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The Pusher


José didn’t have a lot of ambition in life. At fifteen, he was what people his age referred to as a coaster, someone going through the motions, surviving one day to the next without ever failing or succeeding to the point of recognition. Just getting by, as they say. It wasn’t the worst life to live. A follower, not a leader. A face in the crowd rather than the face of the crowd. At least he wasn’t getting suspended, or worse, being heralded with accolades and promises of a brighter future that eventually lead to ‘Do you want fries with that?’ rather than the assumed ‘And the Nobel Prize goes to …’  He knew how the world worked. There were a select few who would make a name for themselves, but most wouldn’t. Most would end up doing something that was never on their radar. And the ones who were causing all the trouble—the burnouts; they already knew what their future was going to be like. It wasn’t good, but at least they knew. José was currently in that middle-zone of knowing and simultaneously not knowing what his life was all about. Knowing that, yes, he wasn’t going to be rocketed to the moon or wind up as a famous music star one day. But, also not knowing who he could be right now. Right now was happening right now, and if he wasn’t vigilant, it was going to be over soon. Maybe it was time to do something drastic; one big push to go from average into slightly-above-average status, a coaster to … well, he didn’t know what the word for that was, but it had to have some sort of ring to it, didn’t it? If he was going to do this, then it needed to be something extravagant. There was one idea that kept coming up again and again in his mind: Donald’s record of 76 carts.

A push.

A pretty damn big push.

There were two witnesses during Donald’s renowned cart record that took place at the Meijer on the corner of 28th and Kalamazoo. One was a co-worker who had explained on her Instagram that watching Donald try to push 76 carts at once was like trying to watch a child push a boulder up a mountain. Painful, yet liberating. The picture of the event was unfortunately blurry. The post received 217 likes. The second witness, a gentleman by the name of Chuck Winer, was loading up his Jeep with groceries when he saw Donald pushing the long train of carts across the parking lot. Donald later stated that Chuck had cheered him on during the entire ordeal, even patted him on the back once the final cart was pushed inside the store. It was the stuff of legends: Donald pushed 76 carts (without the cart caboose, that was key) and was immortalized into Meijer lore.

José had worked at the same Meijer for over six months and the closest he ever got to Donald’s record was a measly 45. Chump change. He didn’t understand how Donald had done it. 76 carts were insane. Imagine the strength needed to push that many carts. The composure! The blisters! How? Just … how? But it didn’t matter how Donald had done it. All that mattered was that he had done it. Almost all of José’s co-workers knew who Donald was because he had pushed 76 carts into Meijer like a boss. That mattered. Why? Because it was just silly enough to be cool, silly enough to count for something. If José was going to do this so-called push, removing himself from the shadows and into the light, then it needed to be something ridiculous like breaking Donald’s record. It was better than doing something ordinary like getting straight A’s at school. Who even remembers who the valedictorian is?

José arrived to work at 7:45 AM, fifteen minutes early. He was in some kind of mood. His chin was up an extra two inches higher than normal. His walk was steadier than usual; no dragging of his feet or scuff marks on the white tile inside of the store. His uniform was tucked into his jeans, no wrinkles. The odds of that happening were less than the odds of the Lions winning the Super Bowl. The temperature outside was a perfect 72 degrees, nice for a random Saturday in September. There was little foot traffic inside and the parking lot was about half empty. All of these things were ideal conditions for a record-setting afternoon. He had his mind set on greatness today.

The morning shift was easy. Mostly, he moved things from one end of the store to the other. He rarely got put on checkout and today was no exception. He realized that most of what any of his co-workers did at Meijer was move things.

Can you push this thing from here over to there? 

Can you lift this thing from here and then put it over there? 

Can you scan that thing that you put over there and then bring the scanner over here? 

Can you get to work on time, showered, dressed appropriately, and not acting like you’re all kinds of fucked up? 

The last one was hard for a lot of people at Meijer.

When 1:00 PM came, José clocked out and walked to the break room, whistling off-key.

76 carts.

Soon to be 77.

After lunch, Donald’s ass is grass.

On entering the break room, José noticed that Veronica was already sitting at the table eating her lunch. She said hi to him. He said hi back. Eye contact was not on the agenda. He took his lunch—Mac ’N’ Cheese with buffalo sauce—and heated it up in the microwave. He grabbed a seat away from Veronica and pushed aside a stack of old magazines to make room for his mac. The mac was positioned in such a way that it required him not to look at her while he ate. The juxtaposition was intentional. It wasn’t because Veronica was ugly. She was actually one of the cute ones at Meijer. She was his age, almost his height, and had dark-colored curls at the bottom of her brown hair that often caught his attention (often being every damn shift they worked together; it was either look at her curls or try memorizing the backs of cereal boxes—you wouldn’t believe the shit they put into Captain Crunch). He did like looking at her, just not during his lunch break. Whenever she ate, food would get stuck in her mouth. And right now she was eating corn on the cob. 

Who eats corn on the cob for lunch? At work of all places. 

It was enough to make one’s brain explode.

He stabbed his fork into the mac and blew on the nuked noodles before taking a bite. He needed to think about something else besides what Veronica’s teeth might look like. If he was going to get 77 carts today then there would need to be some sort of plan. There were a total of twelve cart corrals in the parking lot. At any given time, each corral would have eight to ten carts inside. On the busy days, it was a lot more. There would also be a minimum of ten tumbleweeds, his clever nickname for the rogue carts scattered throughout the parking lot. This gave him a high estimate of 130 carts, much more than he needed to break the record. But the amount wasn’t as important as the quality. A bum cart with a busted wheel would spell doom. Those things locked up like an old jar, or they spun around wildly like a busted fuel gauge. He thought it would be a good idea to use a couple of the corrals as a staging area for the bad carts, that way every cart making up the 77 would be the best of the bunch. All of this was going to take time, lots of time. Was there enough time, though? What if someone saw him? Didn’t he want to be seen? Maybe it wasn’t about being seen but making sure it happened at the right moment.

“Hey José,” Veronica said. “Did you see they’re already putting out the Christmas stuff?”

He looked at her, but only in his mind. A vivid picture was painted there: all the gaps in her teeth were chocked full of corn. It was like she was growing a field in her gums, a maze he couldn’t escape from. Was there a type of food that required more flossing than corn on the cob? José didn’t think so. It was like she knew how bad her teeth were going to get and gave zero shits. 

Kind of bold, actually. Also kind of attractive, in a jacked-up sort of way.

“Nah, didn’t see,” José said. He took another bite.

“It’s crazy. It’s not even October yet.”

“I know.” There was no better buzz-off answer than ‘I know’. It worked magically in study hall and during family dinner.

“You on carts this afternoon?”

“Yeah.”

“Cool. So am I.”

