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**PRINT: THE2NDHAND’s 31st broadsheet features a short by Portland-by-way-of-Montana writer Aaron Parrett that captures the power and glory of ambivalence after, during, and prior to what the unemployed poet-protagonist comes to clearly see as, if not love, then surely "Tolerance," the story's title. Parrett is the author of The Translunar Narrative in the Western Tradition as well as numerous stories that have been featured in lit mags around the nation. No. 31 also features a piece by Kyle Beachy, author of the newly released novel The Slide, out from Dial Press, and a vanguard discount coupon and special FAQ from the herbal remedies and soap makers at The Left Hand (thelefthand.net).

**WEB: BLUE CARTS Zachary Cole
DECISIONS Matthew Brian Cohen
VERY SMALL CURES Alec Niedenthal
HIDEOUS BOUNTY: G.O.D. | Andrew Davis

Zachary Cole

Cole is a student at the University of Maine at Augusta. He has read his work on WERU radio in Maine, and was recently published in Volume 2 of the Harbor Journal.

Elwood ate on the bench out of necessity. He found his spot easily, an area with no seagull droppings and little paint wear. He sat here every Tuesday and had, in his mind, divided up the bench into four quadrants. Quadrants 1 through 3 were unusable because of their obvious filth and the outlooks they offered. Sitting in Quadrant 1 revealed the sub shop's dull red brick façade, and Quadrant 2 showcased a gaudy yellow NOW HIRING ALL POSITIONS banner. Quadrant 3 exposed the mundane, mostly deserted workday parking lot of JC Penny. Quadrant 4 -- his space -- offered a somewhat sanitary place to eat, and a good view of Colson's Supermarkets, a brown blotch resting at the bottom of the hill, with the sub shop at the top. Elwood worked at Colson's six days a week, and spent most of the fall trying to make his job and college schedules mesh. They never did. Most days he was stuffing his backpack into one of the employee lockers, or wearing his periwinkle work shirt to Medieval Literature.

Today was different. He had one course, Intro Psych, which wrapped at noon. Elwood had the rest of the day off. This was his favorite lunchtime activity; sitting down, eating a sandwich with a side of chips, and watching his coworkers toil in the parking lot. They pushed carts and dodged elderly drivers, who always looked terrified behind the wheel. The only vehicle in the lot that wasn't a bulky SUV or sputtering truck was a chopper parked in a handicapped spot near Colson's front entrance. It glistened from wheel to handle bar, with flame decals running down the side. It was owned and ineptly operated by Lipincott, the store manager. Even from here, Elwood could read the GET ER DUN custom license plate.


Colson's didn't hire folks for the sole purpose of corralling carts left out on the lot; rather, baggers and the burlier guys from Produce trotted outdoors in rotating shifts. This was the best time of day for watching the cart corral as spectator sport, a few hours after the senior citizen near-dead shuffle, a few hours before the inevitable dinner hour slowdown. Feeling settled, Elwood began the business of eating his sub.

This was an art Elwood perfected over many solitary Tuesdays. Consuming a six-inch sub on a bench exposed to the elements -- grubby child hands, grubbier lobstermen -- held obvious health risks. Elwood carefully, daintily, slipped the wrapped sub out of its protective plastic sheath, then smoothed out the sheath with his hands, creating a barrier between the wrapped sub and the bench top. With the paper wrap, Elwood's primary concern wasn't delicacy, but rotations used -- preferably, when entirely disrobed the sub would sit right side up, instantly ready to eat. So he unwound the wrap in two rolls, until fell like an autumn leaf atop the plastic. Today he'd counted right, lettuce and kitchen and sauce before him in an eye-pleasing jumble. He had to re-arrange some of the sub's components (the chicken and banana peppers had no business being so close) and waited until the slight breeze settled down before taking his first bite.

In the middle of this bite Elwood noticed that, at the lot's edge, an older woman wearing a hooded, tie-dyed parka approached Colson's. She pushed eight or nine blue carts; put together, the carts were at least the length of a tow truck. The carts, in and of themselves, were enough to get Elwood's attention. Among Colson's employees, the blue carts were a constant in nearly every break room or bottle room conversation. The store's upper management swore up and down that the grocery carts were now exclusively red because of an ordering error, but every cashier, stocker and meat cutter knew the truth. The petit blue carts were a favorite of Colson's customers, especially the feeble majority (who always identified them by size, as in "those little ones," as opposed to color). The employees theorized that some idea guy in Machigonne or Sunbury realized that customers were at the store's whim. After stepping through the front doors, what they purchased was restricted only by the size of their checking accounts and their carts. "I only came here for one thing" were the first words out of any customer wielding a cart filled to the brim with canned cat food and sugary cereal. As of late, the blue carts had all but vanished, as many of the mouth-breathing slow-shufflers were eager to point out (or complain about, or yell about, or hurl profanities over). Elwood watched the hooded woman approach, could see her muttering something. He tensed. The woman rubbed the acne on her cheek with the knuckles on her right hand, halted the train of carts.

