can’t afford the ticket

Let’s not go there. We can’t go. Jill is standing on the platform, wailing about how she was a good mother. She’s in no condition to make the trip. Never mind that the only way you can even begin to be a good mother is to admit that sometimes you’re not such a good mother (said the only non-mother in the group, under her breath).

I’ve got heaps of money, enough for all of us, but the ticket is more expensive than that.

Cindy suggests that I need to put on my Big Girl Panties. I gather all the monsters into my heart, holding them there with my open palm. All my sweet little monsters. I look at Cindy. “Darling,” I say, “I am wearing the most grown-up panties I own.”  Cindy frowns and continues chattering at me like a giant blue wind-up squirrel.

Can’t afford the ticket. It’ll cost you your chattering, your insistence that you were too a good mother, and probably some of your more precious monsters.

What if there were a vending machine that took monsters as currency? Not the axe-murdering child-raping monsters. Those are too big. The monsters that interrupt their friends, the ones that leave the shopping cart in the middle of the parking lot: what would those get you?  What would a vending machine like that sell?

I bet there’s one in this station somewhere. And anyway, we need to pick a new destination. Where can we go, since we clearly can’t afford the ticket to They-Don’t-Want-Me-Ville?  The Museum of Bad Art, maybe?  No.  Jill can’t go there either. She doesn’t even believe it exists.

“Can’t take that lady anywhere,” grumbles one of my monsters. She’s wearing a tiny top hat, and striped knee socks and Big Girl Panties, but not much else. Pot, meet Kettle.

Where is that vending machine?

Pigeons swoop down from the inside of the roof, followed by an announcement I can’t quite understand even though I think it’s in English. The voice is musical and soothing. With or without my attention, events are proceeding as scheduled. There is no need to panic. If this were an emergency, something would be making a much worse noise.

The pigeons swirl back up to the roof, having completed their investigation of someone’s breakfast crumbs.

Right. Where is that vending machine?

A young man brushes past me. He says something I don’t understand. It might be French. It sounds filthy. He’s gone before I can tell him, “And you too. And your mother, and the horse you rode in on. And your little dog.”

Then I turn around and discover that I’ve been standing in front of a row of vending machines all along. There are the usual snacks: chocolate, chips, soda, gum. And then there’s a series of machines selling ten pounds of Other People’s Opinions in five pound sacks. You wouldn’t think these would be popular, but they’re doing a brisk business. I have to admit, some of those packages look pretty appealing. But that’s not what I came here for. I want to spend one of my monsters.

It is a long walk to the end of the platform. There is a man chasing a departing train. He has an armful of hot dogs. He’s trying to toss them through the open windows of the very last car. Not my problem. Not my circus, not my monkeys.

I reach the end of the platform without finding the vending machine, but there’s a set of stairs. Instead of stopping at the ground between the tracks, the stairs lead down into a tunnel. It’s warm and humid and well-lit. It’s grungy and smells like oil. And there, finally, is the machine I’ve been looking for.

There’s no window showing what’s inside. The machine has only one button, and only one marking: a little monster icon next to a slot. The slot looks too small for my monster, who has been riding quietly on my shoulder. She lets me take her down. I study her for a moment, then look back at the slot. Could I fold her? Would she fit?  Yes, that’ll work. She falls into the machine and lands with a soft grunt. I press the button.

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