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?
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).
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.
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.
“For getting you into this mess.”
“I wanted to be in this mess with you.”
“Well, not exactly like this.”
“Yeah.” He paused. “We need to move these carts now or we’re going to start a riot.”
“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.