Every store with a high turnover rate must deal with workers like Christine. She was usually late and walked into the store with her head bowed like a shoplifter. She'd leave her coat in the break room, then hide in the bathroom for at least an hour. Her skin was the color of paper left to sour in the cellar, and most of the other employees pretended she didn't exist. Eventually, to no one's surprise, she was "let go" for leaving Colson's altogether in the middle of her shift. "I needed to get my ear plugs," she'd protested, her accent strongly Down East. Lipincott led her out of the store by the arm. Elwood, who'd been painstakingly removing Heineken-soaked gloves in the bottle room, stuck his head out so he wouldn't miss anything. She was still screaming. "It's so goddamn noisy in here, I needed my earplugs!"

The next day, Elwood saw Lipincott training Christine's replacement, a vacant-eyed blonde, and assumed that Christine either went onto food stamps or got work somewhere else.

Now, as the sub's onion sauce began to dribble onto Elwood's thumb and he quickly wiped it away on the paper wrap, Christine began pushing the blue carts his way, with all the speed and grace of a tranquilized giraffe. Elwood hoped, prayed to the secular universe, that Christine would take her bizarre business elsewhere. He even dared to look down at his lunch long enough to take a cautious bite, welcomed the bits of roasted meat and supple veggies as old friends. But the carts' rattling only grew. He looked up again when Christine's commandeered carts brushed against the bench, and she plopped down onto Quadrant 3 with a moist wheeze.

"Why don't you eat in there?" Christine asked. She smelled of curdled milk.

"In where?" Elwood wasn't sure if he was biting a strip of poultry or the inside of his lip.

"Inside? I bet it's nice."

She leaned in closer than Elwood liked, dirt-caked hair falling in front of her face. Off-white earplugs were stuffed into each ear canal.

"Why do you care?" Elwood asked.

"Just do. Just, ya know, do. Just askin'."

Elwood swallowed the food that had been building up inside his cheeks. It didn't go down easy, and Elwood had to force the chewed chunks down his throat. The effort made his eyes water.

"I don't eat inside," Elwood said when his throat was clear, "because it's unsanitary. The last time I ate in there, I saw a dead rat."

"Just layin' there?" Christine's gaze drifted between the lot, the store, the grumbling trucks. She looked at everything but Elwood.

"No. I saw a 'rodent motel' under the bread warmer and.... I think I saw a tail. A gray tail."

"Ya know," Christine said, smirking, "if there's rat on the floor, there's probably some that get in the food. In the trays, ya know."

Elwood didn't look down at his sub.

"Even though there's that," Christine continued, "I think you should go in there."

In spite of himself, Elwood tensed more, could hear the blood pumping in his ears. "I don't really care what you think, Christine. You don't work at Colson's, and I doubt the managers want to see you around."

"I think you're right, there," she said. "That's why you should go inside. Then they can't can you too. If they think your helping, they will. They'll think you found a big stack of these" -- she indicated the carts -- "behind the store, all tucked back there. Think you helped me get 'em back."

"Whatever," Elwood said, trying his best to sound bored, dismissive. But he was intrigued. What the hell was she doing?

"Suit yourself," she said, getting up with a groan. "But I tried to say something, you know"

"I know, ya know," Elwood muttered as she left. Not able to continue with his sub, Elwood opened the small bag of corn chips. He tore off a section of the paper wrap, so he wouldn't have to rub grease onto his dress pants, and started snacking, watched his hand reach into the bag, watched the chips disappear from view as they entered his mouth. He didn't look up again until the bag was almost empty. By then it was almost over.

Christine had grabbed the head cart in her stack and pushed hard. The carts rolled down the hill at a quick clip; they hardly needed her help but she contributed anyway, her usually sluggish legs pounding against the blacktop, the hood sliding off her head. Her grungy hair fought the wind. At first, Elwood couldn't understand what was going on, but then it hit him. Christine was barreling towards Lipincott's motorcycle. The carts were really rocketing now; the one at the stack's end began to loosen, until Christine pulled it back into place. Some in the parking lot were turning their heads, or pulling their children out of the missile's path, or tying to get Christine's attention, to no avail. She let go at the last second. The carts crashed against the side of Lipincott's chopper and knocked it to the ground, before rolling into a nearby light post. The alarm went off, the sluggish bleating of a dying alarm clock. Customers ran toward the truck, and Elwood could see it was bad, could see that the motorcycle was in every way ruined. The carts had scratched most of the flame decal out of existence, and left a crater-like dent; metal and glass shards were strewn across the pavement. The front wheel was craned towards the sky, like the arrow-struck bystander in a Western.

The bleating wouldn't quit. Christine leaned against the carts, waiting. A minute later Lipincott stormed out, a few suits in his wake. Christine waved him over, welcoming in her gesture. Lipincott waved back, murderous in his. A small crowd of customers descended on the scene, buzzing, blocking Elwood's view.

He gathered up the mostly uneaten sub and left his quadrant. Elwood tossed his corrupted meal into a trash can a few feet from the bench, which reeked of fly-and-time ravaged deli meats, then stepped inside the shop for a soda.

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OUR FRIENDS AT The Left Hand make great soap, salves, balms and other natural hygiene-type stuff, in addition to publishing a zine and running a book swap, a performance series and more from their Tuscaloosa, AL, homebase. When they offered to make something for us, we jumped. We introduce THE2NDHAND soap, an olive oil soap with a quadruple dose of Bergamot, "for the readers we've sullied..." Price is $6, ppd.