He looked at her again, this time for real. Her mouth was closed. She is kind of pretty, he thought. Kind of not being the optimal word to describe her, but it was all he could come up with at the moment. Her skin was tan like his and she somehow managed to look nice wearing their company polo. Hard to do.

“I’ve always wanted to work carts,” she said.

“Yeah?” José’s stomach was full of butterflies. Was he crushing on her right now?

No. It had to be the mac. That buffalo sauce had a tendency to sneak up on him sometimes.

This mac isn’t that spicy today. Maybe I am crushing on her.

“Yeah, it seems like good exercise. I’m so lazy at home.” 

After she said home, her mouth opened wide and she laughed. All of the butterflies that were flying around in José’s stomach suddenly had their wings clipped off. Her teeth were a mess; a yellow, husk-filled mess. The word fuzzy came to mind. He wanted to sprint over to the cosmetics aisle and shove all of the floss he could find into a bag and set it on top of her car. Plant a bow on top and add a note that read:

To: Veronica

From: Someone who just saved your life

Instead of looking at Veronica, José stared at one of the magazines on the table lauding a monster sale on crocks. “Who said you were working carts?”

“Margie.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, she told me on Monday that she wants you to show me how to do it. As if there’s some secret way to push around carts all day. I won’t need much training.”

Now she was throwing shade at his job. José’s mac suddenly didn’t taste as good as it had after the first bite. It was cold and flavorless and he didn’t think he would finish it.

“She never told me that I was going to train you.”

“She told me to tell you.”

“Why didn’t she tell me personally?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know how that woman works.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah …”

Corn Mouth. I’m going to start calling you Corn Mouth.

The nickname came to him all of a sudden and he couldn’t think of anything else.

Corn Mouth Veronica. God, it was perfect.

“You’re right,” José said. “There’s not much to show when it comes to carts.”

“I know,” she said, stealing his buzz-off word. “But at least we’ll be far enough away from Margie so we won’t get yelled at for stupid stuff. I’m tired of her watching me all of the time. I barely even talk to anyone on my shift, but when I do, I get screamed at. Sometimes you need to talk or else you go crazy. Surprised she hasn’t come in here to yell at us yet.”

“I know.”

Margie.

The one variable José had forgotten about.

Margie was the assistant manager at Meijer. She ran the store as if it was 1943 and the Fuhr had somehow made his way into America and transferred his consciousness into a middle-aged woman. There were no strikes or points with Margie; there was simply punishment. If you broke something, you were disciplined. If you placed something in the wrong aisle, you were disciplined. If you talked to another employe while on the floor about anything other than work, you were disciplined. Nothing ever got by Margie. If it did, you were one lucky S.O.B. and you never mentioned it to anyone or else you’d risk (you got it!) getting disciplined. She was the all-seeing eye that never blinked. How was José going to push a line of 77 carts without her noticing? It was enough stress to make one quit.

But José wasn’t a quitter. A coaster, yes, but not a quitter, not someone to give up that easily because the pressure was on. He was too bent on breaking the record today. If he pushed it off, then he would never do it. There’d be excuse after excuse to side-step it. It was going to be tough with Margie on the floor, and it was going to be super tough with Veronica (AKA, Corn Mouth) following him around outside, but he could do it. He knew he could. He had been thinking about this for so long that there wasn’t any room for doubt in his mind.

77 carts …

Being pushed across the parking lot …

Like the sound of uproarious applause.

“Why do you like working carts so much?” Corn Mouth asked.

“Why do I like them?”

“Yeah. I can tell that you like working carts.”

José didn’t know what she meant by that. Did he look like some over-eager puppy chasing a stick when he was pushing carts?

“I guess I like being outside. And it’s fun to see all of the people coming in and out of the store. Seeing all the crap they buy. Some of them have three carts full of stuff.”

“That does sound like it could be fun.”

“Yeah …”

“Yeah.”

And just like that, the conversation died an awful death.

They finished up their lunch and punched back in at the time clock. Corn Mouth had to visit the bathroom. This gave José some time to scout out the cart corrals. He had no intention of training Corn Mouth today. He was going to tell her what he wanted to do, and if she didn’t want to be a part of it, so be it. If she did, well, could she keep a secret? He thought that she could.

Before going outside, he stopped to pick out two reflective vests. All employees who worked carts were required to wear the vests. They were a bright neon yellow, the kind that causes blindness if you stare at them for too long. They were more of a nuisance than anything.

José walked outside through the automatic double-doors and leaned against a brick column. Cart corral’s one and two (the closest to the entrance) were pretty lackluster. There was five carts total, and two of them were the itty-bitties that would need to be at the front of the train. José hated the itty-bitties. He had used one shopping with his mom once and it felt weird pushing it around. It was a kind of self-conscious mind fuckery that made him feel that way. It was like he was announcing to the store that he was there to shop, but only a little. Just a wittle itty-bitty shopping cart for his wittle itty-bitty shopping desires. What if he saw a few things on sale and couldn’t fit them in the itty-bitty cart? How stupid would he look if he had to upgrade to a bigger one? These were the kind of petty dilemmas that drove him into madness.

He felt a tap on his shoulder and turned around. Nobody was there. He heard laughing coming from behind him.

“Gotcha,” Corn Mouth said, smiling. 

There wasn’t as much corn stuck in her teeth as before, but there still was some, enough for her to earn her nickname. José had an irresistible urge to reach forward and pick her teeth that he held inside of him like a cross-legged child waiting to go pee.

“So, what’s my first lesson: how to push a cart or how to find one?” She cupped her hands around her eyes like binoculars, looking out into the parking lot. “Oh look, there’s one! And there’s one! And—holy shit—there’s another one! I think I got the hang of this.”

José handed her a vest. She seemed very excited to put it on.

“It’s so shiny!”

“Can I be honest with you?” José said.

“Sure! Actually, no, how about you don’t be honest with me. How about you lie all the time.”

Sarcasm wasn’t her second language; it was her first and only language apparently. At least she wasn’t boring. She put her hands on her hips and tilted her head.

“I’m not going to train you today,” he said.

Her shoulders dipped and her face went slack. It almost made José sad because of how disappointed she looked. Maybe he could train her. Not properly, but at least give her the basics while he assembled his cart train. Anything to change this sadder, shorter Corn Mouth.

“What am I going to tell Margie? She’s going to ask, you know. Why aren’t you going to train me, José? Is it because you don’t like me? I saw you at lunch. You didn’t sit next to me or want to talk to me very much.”

“No. No. I do like you. I really do like you.”

Her eyebrows went up a quarter-inch. It might as well have been a mile. He needed to course-correct what he just said. He was stepping in shit and needed to clean off his shoes quickly.

