Author: Brian Maycock
Free drinks for life.
I was nineteen when I said yes.
The machine announces its intentions with a gentle hum. A can is dispensed.
I feel dizzy, nauseous.
I’ve hardly slept for the last week. We’re going to lose the Mitchell account and it’s my fault. I could lose my job. This morning’s meeting is my last chance to get things back on track.
I look at the can. Its logo: the smiling face at its centre.
I can’t do this. Not today. Not right now.
The train station’s exit is right in front of me. If I can just get outside. I hurry towards the door.
There is another hum, the clank of another can landing in a dispenser.
I increase my pace. There is a third vending machine by the exit doors.
I pass it. Hum. Clank. The automatic doors remain closed. I look at my watch. I’ve got twenty minutes to get to the meeting. I can’t be late.
I take the new can from the dispenser, click it open and begin to drink it.
The doors slide open with a sigh which, the can now empty, I echo.
A contented sigh is the reaction that’s required, and the doors remain open while I put the can in the recycling box that accompanies each vending machine. I walk out into the street. My stomach cramps and burns.
I was nineteen. I am thirty-seven now. I am diabetic and medically defined as morbidly obese. The chip embedded in my spinal cord is less than a millimetre in circumference. They let me hold it in its sterile wrapper as I lay in bed in the clinic while the anaesthetic kicked in.
It is all about the best deal these days. Competition. Incentives. Choice. I’m the only Lifer I know.
Which isn’t saying much. Since my wife left me two years ago I don’t get out. My life revolves around my job at the advertising agency.
I am sweating badly by the time I reach the hotel. A conference room on the sixth floor has been booked, where I will present my vision for moving forwards.
There is a vending machine by the elevator. I am close enough for my chip to activate the vending process.
Nowadays it is everyday to top up your chip with credit for twenty cans. For a dozen energy bars. A four-pack of masks. You can cancel, change, you are in charge. And all the while your chip and the vending machines are sharing so that they know you as well as you know yourself, if not better.
I have a prototype inside me. Because of the health issues associated with my weight, I have been told that taking it out is too dangerous.
A can rolls into the dispenser. I can’t walk up six floors and the elevator won’t admit me until the vending process is complete. I gulp down the sweet liquid as quickly as I can and feel the pain and heat begin to build inside me once more.
The sweat is falling into my eyes and I can barely see the elevator button as I press it. The doors oblige. I take deep breaths. As long as I can make it to a bathroom to wash and try and smarten up before I go into the meeting it will be fine.
When I stagger through the door, the vending machine in the bathroom greets me with a can, smile side up. I begin to weep.