“Bob,” Woodruff said.
With focus and determination, Bob kept his eyes down on an array of colors that passed from right to left. The hum of motors and mechanisms churned all around them.
Bob’s hands moved rapidly back and forth with tiny machine-like motions.
A loud whistle blew and the assembly line stopped moving.
“Break time!” a burly man with a five-o’clock shadow shouted from a small glass office.
Bob immediately halted and joined a line of workers heading for the break room. Woodruff grabbed him by the arm and pulled Bob out of line.
“Did you not hear me?” Woodruff asked. “I was calling your name.”
“Sorry, Woodruff,” Bob said. “I was really in the zone back there.”
“No kidding,” Woodruff said. “You’ve been going nonstop all shift.”
“Those crayons aren’t going to wrap themselves,” Bob said.
“About that…,” Woodruff began. “How long are we going to do this?”
“You said you wanted to learn how to make crayons.”
“I said I wondered how crayons were made.”
“Tomato, Clamato,” Bob replied. “It’s an expression.”
“It’s really not,” Woodruff said.
“Look,” Bob said. “Want or wonder, you now know how crayons are made. Hashtag winning.”
Bob tapped his index and middle fingers against his other index and middle fingers. He filed in the back of the line of workers and walked into the break room. Woodruff strode beside him rubbing his forehead.
“Okay, but it’s been a week,” Woodruff said.
“Yeah, I know,” Bob said gleefully. “It’s pay day!”
Bob drilled his index fingers into Woodruff’s ribs and playfully poked him in rapid succession. Woodruff swatted Bob’s hands away.
“Stop it, Nitwit,” Woodruff objected.
“Why are you so upset?” Bob asked. “This is the best job.”
“There!” Woodruff shouted. “That’s why. I asked an offhand question and now I’m a Quality Control Specialist at a crayon factory.”
“With hard work, and a little luck, you could be a Quality Control Supervisor in a couple years.”
“I’m not going to be a Quality Control Supervisor.”
“Well not with that attitude.”
Woodruff folded his arms and imagined rolling Bob up in a giant brown crayon wrapper. His fantasy ended in tragedy as Crayon Bob melted all over the passenger seat of his Karmann Ghia.
“I should have cracked a window,” Woodruff sighed.
“What?” Bob asked.
“Nothing,” Woodruff said. “Can we just go before it gets too hot?”
“But it’s Fred’s birthday and Janet has organized a surprise party after work,” Bob protested.
“Really?” Fred asked excitedly. The bearded assembly line worker sat at a round table in the break room next to a skinny man in a hairnet and a scowling brunette lady who looked like Miss Gulch.
“Sorry Janet,” Bob apologized sheepishly to the scowling lady.
“Bob, is this how you want to spend your life?” Woodruff asked.
“Crayons are life,” Bob said and pointed to a colorful poster on the breakroom wall with the white inscription.
“That’s Crayola propaganda,” Woodruff said.
“Bob has a gift,” Fred said.
“A gift for ruining surprises,” Janet muttered.
“Get over it already, Janet,” Bob said. “It’s ancient history.”
“I’ve never seen anybody work as fast and flawless as Bob,” Fred said. “And I’ve been on the line for 37 years.”
“How old are you?” Woodruff gasped.
“Get a load of this,” Fred said. He walked over to the kitchenette at the far end of the breakroom and picked up a stack of color swatches from the counter. Fred held the swatches behind his back and moved to stand directly in front of Bob, like two gunfighters at the OK Corral. Bob crouched down slightly and squinted his eyes.
“Ready?” Fred asked.
“I was born in a suitable state for an activity, action, or situation,” Bob replied.
One by one Fred began to flash swatch after swatch in front of Bob and quickly discard it on the breakroom floor.
“Blue-violet, Violet, Medium Violet, Royal Purple, Wisteria, Lavender, Vivid Purple, Maximum Purple, Purple Mountain’s Majesty, Fuchsia, Pink Flamingo, Brilliant Rose, Orchid, Plum, Medium Rose, Thistle, Mulberry, Red-Violet, Middle Purple, Magenta, Maximum Red Purple, Wild Strawberry, Cotton Candy, Pink Carnation, Violet-Red!” Bob breathlessly shouted as the last swatch fell to the floor.