Nice one! Might as well tell her you dream about her naked next. See how she reacts to that. And it wouldn’t even be a lie!

“I can’t train you today because I’m going to try and break Donald’s cart record,” he said.

There was a pause, then: “What cart record are you talking about?” Cart came out as curt, sort of like skirt. “Is this something I should know about? I hate it when everyone else knows something that I don’t. Makes me feel dumb.”

José hadn’t realized it until now, but he had put his hand on Corn Mouth’s shoulder. He was serious about this cart record. Damn serious. Or maybe it was an excuse to touch her. When he told her that he liked her did he really mean it that way? Things were beginning to get all twisty inside of him. He didn’t know if he was nervous about attempting the record or nervous around Corn Mouth because there was this sudden craving to impress her, to be nice to her. It was confusing as hell. Weird teenage shit for sure.

José took a breath. “Here’s the short version of it. Back in 2007—”

“Dang!” Corn Mouth said. “I was only two!”

“Yeah … Me too. So, in 2007, Donald, a great man—a genius—assembled 76 carts together in a line—”

“76 carts?”

“Yeah. 76.”

“In a line?”

“Yes.”

“Like a train?”

“Yes.”

“A train of carts?”

“That’s right.”

“What did he do with them?”

“I was just about to get to—”

“So tell me!” She turned her feet outward so the rubber edges of her shoes were the only things keeping her up. José did this exact same thing when he was excited. 

“He pushed the line of carts into the store,” José said.

“Into the store?”

“Yeah.”

“He just pushed them in?”

“Uh-huh.”

“76 carts, holy shit that’s a lot! He must have been exhausted.”

“Yep.”

“And you want to beat him?”

“I do.”

“You’re going to assemble 77 carts and push them with all your might, right into the store?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Does anyone else know about this?”

“Just you.”

“I’m in.”

“What?”

Now her hand was on his shoulder. That part of his skin got all tingly.

“I said I’m in,” she said. “What do you need me to help you with?”

He hadn’t anticipated this. Some kind of help. And from Corn Mouth of all people. He supposed any kind of help was welcome. He didn’t think it would taint the record. She would gather up the carts, but not push them. He needed to be the only one doing the pushing. He hadn’t noticed it until now, but all of the corn was gone except for one speck stuck in-between her bottom front teeth. He found the speck to be sort of cute, like someone wearing a shirt for an hour and not realizing they still had the tag on it. Obliviousness. It was the sharpest arrow in Cupid’s quiver, and José had just been shot with it. Not in the heart, but close. Maybe a lung.

“If you want to help you can help,” José said. He looked around the parking lot for a good place for her to start. “Ah. Ok. You can begin by grabbing all of the tumbleweeds.”

“The whaaaaaaat?”

“The carts that aren’t in the corrals.”

“You call them tumbleweeds? That is just too cute. God, José, you must really be bored out here by yourself?”

“It’s a lonely job I guess.”

“Well, I’m here to keep you company. Where do you want me to put the …” She busted out the air quotes. “Tumbleweeds?”

“You can just bring them over to me. I’ll sort through them and pick out the best ones for the train.”

“Awesome!”

José laughed. He was having way too much fun already. Corn Mouth skipped over to the far side of the parking lot and got to work. There were only a few tumbleweeds scattered around the parking lot. Still, it was less work for him to do while he focused on building the train.

People were coming and going all around him. It looked like it was about to get busy. He emptied out cart corral’s three and four. This gave him a total of 17 carts. Not a bad start. The tricky part was going to be where to stage them while he acquired the rest. He needed an area where he wouldn’t be blocking too many parking spaces. And it also needed to be close to the store. There was no sense in pushing a train of 77 carts from one end of the parking lot to the other.

He took a couple of the carts with bum wheels over to corral’s one and two—the staging area for the unusable carts. José knew that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over. That was sort of the life of a cart pusher: empty out corrals, watch them get full again, empty out corrals, watch them get full again. Insanity. 

Corn Mouth jogged while she pushed over a cart. An empty pop bottle in the basket bounced around wildly.

“Got one,” she said. “Want me to add it to the train?”

“No. I can do that,” José said. “Hey. Make sure that you put like four or five together when you collect them. Margie hates it when you just grab them one at a time.”

“Oh. I can do that. Is that my first lesson?”

“Just a tip.”

She gave him a thumbs up and went to the other side of the parking lot. There were two tumbleweeds mounted on the curb, their front tires stuck in the grassy island that bordered the entryway and the parking lot. If a cart made it past there, it was as good as gone. Someone would either steal it and take it home to … well, José never understood what people actually did with the carts when they stole them. Push around random shit? The most likely scenario for a tumbleweed past the entryway was for it to get damaged, either by a car or a gust of wind sending it into a ditch. Even with its solid metal frame, it didn’t take much to put a cart out of commission.

When Margie first hired José she had told him that his job as a cart pusher was like herding sheep. These carts are your kids. They’re always going to go off on their own. They don’t know any better. They need a shepherd to bring them back. That shepherd is you. Can you be a shepherd, José? Can you bring them back safely and unharmed?

At the time, he thought it was the dumbest thing he had ever heard. They were carts, not kids running away from an orphanage. They carried groceries, clothes, and rambunctious toddlers who liked to stand on the metal bar in between the rear wheels (God save any child who was caught doing that while Margie was on the floor).

  But whether José liked to admit or not, Margie’s dumb analogy had imprinted onto him. Since he had been hired, he had lost only seven carts: three were from a freak snowstorm, three blew away on a windy day, and one was stolen by a group of college punks who needed it for their annual college bed race. Seven lost carts was a low number, a good number. It was the reason he had been dubbed the cart guru at Meijer. Did his impeccable work ethic stem from him wanting to do a good job, or had Margie brainwashed him with the whole ‘carts are sheep’ bullshit? Tough to say. Either way, it was a paycheck. He needed that money for movies, clothes, and midnight’s out at Coney Island. If believing in some lame mantra about carts kept the paychecks coming, then that was fine by him.

José added Corn Mouth’s cart to the train, making 18. He went over to corral’s five and six and began emptying them out. He caught a glimpse of Corn Mouth pushing three carts across the parking lot, singing away, happy as can be. He wondered what song she was singing. She probably had a good voice. He wished that she would come closer so that he could hear it.

A total of 22 carts were pulled from corral’s five and six. Only one of them had a bum wheel. He added the 21 carts to the train, making a total of 39. Just over halfway there. He moved the cart train backward to an area in front of some empty parking spaces, just far enough away (but not too far) to give him room to build his train. He felt all his muscles tightening up when he moved them. 

77 is going to be a hell of a lot harder than this. Can I really do this? Before I wanted to do it to be cool. Now, Corn Mouth is here and I feel all weird about it. Is it worth killing myself to impress a girl?

