Volume 18
An Online Literary Magazine
April 14, 2024


Remote Island


Allie Jones


Every day, she shows up to her job alone, reaching for connection through a 13-inch screen. She continued to stare at herself in the digital mirror while the voices in her head debated the meaning of loneliness and her role in this universe.



ucy never expected to find herself here. The only traffic she encountered on her nineteen-step commute from the bedroom to her office was yesterday's clothes strewn across the floor. On Thursday, she'd cleared the way by stepping straight into a pair of sweatpants. The sweatpants' waist knot snagged in the wash years ago rendering them one size. Despite Lucy's fears, they still fit. She pulled them up and continued on her way. The same sweatpants as yesterday. Same as last week. Same as the week before.


If you asked Lucy how she felt, she would brush off the question. She would make a joke avoiding the topic. When pressed, she would ultimately settle on "fine." Same as yesterday. Same as last week. Same as the week before.


Lucy expected Thursday to be the same as most days. She reviewed her calendar filled with recurring meetings, typical project work, and a manageable inbox. She started the day with black coffee and oatmeal. Same as yesterday. Same as last week. Same as the week before.


Growing up, Lucy had dreams to travel. She was committed to making the world a better place. She loved reading and writing and helping others. Lucy was a "people person." She fell into a career that celebrated her interpersonal skills. Her job rewarded efficiency and predictability. As a result, on Thursday, Lucy was unprepared for anything except business-as-usual.


All day, Lucy communicated. She called into virtual meetings on Zoom. She wrote follow up emails with listed action items. Lucy shared emojis and memes with co-workers on Slack. Despite remaining in her own personal bubble, she constantly stayed in contact with others through the conveniences of modern technology.


Lucy optimized her home office with an ergonomic chair, an ultrawide monitor, and a tactile keyboard. She found a great deal on a stool designed to activate her core and encourage good posture on Facebook Marketplace. The stool stood proudly in the corner of the room, in perfect condition. Sometimes Lucy used the stool to drape a sweater, but never for its true intention.


When telling her parents about the conveniences of working from home, she focused on the amount of time she saved by eliminating the commute. She never mentioned that she often spent that sacred time scrolling on TikTok. She never mentioned that some days, the cashier at the grocery store was the only human Lucy came within reaching distance of.


Every Thursday at 10, Lucy and her co-worker, Terry, reserved 30-minutes to check in. A weekly sync. Terry's love of organization ventured beyond the tables and charts in PowerPoint slides. Lucy struggled to understand how Terry could maintain a thriving office plant, freshly manicured nails, and perfectly curled hair all at once. She always joined with a green smoothie. Terry told Lucy about the new ingredients each week and Lucy pretended to know all about the health benefits of collagen.


Lately, Lucy and Terry spent more time venting than working. They empathized with each other's challenging co-workers, difficult clients, and micromanagers. Lucy and Terry never met in person but often shared stories from their lives beyond work. Lucy knew all about Terry's favorite bands, boyfriend's parents, and home espresso machine.


This week, Lucy immediately launched into a story about a notorious customer who picked his nose during a meeting on Monday. She'd prepared a snippet from the recording and sat on the edge of her seat, about to share her screen, when she noticed Terry wasn't laughing.


Lucy paused. Terry's slight smile that matched the light wrinkle between her eyebrows told Lucy that Terry had news. Lucy stared intently. Terry's composition ushered Lucy's spine to straighten. She leaned forward and tilted her head in curiosity.


They spoke at the same time. Neither heard what the other said. They fumbled over the virtual etiquette of interruptions. First, they spoke in unison, then a mutual pause. They held the pause long enough for both to conclude the other was giving up the next word, only to speak again in unison. The cycle continued.


Lucy moved back in her chair, becoming physically smaller in her video box to communicate Terry had the right of way. Lucy watched Terry's face tighten slightly in preparation.


"I have some news," Terry started slowly.


"You're leaving, aren't you?" Lucy said, launching forward in her chair. She couldn't help but interrupt. The surprise washed over her as a wave of confusion. One truth was floating in a sea of thoughts.


We have been commiserating about our jobs for months, Lucy thought. Why wouldn't Terry do something about it? Why haven't I considered doing something about my miserable situation? Lucy tried to hide her embarrassment by adjusting her screen slightly, settling for a more flattering camera angle.


"My last day is next Friday," Terry said and allowed a huge grin to emerge on her face.


Lucy felt heat rise in her cheeks.


"Wow," Lucy said, giving herself a second to collect. She watched herself mirror the smile Terry offered. She started picking at her nails on her lap, off screen. Thoughts sprouted immediately and erratically. As all the different voices in Lucy's head found their momentum, one prevailing voice took the wheel.


"I'm excited for you. Are you taking time off between jobs?" she heard herself ask as her mind drifted.


Why didn't Terry let me know she started searching for jobs? I thought we were friends. Or something like friends? What made me believe we were friends in the first place? Her mind churned with mixed emotions. How much time would I take off if I had another job lined up? Maybe I could make time for that trip to the Dolomites?


