Julian Lass

The Darkroom.

A boy is sent to a new school. The school is typical of its old grammar roots. It has long corridors and polished floors, high ceilings and desks carved with the initials of a century of boredom. The boy, entering this world for the first time, lacks the extrovert nature prized at such establishments; he is shy, intelligent, unathletic: a coterie of sins. And because of a quirk of his village school, he joins the class as it begins its second year, with friendships already formed. Because he is new, he is viewed at first with curiosity, but then suspicion. Rather than facing up to the taunts, the boy seeks refuge in himself. In that way he lessens the probability of being stepped on.

Feeling sympathy for the picked-upon boy who sits alone at the front of his class, the maths teacher gives him a book on photography. Now every lunchtime the boy seeks the school's small darkroom under the library stairs. As he explores this world of darkness, a new feeling takes hold of him. He locks himself away from the rough jostlings, choosing to spend his allotted hour alone, where he can feel it more keenly in the foggy smell of chemicals and old equipment coated with years of sticky residues. By measuring solutions, exposing silvered paper with light, he pulls the world into the darkness. In the dark he finds what is made beautiful by his embrace.

Focusing the old enlarger onto silver-coated paper, the rays of light reflect from the whiteness of the paper and scatter round the room.

Flickering beams of light like water, reflected from the sun, or the glittering image of the moon, swiftly pervade every place far and wide, and dart high up, to strike the ceiling of the highest roof (Aeneid, viii. 22).

Occasionally he tries to rise from the depths of his loneliness by missing his scheduled hour in the dark. During these lit lunch breaks he observes the other denizens of this affectless world. Two kinds of people stalk the school's corridors: those who think they've found friendship and love, and those who think they're without it.

But once back in the darkroom, the boy learns how to fill his hour of freedom with the maximum of images. He grows ever more frantic in his attempts to achieve perfection. He thinks with the stopwatch in his hand and this is how he learns to steer the darkness. Perhaps we can say that once upon a time his photographs were certain and his frames were of cardboard. Now the frames have become certain and the photographs are becoming cardboard.

After a few weeks he begins to feel unwell. He wakes up each morning in bed with a heavy head. It is difficult for him to get up and he struggles to his feet. On his walk to school he starts to notice foliage under autumn kerbside hedges, the mulching of rotting leaves, the thickness of trees. His dreams are about falling. Glimpsing his own shadow in his pictures, he becomes as skittish as a horse. In the darkness he creates one print upon another, until, finally feeling empty inside, he leaves a final image chemically unfixed.

Instead he spreads his blazer on the floor and lies down in the darkness. A breeze will force open the door. The desire to be loved is the last image, the breeze will whisper. O puer, tibi molestum est. (O boy, that's your problem).

Now, as the light enters the room through the ajar door, the image will have already begun to fade.

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