Yes. Yes, it most definitely is.

Corn Mouth arrived with five carts, singing at the top of her lungs. José recognized the song: “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish, only she wasn’t singing I’m the bad guy when she got to the refrain, she was singing I’m the caaaaaaaaart guy. Hilarious. There was something about the way she moved that he found attractive. She didn’t have some sort of identifying walk or hip movement while she pushed the carts. How she walked would have seemed quite normal to anyone else who was watching. But for José, it was an all-encompassing allure: the singing, the walking, the pushing. 

She can push those carts all day.

His feelings were all over the map. That’s how it usually went with teenage attraction. It was senseless, unquantifiable madness. He liked the way she looked but he didn’t like the way she ate. Imagine trying to do a dinner date. Or how about inviting her over for Thanksgiving. He’d have to tell his mom to scrap the corn casserole. She would be mad at first, but later she would understand. Maybe it was mean to think about those things. Maybe there was something about him that she couldn’t stand, that she was thinking about right now. But what could it be?

No matter. He needed to stop referring to her as Corn Mouth. From now on, she would revert back to Veronica the Beautiful.

“I got five!” Veronica said. “Whoop! Whoop! Look at me. Whoop! Whoop!”

José smiled and let her add them to the train.

“What do we have now?”

“44,” José said. “We’re getting there.”

“And we haven’t even emptied out all of the corrals!”

“Put the itty-bitty in the front. That’s where I’ve been putting them.”

“The whaaaaaaat?”

“The shorter cart.”

“So many nicknames for things. José, you’re adorable.”

She moved the itty-bitty to the front of the train. A woman who was clutching a grocery list the length of the Constitution took notice of the cart train. She stopped, looked at José and Veronica, then continued on her way.

“Do you think people are starting to wonder what we’re doing?” Veronica asked.

“I don’t think so. This is about the length that I’m used to.”

“That’s what she said.”

They laughed.

“I need to go inside real quick and get some rope,” José said.

“What for?”

“I want to tie the carts together so they don’t sway too far left or right when I push them.”

“You’re so smart.”

“It’s standard cart procedure.”

“Standard cart procedure? You say that like you’re a cop or something. God, you really are into this whole cart thing aren’t you?”

“Living the dream.”

“I’ll go get some more tumbleweeds while you’re gone. I saw some over by the bus stop.”

“Great idea.”

José went inside and stopped to get a quick drink at the fountain, which ended up being a mistake because Margie found him there.

“Are you on break again?” Margie said. She was holding a clipboard that probably had the names of all the co-workers who were going to be disciplined today. Margie’s clipboard made Santa’s naughty list look like the Gospel of Christ.

“I was just going to the bathroom and then getting rope for the carts outside. I’m showing Veronica how to tie the carts together.”

“Oh, I see. Good. I can always count on you to do a great job with carts.”

“Thanks.”

Margie scribbled something (probably horrible) on her clipboard and left. José made sure to go to the bathroom so he wouldn’t be caught in a lie. He unspooled a fifty-foot rope from the maintenance room and met up with Veronica outside. She had four more carts waiting for him.

“I ran into Margie,” José said, speaking like someone who had just escaped the clutches of death.

“Ooooo scary!” Veronica jokingly chattered her teeth. “What did she say?”

“Not much. She doesn’t know what we’re doing out here.”

“Well, we are technically still doing our job.”

“True.”

“Just maybe not in the most efficient way.”

“Also true.”

She crossed her arms and looked down at the ground. Her actions were a clue that she was about to ask a question. Other girls at school did this all the time.

“Why aren’t we using the CartCaddy to move the carts?”

The CartCaddy (or cart caboose as José liked to call it) was a motorized cart pusher that could move up to 10,000 pounds of carts on its own. It attached at the back of the carts, allowing an individual to guide the train while the CartCaddy did the heavy lifting. It was standard procedure (there was that phrase again) to use the cart caboose on busy days, that way large volumes of carts could be moved at a much quicker pace. Because it was a $5000 piece of equipment, and because it was powerful enough to do some serious damage if not handled carefully, José rarely used the cart caboose unless Margie told him to do so. It was also hard to waste time using the cart caboose. José knew that the most important part of working a low wage job was wasted time posing as hard work. Pushing carts without the cart caboose was hard work. It also wasted a shit load of time.

“The reason I’m not using the cart caboose—”

“Cart caboose? You even have a nickname for that thing?”

He nodded.

“Go on.”

“The reason I’m not using it is because Donald didn’t when he broke the record,” José said. “If I use it, then my record will be tainted. There will be an asterisk.”

“You definitely don’t want an asterisk.”

“For sure.”

“You want the judges to give the grand prize to you fair and square, no debates.”

“Exactly.”

“You really have thought this whole record thing through, haven’t you?” She uncrossed her arms and put her hands on her hips. “And here I thought I was being a loser when I stacked boxes of penne on top of each other to see how high I could get them to go.”

“How many did you get?”

“I can’t remember. Around 37 I think.”

“That’s pretty good.”

“Uh-huh.”

“But you’re still a loser.”

“What?” Her hands slapped the side of her legs. “What do you mean?”

“You said ‘Here I thought I was being a loser’ when referring to stacking boxes. What part of my answer leads you to believe that I disagreed?”

“José!”

He pointed at her and began to laugh. “I’m just messing with you. I’m trying some of that sarcasm you’re so good at.”

“Oh my God, I was about to be so pissed. I mean, I know I’m a loser. It’s all pretty grand if you think about it. But I was seriously about ready to punch you in the face.”

“Really?”

“And curb stomp you.”

“What?”

“Take a hint, José. Now I’m messing with you.”

She grinned (no corn!) and took the rope from his hands. “Show me where to attach this.”

José was a deer in headlights.

“Hey, show me.”

“Oh, sorry.”

He helped her attach the rope to the first cart, then draped it across the tops of the carts and let it hang off the end. Veronica’s four carts brought the train up to 48. They went to corral’s nine and ten and rounded up 15 more. Veronica insisted (begged was a more apt description) that she have a chance to push them over to the train. José let her have her shot at glory. Being the novice that she was, her shot was over in about five seconds. She couldn’t quite figure out how to turn the long train of carts without them bending inward like a snake slithering across the ground. She almost face-planted onto the parking lot when her feet slipped and went in the wrong direction.

“Dammit!” she said, and then at the carts: “Won’t you stop turning?”

José butted in. He was still technically training her and she was doing it all wrong. “Here, let me help you with that. Sometimes, it’s better to go at it from the other side.”

“That’s what I’ve heard.”

“Huh?”

Veronica had her hand over her mouth, silencing a laugh.

“Wow, you have a dirty mind,” he said.

“Probably true.”

