Thursday, January 31, 2013

Chapter 10

New to Snapshots? Start here

Jason looked up from the cylindrical stainless steel film tank between his palms with a puzzled and slightly startled expression.  “You first?” he asked, his eyebrows arched in surprise.  “I thought this was my story!”

“It’s just…” Alex stammered, unsure what she wanted to say either in response now, or when she had interrupted Jason in the first place.  As great as all that talk of honestly and revealed secrets had sounded, it was an ideal that just wasn’t possible for Alex anymore—not now, or possibly not ever. She had done too much damage—and not the kind that could be undone with some simple apologies and a promise of improved behavior.  No, the decisions she made were of the no-turning-back variety, with some serious consequences for deviation attached.  Even if she could, theoretically, trust Jason with her secret, then that fact alone would make him the kind of person she wouldn’t want to burden with the moral dilemma of whether or not to turn her in.  “It’s just…” she began, measuring her words, “it’s just that you shouldn’t have to feel like you need to bare your soul just yet in order for me to like you.  That’s not fair.  If you aren’t ready to talk about it yet, then that’s OK.  You can just show me what happens next with the film in that light-tight canister thingy there and we can just enjoy the moment.”

Jason looked Alex square in the eye.  “Thanks for sharing,” he said, dryly, a slight smile playing at the corners of his lips.  “Now can I get on with my story?”

“OK,” Alex said, feigning contrition as she hopped up on the counter beside Jason.

“Well, after they found the scissors in the back of my car during a random parking lot check, the assistant principal came and got me out of class.  It was Bio lab, actually.  We were looking at the cellular structure of fungi we’d cultured on bread—honey wheat and potato, to be exact.  It’s crazy the details I remember about that day.” Jason sighed heavily, wiping his palms down the front of his jeans. “When Mr. Peters sat me down in his office and told me they’d found the scissors and explained that the situation was ‘problematic’ in light of the school’s zero tolerance policy, I just sat there, waiting for him to explain what the work around would be.  You know, something like ‘Jason, we know you’re a straight ‘A’ student who was just doing some community service.  Come to a couple Saturday detentions and we’ll call it all good.’”

“Aw, they never say that,” Alex shook her head sympathetically.  “Once you’re in the vice principal’s office, it’s all over,” she said with resignation.

“Not for me!” Jason’s voice squeaked in righteous indigence.  “The last time I had been in that office, I was picking up a commendation certificate for representing the school at an academic bowl!”

“An academic bowl?” Alex repeated, her eyes raised and brow furrowed. “Really?”

“Really,” Jason nodded.  “Alex, stuff like this doesn’t happen in our family.  I had no frame of reference. Which,” he said with a sigh, “is probably why everything else happened like it did.”

Alex sat still, waiting for Jason to continue.  So far, nothing Alex had heard seemed very earth-shattering, but it was clear that whatever happened had rocked Jason’s world.

“I was told to clean out my locker. Class was about to end, and I wanted to get out before the bell rang and I’d have to face everyone.” Jason paused, gathering his thoughts before continuing. He looked again at Alex, more seriously this time.  “Somehow telling this story was easier back at camp. Back when I didn’t have to look straight at someone I like so much and explain what a crumb I really am.”

The room grew silent and Alex simultaneously felt weak at the thought that Jason actually liked her, and an unbearable heaviness at the knowledge that she wasn’t worthy of his interest.  She wanted to say dozens of things at that moment, but what she heard herself say was, Honestly, Jason, I don’t shock easily, and I’m not even sure what it means to be a ‘crumb,’ so try me.  What happened next?”

“I opened my locker, and I don’t know.”  Jason shook his head.  “Something inside just snapped.  The injustice of it all just hit me, and I was suddenly furious.  I grabbed the first thing that I saw, which happened to be my 3-inch thick Calculus book, and I just hurled it down the hall.”

Jason stopped speaking, and, for a moment Alex thought that maybe heaving a math text down the hall was just another big, academic no-no, which she’d have a hard time taking seriously.  She was grateful later that she suppressed the urge to make wisecracks and simply sat next to Jason in silence until he found his voice again.

“I didn’t know she was there, Lexie.  I didn’t know anyone was in the hall at all.  But when I heard the thud, I turned around and saw Mrs. Beale—sweet, smart, elderly Mrs. Beale, lying in front of the lockers across the hall, and all I remember after that is noise and confusion, and being led away in handcuffs.”
Looking for Chapter 10?  Check back later the meantime, leave a comment on a prior chapter, tweet or share a link on Facebook or otherwise help the story along!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Chapter 9

New to Snapshots? Start here

Alex sucked in the car’s hot dusty air as her brain spun around like the big wheel on the Price is Right

Just like the contestants on the iconic game show, she know she’d be as surprised as anyone by where the metaphoric needle would settle. Although she hoped for some winning verbiage, she instantly knew she’d gone over the mark and met the same fate as so many empty-handed hopefuls before her.

Because if truth was the mark, she not only overshot, she hit a whole new low.

“She’s the woman that destroyed my family!” Alex blurted.

Jason’s brow furrowed in confusion.  “Is she your… stepmom?”

Alex’s face instantly burned with guilt and embarrassment.  She hoped the pre-existing heat was enough to explain the flush she felt creeping across her cheeks.  Of course she could not allow Angela to be her stepmom in this little narrative she was creating.  She’d already told Jason and his mother that she would be staying with her father and his family on weekends, so what sense would it make for her to be so vehement against seeing her own stepmother?

