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Vending Machine

from the novel Ordinary Things

By Kasper Paseko

Whenever you see a vending machine you fall in love with her description and the city gives birth to your daughter.
    Once, when you were unemployed in the recession, they sent you to work for a telemarketing company. At first they had you selling personal alarms. The script tried to scare people in the kindest possible way. The target market was old women, the most likely to stay on the phone, the most likely to feel the need for a personal alarm. It made your mouth say they were selling personal alarms for charity, so if they hadn’t hung up already, you had to lay guilt on them too. You asked the manager how much of the money went to charity, in case anyone asked. It was 5% . . . .
    Each morning, as a break, you went to get yourself a Coke from the drink vending machine. You always chose Coke but it always took a long time to make your selection. Once, instead of reciting the script at your cubicle, you stood there remembering helping your friend’s flatmate load his drums into his van. He was talking about this girl, “She works in publishing. She’s got black hair in this cute bob. And her dark eyes give her face this unusual intelligence.”
    “You’d like her,” your friend said.
    “I’m already falling in love. What else?”
    When you first met, she was that old riddle of beauty: a crow pierced by an arrow, a splash of blood on the snow. In her living room you agreed on your dislike of Dostoyevsky. You disagreed on Kerouac and Austen. You discovered a mutual quiet appreciation of Simon and Garfunkel. Her abrupt changes in temper woke you from your soporific disposition. She was a sudden electric storm breaking the listless torpor of summer afternoon. She was…
    What would a good looking, intelligent, accomplished, self-possessed, noble, eloquent woman such as this want with a bum like you? You resigned yourself to pining for a few weeks before relinquishing hopeless hopes. . . .
    At a party you both argued. What was it got you started? . . .
    “Would you stop contradicting everything I say.”
    “I’m not contradicting you, I’m just saying.”
    “Yes and I’m just saying. I didn’t say things can be the same, I’m just saying I saw it in a movie, because of what he said. It’s called a conversation.”
    “Yeah, and I’m just saying something because of what you said. It’s called a conversation.”
    “It’s not a conversation. You’re sniping all the time.”
    “But, it’s not the case that anything is exactly…”
    “I’m just saying what was in the movie.”
    “Ok. I’m just saying it doesn’t happen to be the case.”
    “You insufferable arrogant, pedantic…”
    ​You both had held your peace, not wanting to cause any more of a scene in front of the others. There was an awkward silence. Her opinion of you then was clear. What could be more contemptible than a washed up loser with no prospects who nevertheless thinks he’s somehow everyone’s intellectual superior?
You went back to the phone, computer and script. Somewhere in this world there was a crow killed in snow and you must forget her.
    Back on the phones they put you on a government health questionnaire. Some people told you to fuck off. Some just hung up. Some begrudgingly gave you their time out of recognition of its importance to public health. Some seemed happy to have someone to talk to for a change. It was extraordinary: the intimate confessions people would make once they knew it was anonymous.•I had a cancer removed and now use a colostomy bag.
     • My husband is manic depressive so I gave up work some years ago to take care of him. I suffer from stress sometimes.
     • I work an 80 hour week. I try to do the right thing. I wonder why. I just keep smiling.
    • My father was abusive and manipulative. My ex abducted my son.
    • I hate this town. I can’t wait to leave.
    • I have incontinence. I was raped 10 years ago. It was in the war. It was normal then for that sort of thing to happen. Every woman. Every girl.
    • I don’t know what’s happening. I can’t get treatment. They tell me I have one thing, then they tell me I don’t have it. They don’t believe my symptoms.
    • When they told me I had cancer it changed everything. It’s funny but sometimes I think I was never really alive until I was dying. I got so anxious, sometimes, thinking about every second . . . But you see it’s not just me. Everyone is dying. They just don’t know when. Why do people have to find out when before they can stop and change what they’re doing with their life?

She sat on the hospital bed, a monitoring device attached to a belt strapped around her waist, connected to a machine pipping regularly, displaying the graphs and numbers of the baby’s vital signs. A doctor entered with a large screen on a trolley. She squeezed gel on her belly and moved the ultrasound handset around, watching the glimpses of feet, ribs, brains and fluttering heart on the screen. The doctor took the machine away again. She groaned more and more, sucking on the tube connected to the cylinder of pressurised nitrous oxide, saying it did no good. She sat in the shower for hours as the waves of agony increased in frequency and amplitude. You hoped you wouldn’t need to push the red button at the bed to call the nurse in case of dire crisis. The nurses came in to check on progress and inserted a needle in her wrist, connected by tube to a bag of clear liquid on a stand. For another two hours every wave of pain seemed the most extreme pain anyone could possibly bear, yet each was worse than the last. They moved her and the machines to another room. The anaesthetist arrived and inserted a needle into her lower spine. She declared her love for the anaesthetist and listened to the nurse explain that now she could not feel the pain, she would need to pay attention to the monitor. When it picked up her contractions on the screen she must push. Another doctor with strong arms came in to the room, inserted large metal levers, cranked the baby into position and pulled. The blue child began life dead. They took it to a small table, inserted a tube, sucked its airways clear, pumped air into its lungs, clipped its umbilical cord, attached a monitor, strapped an identification label to its wrist and returned it, living, to its mother’s breast.