Read The Road Home Online

Authors: Michael Thomas Ford

Tags: #General Fiction

The Road Home (10 page)

BOOK: The Road Home
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“We should probably go,” he told Will. “I think I might have had too much excitement for one day.”
“You're the boss,” Will said. “Let's roll.”
They returned down the path, which seemed longer and more difficult to walk than Burke remembered. He was definitely tired, although at the same time he was filled with a buoyancy he hadn't felt in some time. He was excited about seeing the pictures, and he was happy that he was excited.
They reached the grass and headed back toward the house, intending to intercept their original path from the truck. They were almost there when Burke moved his crutch forward and felt it slide out from under him. He started to fall, his body twisting around as he tried to plant the crutch and hang on.
Will caught him, grabbing Burke under the arms and holding him up. His hands laced behind Burke's back so that they were face-to-face, their chests touching. Burke looked into Will's eyes as the wild beat of his heart returned to normal.
“I said I'd catch you,” Will reminded him. Then he leaned forward and kissed Burke's mouth.
CHAPTER 10
U
PS delivered the boxes three days later, one from Gregg and the other from B&H Photo in New York. The driver brought them to the porch, where Burke met him and signed for them. His father then carried them into the dining room, where he set them on the table. “What's all this?” he asked.
“Photography stuff,” Burke answered as he opened the box from Gregg. He had stayed on the phone with Gregg while his friend packed the box, telling him everything to include in the shipment, but he still went over everything again. It was all there.
“Can you take this stuff upstairs for me, Dad?” Burke asked after checking the packing list from the second box and matching it to the contents.
“What are you doing? Setting up shop?” his father said.
“I'm just going to develop some film,” Burke explained as he followed behind. He had gotten good at managing the stairs and now went up and down several times a day.
“Don't you need a darkroom for that?”
“I've got one,” Burke told him.
His father set the first box down on the bed. “You do?” he said doubtfully.
Burke reached into the box and pulled out a black cloth bag that appeared to have two arms sewn onto it. “Right here,” he said. “You want to see how it's done?”
“I do,” his father said, sounding genuinely interested.
“Bring up the second box,” Burke instructed him. “I'll get everything ready.”
As his father went to fetch the other box, Burke unpacked the contents of the first box. Most of it was taken up with the photo scanner he'd asked Gregg to send him. He set this aside for later use and concentrated on the project at hand. By the time his father returned, Burke had laid out on the bed a pair of scissors, a metal film reel, and what looked like an oversize martini shaker.
“Looks like you're going to perform surgery,” his father remarked as he put the second box on the floor.
“This is more fun,” said Burke. He took a roll of exposed film and placed it inside the black bag along with everything else he'd set out. Then he sealed the bag and stuck his hands into the arms on either side. “This is a changing bag,” he explained. “You use it for changing film when there's nowhere dark to do it. But you can also use it as a darkroom.” He felt for the roll of film and held it with one hand while he released the bit of tape holding the end closed. This he trimmed away with the scissors.
“I'm spooling the film onto the reel,” he told his father as he threaded the end of the film into the receiving slot on the reel. When it was secure, he turned the reel forward and back, working the film onto it. He was careful to hold the film by the sides so as not to touch its surface. “That shaker thing is called a developing tank,” he said as he took the tank and placed the film reel inside. He placed the top on it and screwed it down tight. When he was sure it was secure, he pulled his hands free and opened the bag, removing the developing tank. “Now, this becomes our darkroom,” he told his father.
“That?” his father said dubiously. “It's a can.”
“Basically, yes,” Burke admitted. “It's what you put in the can that makes a difference.”
“I'm guessing that's what's in this box here.”
“Right,” said Burke. “You can watch if you want to, but it's basically a lot of pouring, turning, and more pouring. It might be easier if you come back for the fun part.”
“Call me when it's done,” his father said. “And try not to blow anything up.”
“All the chemicals are harmless, Dad,” Burke assured him. “Oh, would you mind putting that box in the bathroom for me?” In the excitement of developing the film, he'd forgotten all about his leg.
After depositing the box on the lid of the toilet seat, Burke's father left. Burke, who had developed thousands of rolls of film, performed the steps of the developing process almost without thinking about it. He filled the tank with water from the tap, pouring it into the ingeniously designed opening which allowed fluids to enter and leave without letting in light. He then let the tank sit while he mixed the developing fluid with water in a graduated beaker. When it was ready, he poured the water from the tank and replaced it with the developer.
Now came the tedious process of monitoring the time and agitating the tank for ten seconds every minute. As he did this, he thought back to what had occurred three days before. It was an understatement to say that Will's kiss had taken him by surprise. At first he'd thought that he was imagining it, or that maybe it was an accident, a peculiar result of his stumbling into Will's arms. But when it continued, and when Will's tongue probed gently at his lips, he'd accepted that it was really happening.
Kissing had been the extent of it, although both of them had become obviously aroused and Burke had sensed that Will wanted more. But it was too strange, too sudden, and Burke had stopped it. Will had surprised him by not seeming either embarrassed or angry, and the ride home had been only marginally uncomfortable. At the house Will had helped Burke out of the truck, walked him to the front porch, and reminded Burke to let him know when the pictures were ready, as he was curious about them. Then he'd gotten into his truck and waved good-bye, as if they'd just returned from the movies.
He watched the timer, turning the developing tank on schedule. He still didn't know what he was going to do about Will.
Why do you have to
do
anything?
he asked himself.
If Will isn't bothered by it, why should you be?
