There was a song on the radio and it turned the world around him to flowers and bright lights. He could hardly see where he was going.
He said, "How do they do that with songs?" A crumpled cigarette pack hit him in the chest and bounced off. Lots of things bounced from him. He never saw where they came from, following their arc only after impact.
Sometimes he felt like the world's backstop.
"Hey ditz--I mean Paul," Robert said, thinking he didn't hear the first name.
"I'm not ditz," he said, and he watched the remains of a styrofoam cup bounce from his shoulder and flutter to the ground. Where the hell did these things come from? He pointed to the white oval on his chest with his name embroidered in red. "My name is..."
"Yeah, Pawlie--" said Robert. "You gotta do the break room tonight. Chuck said."
And that wasn't right because he did the break room last night and it was Robert's turn.
"Hey, Robert--" was all he could get out before Robert slapped him in his gray overals with the daylog. He dropped the handle of the broom when Robert let go of the papers. He had to to keep the papers from flying away, so the broom fell, he clutched them to his chest, and Robert tisked like he was mad.
"It's all right there, buddy," Robert said. "Check for yourself. Page forty three. And when you get done there are the rest rooms, and then the main foyer. Better get going, it's going to take you all night."
He paged through the folio but lost count of the pages. And then he forgot the page number.
"Come on man, Chuck is going to be pissed," Robert said. He was heading for the front desk. Paul didn't think anything needed to be done at the front desk.
"What about what you're doing tonight?"
"Chuck's got something special for me. It's on page twenty seven. Check it out. Very cool."
And then Robert was gone and Paul was holding the daylog with a broom at his feet.
"Always do the most important thing," he said to himself, repeating what they'd taught him at the mainstreaming school. Now the most important thing was to put the daylog back where it belonged, and where it belonged was on Chuck's desk.
He was always careful not to touch anything in Chuck's office. But this time he turned around too fast and his elbow hit the radio on the desk. It was the radio that made the music they heard in the whole building. They all had to listen to Chuck's music every day.
But there was different music on tonight. It was someone else's CD, and when the song came on again he couldn't see where he was going anymore. He was in his mother's arms, aloft on tufts of swirling marshmallow clouds. Pilots swished past in biplanes. The pretty girl from the cafeteria offered him free coffee again.
Paul couldn't see until the song was over. It was like waking up only it was still third shift. Not morning yet.
He knew which button would repeat the song. He knew Chuck didn't want him to touch anything, but Chuck wasn't here, and nobody but he and Robert were in the building--and now Robert was in the front and couldn't hear the music anyway.
So he pressed the button and for three minutes he wasn't slow. It didn't matter who he was or what was wrong with him that made his thoughts flow like cold pancake syrup when everyone else ran on jet engines. He was adrift on the sound, in love with his life. He leaned on the broom handle sang along.
I was spinning free
With a little sweet
And simple numbing me
Are you listening?*
When the song went off it was morning. Chuck found him standing in the office teetering against the standing broom, having done nothing all night.
Chuck was mad. "Why are you here, Paul?"
"I was just putting the daylog back," he stuttered, trying to keep a train of thought free of excuses that would screw him up. Don't lie, his mother had told him. He wasn't smart enough to pull off a lie.
"It's your day off," Chuck said.
Paul said, "What?" because he was sure Robert had told him he had to come in.
"That sonofabitch Robert--I'm gonna fry his ass when I see him. Absolutely nothing is done around here. Where the hell is he?"
Paul said he didn't know even though he knew Robert had gone to the front desk to do a special project for Chuck. It was probably a secret and he didn't want to let on.
Chuck asked, "Did you punch in?" and he said he had. He felt horribly guilty he hadn't done anything all night.
"Chuck, you know--?" he started, but Chuck interrupted him.
"It's you're lucky day, Paulie. I'm firing Robert and putting you on days. How's that?"
Paulie wasn't sure how it was. It sure didn't seem fair to get paid for doing nothing, but when Chuck turned on the CD player the song came back.
And everything in the world was ok.
*Lyrics to Sweetness by Jimmy Eat World