A youthful barista bounces at the register, overlooking the meager clump of customers eyeing the menu. A strange concoction of emotions wells within her, wondering if it’s appropriate to be angry at the ones responsible for her hours. They are, after all, outside. Suddenly she’s glad her family stayed home.
From the back, the only other worker present scrubs at a pile of dishes in the sink with startling efficiency. His low whispers are indiscernible but consistent. Strange that he doesn’t speak louder, given his disposition to talk. The rest of the shift passes in silence.
A recent college graduate mashes the buttons on his now-dustless console. The thin walls of the apartment have long since formed a bubble of discomfort, mildly eased by the relative reticence of the occupied rooms. He gazes at the shelves in the kitchen behind him, stacked in preparation for a martial law that never came.
His insufferably silent roommate exits the door to his room and trudges into the kitchen, hastily scarfing down a meager lunch before stealthily disappearing like clockwork. Despite all their time together, none of the others in the complex had spoken much either. His roommate whispers inaudibly from their room.
The video game cuts out again. The graduate greets a drained reflection hanging in black emptiness, glaring back at the familiar loading screen with the forever spinning icon in the lower corner.
A room waves in unison to a friend logging off a video call. His typically provoking thoughts and open nature are lost behind a worn, stoic face and a stunted demeanor.
The transfer student sitting at the edge of the table eyes his companions with scrutiny. Several exchange glances of disapproval toward the propped-up tablet as their supposed friend reaches for the “leave” button and vanishes.
The group jokes that the virus can’t reach them since there are only nine people physically present in the room. The student offers a forced chuckle, his doubts on his friend’s decision to leave diminishing by the minute.
Sometime past midnight, the door to the bathroom creaks open as the scrawny figure of a man runs his raw hands under the faucet one last time. A million thoughts buffet his mind at once. The cracking skin under the water. The flurry of new symptoms under investigation. The stagnant curve. The items from last night’s grocery run, still potentially contaminated from exposure to the careless, frantic mobs at every essential business.
The soft hum that accompanies the bathroom light disappears when the ritual is finished, giving way to a soft murmur emitted from downstairs. The living room light remains ignited. A one-way conversation edges on until the light finally extinguishes.
The expat aimlessly paces back and forth in the minutes preceding the effects of his sleeping pill. He turns toward the faceless screens surrounding his makeshift bed, checking one last time for any activity.
Shadows of his companions dance from within the screens, taunting him in his clouded state. His own voice booms back at him from the thick walls of the living room.
He grabs at his sullen eyes and finally collapses onto the couch, preparing for another sleepless night.
Christian Barragan is currently a senior at California State University Northridge. Originally from Riverside, CA, he aims to become either a novelist or a screenwriter in the future. His work has appeared in The Northridge Review, Pif Magazine, La Ceiba, Coffin Bell, and Alchemy Magazine.