking meters in parallel rows, a brick warehouse that serves as a combination of office and pizza parlor across the street. The pizza parlor has gone out of business, and the office is silent — like this one. No vehicles slide across her field of vision on the street, and no cars are paying the meters. It is a quiet and ghostly road.

But they can’t fire her if she keeps showing up for work, right?

The gray day passes for her through a combination of Solitaire and TikTok. The digital snap of the cards and the echoing beats of the challenges fill the dead air of the lobby. She’s bored. But employed.

At a quarter past four the landline phone on the far end of her desk rings, startling her. She puts away her personal phone, rolls in her chair to that side of the desk, and picks up. “Townsend Technologies?”

“Hi Katey. It’s Nellie. I wanted to check if you were in today.”

“Yeah, I’m here!”

“Okay. Has anyone else come in today?”

“Ah…” A lie would be disproved by a quick check of the security cameras… “No.”

“Okay, that’s what I thought. Did you see the news just now?”

“What news?”

“They’re extending the shelter-in-place orders by another three weeks.”

Shit. Here it comes. Income gone. Student loans ballooning — she should have stuck it out and finished school, she should never have gone to school in the first place, she’ll have to move in with her parents, she’ll have to —

“Oh,” she says. “Okay.”

“So you’re going to be by yourself there for another little while.”


“Are you okay with that?”

“Yeah.” It doesn’t seem real. “So you’re not…you’re not gonna let me go?”

“Well…frankly…not until they close the office.”


“Management’s still deciding about that.”


“But until then, we either pay you or pay a security guard to be there during the day. We need a body at that desk.”

“Ah.” So she’s a body.

“Alright, that’s all for now.”

“Thanks Nellie!” The line is already dead.

The body at the desk replaces the phone in its cradle. It opens up a new browser window on the laptop, researching what to get for dinner.

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Bryan Vale is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His fiction and poetry have appeared in several journals, including Friday Flash Fiction, Paddler Press, Boats Against the Current, and Spirits. Learn more at, or follow Bryan on Twitter and Instagram: @bryanvalewriter.

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