The young man left the park through the metal detector, a large silver rectangle which gave back a dull reflection. It beeped. The guard on the stool looked up from his daydream. "Boots," the young man said, pointing to the steel toes. To his right was a tiny booth, presumably for the guards. They never sat in it. Nailed to the side was a small box with a wire running out of it. The box had a slot in it. He ran his ID through this slot, announcing to a computer somewhere that he was done for the day.
This odd gateway he passed through everyday was covered by a brief roof. The young man walked out past the edge of this and squinted up at the sun. It was hot. Damn hot. Over his shoulder, the huge prow of a viking ship swung up from behind the fence, its silhouette slicing into the blue sky. He took off his hat, and clumps of sweaty blonde hair fell into his eyes. The viking ship swung back down behind the fence. The young man looked down at his dirty uniform. A tear in the right leg of his pants looked back at him. His clothes and his hands were stained with grease and dirt. His thoughts came slowly. Friday, today's friday. Not the last day of his week, but payday anyway. He pushed his hair back from his eyes, and walked around to the other side of the empty booth with the box nailed to it's side. There were two lines here, each leading to a counter and a woman behind a plexiglass window. The young man moved into the a through m line. The same woman sat at the end of that line every week. He thought of her as the pay lady. She remembered everybody. It was like the teachers in school when he was a kid. They always knew everybody's name, even if you had never been in their class. He could never figure out how they kept it all straight in their heads.
A girl with dark hair walked up behind him and stopped there. He turned to look at her. She was pretty, and he could almost tell that she wanted to talk to him. Standing there in line, such a common thing. What to say? Nothing. A short smile, maybe a little sad, or just tired. He turned around to find that it was his turn at the window. "You never smile," the lady behind the counter said, "are you afraid of me?" The young man looked through the big plexiglass window in front of him, looked through his own vague reflection, and thought, yes. Yes I'm scared of you, and I'm frightened of this beautiful girl behind me, and everyone else I see. I'm so afraid that I can't speak, can't smile, can't laugh. People scare me. "No," he said. He took his money and turned. The girl looked at him and gave him an uncertain smile, much like his own. She was so beautiful. Words, wonderful words, surged up from the very center of his gut, the place where the voice of the soul comes from. The words rose through his diaphragm and lungs, like bubbles in the pool behind his house, only to stick at the top of his chest, somewhere between his lungs and trachea. That small smile was all that made it up to his mouth. A little wave, a tiny bundle of force, going nowhere. Again.