19 - pt 1
Jackson clung to Dan’s elbow with his right hand while he held his rigid cane in left, letting the larger man lead him now that they were in the building and almost to their destination. Reluctantly, he’d left Molly home because Dan was concerned her fur might get into the air and potentially ruin some of the prints.
“We’re here, at the entrance to the darkroom,” Dan announced as they came to a stop. “I have to unlock it. Just a second.” Jackson could feel the movement of Dan’s body as he used his other arm. No sound of a key. Instead, he heard a clicking noise, several in sequence.
Jackson tilted his head. “What is that?”
“Huh?” Dan asked as Jackson heard the door opening with a click and a subtle whine.
“A combination lock?”
The larger man chuckled. “Your ability to deduce stuff like that with only your hearing has got to be a super power.” Dan led Jackson through the doorway and stopped again. “Give me a sec.” He touched Jackson’s fingers with his free hand as a signal to let him go. Jackson obeyed, listening as Dan moved nearby, apparently shutting the door. “We have to be careful because of all the chemicals,” Dan explained, perhaps referring to the special lock and why he was closing them in. “OK, so this is the entry, which we use as a classroom. It’s a narrow, long rectangular space with a wall of white boards on your left and a bunch of tables all pushed together in the center to make one huge workspace, with chairs all around it. There are shelves in the far back of the room and cork boards on the walls to your right. About halfway down that wall there’s a door that leads to the darkroom proper. There’s nothing dangerous or breakable in this space, so if you want to explore, feel free.”
Jackson nodded. “Thank you. For describing the layout. That helps.”
Dan hummed, and the smile leaked into his voice when he said, “I’m off on your right. Just going to get out the film I want to work with today.” Jackson listened as Dan hefted his bag off his back and onto the table, the shuffle of fabric rubbing, zippers pulling, and the clicking of plastic and metal.
“Is it OK if I touch the board? Will I erase something you need?”
It took a moment for Dan to respond as if he were distracted. “What? Oh, yeah, it’s fine. There’s nothing there.”
Jackson used his cane to sweep the floor as he walked to his left, and when it bumped the wall, he stretched out his left hand so he could feel the smooth surface of the white board as he walked, his right guiding the cane so he wouldn’t trip on a chair or any other obstacle that might be in his way. Dan was pretty good at guiding Jackson and warning him of hazards, especially since they hadn’t known each other long, but it was always possible the other man could have overlooked or forgotten something. Or simply not realized how easy it was for Jackson to stumble over something as simple as a pencil if it caught his foot wrong or messed up his gait cycle with his orthotics.
The room was smaller than Jackson had expected, with perhaps seating for only a dozen, although the table was so large it dominated the space, with only perhaps a couple feet on each side of it with the exception of the entrance.
“How many students do you have?” Jackson asked as his cane bumped something in front of him that wasn’t chair, and since the entirety of the room was white for the most part, Dan’s blur stood out ahead, so he suspected it might be the man’s shoe.
“Ten right now in intro to black and white 2 and eight in color.” Dan paused. A zip. “Plus four in advanced. I also teach a couple courses in digital photography but that’s in one of the computer labs.”
“I thought film had died.”
Dan chuckled. “It had, but then the hipsters and millennials decided what’s old is new again. Thankfully. I love what I can do with digital and it’s convenient, but it doesn’t compare to film in my mind. Plus, I love the serenity of working all day in a quiet darkroom. Sitting in front of a computer just isn’t the same.” Even if Jackson couldn’t ever understand photography in the way that a sighted person could, just listening to Dan speak with such passion made a warm, happy feeling form in his chest.
Jackson smiled. “Ready to go into the darkroom now?”
Dan led Jackson into the negative room, pausing once they’d entered to describe the layout. “This is a small, roughly square room. On your immediate left is the entrance to the darkroom proper where the prints are made and developed. Next along that wall is a large rectangular sink. That’s where we treat the negatives to fix them. I’ll explain more about that later. There’s shelves above it and below with bottles of chemicals,” Dan added as if in warning. “Adjacent to that are tiny closets: those rooms are completely protected from light when the doors are shut so we can extract the negatives from the film canisters without them being ruined. On the wall straight ahead is a table with a light box and lupe; that’s to make it easier to see the negatives in order to decide which ones you might want to process into prints. Then on the right wall there’s a negative dryer. Once we’ve fixed the negatives, we cut them into long strips and place them there to dry. Next to that are racks to flatten the dried negatives to minimize curl, as well as places to hang prints to dry and shelves to store those to make room for other wet ones.”
Jackson’s fingers itched to touch, to turn Dan’s detailed descriptions into tactile information he could better understand, but Dan had warned him he had to be careful once they’d stepped into the areas where chemicals were used and delicate negatives were processed.
“I thought you might like to help me process some of the negatives today.”
Jackson turned his head toward Dan, surprised.
The man laughed, his voice rich and amused without any hint of mockery. “The first step requires absolute darkness; you have to work completely by feel. I figured that’s right up your alley, and you can better understand this first part of film processing.”
Jackson beamed. Last night he had suspected the invitation was a whim, or merely a frantic attempt to prove Dan’s sincerity. But clearly the man had given today’s visit serious thought. “If you trust me with your precious work, I would love to help.”
After letting Jackson cautiously explore the second room, Dan asked, “Have you ever held a roll of film before?”
“OK. I figured. Lean your cane here, where the sink meets the dark closets. Yeah. I promise I won’t let you lose it.” From anyone else it would have come off as snarky and mocking, but Dan’s voice was smooth as silk, reassuring and comforting. “Here,” Dan said as he pressed something small into Jackson’s hand. “It’s one I use for demonstration so you don’t need to worry about ruining it.”
