Lately I’ve been having trouble sleeping at night, what with all the worry and whatnot. Oh and the pandemic. So I’ve prescribed myself ten or fifteen minutes of Bob Ross at bedtime, just to calm my mind down and allow me to focus on creativity. I wrote the following story as an homage to him, and because his show is so special that it deserves at least one piece of fanfic.
The painter brushed the last tufts of grass on the painting, unmindful of the lights and cameras behind him. Then he picked up his palette knife and made fine scratches in the paint, here, there, everywhere.
“Now we’re going to take our knife and put in all the little sticks and twigs and things, all the little doers that will make people think you spent hours on this with a one-hair brush.” He turned his head and smiled. “And we won’t tell ’em any different, it’s our secret. Now we’re not in it to sell paintings, but if you happen to want to, things like this will really make ’em stand out.” He worked for a bit more until he was satisfied.
“Looks like we’ve got ourselves a painting,” he said. “Now, let’s give it a signature. As always, we use a script liner brush and some permanent red, with a tiny bit of paint thinner till we have a consistency about like ink…”
As he continued his familiar patter, he found himself wondering what he was going to do with himself now that he had completed his thirtieth season. No one else knew it yet, though he was sure his producer suspected, but he was just minutes away from announcing that he wouldn’t be coming back to Muncie. Even at fifty-one he felt the creak of winter in his bones, the slow march of age, both relics of a hard life. He wanted some time to walk in the same beloved woods he’d been painting for years, to just enjoy them without fear of busting leave or letting down the recruits.
In the luggage he’d left back at the hotel were title papers for a little cabin a few miles outside Anchorage, the same place he’d lived for more than a decade. It was the same kind of place he’d painted countless times. It sat on ten acres of forest, had its own well and a good woodstove, and best of all it was situated right near a singing little brook that he could listen to as he went to sleep.
The thought of the cabin made him smile as he gave his final farewell.
“And from all us here, happy painting, and God bless, my friends.” He waved at the camera and the paint spattered camera operator.
Right now, said camera operator was looking at him with a little concern. “You all right, Bob?”
“Yeah, just a little stiff today. Seven episodes in one day has to be a record, even for me.” Bob wiped a sneaky tear from his cheek. “Thirty seasons. That’s a lot of paintings.”
“It sure is,” said Ralph, the cameraman. “Well, at least we get a little break now. For a few weeks at least, because I heard we’re doing another season.”
Bob was just opening his mouth to say something when Shirley burst in. She was the office lady out front and she rarely entered the studio proper.
“Mr. Ross?” she asked. “There’s someone to see you.”
“Who is it?” Even though he had to be careful these days with the fans and all, Bob still liked visitors.
“Well, that’s the odd thing.” Shirley adjusted her glasses as if she wasn’t seeing straight. “He says his name is Rob, that you’ll know him, and he kinda looks like a clean cut version of you.”
“Rob’s here?” Bob’s face split in a grin. He hadn’t seen his twin since they’d met on mutual leave, oh, twenty years ago, and Rob had told him he’d been accepted into the Army Rangers. Rob was intensely private, as was Bob, so out of respect he’d never mentioned this brother on the air.
He dropped his palette onto a drop cloth covered table and trotted past Shirley on tired feet, heading for the front office. A tall man was there, standing straight, wearing a pair of slacks and light blue shirt, but looking like he wasn’t used to it. His chin was shaved blue and his head ended in a flat top that was nearly geometric. When he caught sight of Bob, his blue eyes lit up but there was a question in them.
“Rob, you old cuss, it’s good to see you!” said Bob, breaking the ice. He reached out to hug his long lost twin.
“Bob, you magnificent bastard, what in hell have you been doing with yourself, getting rich and famous on me?” The brothers hugged hard, pounding each other’s backs.
“Well, I guess I haven’t done too badly for myself at that,” said Bob. “Mostly, I do what I like to do, and help other folks do that too.”
“And make a happy buck off the special paints and brushes and stuff with your name plastered all over them,” said Rob with a grin. “Not that I mind, I think it’s great. How many more years you going to do this painting thing?”
“For the rest of my life, I guess,” said Bob, “but I was just going to let them know that I wouldn’t be back for next season of the show.”
“Why not?” Rob looked a bit concerned now, and searched his brother’s face for an answer.
“Well, to tell you the truth, I’m getting to the point where I’m repeating myself more often than not, in paintings and not just words. And I’m getting tired, Rob. I think maybe I’ve earned myself a few years of peace. I’ve got a plan to run a little wildlife sanctuary, where I can help hurt or sick critters, and maybe paint things just for myself. I just signed on a nice piece of property and I’m all set to move in a couple months.”
“I’ve got an idea,” said Rob, mischief dancing in his eyes. “Kind of a prank, you might say. I’ll come over to your place. You take a month or two, teach me how to paint your way. I’ll grow myself a beard, and then I’ll take over your show and see if anybody notices the difference. I’ll bet you fifty bucks no one does.”
“You? Lookin’ scruffy like me and changing up your painting style? That’ll be the day.” Bob never could resist a good bet, especially when it was combined with a fabulous joke. “Sure, why not? You can have half my old jeans. I still want the other half, I’ll be needin’ ’em. And I’ll teach you to feed squirrels, and introduce you to the Bird Lady here in Muncie. I know she’ll want to be in on this. It’ll be a hoot.”
Rob clapped his brother on the shoulder. “All right, sounds like a plan then. You finish up in here and I’ll meet you outside. Wouldn’t want to let the kitty out of the burlap quite yet.”
Two months later, the 31st season of the Joy of Painting aired. Bob was snug in his log cabin up near Anchorage, sitting in his easy chair with a glass of iced tea. The old TV set flickered as it brought him the latest episode of the Joy of Painting. Rob wasn’t doing too badly, considering. The wig looked good and his beard had grown in well, so he really looked the part. His touch with a palette knife was delicate enough for the wet on wet technique, his manner was gentle and his patter was nearly perfect. Except for one flaw.
“All right, now we’re going to put in some rocks in this stream, and some waves, and all these little dooters…”