January 25th, 2014

Jim lifted the excess clippings of flattened rubber and dumped them into the heated rollers. His eyes tightened at the smell of melting sulfur, oil, and plastic. He watched the rubber cycle through, again, and again. Heating, flattening, mixing; heating, flattening, mixing.

As he fed the rubber through the rest of the process – the pressing, the trimming, the aligning – his mind wandered to Rebecca. His conversations with her had become shorter. More tense, less graceful.

He pulled out the flattened sheets of what would soon become pencil erasers and dunked them into a vat of cold water. The water splashed onto his shirt that covered his large belly. He cursed and looked up at the clock. Ten minutes until the erasers were done cooling and hardening. Break. He stepped outside. Rebecca’s words stewed in his head. He reached for his pocket, grabbed his phone and dialed Rebecca’s number. Rebecca’s New Jersey stained accent filled his machine-hardened ears.

“Why are you calling? I’m at work.”

“I know, but I had to talk to you.”

“You didn’t have to talk to me. You just wanted to”

Jim hesitated.

“Um. I guess so.”

“So, what?”

“I’ve been thinking. Are you really going to… like, break up with me?”

“Dating for 6 years is a long time, Jimmy. I can’t keep doing this. I need something that’s permanent.”

“So you’re saying you wanna get married?”

“I’m just sayin’ I want somethin’ that’s permanent.”

“Six years is permanent, Rebecca, what are you talking about?”

“Permanent for the future. What’s wrong with you? Permanent for the future, the future.”

“Look, can I just call you back after work? I gotta run.”

“No, I said ‘Next time we talk, we gotta talk.’ Talk to me, or I can’t do this no more.”

Jimmy looked around, uneasy. He shifted his weight.

“I… I gotta go. I’ll call you.”

“I just need something that’s gonna stay.”

“I know. I… I’ll call you.”

“Bye, Jimmy.”

Jimmy lowered the phone.

Jimmy watched the rubber cycle through the rollers. As the heated mounds of rubber rolled through, he grabbed them and funneled them back through.

Grabbed them, funneled them back through.

Grabbed them, funneled them.

Grabbed, funneled.

“Yo, Jimmy!”

Jimmy looked up. Coworker.

“Help out at the end of the line, Bill took off for a sec.”

Jimmy nodded and moved down the line.

He picked up a stack of the small cardboard containers. The erasers came rolling off the line, freshly stamped and pressed, warm to the touch.

He picked three erasers and stuffed them into the cardboard box that would end up on the shelf somewhere. Probably Wal-Mart.

He picked three more, stuffed them.

Picked, and stuffed.

Picked, and stuffed.

He cursed.

“I’m just saying,” He thought. “I want somethin’ that’s permanent.”

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