The Hug Machine
Jane saved her shiniest quarters for the hug machine. It stood bolted to the floor of the east entrance lobby at PennyMart, next to the gumball machines and the mechanical horse with the unsettling sneer the children liked to ride, digging their heels in when they passed by, their mothers yanking them along.
Jane saved her tarnished quarters for other things, like laundry, or for slipping into a beggar’s cup as she walked from her apartment to the PennyMart plaza. Coins which were neither shiny nor tarnished were saved to buy coffee, only on Fridays.
The hug machine had three settings: Normal, (a gentle squeeze), Rock Side to Side, and Pat-on-the-Back. Jane had tried them all, her finger lingering above each button before she almost always pressed her favourite, Rock Side to Side. Jane would sigh as the machine swayed, the gears inside the hug machine whirring and clanking, its rubbery arms tight around her.
The best time to visit the hug machine was first thing in the morning, when the sun shot through the windows just so and made the metallic bolts in the hug machine’s face shine. Jane would drop in an extra quarter and linger in the hug machine’s arms before scurrying off to her post as cashier.
One day Jane was on her way out of PennyMart. An “Out of Order” sign was draped over the hug machine, its front panel dented as if someone had beaten it with a baseball bat. “FUCK YOU MACHINE” was written in red across its square head, the spot Jane occasionally polished with the cuff of her jacket.
The hug machine had been unplugged. No whirs of clanks or hisses came from inside it. None of its little white lights blinked.
Jane felt the same thing she felt the day of the accident, as if a hood had been pulled over her face; darkness, blindness. Pain like a punch to her ribs. She breathed in and out, in and out, her arms around the hug machine, willing it to come to life again. She stayed there until the store closed and she had no choice but to leave, all the while ignoring the muffled laughter of those that passed her by.
The next day Jane arrived first thing in the morning, her pockets full of quarters. The hug machine was gone, leaving behind a shiny patch of terrazzo and holes in the floor. Jane cried and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. She jammed her hand in her pocket and fingered all the shiny quarters she had saved before wiping her eyes for the last time.
She turned and went to work again, tying her smock around her waist extra tight, the quarters in her pockets, still heavy.
Nikki Donadio is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers and will soon be graduating from the University of Gloucestershire with an MA in Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in Gertrude, Plenitude, Soliloques Anthology, Yes Poetry, Typishly, and others. She currently lives in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada.
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