To make matters more confusing, Alex wasn’t even sure where the words came from.  True, Angela was married to her father, but she was in no way responsible for her parents’ divorce, years before Angela and her father had even met.  But the words were out there now, hovering almost visibly in the air between her and Jason, and Alex saw no choice but to simply go with what was.  Plan B, just like Jason had said yesterday.

“She was the last person I expected to see in there!  I had NO IDEA she worked for the Red Cross,” Alex said, sticking to non-incriminating truthful filler until she could invent a brand new character for her increasingly complicated saga.

Jason was quiet for a moment as he listened to Alex.  “So, not your stepmom?”

“It was such a shock, I couldn’t deal with it,” Alex continued.

“OK, so definitely not your stepmother.  I’m guessing a random woman that your dad met when things were falling apart with him and your mom?”

It was beginning to dawn on Alex that she no longer had to invent a fictional persona for Angela.  Jason had done the dirty work for her.  And she didn’t even have to directly lie to him.

“Would it be all right if we talked about this another time?” Alex said, her voice snagging on a jagged edge of honest pain.

“Sure,” Jason said, quickly.  “It was bad enough that you had to go through something like that once—no sense in reliving it.”

Alex was still reliving the actual version of recent events two hours later as she stood at the threshold of Jason’s darkroom in a little nook past the kitchen.  “This used to be the laundry room,” Jason explained, “before my parents added the addition.  At that point, we needed a bigger laundry room anyway, with so many of my mom’s students coming over to do laundry.” Jason looked at Alex before turning the knob.  “Are you ready?” he asked.  “Remember, it is completely dark in there, and I have worked hard to make it that way. “Cell phones stay here,” he said, reaching into his pocket and placing his phone on a sideboard table along the wall. 

Alex nodded, even though she wasn’t remotely sure what she was doing.  At dinner, Jason had handed her a metal wheel that looked like a miniature version of the large metal reels used in movie theaters.  He had supplied Alex with a long strip of old film he’d removed from its roll and sacrificed as a permanent teaching tool, along with instructions on how to thread the film into the reel’s concentric grooves.  It sounded easy in theory, but Alex had spent half an hour after the chocolate crème pie plates had been cleared from the table crinkling the strip of film around the wheel in lumpy, uneven formations.  And that was in the well-lit dining room.  According to Jason, they would be repeating the same process with their film roll of turtle shots in pitch black, along with the added step of removing the film from its sealed metal roll.

Still, Alex welcomed the chance to retreat from the high-energy clamor of Jason’s home and take some time to process it all.   The flood of activity and the range of characters were overwhelming, to be sure: easy banter travelling around the large oak table as fast as stoneware dishes filled with homemade food, the eccentric neighbor, Mrs. Pritchard’s continuous clucking and nodding in a stream of continual agreement, Nanook’s noisy enjoyment of her squeaky toys: overwhelming, yes, but in a day-at-Disney kind of way that left Alex with a feeling of wonder. 

Jason seemed to read her thoughts.  “Welcome to my thinking place,” he said, taking her hand and leading her into the darkness beyond the threshold.  “No matter what’s going on in my life, I always find clarity here.”

“Kind of ironic, don’t you think?” Alex laughed.

“In the most awesome way possible,” Jason said, reaching toward what Alex could only assume was a counter.  She drew back her hand.  “No,” Jason said, pulling her hand back toward his.  “Follow my movements,” he said, picking up an object that he placed in Alex’s hand. 

“A punch can opener?” she guessed.

“Yep,” he confirmed, popping the top off the film canister faster than Alex could get into a can of soup.

Alex could hear the film unfurl from the tightly wound roll.  Jason placed a metal film reel in her hand.  “What?”

“Yeah, you’re going to try it,” Jason laughed.  “Why do you think I had you practicing all that time?”

“Oh, no, I’ll ruin it, Jason,” Alex protested.

“Here,” Jason said, I’ll help you get started.  Alex could feel his fingers as he clipped the end of the film beneath a pin in the center of the reel.  He gently guided her hands and helped her slowing guide the trail of film into the invisible groves.

“The thing I love about being in here,” Jason said, “isn’t just the quiet, or the anticipation—both of which I do love—but also the revealing of truth.”

Alex stiffened.  Was this a confrontation?  Did he lure her into the darkness to force some kind of confession? For a second, she wanted to bolt, but instead asked, “What do you mean?”

“All secrets are revealed in the dark room,” Jason said.  “You start in pure darkness with a strip of celluloid and some high hopes, and, if you’re careful, patient, and a little bit lucky, you end up with a miracle—a memory that you’ve captured forever.”

Alex felt sick to her stomach.  She’d had high hopes not so long ago herself.  She’d been neither careful, patient, nor lucky and was pretty certain that all she’d really remember of the summer was the accumulating ball of guilt tangling her insides into knots.

 “And that reminds me,” he said, slowly, “That I still need to explain to you why I am not the goody-two-shoes you seem to think I am.” He guided the last couple inches of film around the metal wheel and then popped the rolled film into a light-tight canister.  He flipped on the lights, and sat down on what was, indeed a counter.  He patted the spot next to him.  “Have a seat,” he said.  “It’s time for this particular secret to be revealed.”

“No, wait!” Alex burst out.  “Me, first.”