Bunch was broke and elected to sell his body to a human vending machine startup. He didn’t recall how, but one day he found himself in a half-furnished loft surrounded by naked glass mannequins, signing on many dotted lines. He didn’t know who, but someone made a glass torso to replace his old torso, put him under, and stitched him back up. It was a flattering torso, leaner than his flesh one, with a broader chest and shoulders. The problems with it were mostly social. Bunch’s torso was now clear and polished like a display case. Inside the case, several colored mists hung thick around his anatomy, pumping and oozing in real time. The evident vitality of his organs was great for the company and his income, but resulted in many lonely nights.
During business hours, he wore a big yellow foam hat that said HUMANITY VENDING in red letters. People on the street came up to him and paid him a buck fifty to slide open his stomach and take some blue mist for courage, or his green oblique mist for some ambition, or his red chest mist for affection. If they didn’t inhale it, customers often funneled their mist of choice under the lid of a latte or a bottled beverage, where they could consume it in sips. Bunch was required by contract to say thank you, and he was a law-abiding citizen. In fact, Bunch said to each customer, Thank you for taking my essence—come again! Science had confirmed each mist had myriad health benefits, was natural in the body, and, when consumed in moderation, could prolong a life by four to seven percent. Science had not yet confirmed any negative side effects on venders, but Bunch often felt cold.
Once, across a crowd-filled street, Bunch saw another vender in a big yellow foam hat. He waved, and she waved back. She was the first vendor for Humanity Vending he’d seen other than himself, and despite his urge to say hello, he knew he was not allowed to talk to other venders while on the clock. She knew this, too, and they allowed themselves to be swept away the crowds.
On the weekends, Bunch rested to replenish his mist and banked a little of each in his limbs and throat where inventory auditors couldn’t find it. On the day Bunch had hidden enough blue mist, he went to the store and bought a wooden baseball bat. Citing to his bosses protection from thieves, he brought it with him to the streets and waited each day to see the other big yellow foam hat floating among the heads. After a few weeks, he saw the hat. He traversed the crowd, and when he brushed past the other vender, he coughed, Alleyway at lunch!
The other vender met him in the alley. She was skeptical. She said, My name’s Grace.
Bunch, Bunch said. They shook hands.
They took off their big yellow foam hats. Bunch grabbed the bat from behind a dumpster and held it out to Grace.
What’s this? Grace said.
I want you to take a swing at me.
Her eyes lit up. Bunch opened his jacket to his glass torso and said, I’ll buy you lunch if you crack it.
Okay, Grace said, clutching the bat, but me next. She stepped up to an invisible plate, licked her lips, and let ‘er rip.
The man in the pond had always screamed at Bunch when Bunch walked by. Bunch had never walked close enough to the pond to get a good look of the screaming man for fear the man might make him feel like a failure.
At lunch, on day 237 of avoiding the man, Bunch ordered a Reuben and the waiter brought him a Cuban. He looked across the table to his friend, Grace. Grace, he said, waving a Bread and Butter pickle between them, his lower lip aquiver, I can’t take another minute of this shit.
Where’ll you go, Bunchy?
Do you want my car, Grace? Bunch envisioned his death and those who might cry at his funeral.
Grace said, You’re taking another minute right now, you dipshit.
Bunch did not send his Cuban back. He instead scraped the Cuban contents from the bread and washed the bread, leftover pickle taste included, down with water.
On the way home, he heard the man in the pond carrying on a couple blocks away. Bunch was at the end of his rope and set out to confront the man. He ran through yards and hopped fences until he arrived at the pond, where the man, wide-eyed and arms flailing, screamed, Help me, you imbeciles! For Chrissakes! Bunch, in all his avoiding the pond, did not expect this.
He dove in and brought the drowning man to the shore. Bunch said, Have you been drowning this whole time?
What whole time?
As long as I’ve been avoiding you?
Ah ha! the man said. You were avoiding me!
Thanks, anyway, the man said. It’s your turn now.
To drown in the pond.
Bunch felt like he owed the man, like his sadness was meaningless in context of a drowning person. He waded into the pond and half-assedly eeked for help.
Pathetic! the man said. Go deeper!
It’s not so easy, Bunch said, gurgling some water.
The water tasted like a nine-volt battery, but it washed the pickle taste from the back of his throat. He was tired from treading and afraid his cracked glass torso may take on water. All right! Bunch said to the man. C’mon and grab me!
But the man was now wearing a tuxedo and had his back turned to conduct a string quartet. The music was slow and mournful and muffled by the water splashing in Bunch’s ears.
Bunch exhausted himself for little breaths. He would not last another 236 days, he thought. Help me, you fucking idiots! he screamed. Can’t you recognize a body drowning when you see one?
Fact was, Bunch and Grace were tired of feeling depleted. Harvesting their emotions for human consumption had taken its toll. They were over fear and lovelessness. They had lost the capability to imagine a brighter future, which, even if a lie, was a necessary one. No more gaudy hats and hiding mists in their limbs. No more opening small doors to their organs. No more thanking perfect strangers for stowing away pieces of them in soft drinks. They wanted layers of thick sweaters. They wanted to be so full of mist it billowed from their broken bodies like smoke bombs on the Fourth of July. They told the reps of Humanity Vending all of this while tendering their resignations.
Of course, the reps said, you know this will be a breach of contract. We have you on the books for another three years.
Bunch and Grace said they understood.
And then you must know, of course, that you will owe us twenty percent of your annual income for the next ten years.
Bunch and Grace nodded.
And surely you understand, the reps said, that you can never go back to your flesh torsos, that they’ve already been rotting in a massive hole in the ground with other torsos from around the world. Even if we could locate your torsos, you wouldn’t want them back. They would smell and most likely fall apart.
We understand, Grace said. Bunch felt too scared to talk.
Please hand over your hats, the reps said. They handed over their hats.
When they got back to Bunch’s apartment they sat quietly at opposite ends of the room. The sky was overcast. Soon, the mists would mix together and create an unmarketable cloud of brown ennui. Bunch said, How is it, Grace, that a company we worked for is going to take more from us than we started with?
We’re not so doomed, Bunch.
Maybe not, but we’re suckers.
That might be true.
There’s a moral here, don’t you think, Grace?
They stopped talking for a long time. The room darkened with the sky. Their eyes adjusted to the darkness. They were quiet and quiet and quiet and quiet and for their mutual quietness they loved each other very much.
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