He and Veronica walked alongside the carts, pulling them over to the train that was now blocking four parking spots. It was good teamwork. They separated them one by one and pushed them hard into the train, making sure there weren’t any gaps or wheels out of alignment. There were 63 carts now. José was so close to attempting the record that he was starting to get butterflies again. There was a nice rim of sweat forming on his forehead. It was the same for Veronica. The polos they wore were not only great at making them look uncool, but they were also champions at making them sweat profusely. Add in the vests and they were really layered up today. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, like Meijer polo B.O. after an eight-hour shift. When those shirts began to pile up in José’s dirty clothes, his room was always a little brighter at night because of the radiation beaming from the knitted cotton.

“So close,” José said.

“How many more?”

“14.”

“Oh, we got this—I mean you got this.”

He didn’t mind that she had said we. She was the helper he never knew he needed; the audience he had never anticipated. She had a stake in this record too.

“There are still a lot of carts out there so we can be picky. How about you and I pick the best seven and then add them to the train?”

“Why beat the record by only one cart, José? Why not beat it by more?”

He always imagined 76 carts to be such a daunting task, that adding one more to break the record was more than enough of an accomplishment. But maybe Veronica was right. Why stop at 77? Why not build a cushion between himself and Donald in order for his new record to stand tall?

Team Veronica and José. I need to make jerseys. Mom can totally make some after I break the record. We can be matching at school and walk together in the hallways. Most people will awwww. Some will ewwww. But who gives a shit, right?

“Let’s make it 80,” he said.

“Three more then?”

“Uh-huh.”

“80 it is.”

They skipped over to the other side of the parking lot. José grabbed ten carts; Veronica grabbed seven. They inspected the sides for any dents and made sure that all of the wheels rolled nicely. They added them to the train, locking them into place. Everything was taking more time than anticipated, but there was no turning back. He had an accomplice now. If he got busted, Veronica would go down with him. But she had made the choice to help him out. He never forced her. He never seduced her with promises of fortune and glory (well, he sort of did). He had only convinced her that this record was a big deal. And big deals didn’t come cheap these days. You had to work for them. And yes, sometimes, you had to risk the possibility of your over-bearing boss chewing your ass out. Worth it.

José tied off the rope at the end of the train. He squatted and looked down the long line of carts, making sure there weren’t any jutting out too far, thus making the train unstable. He found a few toward the center and did a hip-check into their sides. Veronica was whispering numbers to herself as she passed by him.

“Are there 80?” José said.

“Quiet. I’m not done counting.”

She tapped her hand on the push bar of each cart. When she reached the first cart, she gave the push bar a harder pat than she had on the others.

“Done!” she said. “80 carts all ready to be pushed into the record books.”

“Are you sure there are 80? Should we do a recount?”

“Are you doubting my math skills?”

“No. I just want to be sure.”

She held up her right hand. “As God is my witness, José, there are 80 carts.”

“Ok. I believe you.”

“Good. I was getting worried.”

José took a long hard look at the empty space between the store and his cart train. He figured it was about 40 to 50 yards, but it could have been longer. It wasn’t the distance that worried him, it was the angle he needed to achieve to get the train into the store. He had done his best to line up the carts so that when he got to the front of Meijer, the turn would be minimal. But there still was a turn, and if he didn’t do it correctly, the carts would get stuck. Getting stuck was about the worst-case scenario. There were a million other bad scenarios, most of them outlandish, but getting stuck was about as bad as it gets.

“What are you doing?” Veronica said. She stood next to him, looking in the same direction, more out of curiosity than preparation.

“I’m just getting ready. Can you feel it?”

“Feel what?”

“The tension.”

“Oh, I’ve got chills—freaking chills, José.” She switched voices, become a color-commentator. “Some people train their whole lives for a moment like this. José …”

“Rodriguez.”

“José Rodriguez …” She cupped her hands around her mouth. “A champion of our times. The hero we deserve, but not the one we need right now.”

“Are you quoting The Dark Knight?”

“Quiet!” She nudged him with her elbow. “This is as much my moment as it is yours!”

“Oh, sorry. Sorry.” He was liking her more and more by the minute.

“Today, José Rodriguez hopes to place himself at the top of the record books. The world may never again see something like this.” She paused, then reverted back to her normal, lovely voice. “You ready?”

He was too nervous to speak anymore. He gripped the push bar on the first cart. He took a couple quick breathes, then exhaled to the point where his entire body felt loose. The butterflies were back. His innards were one giant lepidopterarium. The hair on his body wasn’t just standing up, it was pointing out like sharp thorns. The shoppers getting in and out of their cars suddenly disappeared. There was only the cart train and the door, the door ahead of him, like the gates of Saint Peter, looming large. His eyes were focused, like someone racking a set of binoculars all the way to the most powerful zoom. He was ready, coaster status be damned.

Veronica raised her arm, making her hand into the shape of a gun. “On your mark …”

José’s hands were tight around the bar.

“Get set …”

So tight that his knuckles cracked.

GO!

He leaned forward and dug his feet into the parking lot. He pushed the cart train …

And it went nowhere.

He grunted and tried again, his feet running in place. 

Nothing.

It was too heavy. He was too weak.

Utter failure.

“Come on, José, you got this!” Veronica’s words were encouraging, but they didn’t feel realistic. José felt like his triceps were going to tear in half if he pushed any harder. How much did this thing weigh anyway? More than a ton. Easily. José was a cool 125 pounds. He wasn’t pushing a cart train; he was pushing an actual train.

“José! José! José!” Veronica was no cheerleader (she lacked the proper rhythm), but her tenacity was making those butterflies flap their wings faster. Perhaps he could use the excess wind to blow the carts forward. “You can do it José, José, José!”

He squared up his body again. He noticed something he hadn’t before. There was a decline in the parking lot. Very little, but it was there. If he could get the train to move even three feet, the first cart would catch the beginning of the decline and gravity would do the rest. Gravity to the rescue.

“José! José! José!”

“Can you do a backflip or something with your cheering?” José asked.

“Can you do some cart pushing with your grunting?”

“I’m really going to do it this time.”

“You better.”

“Watch me.”

Perhaps the arrow that Cupid had shot him with was making him lightheaded from all of the blood loss, thus giving him the illusion of confidence. But false confidence was still confidence, and maybe a little of that was all he needed to get over this hump.

He considered trying a different strategy: pulling on the sides of the carts to gain some momentum. Donald pushed his 77 carts into Meijer, but maybe he had to pull on them first to get them going. The beginning of Donald’s record-breaking push had little to no documentation. All that mattered was getting the cart train into the store by his lonesome, without the help of another person or any kind of external aid. They didn’t need to be pushed the entire time, José figured, only moving.

