Joey and the Gumball Machine
By P.J. Belding
Joey and his family were on their way to Florida. It was a cold winter, and they were all excited to see the sun, the blue sky, the palm trees, and the beach. When they got to the airport, they had to wait in the terminal for the plane. Joey started to get bored. He tried singing, jumping, twiddling his thumbs, playing tag with his little brother, Sam, but it just wasn’t any fun.
Then, he spotted something. “Look! It’s a gumball machine!” he said.
“Where?” said Sam.
“Over there!” said Joey.
“Can we get one?” the boys asked.
The father muttered, “how much is it?”
“Just a quarter,” Joey said, unable to contain his excitement.
The father handed two quarters to Joey, “Don’t be long.”
“Come right back,” said the mother.
Joey and Sam ran over to the gumball machine. The gumballs came in every colour: green, blue, red, yellow, orange, and even fuchsia.
“I want a red one,” said Joey. “I want a blue one,” said Sam.
Joey stuck the quarter into the slot and turned the dial all the way around. The gumball didn’t come out. Something wasn’t right.
“It’s broken,” said Joey. “Aww…,” said Sam.
“Don’t worry. I’ll get us one…” Joey stuck his hand into the chute where the gum comes out. He reached for a red one. He reached and reached and…”Got it!”
“What colour?” said Sam. “Red!” said Joey.
“Get a blue one!” said Sam.
“Not until I get the red one…”
Then the mother and father came over.
“Joey, get your hand out of there right now,” said the mother.
“My…hand…is…stuck…” he said. “Your hand is what?” asked the father.
“We’re going to miss the plane,” said the mother.
“Joey take your hand out of there right now!” said the father.
“Get me the blue one,” said Sam.
“I can’t,” said Joey.
“Awww,” said Sam, “why not?”
“Because I’m stuck.”
“Someone, please help!” the father called.
The airport maintenance man came running over. “What seems to be the problem?”
“Joey’s hand is stuck in the gumball machine,” said the father.
“How did he do that?”
They all looked at Joey.
“Joey, how did you get your hand stuck in the gumball machine?” the father asked.
“I was trying to get a red one…,” he said.
“I’ll get some soap. That should do the trick,” the man said. He left to get the soap.
They waited and waited and waited.
“We have to get going, we’re going to miss our flight,” said the father, “Joey, I’m afraid we’re going to have to leave you here.”
“You can’t!” said Joey.
“I’m afraid we have to,” said the father, “but just until we get back from Florida.”
The father, mother, and Sam walked away and got on the plane.
The maintenance man came back. He lathered up Joey’s arm with soap, then said, “See if you can slide your hand out…”
Joey still couldn’t get his hand out.
“Well, I’m sorry, soap is the only thing we have. I’m afraid there’s nothing more I can do.”
He walked away.
Crowds of travellers passed by, gawking at the strange boy with his hand stuck in the gumball machine. Some people even took pictures of him. Joey waited and waited and waited…
Days passed, and Joey still wasn’t able to get his hand out.
He passed the time by imagining where all the people were travelling to: Florida, England, Ireland, France, Italy, China, Brazil…Djibouti…
Two weeks later, his family returned from Florida. Joey still hadn’t gotten his hand out of the gumball machine. His father patted him on the shoulder, his mother gave him a kiss, and his brother blew a big blue bubble in his face. Then they left.
Joey waited and waited and waited…
Many years passed. Joey grew up, but he still hadn’t gotten his hand out of the gumball machine. Eventually, he met a girl in the airport who was travelling to Vancouver. She stopped for some gum but instead, she found Joey. Soon they decided to get married. They held the wedding ceremony by the gumball machine (because Joey couldn’t go anywhere else).
But time passed, and Joey grew much older. His wife only came to visit when she had spare time, when she wasn’t busy travelling the world with her friends to Florida, England, Ireland, France, Italy, China, Brazil…Djibouti. Eventually, she stopped visiting altogether, and Joey never saw her again. He imagined she found somewhere warm, like Florida or Djibouti, and decided to settle there, perhaps that’s what people do when they’re old.
One day, when Joey was ninety, a little boy stopped by the gumball machine. He reminded Joey of himself when he was a boy (eighty-three years ago). The boy said, “Hello.”
“Hello,” said Joey, in an old, tired, and raspy voice.
“Could I please have a blue one?” asked the boy.
“I’m sorry,” said Joey, “my hand is stuck. And besides, I’m already holding a red one…”
“Oh,” said the boy. He thought for a moment. “Well,” he continued, “your fist probably can’t fit through the chute, so why not just let go of the gumball?”
Joey paused for a moment. He looked at his hand clenched in a tight fist around the red gumball. He uncurled his fingers very slowly. They were sticky and red. The gumball in his fist had long ago dissolved. He slowly slid his hand down the chute.
He was free.
And just then, a red gumball dropped down the chute and landed in the slot.
Joey looked at the beautiful red gumball with awe; his grey eyebrows rose, and his dry mouth salivated. He slowly reached for it…
But the boy snatched it up, popped it into his mouth, and walked away.