“Frank, are you OK?” My monitor is a grid of concerned faces. Everyone is looking at me. Except Teddy, that jerk. He’s smirking.
I try to talk but my voice stretches out into a groan. Maybe I left a filter on, some sort of slow-motion audio effect. I scan my settings. “All fine over here,” I try to say. I lick my sticky lips and shuffle some papers on my desk. Offer a thumbs up.
“WebMD says one of the symptoms is a drooping smile,” someone says. “Can you smile for us Frank?” I smile and catch a glimpse of my video feed; my teeth are stained a dark green as if I’ve been chewing on a marker. Tanya furrows her brows in confusion. I cover my mouth.
“Frank, you just hang tight. We’re going to send help,” someone else says.
Gloria from second floor finance says, “I’ve never seen a stroke before. It’s so scary.”
“What?” I have to shut one eye and get real close to my monitor to see. I spot her, and she pulls back her head in fear; a cat leaps from her lap.
“It’s OK,” Chuck, the executive assistant says. I look at his slicked back hair, his crisp white shirt, his tie. I pull the top of my bathrobe together. “It’s alright,” he says. “You’re having a stroke, the ambulance is on its way.”
I hear a siren in the distance. God I hope it’s just an ambulance and not the cops.
At first I’m horrified and think he’s accusing me. Like it’s a British colloquialism, “to have a stroke.” But Chuck’s not British. Or is he? I try to steady myself and listen for an accent. Hard for me to say who is and who isn’t British right now.
“A stroke,” he repeats. He looks more worried than disgusted. So that’s good.
The thing is I’m not having a stroke. I’m drunk. Since the pandemic I’ve been working from home and my drinking habit, no longer tempered by the demands or etiquette of the office, seems to be coming to some sort of climax.
The siren’s getting louder. Looking to my left, I see an empty bottle of Crème de Menthe. Too bad it’s not a rugged booze like bourbon or something more traditional like vodka. I’ll die of embarrassment if anyone sees it.
“Should we go over the notes?” That’s Teddy. “We could mute him. I mean, still keep an eye on him, but continue with the morning meeting. I have a ten o’clock coming up.” What an asshole.
“I’m having a stroke Teddy,” I try to say.
“Let’s just hold off a moment,” that’s Chuck’s voice. British or not, he’s a nice guy. I look around the monitor. All my coworkers are here. They’re all so kind. Besides Teddy of course. I miss the office. The potlucks. Hell, I even miss the soothing bubbling sound of Dave’s post lunch IBS. We were all so close, and now, I’m alone.
The sirens are louder.
“I miss the potlucks. Those pigs in a blanket things that Tanya always makes,” I say.
“What’s that?” Chuck says. “We didn’t quite hear that.”
“I haven’t had a taco dip in over a year.”
“Don’t strain yourself. It’s OK. Help should be there soon.” I’m not sure who’s talking.
“I miss Dave’s IBS.”
“What Frank?” I recognize the voice as Deborah from the sales division.
I enunciate each syllable to her slowly. “D-A-V-E-’S I-B-S, I M-I-S-S I-T.” Everyone looks toward Dave and his square on the grid goes black.
Outside, the ambulance pulls into my driveway. Swirling lights fill up my living room. I wonder if this is being recorded. I try my best to act natural just in case this all blows over. I pretend the wall behind me isn’t lit up like a rave and feign a nonchalant waiting room pose. As a hail mary, I flash one more thumbs up.
The ambulance siren shuts off. I hear the sound of more sirens approaching in the distance. Great.
Everyone is staring at me. They all look sad and worried. On top of it all, they all look so sympathetic. Except Teddy, he’s eating something. Popcorn. He’s eating popcorn. What a jerk.
Someone’s pounding now at my door.
“I miss all of you,” I say, reaching for my monitor.
The chorus of faces responds back, “We miss you too!”