Rosalia Scalia writes fiction and nonfiction. Her magazine and newspaper articles have appeared in local, regional, and national publications. She’s written for E-Diets.com and Sikhchic.com. Currently, she serves as an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine; her poetry has been published in a U.S. Department of Agriculture newspaper and in a publication by the Enoch Pratt Free Library. She earned a master’s degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University in May 2003 and is currently working on her first novel, Delia’s Concerto.
Alice squeezed her eyes shut and turned her face to the passenger window when her father began singing. Rudy, who always sang as soon as he turned over the van, crooned a Sinatra tune, an old favorite from his Rat Pack repertoire. He sang in the car the way other fathers sang in the shower. As a child, his singing had embarrassed her, but as an adult, she embraced it. Except on this morning, Alice was in no mood for a song.
Groggy from a late-night date that had gone sideways, she would have preferred extra sleep before work, but no, her father insisted that their vending machines must be replenished at the butt crack of dawn when day shift employees arrived and night shift employees left, even on a weekend. Routinely, on the days they needed to restock snack inventory or change things up, they stood among the first customers when Costco opened its doors. For her, the machines constituted a hobby, something she did with her father, despite having invested in them. For Rudy, the machines represented the foundation for a retirement job that would require less physical labor and be more lucrative than his plumbing company. A business they could operate together. At thirty-four, Alice couldn’t imagine a retirement job. The whole idea of “retirement job” seemed like an oxymoron to her, and the vending machines simply provided her a good way to spend time with her dad.
Rudy had owned and operated Oliver’s Heating and Plumbing since before she was born. She’d spent many hours as a child in the squat building of his plumbing business, where she helped—first by answering phones and filing invoices, and then with scheduling. In high school, she had computerized the scheduling and accounting systems. Then after college, she started a real job with the Baltimore Port, where she worked her way up to port master, where she excelled thanks to the practical skills honed helping Rudy. She loved her job, loved knowing the comings and goings of the ships, tugs, and commercial vessels, loved solving problems they brought when sailing into the harbor. She managed more people and a bigger budget than Rudy’s plumbing business, but she never mentioned that to him. Instead, she wondered again how she’d let him talk her into owning half a vending business with him. They both enjoyed opera. Why hadn’t she suggested season tickets to the opera when he raised the issue of vending machines? She’d given him the green light for two machines—the old-fashioned sort, relatively cheap to buy—and then somehow heard herself agreeing to the acquisition of six more “smart combos,” computerized gizmos that offered both snacks and drinks and emailed them reports. Alice used the reports to prepare the data sheets for the Costco runs. Now eight machines later, she imagined them as baby birds needing constant attention. A pair of brainy machines sat in three different downtown gyms, and the “hobby” increasingly required chunks of her free time. At Costco, they’d purchase enough inventory to last several weeks, storing them in the office supply room at Oliver’s Plumbing. A vending machine Rudy had installed at the plumbing company became part of the plumbing operation and his baby.