:: Article

The Gumball Machine

“Although I cannot recall a single time that I turned the yellow crank to retrieve a gumball, the machine, once full, is now nearly empty. Some months ago, a friend brought a child to my home, and believing that it was polite, I offered the child a gumball, which she refused, citing ‘cavities’. Beyond that isolated incident I remember no one ever acknowledging the gumball machine. It sits on my desk behind a photo of my love and me. In the photo, taken by my extended arm, we are in the back of a London bicycle rickshaw, visibly drunk. Later that night he will tell me that he does not want to marry me, that he suspects I will be a cold mother, that I am looking tired, that I should sleep.”

THE GUMBALL MACHINE
by Nicole Hefner

Years ago, as a gift for my twenty-sixth birthday, a woman gave me a pink plastic gumball machine. The woman, a nervous ex-stripper with chewed-down cuticles who I had become friendly with in a Pilates class, showed up for my party with a black eye and a red dress. Her stripper name, I’ll never forget, was the diminutive of her father’s name: Charles. Charlie, she was called. The first thing that popped into her head, she told me. Her father once sent her uncle to the club to confirm his suspicions. The uncle, a stout watery-eyed man, sat at the tiny round table closest to the stage, drank only water and stayed too long.

But the gumball machine. Although I cannot recall a single time that I turned the yellow crank to retrieve a gumball, the machine, once full, is now nearly empty. Some months ago, a friend brought a child to my home, and believing that it was polite, I offered the child a gumball, which she refused, citing “cavities”. Beyond that isolated incident I remember no one ever acknowledging the gumball machine. It sits on my desk behind a photo of my love and me. In the photo, taken by my extended arm, we are in the back of a London bicycle rickshaw, visibly drunk. Later that night he will tell me that he does not want to marry me, that he suspects I will be a cold mother, that I am looking tired, that I should sleep.

Here, in New York, we have been having trouble with ants. They have taken over the kitchen and are moving steadily into the living room. When my love leaves for work, after I have sliced bananas onto his oatmeal, washed the knife, put away the spoons, watched through the curtains as his car pulls away, I put on my paper mask and rubber gloves. With the meager income I receive from my freelance work, I purchase — directly from the exterminator — the strongest pest solution available. My mornings are devoted to ridding our home of these six-legged creatures.

I mention these ants only because it has recently occurred to me that they may be responsible for taking the gumballs. At night, when my love is away at work, I hear noises. It is the wind, I tell myself. We humans are always telling ourselves such things. The wind, we say, or, It made me a stronger person, we say, or Oh, but he or she was in such suffering slash pain and now he or she is in a better slash more peaceful place. And so, it is true, I can tell myself all night long that it is only the wind. I can pretend that I do not hear the ants’ tiny legs buckling under the weight of the multicolored, tooth-decaying balls. The wind, I can yell tomorrow, the wind kept me up again.

But now, in the dead of morning — the sun warming a rectangle across my desk, the gumball machine completely emptied of its contents — I must acknowledge what I am left with: nothing. Nothing, save this traveling square of light, and it too, I fear, will be gone in a matter of hours.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Nicole Hefner‘s poems, stories and essays have appeared in many publications including Painted Bride Quarterly, Forklift, Ohio, New York Quarterly and lingo. She was a finalist in the Iowa Review Award for Literary Nonfiction and was named notable reading for The 2004 Best American Nonrequired Reading. She teaches at New York University and lives and loves in Brooklyn.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, July 26th, 2006.