The tiny breakroom erupted in applause as Bob doubled over from exhaustion. Fred turned to Woodruff and threw both hands in the air. “That’s the entire purple spectrum.”
“Okay, that was scary impressive,” Woodruff said.
“He can’t leave,” Fred said. “He was born for this.”
Woodruff hung his head. Bob was still panting for breath, with his hands on his knees. Woodruff looked around the room at the crayon cult and grimaced.
“I can see that,” Woodruff said.
Bob stood up straight and looked at Woodruff with a big grin.
“I won’t stand in your way,” Woodruff said. “But I can’t stay.”
“Did you mean to rhyme?” Bob asked. “And is this because they wouldn’t let you play Silvia on the assembly floor?”
“No,” Woodruff said. “And you leave Silvia out of this.”
“Don’t go,” Bob said.
“I have to,” Woodruff replied. “They don’t have a Penny-farthing and you can’t get a decent pineapple falafel for miles. I’ll never complete my list here.”
“I can’t change your mind?” Bob asked.
“I’m afraid not,” Woodruff said.
“So this is it,” Bob said glumly.
“I guess so,” Woodruff added with a frown.
“It was a heck of a run,” Bob said.
“It sure was,” Woodruff agreed. He stuck his hand out toward Bob, who batted it to the side and embraced him in a big bear hug. Woodruff reached up and put an arm around Bob while patting him on the back of his head with his free hand. Janet grabbed a napkin from the center of the table and dabbed at the tears in her eyes. Fred sniffled and wiped at his nose. When the embrace was over, the two friends stepped back away from each other. Woodruff forced a smile.
“Okay,” Woodruff said.
“Okay,” Bob replied.
Without another word, Woodruff turned and exited the breakroom. The whistle blew and the factory burst to life as the machines began to chug and churn again. Woodruff wiped a tear from his eye as he pushed open the heavy metal door under the exit sign.
As he walked across the factory parking lot, a parade of images danced through his mind. He saw Bob flying through the air over a great white shark on a pair of water skis, then they were dancing with a herd of sloths to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, followed by the time they accidently broke Da Vinci’s prototype time machine in Milan. Woodruff chuckled when he remembered the look on Da Vinci’s face when the inventor realized he was trapped in the 21st century.
“Priceless,” Woodruff grinned.
Woodruff pulled open the door to his cherry-red Karmann Ghia and slid into the driver’s seat. When he turned on the car the voice of Celine Dion blared through the radio signing “All By Myself”. Woodruff put his head on the steering wheel and sighed deeply.
Just then the passenger side door opened and Bob hopped in the car.
“Where to now?” Bob asked.
“What are you doing here?” a startled Woodruff asked.
“We just quit the crayon game.”
“I thought you were staying.”
“You said I couldn’t change your mind.”
“Well what was all that ‘heck of a run’ stuff?”
“A heck of a run at the crayon factory.”
“Then why did you hug me?”
“It felt like a hugging moment.”
“But you were born for the crayon business,” Woodruff said. “You’re just going to give it up?”
“We’ve got your list to finish,” Bob said. “Besides, I don’t want to stay in the crayon game too long and end up like Fred. That guy can’t tell Goldenrod from Dandelion. It’s embarrassing.”
“And Janet’s surprise birthday cake?”
“I’m pretty sure it was sodium-free.”
“Sodium’s the new gluten.”
“And pay day?”
“Bazinga,” Bob said as he flashed two envelopes. “And Dennis said I was welcome back any time.”
“At least we have that as a fall back,” Woodruff said.
“Uh, Dennis said I was welcome back any time,” Bob clarified.
“Ouch,” Woodruff said as he put the car in gear and backed out of the parking spot.
“Maybe if you had taken that Hot Wax Safety Seminar more seriously…” Bob said.
“If finding rainbow colored burns amusing is wrong, then I don’t wanna be right,” Woodruff said.
“So what’s next?” Bob said.
“Well, we’re a half days’ drive from the Canadian border,” Woodruff said. “You still have that bear bell?”
Bob produced a large brass bell from the backseat and rang it back and forth. Woodruff grinned as he shifted into drive and burned rubbed out of the parking lot.