idol friends and rivals | week 17 | 1721 words
Bob was the regular greeter at the Bayside Ford dealership in Brunswick. He stood tall in his blue three-piece-suit, ready and waiting with his arm extended for a handshake under the sign that read "We've got the car for you!"
As the ambassador for Bayside Ford, Bob was proud of his job and as reliable as they came. He was forthright and steady, unless he got knocked over by a stray foot—but someone always set him right back up again, poised to make each customer feel welcome. After closing, Bob liked to go out into the night and explore the city. He tended to keep to darker areas, where he was less noticeable and less likely to frighten anyone. His friendly posture seemed to be interpreted as aggressive by some people, and he got a lot of stares in general.
Maybe it was because of his flatness?
Bob was lucky to be able to sneak out under the back door and escape the dealership at night. His friend Darren, the inflatable blue gorilla, was already outside but was also anchored to the ground to keep him from blowing away. On rare occasions, Darren was brought inside the building but was stuck there for the night because he was too big to squeeze back out under the door. The yellow dancing man, Flipster Floyd, turned into a worthless plastic puddle as soon as his air machine was turned off, and Jimmy… poor Jimmy was trapped inside the back room, high on the wall next to the Parts Department, with the words, "Here to serve you!" slapped across his mechanic's suit. Even if someone could have helped him down, the words and his irregular sign-shape would have made it impossible for Jimmy to pass for human.
That meant Bob did all his adventuring on his own.
Sometimes, he was happy to stick around the dealership after closing. After a long, hard day of smiling and holding out that arm, Bob often wanted nothing more than to lean against the waiting room wall playing poker with Darren while Jimmy kibitzed from above. But more often, the evening's offerings consisted of either lounging in the dark and waiting for Jimmy to run out of conversation, or slipping under the back door and hopping out through the city to see what was going on.
In the warm months, Bob saw people walking hand-in-hand near downtown shops or by the river. He smelled backyard barbeques, and sometimes caught a night baseball game at a local park. He tended to be overdressed for his surroundings, but his suit defined him as much as his outgoing, can-do attitude, and he couldn't change either one—and didn't want to. He stuck to the shadows instead, seeing without being seen.
Sometimes he wandered with no plan in mind, happy to see where the night led him.
He got out less when winter came. Bob was nice and sturdy, of quality thickness—and even laminated!—but rain and puddles could easily damage him. Winter was long, dull days of watching endless gray clouds from his spot inside the dealership doorway, and nights of fighting boredom from one slow hour to the next. Darren spent more time inside during winter, which helped, and there was always Jimmy. Bob hadn't seen Floyd in ages, though. Darren said Floyd had been working up on the roof for a while, but then got packed up and taken away—probably to a storeroom or closet.
Closet... Storage… Recycling…
None of them liked the sound of those words at all.
The weather was better by March, so Bob started going out again. Flowers and blooming trees perfumed the night. He couldn't see them very well, but the smell was wonderful. Young lovers came out walking, their steps light and their faces bright and hopeful. Bob felt a little envious of them at times, wishing he had romantic company of his own.
Late one night, there was music coming from a building downtown. Bob hid behind a truck across the street and listened to the fantastic sound. The music got louder and then softer each time the building's front door opened and closed, and the people entering and leaving sounded happy and excited. It would have been nice to see what he was missing, but Bob knew he couldn't go in.
After a while, though, he realized he could probably get closer—around the side of the building, or behind it. He listened for voices, and moved carefully from one dark patch to another when the street was empty. Eventually he made his way to the alley, where he could really hear the music and even see people's shapes moving on the other side of a clouded window. Whatever the music was, it made him want to dance. He went further into the shadows instead, leaning up against the wall and enjoying himself. What a night…
Bob tried a few other spots downtown over the next week. Some had music and some didn't. One night, he came across someone with a similar idea—or so he thought. It was another cardboard man, a balding, shirtless one with a long nose and disdainful eyes who was lurking in an alley and sniffing the air. Bob only smelled liquor fumes and cigarette smoke there, so he couldn't see the appeal.
The other man spotted him. "A ty chto khochesh?" he said. "Otvali!"