He went to the front and started pulling on the sides of the carts. He started about ten carts into the train, then worked his way back. They began to move. The first few carts found their way past the beginning of the decline.

Ten at a time. Slow movements.

He was getting there. He was in the zone.

“Ah, it’s happening!” Veronica said. She ran to the front, acting as a lookout.

José was at the 50 cart mark, yanking on the sides, swearing under his breath. At this point, he would rather be pushing drugs than pushing carts. Why couldn’t he have picked a different record like eating 80 wings, or doing 80 sit-ups, or giving 80 kisses to Veronica? Something else besides this ridiculousness.

Because, I want to go big. I want to be heard. I want to be … the GREATEST CART PUSHER TO HAVE EVER LIVED!

He was glad there was a reflective vest covering his polo. All the sweat dripping down his back was not something that needed to be seen by any human eyes, specifically the eyes belonging to Veronica.

“Look at them go!” Veronica said. She walked alongside the carts, putting her hand on them but not pushing. He was starting to notice her nice smile. It was very pretty without all of the corn. 

Give that girl an Invisalign and hang her photo at your local dentists office. That smile’s a million bucks!

Everything seemed to be going swimmingly. The carts were moving. The people outside weren’t affected by the long train. Margie hadn’t come out to see what they were doing. Veronica thought he was the shit right now. It was everything he dreamed it would be.

A boy, no older than seven, ran up beside José and asked, “What the heck are you doing?”

“Pushing carts,” José said.

“Why so many?”

“Why not?”

The kid’s mind must have blown at that point, for his eyes got big and his mouth opened up to say something, but only silent air came out. The kid ran over to his parents who were loading their car with groceries. He tugged at their shirts and pointed over to José and his cart train. The parents stopped briefly, looked in his direction, then went back to their unloading. Apparently, 80 carts were not deserving of their attention. At least the kid had been freaked out.

At this point, the train had moved past a total of three parking spots. Slow and steady. It was moving, though. That was all that mattered. The one thing he didn’t take into consideration was the noise. The sound of 80 carts grinding their way across the parking lot was making his teeth rattle. If only there was some music playing to make his pushing feel more epic.

Veronica was ahead of him, banging her arms together in the shape of an X. She kept saying something but he couldn’t understand her.

“What?” José said.

“Waf ope!”

“What?”

“WATCH OUT!”

That’s when he realized this thing didn’t have any brakes.

An elderly driver didn’t see the cart train passing behind her SUV. She might not have been able to see anything based on the size of the cataract glasses she was wearing. José had seconds—mere seconds—to pull on the cart train and try to avoid hitting her. Veronica took the initiative to run up to the woman’s driver’s side window and tap on it. Actually, it was more of a pounding.

“Stop! Stop!” she shouted.

José couldn’t hear the old woman, but it looked like she was screaming. The first thought that came to his mind was that Veronica might actually scare her to death. The SUV came to an abrupt stop, the entire frame of the vehicle rocking on the axle. It had missed the cart train by inches. It was a short-lived victory, because now there was an even bigger problem. His last-ditch effort to pull the carts to the left made the train veer too far to the left. It now sat diagonally across the road, blocking the entire way. And there was a car coming.

The oh shit! meter was now cranked to its highest level.

José scrambled to get the train back in order, throwing his butt into the sides of carts like a madman. Veronica was still at the window with the old woman. It looked like the tables had turned; the old woman was now screaming at her, rolling down the window and using swear words that hadn’t been uttered since 1935.

“Veronica! I need your help over here, ” José said.

Her vest fanned out like a cape when she sprinted over to the train. José didn’t even need to tell her what to do. She saw the car coming—that the train was blocking the road—and stood between the carts and the car to let the driver know it was impassable.

José managed to get the front of the train pointed toward the right. The rope was holding for now, but the knots he had tied were weak. José was a slip-on guy, not a tennis shoe guy. It wasn’t because of comfort, it was because the bunny could never get out of the hole. Or was it supposed to be going into the hole? He could never remember that stupid nursery rhyme. The point was, he sucked at tying shoes, and that suckiness also transferred to his rope tying skills. There was no time to fix it now. Not when he was blocking the road.

He ran back to the end and started pushing again. It took a full thirty-seconds to get the wheels moving, but when they did, it seemed like he had shifted things enough for the car to be able to pass soon. He looked back at Veronica and admired her spunk, standing there between him and the car like some policewoman. Once the train was far enough to the right, she waved the car on through. The driver gave José a worried stare when they passed. It seemed like the stare was more about his physical state rather than the debacle of blocking the road. All the veins and muscles were popping out of José’s skin, making him look like some escaped lab experiment ready to raise hell.

“I really thought that old lady was going to hit you,” Veronica said, joining his side.

“I thought she was going to hit you.”

“Eh, she was harmless.”

“I’m going to need you at the front again. We’re going to be crossing the main road soon.”

“Ok. That was one big bullet we just dodged back there.”

Veronica was right. They had dodged a bullet. But the funny thing about bullets is that they sometimes have a way of ricocheting. Maybe it’s a stone or a piece of metal—whatever it is, something causes them to return to the beginning. José and Veronica had just escaped the passing bullet. But now, as the bullet moved in front of them, descending toward the earth, a mysterious object threatened to bounce it back with malicious intent.

This mysterious object was a red 2019 Kia Soul.

Veronica was a good lookout. She stood at the T-intersection and watched as cars and shoppers passed by. José knew that at some point she was going to have to stand in the middle of the road and stop traffic like a crossing guard. His record-breaking performance would fully be on display then. The surveillance cameras would have a good view of the cart train moving up onto the sidewalk. Maybe he could ask for a copy later and upload it onto the web. He wondered if he should have Veronica start filming, but he shot that idea down quickly. He needed her focused on the road. This was going to be the hardest part.

“How close?” José asked.

“About fifteen-seconds away from needing me to stop traffic.”

“Is there a lot?”

“Some. But not a lot. I think we will be ok. How are you planning on making the turn into the store?”

“Same way I moved the train when the SUV almost hit me.”

“Just don’t kill yourself.”

“What do you mean? I feel more alive than ever!”

“You look like you might pop if I pricked you with a pin.”

“Then please don’t prick me.”

“Never crossed my mind.” She looked both ways, then said: “It’s time.”

Veronica walked into the center of the road that divided Meijer from the parking lot. There was a car coming to the left. She held up her hand to stop the car, then waved José on through. The carts felt heavier than ever, but they continued to move. José had heard of old man strength; the ability for old men to lift things they had no business lifting. Maybe he had cart man strength. He had to have something, because what he was doing right now shouldn’t have been possible. 

Come on down to the Meijer on 28th and Kalamazoo and watch a skinny-ass cart pusher move worlds.

