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"Working from Home" by Nathan Pettigrew

My wife and I were imprisoned long before I thought of us as criminals, and these days I commit petty crimes in pajamas while working from home. So do millions of others who’ve helped eliminate the threat of arrest. Cops are now forced to pick their battles and focus on the dark web while misdemeanor shoplifting is accepted.

I never imagined stealing anything when the fear of getting caught in public still applied, but with the click of a mouse, it’s movie night for free.

Before we were sent to work from home, my wife and I lived in a constant photo shoot for social media. We’d share pics of our food and check our likes while eating, having gone from sharing sunsets and the beautiful greenery of our local bayous to every moment we spent together.

A Saturday afternoon at the French Quarter made for some good posts showing the Spanish architecture, but St. Pete beach in Florida used to be our summer spot, and there, we’d capture the ghost white sand, the calm blue of the gulf, and our sunny smiles. We’d catch rays while checking likes, our minds elsewhere until the last visit when a younger married couple with a little girl and German Shepard planted their umbrella near ours.

The wife took “Rowdy” by the leash and ran him through the shallow water and back while her hubby made sure to capture the show on his phone. She’d stop and do another take. Stop. Do another take.

When their daughter wanted help building a sandcastle, the wife fussed at her for being selfish before leaving her to cry and doing another take with Rowdy.

An awful sight for sure, but to my wife and I, the blessing in disguise that woke us up to the reality of our imprisoned existence.

Like an attorney during discovery, my wife put the facts on the table. We were slaves to our phones and likes, or lack of, determined our moods. We panicked whenever we misplaced our phones, and our conversations were always focused on the posts of others. Wasting away, we were spending our lives trying to prove our happiness to those doing the same.

Only together did we stand a chance at relearning how to live in the moment, and like two alcoholics disposing of bottles, we deleted most of our apps.

Sheer boredom had us watching Family Feud. We didn’t say much while eating at first, but after a week of playing Scrabble, conversations between us were happing again. We even fell in love with ‘The Feud after guessing most of the answers.

We’re no longer on our phones at home or in public, and with gas prices so high these days, we don’t go for many drives. We still use one app to have food delivered, never having to interact with another person until my wife calls to complain about a “messed-up order” that wasn’t—her arguments usually settled with a full refund or a significant discount at minimum.

I’d raised the question of morality the first time she pulled this off and my wife threw our free movie nights in my face. We’re justified, she’d said, and she didn’t see me in the wrong for participating in piracy. She’d pointed out how corporate movie theaters had stolen from our pockets for decades with concession and ticket prices that should’ve been criminalized, and how food delivery services were now attempting to do the same with so many fees.

She’d have made a great attorney.

Thanks to Alexa, we dance on Saturday nights to any song we want without having to dress up or run tabs at clubs, but we make damn sure to unplug the blue glowing sphere when we’re not making requests.

Who knows who’s listening these days? Or watching?

I can’t click my mouse without ads popping up for products I’ve already purchased from other sites.

Those first few months working from home still feel like yesterday. My wife and I no longer needed permission to use the bathroom, and it was fine if we took five or ten to decide on a lunch menu. We could step away from our desks to catch up on each other’s day or walk our dog down the street, but my employer is attempting to eliminate my wiggle room with a new rule, now requiring me to click my mouse every sixty seconds.

I’m being reduced to a cog in a cold machine seeking robotic behavior, my living in jeopardy unless I meet the bottom lines of those above me making poor decisions.

I’ve tried exploring opportunities with other employers, but my age doesn’t seem to be trending and thoughts of working in public again have sent me into panic attacks.

Forced to sit like a child, memories of wanting to lash out come back to me.

Do I take some control back and blow my brains out myself before the machine decides I’m no longer relevant, or borrow a page from the shooters and aim for those who’ve wronged me first?

My wife doesn’t share my problem and keeps telling me to chill. Her employer still treats her like a human being—at least for now—but after witnessing my struggles to sleep and breathe, she’s put in the time to discover a loophole.

Surprise delivery: USB drives with auto-clicking technology that can’t be traced.

At least for now, my wife assures me, and I believe her. I believe I’m safe and still free—at least for now…

She’d have made a great attorney.

Nathan Pettigrew was born and raised an hour south of New Orleans, and lives in the Tampa area with his loving wife. His story “Yemma” was recently awarded 2nd Place in the 22nd Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition and appeared in the winnow. Other stories have appeared in Deep South Magazine, Penumbra Online, The “Year”Anthology from Crack the Spine, Stoneboat, and the Nasty: Fetish Fights Back anthology from Anna Yeatts of Flash Fiction Online, which was spotlighted in a 2017 Rolling Stone article.

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