Mask Off

The man stared at a spreadsheet, searching a row for large correlation numbers. He heard the office door next to his swing open.

“That you, Sandeep?” the man said.

“Yeah. How’s it going, man?”

“Good.” The man pushed back from his desk. “All good down at Wiley?”

“Same old thing,” said Sandeep.

The man heard Sandeep settle into his seat. He walked out of his office and past Sandeep’s, then over to the small fridge where he grabbed a Diet Dr. Pepper. On the way back, he stopped in Sandeep’s doorway and leaned against the frame.

“Did you all discuss the author submission portal?” he said, taking a sip from his drink. Then he looked at Sandeep. “Dude, are you serious?”

“What?” said Sandeep, looking up from his screen.

“Come on, man. You can’t be serious.”

“What?” Sandeep said again.

The man motioned to his face. “Are you seriously gonna wear a mask in the office?”

Sandeep’s nose and mouth were covered by a pink surgical mask. “Everyone in the airport was wearing them. Everyone on the plane.”

“Hold on,” said the man. “Jack! You over there?”

“Yeah, what’s up?” Jack called from his office on the other side of the man’s.

“Come look at this.”

There was the movement of a rolling chair, some footsteps, and then Jack stood next to the man.

“What the fuck is this?” Jack said looking at Sandeep. “You cannot be serious.”

“I’m telling you guys,” said Sandeep. “Everyone was wearing them and we’re all gonna be wearing them.”

“You look like a dude from China afraid of SARS,” said Jack.

“That’s what it is,” said Sandeep. “It’s SARS. But worse.”

The man shook his head. “The CDC said not to start wearing masks.”

Sandeep hooked his finger through one of the loops around one of his ears, loosened it, and let the mask down from his face, the other loop still around his other ear. “Fuck you guys.”

“Just telling you what the medical guys are saying,” said the man.

Jack shook his head. “The world is losing its fucking mind. I was just in at MacMillan earlier this week. No handshakes, man. We bumped elbows. And we all agreed that it might be the last time we see each other for a while.”

“That’s right,” said Sandeep. “Hey, has anyone convinced Vidur not to come yet?”

“I was just on with him this morning,” said the man. “Told him that if he comes to New York or Boston he better be prepared to stay for months, that they might not let him go back to India, that there are rumors all the airlines will be shut down. He said he would think about it.”

“He can’t come,” said Sandeep. “Makes no sense.” He glanced down at his watch. “Hey, you guys get the fuck out of my doorway. I got a call in a few.”

The man nodded. Jack started to move away, then called back, “Just don’t start with the mask, man.”

“Fuck you guys,” said Sandeep.

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