This was a good question. The immediate answer was that Will was half his age and the son of his former best friend, with whom he'd been half in love and to whom he'd given his first blow job. That was not an insignificant detail and couldn't just be brushed aside. But if he
could
set it aside for a moment, that made things easier. The “half his age” thing was a bit worrisome, true, but it wasn't as if they were setting up house together.
The timer dinged, and Burke upended the developing tank, emptying it into the sink.
It's not like you never hooked up with guys twice your age when you were in your twenties,
he reminded himself as he filled the tank with stop bath and agitated it for thirty seconds.
And you didn't think it was strange.
No, he hadn't thought it was strange. But he had been the younger man. Now he was the older one, and the realization that Will was born when Burke was already twenty was difficult to get past. While Will was learning to walk and talk, Burke was already making love with other men. Had Burke seen Will being pushed along in his stroller by his parents, he would hardly have looked at the infant making googly eyes at him and thought about how one day they would be making out.
That's just wrong,
he thought as he turned the developing tank over.
But he's not a child. He's a grown man. And he's the one who kissed you, remember.
He wondered if he would feel differently if Will weren't Mars's son. He thought he probably would, but there was really no way to know. Of course, if Mars found out about it, things would probably get ugly. He doubted Mars had any idea his son was into other men. But maybe he did. Maybe in the years since high school he'd learned to accept things like that.
Burke poured fixer into the developing tank and agitated it for thirty seconds. He emptied the fixer back into the bottle to reuse it, then unscrewed the lid of the developing tank and removed the reel. He inspected the film, decided it looked fine, and replaced the reel. He set the developing tank beneath the tap and turned on the water, letting it fill the tank halfway. Replacing the lid, he agitated the tank for thirty seconds, then emptied it and once again filled it halfway.
He repeated this process for ten minutes, during which he continued arguing with himself about the wisdom of maybe pursuing something with Will Janks. With every emptying of the developing tank, he talked himself out of it, and with every refilling, he changed his mind. By the time he was finished rinsing the film, he was exhausted, not from the physical effort of developing the film, but from the mental effort expended in fretting over a kiss.
After the final emptying of the developing tank, he added a few drops of wetting agent and allowed it to sit for half a minute, tapping the sides of the tank to remove any bubbles that might have formed on the surface of the film. Then he removed the reel, gently twisted its two halves apart, and pulled the film free. To one end he attached a weighted film clip, and to the other an unweighted one. Then he hung the strip from the shower curtain rod and left it to dry while he went downstairs.
“Is it soup yet?” his father asked when Burke walked into the kitchen. Lucy was sitting at the table, doing a crossword puzzle in the newspaper, while Burke's father rinsed a chicken in the sink. Burke couldn't help but notice that several small reddish feathers remained on the chicken's body.
“That isn't one of yours, is it?” he asked his father.
“Killed not half an hour ago,” his father answered.
Burke looked away. It was years since he'd endured the horrors of chicken killing: the blood, the smell, the warm innards, which had to be scooped out by hand, the feathers, which had to be plucked off and which stuck to everything. For years after leaving the farm, he'd avoided chicken altogether, and then he'd eaten it only when it was smothered in sauce or otherwise unrecognizable. It had taken a long time for him to look at a roast chicken without getting queasy, and he'd been relieved to find on his first night back that he could eat it again.
“The film is hanging up to dry,” he said, trying not to think about the chicken. “It takes about six hours.”
“We'll be asleep by then,” his father said.
“Don't worry,” said Burke, looking at Lucy and winking. “I'll wake you up.”
He managed to make it through dinner, although the chicken leg on his plate was largely intact when he scooped the remains into the trash. And true to his word, his father was in bed and asleep by nine o'clock, although Lucy stayed up and played cards with him until a little after ten.
By eleven the film was dry and he had cut it into manageable strips. He'd already hooked the scanner up to his laptop, and now it was just a matter of scanning the film. He put the first strip in and waited as the machine transferred the images to his computer. It took some time, and he was impatient. But finally the first three photos were processed.
They were beautiful. The Yashica-Mat's lenses appeared to be clean, with no mold or dust to mar the photographs. Each of the square images was lovely in its simplicity. The rock with the turtles. A grouping of wildflowers. A single leaf floating on the water, a dragonfly riding it like a raft. Burke was more than pleased, both with the camera and with his eye.
He fed another strip of negatives into the scanner, then another. In the space of an hour he had scanned the entire first roll. And there were three more waiting to be developed. He couldn't wait.
As the last group of images appeared on the screen, he looked at them. The last one caught his attention. It showed Will's face reflected in the surface of the water. Burke didn't remember taking it, and he was startled by its unexpected beauty. Will wore an expression of total happiness.
But something was wrong with the picture. When he looked closer, he saw that there was a large cloudy spot to the right of Will's face. At first he thought it might really be a cloud, or perhaps ripples in the pond, but on closer examination it was definitely something wrong with the film itself.
He attributed the aberration to the processing. It was the last frame on the roll, and sometimes, despite taking all the usual precautions, those photos suffered from exposure to light. And really, it made the image even more arresting. Will's face was in perfect focus, and the cloudiness beside it only emphasized his beauty. Burke found himself staring at the young man's face and thinking about their kiss.
A minute later he had made up his mind.
BOOK: The Road Home
4.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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