Bob didn’t speak the man's language, but rudeness needed no translation. "At least I'm not running around half-naked!" he said, and hopped his way elsewhere.
He frightened a cat down another street and thought about going home, but then, then—
What was that over by the trees next to the bakery? Or better yet, who?
The figured turned, edging closer to the front window to lean forward and peer inside. It seemed to be another cardboard cutout, just like him. This one, however, was female.
Bob moved nearer, close enough to the light for her to see him and realize the two of them were the same. He hoped it would keep her from being alarmed.
"Hello," he said. "I'm Bob. Do you know this store?"
"Oh!" she said, and then caught her breath. "Oh. Well, hi Bob, I'm Brenda! I work across the street." She tilted toward a building a few places down. "I always wonder about the things they sell in here, what they might taste like, if I could taste things. They're pretty…"
Bob had wondered about the things in the vending machines in the waiting room. He could smell the coffee—which had no appeal, and was wet, besides—and sometimes the puffy orange things that came in bags. What would it be like to taste things?
"It would nice to know, wouldn't it?" he asked.
"Yes," Brenda said softly.
Bob moved into the shadows next to her, where they might both appear indistinct and unremarkable to anyone passing nearby. "Have you been out much before tonight?" he asked. "I saw someone downtown earlier, but I've never noticed anyone out here before."
"Oh, here and there," Brenda said, "but I've only been here a month or so. For the new ad campaign: Building your way to a new you!"
"What does a 'new you' look like, then?"
"Mostly night courses and continuing ed. But these clothes are very professional, don't you think? They look like possibility!"
Brenda seemed enthusiastic, and as a guy who was ready to shake people's hands and welcome them in their search for a new car, Bob liked that. "They certainly do! Say, have you met any others like us? Are they generally nice?"
"Flo's pretty neat—she does insurance, I think—and there's a guy on a poster by the bank that seems polite. I don't think he ever goes anywhere, though."
"Gosh, maybe I've just been visiting the wrong places all this time."
"What kinds of places?" Brenda asked.
"Oh, baseball games and the rose garden and the river, and places that have music and dancing."
"Really?" Brenda said. "All of that's here?"
"This city's full of things to see, as long as you can make it back to work by morning!"
"Wow," Brenda breathed. "Do you… gee, do you think you might show me?"
The two of them met up regularly after that, making the rounds of the various sights. Bob found that all his favorite places were even nicer when he had someone to share them with, and Brenda was just the right kind of someone.
"Is she pretty?" Jimmy back at the dealership wanted to know.
"Sure is, and smart too. And she's so cheerful!"
"This is your lucky break, I'm telling you," Darren said. "I haven't met anyone like that since the factory."
Later that night, standing with Brenda under the trees where they'd first met, Bob thought about what Darren had said.
"Do you ever think about leaving here?" he asked.
"You mean, my job? Or the city?"
"Yes," Bob said.
"Oh, sure! I mean, I like my job, but I think the business could get along without me. What else is there to do, though?"
"With the two of us together?" Bob asked. He leaned over until his hand and Brenda's were touching. "Pretty much everything."
They stopped off to see Flo, and then went to the dealership so Bob could introduce Brenda to his friends and he could say goodbye. Flipster Floyd was in puddle form again, but Bob was sure he could hear them and appreciated being included.
When they went back outside, the moon was high and daylight was still in the future.
"Where should we go first?" Bob asked.
"Savannah, maybe?" Brenda said. "If we're really going adventuring?"
"Oh, that would be amazing!" Bob had dreamed of visiting a big city. "But it's a long way, isn't it?"
"We could make it."
"I'll bet we could, going through fields and forests and back roads. Hey, why not!"
"No, I've got an even better idea," Brenda said. "If you don't think it's too risky…"
"Well," she beamed, nearly bouncing with excitement, "I was thinking by train. All those dark, empty cars and sliding doors were practically made for us."
She nudged his shoulder with hers.
"So, what do you say, honey? How about riding the rails?"
(My thanks to alexpgp for his assistance with the Russian! For the characters, you know someone will eventually make a cardboard version of something like this, and these two already exist.)
If you enjoyed this story, you can vote for it along with other fine entries here.