The Pusher

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ten

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 twoturned 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.

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