The air feels thick. Serpent-like clouds of smog dance in the air like kites, lunging into spirals before looping around my neck. Soft are the fingers that lace around the nape, but the jagged nails dig deep into the flesh. The hold isn’t vigorous enough to make me bleed, though I still tuck my chin into my shirt in an attempt to block them. It doesn’t seem to matter what I do— they’re stubborn, seeping into the tiny holes of my turtleneck sweater. It stings. The serpents smell pungent like old wine but sweet like an overripe peach; the fuzz a lingering burn around the mouth after the first bite.
I am alone, sprinting straight to destination. I can see it—it’s a couple metres away. Like a mirage, the thing seems to be getting farther with every step forward. I freeze and let it come to me. It wobbles forever, the tired old thing, it sounds like it’s breaking with every step! But I can’t step forward or it’ll never get here, so I sink onto my bottom, cradling my knees, feeling pathetic. I can hear it before I see it, the clanking and clattering, a sad lament in the distance. If I squint, I can see the teetering box approaching tirelessly, the faint light within it flickering, the metal coils emptied of non-perishable viscera. The sight spurs a pang in my chest. I close my eyes to speed up the process.
For a moment there is a foreign sense of anxiety in my chest, and I wonder if the thing would stop if it knew I wasn’t watching. The thought dissipated when I heard the weight of its trying body rattling the rubble beneath me. I feel embarrassed for forgetting its struggle even for a moment.
When I open my eyes, the thing stands hunched over me, engulfing me in an expanse of darkness. My eyes are immediately drawn to the heart of it, the flickering little light that illuminates its own lack. With a final wobble it dropped with a thud, a cloud of smoke and dust creating a temporary fog. How could it be so heavy even though it was empty? There is nothing I can do. I can’t give it anything, I have nothing to give. It quivers—or it could be me that is quivering.
The fog clears, the light flickers once more before it fades.
Where the flickering orb once was, I’m surprised to meet the gaze of two more. They’re also burnt out yet wide and frantic. The pupils scan my face like a pendulum clock, and I feel like I am failing an inspection of some kind. Breaking the gaze, I notice the mousy locks barely contained in a single ponytail, the turtleneck that drapes too largely on the small solid body, and the trembling bottom lip that seems out of place with the rest of her. She is crying. I almost don’t know what I am looking at. The vending machine has fallen now, and I am forced to look at the reflection of a crying girl.
I suppose I should find another vending machine, but I have nothing more to give. So I sit here cross-legged in front of the fallen machine because it feels wrong to leave it. I let my chin untuck from my turtleneck sweater and let the sky serpents swarm above our heads like vultures... We are haunted by the lack, our palms open without fingers to take.