Sunday, August 24, 2008

Vending machine

He slid to a stop by the vending machine. Panting, he realized this might be all the food they would have for miles, maybe days. He pounded frantically on the glass panel flat-palmed with the universal gesture of the short-changed and the gypped.

He grabbed the molded plastic chair from below the wallphone. He swung it against the blank face of the machine with an impotent fury unrealized before that instant. The windowed face of the machine magically transformed into a white wall of ice chunks, then collapsed inwards with a sigh of resignation and loss.

“C’Mere! Help me” he shouted. She came over, breathless. “Here—take as much as you can…we’ll want it all.” He shoved glass crumbs aside with exaggerated delicacy, liberating the motley packets from their pigtail prisons and tossed them to her waiting hands. Chips, pretzel, candy bars, gum, lifesavers—all of them. All his. And hers. Things he would usually never eat in a million years. This was just his lucky day.

They grabbed as much as they could make room for—what with everything else they were already hoarding—then crammed their pockets with what was left; she stuffed some kind of gooey bar in her mouth for good measure and threw the wadded-up wrapper into the machine's empty belly. She bolted for the stairs, smacking the panic bar on the door and bursting through it shoulder-wise in one sweet move like a linebacker, then disappeared up the stairwell.

Looking back over his shoulder, he started to run, then faltered and sighed. He stumbled to a stop and shuffled awkwardly back to the ruined machine. Pack sliding off his shoulder, he fumbled with his greasy wallet. He looked through it studiously, thumbing through the mess of tattered papers it had become—a delicate, dainty action all the more ludicrous under the circumstances. Grabbing all the bills between thumb and middle finger, he tossed the wad, all of it, onto the galaxy of glittering stars in the dark and hollow heart of the machine. Five dollars, five hundred—what difference did it make? He wouldn't be needing them.

“Sorry. For your trouble...” he said to the silence. Then he bolted to the stairs, slamming into the door just before it closed again. He could still hear her footsteps, racing up the stairs ahead of him.

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