Terry told Lucy about her new job as a leader on a community outreach initiative at a local hospital. She couldn't wait to get started. Lucy asked several other questions but didn't retain any of the answers.


Meanwhile, she began to brainstorm. If I want to hike and travel, maybe I could find a job that values that kind of-...That's naïve and nobody will pay you this much to do that. Lucy interrupted herself.


Terry started to share how much she enjoyed working with Lucy. Lucy quickly agreed and showered Terry with compliments about her strong work ethic and grounded perspective.


You know what this means for your workload, right?


As they wrapped up their conversation, Lucy and Terry made empty promises to meet for a coffee. They both tried to make eye contact by looking straight into the camera. Of course, by staring directly into the small circle at the top of the screen, neither of them witnessed the other's eyes directly.


Is this a friendship break up? Lucy wondered. Can it be a breakup if we were never really friends? We've never even met in the real world. What is this world anyways if it's not the real one?


Lucy's mouse hovered over the red "leave meeting" button but Terry clicked first. Lucy found herself alone in the Zoom meeting. It dawned on her that she'd really been alone the entire meeting.


Every day, she shows up to her job alone, reaching for connection through a 13-inch screen. She continued to stare at herself in the digital mirror while the voices in her head debated the meaning of loneliness and her role in this universe.


She felt connected to Terry while they chatted but even then, she spent over half the meeting staring at herself. She watched herself react to Terry's news, hoping to remain composed. She sat alone in her office and alone in the meeting. She'd been alone the whole time.


The loneliness felt stale and uninspired like the bland oatmeal breakfast she prepared for herself each morning. The loneliness stopped paying attention to her dreams years ago. Lucy wandered through her career without a compass and suddenly realized just how lost she felt.


Lucy looked down and noticed stains on her sweatpants.


"Hot sauce? Ketchup?"


She could not remember spilling anything. She could not remember the last time she'd washed these pants.


Are hot sauce stains permanent?


Her sweatpants served as more than just a comfortable barrier between her meals and her body. They'd taken on a life of their own. They'd become a shield to protect herself from her feelings. They gave her permission to feel numb. She'd avoided the daunting feeling of nothingness by feeling nothing at all.


Rather than think it through, Lucy Googled her question about hot sauce stains on her second monitor. As she stared back at herself in the Zoom meeting, she looked deeply at the reflection in front of her. She wondered who could feel anything but indifference about a software that helped marketers get promotional emails into people's inboxes. She wondered what life might be like if she never received an email again.


Lucy squinted. She ached to see through her numbness. She fought back tears, blurring her vision and allowing emotions to come into focus.


When did the lines start to fade from content to indifference to numb?


Her leg began to shake faster than she anticipated. Her eyes continued to water. Tears started rolling down her cheeks.


The indifference crept in like the sugar ant problem in her bathroom. It started slowly at first like the weeds in her garden. She left all these small problems unattended to. It was as if she had given permission to the indifference to take root and spread.


Suddenly, Lucy realized how grimy her screen was. She took the sleeve of her shirt to wipe off her tears and then her camera lens to get a better look at her soul. Her eyes left the screen only to realize how much dust built up all over her desk. She took a sip of coffee, surprised by how cold it felt as she swallowed. She realized she picked up the wrong mug.


I have no idea how long this coffee has been here.


She counted the cups: 3 mugs, 4 glasses, and 3 cans of LaCroix, all half empty, pursued then forgotten. An empty jar of Nutella. A trail of crumbs leading to a bag of stale tortilla chips and a crusty bowl of leftover salsa.




Lucy stood up and sent her chair rolling off behind her. She scooped up the dishes and brought them to the kitchen sink to wash. She headed back to her office to clean up her desk. Back to the office to clean up her life. She moved with purpose. The sweatpants came off. She tossed clothes from the floor and the stool into a basket without questioning if they were clean or dirty. Everything needed a wash. She felt lighter with each action.


Returning to her desk, Lucy pulled out a pen and a pad of paper. She began to resolve. Big dreams like finding a more meaningful job, and small dreams like brushing her teeth every day. She committed to new routines: more writing, more reading, more running, more greens. She began to scroll job boards and found her old résumé. It was dusty like her desk. Dusty like the yoga mat on the floor she had not used since January. She bookmarked a class on YouTube for later that afternoon.


At the bottom of the screen, her Slack icon began to bounce. Lucy's eyes darted to the clock at the top right corner: 12:06. Late. Her commitments came back into focus. Co-workers chatted her with brief yet passive aggressive notes that read "still available?" and "everything OK?" Frazzled, Lucy reunited with her calendar and muscle memory took over. She navigated herself back into Zoom, back into that little box where she would stare at herself.


Lucy led with apologies. "I'm so sorry I'm late, my last meeting ran over," Lucy said, without mentioning the meeting was with herself. All day, Lucy works alone. All day, Lucy communicates. She is so good at prioritizing others' needs and she'd forgotten to communicate with herself. But being good at her job was easier than finding out what job she wants to be good at. She flipped over her page of resolutions and started taking notes in the meeting.


Allie Jones is a Pacific Northwest writer with New England roots. She works in the technology industry, writes contemporary short stories, and officiates weddings on the side.







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