Jackson nodded absently as he explored the object, cradling it in the palm of one hand while the fingers of the other explored. It was small, shorter than Jackson’s thumb and even narrower in width, rounded, with an lip that stuck out on one side of the cylinder and a smaller tube that jutted out on top and spun when Jackson turned it. With his nails he could feel a ridge at the top and bottom, almost like a tin can, but more prominent. It wasn’t like anything he’d felt before, and he was curious how the developing process worked.
Jackson stiffened as he suddenly felt Dan’s warmth from behind him, inhaled sharply when the larger man’s arms wrapped around him and draped over Jackson’s hand, guiding his fingers along that seam.
“You feel that? The canister has a top and bottom that you can pry off. The top is the part with the tube that juts up and the bottom is flat, but you can feel the hollow center right here.”
Jackson was enjoying Dan’s hands-on guidance; the man was truly working with how the blind man understood his world and trying his best to translate his passion so that Jackson could understand. And yet it was so incredibly distracting being enveloped by Dan, the man’s smell dizzying, the way his breath ghosted on the space above the shell of Jackson’s ear as he spoke. His voice so full of excitement at sharing this with Jackson. And Dan’s fingers were so delicate and sensual as they guided Jackson, it was difficult not to lean back into the larger man, close his eyes and let himself be taken over.
If Dan noticed, it didn’t come through in his voice or touch as he continued his lesson. “This one’s been opened and re-closed several times for my classes, so you could probably do it with your bare hand, but normally we use a bottle opener to pry the lid off, just like you would a bottle top.” Dan pressed something else into Jackson’s other hand, again using his fingers to help guide Jackson as to where he needed to align the grove of the opener.
Once it was in place, Jackson twisted his wrist and he felt and heard the top pop and go flying, clattering on the floor nearby. “Whoops. Sorry.”
Dan was chuckling as he moved away, presumably to retrieve it. He took the opener back. “Now do you feel that? Inside? Normally, this would be looped around the spool and threaded through this part here,” Dan said, again standing behind Jackson and guiding his fingers to the appropriate areas in turn. Dan’s touch was unlike any Jackson has experienced before. He wasn’t entirely sure he could articulate how amazing he felt as Dan’s long fingers glid over Jackson’s skin, sliding along knuckles and stopping to massage the space between the blind man’s right thumb and wrist for only a moment before moving on. Erotic and yet so much more, leaving Jackson dizzy and struggling to focus.
Jackson now realized why that inner hollow cylinder worked the way it did. This negative—which felt slick and plasticky and foreign and far longer than he expected—had simply been stuffed loosely into the can, but with Dan’s direction Jackson could understand the way it must normally be, wound around that spool and threaded through that strange lip. The negative was narrower on the end, perhaps to make insertion easier. Damn, he really didn’t need to be thinking of anything inserting anywhere while Dan was touching him like this, the larger man’s chest brushing against Jackson’s back with each breath. It was heavenly and serenity and security, and part of Jackson wanted to drop the roll of film in his hand and grab Dan’s arms to hold them tight around his body.
“When you load your camera, this tab here,” Dan explained indicating the narrow portion Jackson had just been wondering about, “threads into place so the negative can be pulled through frame by frame. We also use that to load it on the spool for the developer canister, which is the next step I’ll walk you through.”
Jackson clung to Dan’s wrist to keep him from moving. “Thank you. For this.”
Dan’s arms shifted so he was hugging the smaller man, just as Jackson had been imagining only moments earlier, their heads leaned against each other. “Eh. I just need the free labor. I’m developing four rolls of film today and processing negatives is a pain.” But Jackson could tell Dan was joking, happiness evident in his voice. His nose brushed along Jackson’s ear. A second later, Jackson startled when he felt Dan blow gently on his neck, though the larger man kept a firm hold to prevent Jackson from losing his balance. Before Jackson could speak, Dan kissed the side of Jackson’s throat, working his way down along the blind man’s neck toward his collarbone. “I want to mark you here,” Dan purred, his voice lower than normal, raspier, and the tone and the meaning of the words sent a jolt straight to Jackson’s cock. Especially when Dan laved the skin, a long, warm, sensual lick. Jackson was certain if his braces and Dan’s arms weren’t supporting him, he would have sunk to the ground, jelly.
“Don’t you dare,” Jackson struggled to say, reaching back as if to push Dan away, even though truthfully that was the last thing he wanted. “Class starts for me soon. Last thing I need is a giant hickey everyone will be staring at throughout my entire lecture.”
Dan snickered, kissed the spot, nipped at it teasingly, but backed off. “If I start things, I’ll never stop, and we have work to do. I’ll teach you how to insert the extracted negatives into the developer canister and then I’ll give you a couple rolls of film to do it for real.”
“Are you sure you want to trust me with this? If I mess it up—”
Dan kissed Jackson’s temple. “You won’t. You can see light, right? So you’ll be able to tell if the door is closed properly. Then it’s simply a matter of getting the film out like we just did and loading it into the developer. Just triple-check the lid is shut properly—you’ll be able to feel it and hear it, and I’ll show you—and then you step out. That’s it.”
“What about fingerprints?”
“Try to only touch the outer edge, the part that has little holes. Here.” Dan stepped away to recover the sample film they’d been playing with, and Jackson heard it crinkling, perhaps as it was unfurled, and then Dan was guiding Jackson’s fingertips onto the edges, giving him time to really internalize the difference in texture between the edge and the part that held the images. “And I can always clean them if necessary, though some of that will come off when we do the chemical wash that fixes the negatives and makes them light safe. So you can relax. I trust you.”