Introducing the third place finalist in our 2021 Flash Fiction Contest, selected by Stuart Dybek: “How to Develop (Film)” by Candice May. Dybek writes, “Second person point of view, a how-to format, subtitles, fragmented narrative, open ending… There are a lot of modernist techniques at play in this story, but technique never overwhelms the underlying rawness of a young voice that is aware of the transgressive nature of her story. The point of view does what 2nd person usually does: disassociates the narrator from herself and her story. Her declarative sentence paced voice manages to be both appropriately flat and vividly fierce. The format of the how-to conceit, besides serving as a clever central metaphor, works when combined with the subtitles as an editing device that results in a sense of acceleration. You feel the light/dark flash of the scenes on your eyeballs. Closure—so often make/break in flash fiction–while unresolved, arrives with a lit fuse.” Dive in below:
But you are not completely without agency. You make things happen, too. You left the door unlocked, you coyly tucked your hair behind your ear, you bit your lower lip and when he touched your cheek, you didn’t flinch away. You might have rested your fingers on his belt buckle. Even though you’re a shy girl, you’re also an artist and you can create the things you want.
- Materials and Set Up
You are a lonely girl in high school, and the darkroom is your favorite place to hang out, even at lunch time. While your so-called friends and classmates walk downtown for lunch, or smoke joints on the football field, you click the door closed and turn off all the lights. Except for the red light, the one that illuminates your flesh in a blood-hued tone as you gather the supplies: scissors, thermometer, plastic containers and toxic-smelling liquids. Stop bath, fixer, paper towels. And the film cassette, of course, with all your undeveloped pictures.
- Open Film Cassette
Exposing yourself to the light will ruin you, like the negatives, so you only do it here, in the darkroom, in the dark. For something so small, the cassette is heavy in your hands. You move around the room like an animal with night vision. When you’ve freed the film from its cassette, you consider the light switch on the wall. This is your moment to destroy the evidence, if you wanted to.
- Cut Film Off Cassette
It’s dark, so you’ll have to feel for the place to cut the film from the plastic. Your fingers unroll the film from its coil like you are undressing a teenager, like the way he undressed you, just days ago in this very room, sliding your knee socks down and then your underwear, double-checking the door was locked before pressing his face against you.
- Load Film onto Reel
Find slits and edges and slide it on. Twist, back and forth, wind up and wind down. You’ll know it’s ready when you’ve securely wrapped the film around the reel. When everything is secured and snug. Wrapped around. Loaded.
- Place Reel in Film Tank
When he joins you in the darkroom, you aren’t a lonely girl in high school. You pretend not to know his first name, only his last, and you call him Mister. He never says your name out loud, except during attendance and then, he doesn’t look at you. This is how the development process works. Make sure it’s tightly sealed and don’t open the lid. Don’t peek and don’t tell.