Madison Harrold | Daniele Murtas
Shawn switched off the last of the office’s fluorescent lights, holding his cell phone to his ear. On the other end, his wife held two conversations at once — a half-assed one with him, and one with his sister who’s shrill laughter he could hear as clearly as if she were there with him.
“Sounds like you’re having fun,” he said, stepping out of the office and into a dimly lit hallway. His wife giggled.
“Tons,” she said. “But it’ll be much more fun when you’re here. Have you left yet? Katie bought the cutest onesie for the baby, I can’t wait for you to see it.”
Shawn hummed, pulling his keys from his pocket and dangling them at his side. “Oh, yeah? Bet it’s pink.”
“You take the fun out of everything.”
“What? I’m just saying, it makes no sense to buy pink clothes for a baby that’s probably a boy.”
“Yes,” Shawn said. “You feeling alright? Any contractions?”
“A little. Katie’s been distracting me, though, so it’s not so bad. Come home soon.”
“I’m on my way.”
He ended the call and tucked his phone back in his pocket, then stopped where he was. The company’s vending machine was stood beside the exit; stocked with rows of chips, candy bars, and those stale honey buns toward the bottom.
Usually, Shawn was strong enough to ignore the beast — but that was because he usually left with colleagues who distracted him from the thing. On this particular night, it was just he and the machine — a standoff.
His pregnant wife had taken to a healthy lifestyle, and he’d endured endless “healthy food, healthy baby” monologues. That meant tossing out his Little Debbie snack cakes and jumbo bags of cheetohs.
“It’d be so much easier if you did it with me,” she’d say. “I could really use that support. We’re in this together, right?”
He jammed a dollar bill into the machine, and then another. She would never have to know, and he’d have something to hold him over when his sister served him inedible vegan bullshit. He punched in C2 on the keypad, and the machine slowly pushed out a Milky Way.
On the way down, though, it caught between a bag of skittles and those goddamned honey buns.
“No,” Shawn said. “Come on, no.”
He banged once on the glass, hoping that would shake it free, but the Milky Way stayed put — didn’t even budge.
He’d spent a buck seventy-five on that thing — he wasn’t about to walk away. Glancing behind him to make sure the hallway was empty, Shawn rolled up his sleeve and kneeled down. He pushed the dispenser open, licked his lips, and slid his arm up and through it. The Milky Way was close enough. He could reach it.
Shawn grunted, forcing his arm up further. A sheen of sweat accumulated on his forehead.
Then, his fingers closed around the candy bar.
“Hah,” he said. “Dumbass machine.”
His victory, however, was short-lived. When Shawn yanked back to pull his arm free, he couldn’t. He blinked, staring at his arm through the glass, still clutching the Milky Way. He yanked again, but was rewarded with nothing but metal digging into his forearm.
His cell phone blared from his pocket. His wife, he figured, was getting impatient.
With his free hand, Shawn dug the phone out, but the screen glowed with his sister’s name. He accepted the call, and before he could even say “hello,” Katie was screeching.
“Her water broke! It broke! Claire’s water broke!”
“There’s a big puddle on the kitchen floor, her water broke! The baby’s coming, Shawny, we’re on our way to the hospital now. We’ll meet you!”
The line went dead. His wife was on her way to deliver his baby, and his hand was stuck in a goddamned vending machine. Shawn let the phone drop to the linoleum floor and pulled away from the machine.
“Goddamnit, come on.”
After a while of struggling and a sore arm, Shawn slumped against the glass to catch his breath.
His phone blared again, the screen reading Katie.
“Where the hell are you? They’re about to move Claire to the delivery room. She keeps asking for you. You’re supposed to be here. I thought you guys planned this out.”
“I know —”
“Why aren’t you here? Everyone else is. Mom, Dad, even Greg is here.”
“Yeah, and at this rate, Greg’s gonna hold your firstborn before you do.”
“Jesus, Shawn, where are you?”
“I’m stuck in a vending machine.”
“At work. There’s a vending machine. My arm’s stuck in it.”
“Oh, my god.”
“Don’t tell Claire, just — shit, is it really happening?”
Katie gave a loud exhale. “Yes, Shawn, it’s happening. You’re supposed to be here for this.”
Shawn swallowed, glaring at his arm through the vending machine glass. “I know. I know. I’ll — I’ll be there.”
“Stop messing around. Get your ass over here. This is your baby.”
She hung up.
Shawn slammed his fist against the machine again, and then once more for good measure.
“I swear to God, if you don’t let me go, if I miss the birth of my son because of you,” Shawn said with another slam to the glass, “I swear I’m gonna — I’m gonna have you unplugged. First thing tomorrow; unplugged, carted out of here, sent to the junkyard —”
“Sir? You okay?”
A maid pushed a yellow cart around the corner from the other end of the hall.
“Oh, thank God. Please, I’m stuck and my wife’s in labor — the baby’s probably halfway out by now. You’ve got to help me,” Shawn said, pleading.
“Okay, okay,” the maid said. “This happens all the time. Lube you up with soft scrub — you’ll be okay.”
As the maid pushed her cart along, Shawn’s phone buzzed with a text message.
It’s a girl.