Veronica was doing a tremendous job holding up traffic and directing those with full grocery carts away from the cart train that was intersecting their paths. José saw a future for her in traffic crossings, but he figured that one doesn’t exactly aspire to do that sort of job. That sort of thing falls on you when literally nothing else pans out.

The front of the cart train found its way up onto the sidewalk. It wouldn’t be long before José would need to pull the train in order for it to enter Meijer at the proper angle. Veronica was focused on her traffic conducting; José was focused on pushing. Neither one of them were focused on the two empty parking spaces to the left of the cart train, and why should they be? An empty space was a good thing. It was one less car to worry about backing into the cart train. It was a non-issue area … until it wasn’t.

It all happened in about the span of twenty-seconds, but for José, he felt like he was stuck inside a three-act movie.

Act 1

The Illusion of Success

José was gassed. The cart man strength he thought he had was really just adrenaline, and it was wearing off. The carts eased into a dead stop and formed a border wall across the main roadway in front of Meijer. Cars were stopped on both sides. José felt like he couldn’t breathe. His throat seized up and he started to cough. Veronica look concerned, but she didn’t abandon her post. She bravely stood her ground and kept the cars at bay.

He needed a five-minute break, but he knew that wasn’t possible because of where he was. Where was he going to find a second wind?

Veronica.

It had to come from her. Corn mouth be damned, he thought she was the coolest girl around, and he wouldn’t be where he was without her. He rested on the cart and smiled, all the butterflies inside of him banging into his insides. Why did she look even cuter with that stupid vest on? Things like that didn’t make any sense, but he wasn’t going to argue with it. He was so focused on Veronica’s figure that the world to his right and to his left didn’t exist. He was not aware of the man (later identified as Roger Mayfield) gripping the wheel of his 2019 Kia Soul, perturbed by the sudden stop in traffic caused by an unseen development ahead of him. The Kia was about four cars back from the stationary hand that Veronica held high in front of her chest, a hand that held more power than a steel gate. Roger, still unseen by José at the moment, noticed the empty spaces just to the right of the blockage in traffic and thought that if he was going to get to the pharmacy drive-thru in a decent amount of time, he better gun it around the traffic jam and blow through those parking spaces. His intentions, while noble, blinded him to the fact that there was a train of blue carts sitting idle because of an over-tired, over-confident teenager (who was also blinded, albeit, his blindness was due to his clouded ego and a girl who may or may not still have corn stuck in her teeth).

Act II

Annihilation

Like the dinosaurs that roamed the earth ages ago, nothing ever stays at the top of their game. Eventually, an asteroid comes out of nowhere to fuck up your shit. José, so sure that Donald’s record was about to be broken, and Roger, so sure that he had discovered a secret passage around the traffic stop, collided with each other with a cataclysmic force. The Kia might have been going only fifteen miles an hour at the time, but for José, it was like a cheetah running down a gazelle. It didn’t matter how fast it was going; all that mattered was that it was going much faster than him, and there was nothing he could do to get out of the way.

The Kia slammed into the cart train, pushing the middle outward and sending José onto his back. He could see things happening from a tilted angle on his side. The reverberation of the impact made the beginning and end of the train swing the opposite way, causing it to look like a giant letter C. The rope loosened and fell off to the side. One of the carts slammed into the back of Veronica. She fell forward onto the pavement, her palms stopping her face from hitting the ground. From the look on her face—a mixture of shock and sudden pain—the pavement had cut up her skin pretty good.

Act III

Escalation

This was where things really began to fall apart.

As José lay on his back, he realized that the accident did more than bend the cart train into the shape of a letter C. It sent a shockwave through the metal frames of the carts. Because the first carts had already made their way up onto the sidewalk (and because they were the dreaded itty-bitties), they had a perfectly paved surface to gain speed before coming to a violent end. One cart slammed into a brick pillar, bending the frame inward. Another managed to lift off the ground entirely and barely miss a man powering an Amigo. The last cart launched like a missile and swept a little girl clean off her feet, sending her iPhone onto the ground, eradicating it into a million pieces. Later surveillance footage would show that she had indeed been knocked right out her shoes—tiny sandals that sat idly on the sidewalk. Luckily, her father had quick hands, and he snatched her mid-air before she fell on her back.

It was an all-out war. People screamed. Car horns blared. Somewhere on the sidewalk, a little girl mourned the unfair death of her cellphone (her first cellphone, to be precise, as her later interview with local news would reveal).

José shook his head, knocking away the cartoon birds that were circling above. His knees wobbled when he stood. There was a slight ringing in his right ear. Maybe it had hit the pavement when he fell on his side. He wasn’t sure. He looked over at Veronica, who was right in the middle of the chaos. On one side of her was a wall of carts, crooked and packed together tightly. On the other side was an angry mob stuck in their vehicles, no way past the wreckage.

“Are you alright?” José shouted over to Veronica.

At first, she looked in the wrong direction, still disoriented from the ordeal. Then, her eyes locked onto him. “I’m ok. My hands hurt. What about you?”

“A little dizzy.”

A different car horn started to go off. This one was more HONK! HONK! rather than BEEP! BEEP! It was probably one of those oversized trucks.

José walked over to her, noticing the red palms that stood out amongst her tan skin. Little beads of blood were forming, like water on a window after a hard rain.

“That looks like it hurts,” he said, wishing he wouldn’t have asked such an obviously stupid question.

“It does.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why?”

“For getting you into this mess.”

“I wanted to be in this mess with you.”

“You did?”

“Well, not exactly like this.”

“Yeah.” He paused. “We need to move these carts now or we’re going to start a riot.”

HONK! HONK!

“I want you to help me,” he said. “I don’t care that Donald did it by himself. I like you and want you to help me finish it. The record can be both of ours.”

There was a sudden enlargement of her eyes after to word like. He shouldn’t have been thinking about the record, not after all of the bad scenarios he never thought possible had transpired. But they were so close. The door was right there. If they got the carts inside, they could avoid more damage and get the record. It was a double win.

They got to work quickly, trying to yank to carts back into a straight line. The parents of the little girl who had been swept off her feet walked over to them like two cops about to break some teeth to get their leads.

“Hey! Hey, you two!” the father yelled. The mother didn’t say anything, which was almost worse. You could have cooked a steak on top of her eyes, which were burning a hole into José’s soul.

José did what he always did when trouble came upon him: he ignored it. He tried not to look at the parents and continued working on fixing the carts. Veronica did one better: she jogged over to the front of the cart train to ‘check’ on the Kia Soul to see if the man driving it was ‘alright’. Really, she was getting the hell out of dodge.

“Hey, son, I’m talking to you!” the father said.

José thought it was funny how strangers called someone their son when they were mad. Was it so they could discipline them as if they were family? Or was it supposed to be a friendship thing, tricking you into thinking that this person cares about you when in all actuality they just want to beat your ass? Badly. Either way, it was weird.

