Musterson jacked himself up from his special chair, fat arms applying four hundred pounds of pressure to the Formica desk. Legs like logs crashing together, he waddled toward the vending machine. Empty wrappers crunched in his pockets with each hippopotamus shuffle. Law students mimicked his lopsided strut during lunch breaks, crushing tin foil to demonstrate the sound of his candy bar diapers.
He loosened his Charlie Brown tie after the paralegal left, his pants button after the last attorney, dropping his mighty stomach onto his thighs.
He fished fifty-five cents from his pocket, slid the coins in, and punched E10. The machine released cheese doodles with a clockwise spiral that stopped a moment too soon. Musterson landed a quick left-right combination, slapping the steel. The shiny bag was snagged by its corner, swinging. He gave the machine a flagrant push, tipped it back and forth. He yanked the coin return, pounded E10 repeatedly, and hammered the glass with his fist.
He was staying late to finish a case his father gave him. A fictional school superintendent being sued by a fictional chemistry teacher on the grounds of fictional nepotism. His father reminded him daily that he lacked determination and that he was sticking his neck out for him. Ver-ee Em-por-tent, his father mouthed phonetically as if he was hearing-impaired, handing him the flimsy file.
Along the bottom row doodles dangled, provoking Musterson. He marched his eyeballs down each row, each colorful box and wrapper, feeling the laughter, the betrayal. In cozy, little cages, they mocked him; basked in his failures. Snickers grinned. Krackel busted up. Baby Ruth was in tears. Incensed, Musterson shook the machine furiously, shouted obscenities, pleading sweetheart.
With a slothlike running start, he rammed the machine, belly on glass. He drove his meaty knees into the sides. He squatted like a Sumo wrestler, squeezing, squeezing, squeezing.
Mr. Musterson was the first to find his son crushed under the vending machine Tuesday morning. When the boy saw his father storming down the steps, he whimpered in horror, flapping his limbs like a crab on its back.
Five burly cops pulled the machine off his white bread belly and found a bag of cheese doodles steamrolled on his chest and blown open from each end. An orange dusting stuck to his damp neck and chins.
Jeezus, the oldest cop with a spotty beard said, breaking the long silence, you can’t say the pumpkin wasn’t determined.
He looked at his son who rolled his cheek flush on the gray carpet, exhausted. His boy would float motionless for hours in the swimming pool, without kicking or thrusting his hands to keep afloat, his burning stomach sucking in the rays. The smaller children sought shelter from the scorching sun, diving deep to the bottom, hiding in the confines of the massive, shimmering shadow he cast upon the pool floor.
“You’ve been here all night, Dennis?”
“Yes sir, I have.”
A light-brown bullet of piping coffee filled the father’s small cup. “I see.”