Snakes and Pills

181 - pink floss

Fanfare was not a common occurrence around the Larson-Jones pencil factory. Travis wanted to enjoy the commotion of today. He tried to remind himself that bittersweet things were still at least partially sweet.

Still, he found that the smile he wore as he guided the throng of reporters and photographers down the production line was forced. He couldn't get the reason for all this attention out of his head. The bitter easily overpowered the sweet.

Travis explained the history of the factory to the crowd as if it were an ordinary tour. There hadn't actually been any factory tours for some time, but he still remembered all the lines to the spiel.

The reporters nodded politely as he explained how his grandfather had started this factory ninety-six years ago. The tour emphasized the positive, focusing on the heyday and speaking none of the recent decline. The production line buzzed behind him, machines laden with yellow pencils in various states of assembly.

They didn't really care, Travis reminded himself. Stuck on the negative again, but he couldn't get his thoughts out of the rut they were in. This wouldn't be a front-page story, unless it was an especially slow news day. The story of a pencil factory's fate would be just another human interest story to conclude with. "It's the end of an era," or, "the times are a'changin'." He could hear it already. Then, onto the weather or sports.

"And here's the end of the line," Travis said, reflecting on what that really meant today. "This is where the pencils are neatly arranged and placed into their boxes." He plucked one of the boxes off the conveyor belt and unfolded the freshly-closed flap, revealing rows of neatly-packed pencils. He pulled one out and proudly displayed it. Flash bulbs went off like fireworks in his eyes.

"That's how a Larson-Jones pencil is made," he said. Was made. He surveyed the factory and his emotions caught him by surprise.

Little had changed in the many years since his youth when his father let him work odd jobs on the line. The faces, of course, had changed. And the machinery now showed its age. Even if he had the resources or the reason to upgrade the production line, most of the companies that manufactured the machinery had suffered a similar fate.

Travis felt a sudden urge to cry. To bawl like the child he was when he first was exposed to this industry. He fought the urge, held it back so well that not even a single tear formed.

"That concludes our tour. Any questions?" he happily asked.

"Mr. Jones, why do you think your company had difficulty staying afloat in recent years?" a woman with a tape-recorder in her hand asked.

"It's no secret, really," Travis quickly answered. "With digital communication, people just have less reason to write things down on paper. Even in situations where handwriting is still required, say for example in schools, the market has shifted towards mechanical pencils and pens."

He paused, letting some of the more old-fashioned reporters finish jotting things down with their pens. "Perhaps we should have diversified into other stationery products, but we knew one thing and one thing well: how to make a wonderful, simple, and traditional wooden pencil. We assumed there would always be a market for that. Even if it became more of a niche, it would be enough to sustain us. In the end, we were wrong. Simple as that."

Travis had this answer well-rehearsed. This was not the first time he had to explain himself, but he hoped it would be the last. Each time left him feeling slightly more leaden inside.

"Anything else?" he asked.


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