After a few more hip checks the cart train was no longer a C. It was more like a squiggle. It wasn’t in ideal shape to be pushed inside, but ideal had gone out the freaking window once the Kia Soul had slammed into the train.

“You’ve got some explaining to do,” the father continued his berating.

If I were to explain it to you, you would probably want to punch me even more.

José jogged over to the front where Veronica was getting into position to push.

HOOOOONK! HOOOOONK! HOOOOONK!

The horn almost made him jump out of his shoes. Things were starting to get unruly.

“It’s too crooked,” Veronica said. “We can’t push it like this.”

“It’s not that bad.”

“It’s terrible, José.”

She was right. From his angle, it was like the shape of some plucked pubic hair. Nothing was going right at the moment. Nothing could be worse than this.

Margie walked outside.

It was about to get worse.

Roger Mayfield got out of his Kia Soul and walked hunched over, examining the front bumper of the vehicle. There was a nice blue mustache on the red bumper. The right headlight had a crack across the top. It wasn’t a lot of damage, but José figured that most of the damage was internal, not external. How could he not have seen the giant blue train of carts in front of him?

Maybe because that’s not something anyone ever expects to see in front of them.

I don’t expect to see a unicorn jumping across I-75, but if I did, you better believe I would brake before turning it into sparkling glue!

Margie was all out of sorts. People were beeping their horns and swearing out of the windows of their vehicles. The parents of the girl who was swept off her feet were approaching Margie, screaming obscenities. Customers were gawking and taking videos of the twisted mass of blue carts blocking the road.

Like hurricanes, there were different categories of Margie’s anger. A category one, the lowest of all the dreaded categories, was a verbal warning. Please stop talking and get back to work! No biggie.

A category two turned the winds up a notch. If the verbal warning was ignored, then you would get put on shit detail. Shit detail mostly involved the bathrooms and taking out the trash. Some days it wasn’t so bad. Some days you wished for death. José couldn’t believe the size of the turds people left behind. And, yes, that went for women as well as men. 

A category three cranked things up even more. This was where points and harsher discipline were involved. If you did something bad, she might put you on a shift you didn’t like. Worse, she might put you with someone you didn’t like. And headphones weren’t allowed. You had to listen to Kelly’s razor-sharp voice or Jason’s mouth breathing all … day … long.

Some people deserved a category four; some people didn’t. This involved a person getting suspended or fired. One thing was for certain: when you looked for a new job, you certainly didn’t put Margie in the references section on your resume. In fact, you were better off not including the job at all.

In all the months that José had worked at Meijer, he had never seen a category five. A category five extended beyond the walls of Meijer. It involved the police, an ambulance, or maybe the news. There were rumors that it had happened once years ago. There had been a fight. Aisles were trashed. One worker had struck another with a wrench. The police got involved. There might have been a trial. A category five, like the hurricane, was the worst possible thing that could happen.

As a police car pulled into the parking lot, sirens blaring, red and blue flashing on top, with a white van chasing behind it, the text FOX 17 painted on the sides, José knew that it was happening. A category five. Margie’s skin had changed to a light purple. Her hands were balled up into fists. Her jaw was clenched; José thought he could hear the tick of her teeth clicking together all the way over here. There wasn’t going to be anymore cart pushing. There wasn’t going to be another attempt at the record. There wasn’t going to be anymore of anything from him and Veronica at this Meijer, and probably at every other Meijer in existence. 

Fired? For sure.

Grounded at home? 100% guarantee.

Ticketed and fined? It was possible.

Still a legend? You bet your ass he was.

“Holy shit it’s the cops,” Veronica said. “And the news. Oh, God, I’m going to be on the news. I look disgusting!”

José sat down with his back against the carts. His eyes went back and forth, looking at the ensemble of people swearing and pointing their fingers in his direction.

“What are you doing?” Veronica said. “What about the carts?”

“Come down here.”

“What?”

“Do you know what you’ve done?” a man yelled in their direction, as if José and Veronica were being accused of murder rather than causing a slight accident (slight being a friendly way of saying major).

“Come sit next to me.”

Veronica, looking as though she had just been told the answers to the universe and was slightly disappointed with them, sat next to him. Her palms were still raw. She had used her vest to wipe up the blood. The neon had red spots all over it. José wanted to hold her hand to make her feel better, but it didn’t seem like the right moment, with their asses about to be chewed out and all.

“All in all, I think this afternoon was a success,” he said. He said it so straight-faced that Veronica had no choice but to burst out laughing.

“Oh, José, you should be a comedian. That was some dead-pan delivery.”

“Yeah …”

“Hey, you did it you know? You pushed 80 carts like a boss.”

“But they didn’t get into the store. And they caused an accident. And one girl literally went flying …”

“I saw that!”

“But you’re right.”

“About what?”

“I did push them.”

“You did.”

“Sweet.”

Sweeeeet.”

Donald, wherever he was, could sleep soundly knowing that his record was still intact. José had done just about all he could do. While he wanted to blame it all on the Kia Soul, everything had been entirely his fault. He had gotten too tired. He had been in over his head. But there weren’t any regrets in his mind. Sure, he was about to get canned from his job and have a lot of explaining to do to his parents, but looking at the negatives was never José’s way. He only failed because he had tried, not because he hadn’t. And everyone would know his name now. That was for sure.

“Hey, hold still for a second.” Veronica reached out toward his mouth. José instinctively jerked backward. “I’m not trying to grab you; you have something stuck in your teeth.”

“What?”

“Yeah, right there,” she almost touched the top of his lip, “in the two front ones.”

He wedged the nail of his right thumb into the small gap between his two front teeth. The nail moved up and down, rubbing into his gums. He thought he might have drawn blood he was digging so hard. Alas, a piece of buffalo chicken fell out from inside the two front teeth and landed in his palm. He looked at the gross thing and turned his palm over, watching it fall onto the sidewalk.

“Nice! You got it.”

“I did.”

Chicken Mouth José.

Corn Mouth Veronica.

It was so disgusting it was cute.

“Do you want to go somewhere after we get fired?” José asked.

“Sure, where you thinking?”

“Anywhere.”

“Anywhere sounds grand.”

“But what if we get arrested too?”

There was a pause, then: “After we’re bailed out. Then we go somewhere.”

“Ok, cool.”

“Cool.”

A push.

A pretty freaking dumb, reckless, but totally worth it ‘cause he got a date with a girl push.

He wasn’t a coaster anymore. He was a pusher now. And pushers weren’t afraid to stand out and make bold moves.

They also had a tendency to screw up and bite off more than they could chew (or in this case—push more carts than they could handle), but that was beside the point.

* * *