The Pusher

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six

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.

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