Vending machine
Fluffed, Not Crushed
by J.L. Smith

Cheetos bags should fluff like pillows,
not crush,
my boss said,
plucking the orange bag—
flat in the middle,
like a tire tread ran through it—
from the vending machine.

like a pillow at a two-star hotel,
a training demonstration
on how to refill Lay’s potato chips,
make them look appealing to factory workers,
who were sleep drunk,
tired from making plastic Pantene shampoo bottles,
who cared less about fluffed bags,
more about whether the contents
were stale or not.

My eighteen-year-old hands filled Squirt cans,
fountain Coke syrup,
prepackaged turkey sandwiches—
with just the mayo packet—
into vending machines each weekend,
as the middle-aged janitor
took a half hour to sweep the break room,
while we discussed Jason Goes to Hell
and his seventeen-year-old girlfriend.

His eyes targeted my back
when I pulled out expired ham sandwiches,
placed them in milk crates for disposal,
after his hands took what he wanted,
before the burly foreman
shooed him away for his break—
fifteen minutes before everyone else’s—
to ask me about my life plans,
before telling me to get an education
so my back won’t become twisted
from bending over lines,
loading bottles on a conveyor belt,
showing people how to pack boxes.

he threw his Coke can into the trash,
his eyes on me,
wishing me a good day,
before his eyes lifted to the clock and
the workers outside,
who were also looking at the clock,
waiting for salvation,
and maybe,
a bag of Cheetos.

I twisted the key on the soda machine,
walked past the workers,
who knew me,
asked refunds of me,
complained of no sourdough pretzels to me.

I was their dinner bell.
I fluffed their pillows
in the vending machines I filled,
if only for their ten-minute break.

IMAGE: Vending machine featuring Cheetos, Lay’s potato chips,  and sourdough pretzels.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I loved this prompt, as it made me think of a simpler time, when I could not wait for my life to begin. Not to mention, how much I remember those fluffy bags of Cheetos!


J.L. Smith
works have recently appeared, or are forthcoming, in Avatar Review, Cirque, Calamus Journal, Alaska Women Speak, and others. You can follow her blog at and via Twitter @jennifersmithak.