I found it in a box of old things. I couldn’t remember if the box was mine. A few notes seemed to be in my handwriting. Some of the things seemed familiar. I had been away for such a long time. I clenched my jaw at the realisation.
It was a single roll of film. Black plastic container, grey lid. I rolled it back and forth across my fingertips with my thumb. My mind was elsewhere. Falling dust caught the light as it floated slowly around the room.
My grandfather had given me photography. Not forced it on me, but offered it to me with warmth. I took it from his open hands. He had endless patience for me accidentally exposing film or dropping his cameras. He took great pleasure watching my passion for light and lens grow. He was kin creatively. Always asking me about my subjects and angles I had chosen. Filling my head with potential. He was the reason my camera always had fresh film in it. The reason I’d left. The reason I saw the world through a viewfinder.
I opened the door to my grandfather’s dark room. The familiar smell of chemicals met me as I entered. Developer, fixer, stop-bath acids muted by sealed containers. He was meticulous. Each container labeled, paper rolls stacked, the room laid out for work. It was just as he had left it. I flicked off the main globe and dropped the room to the red glow of the safelight.
I still had the film container in my hand. I filled the stop baths and cut a section of paper. My hands moved out of habit. They knew each step. My mind was still with my grandfather and my absence. My jaw was shut tight again. I scanned the negative against the red light. Only a single frame had been used, A woman’s face in black and white. Slowly I brought her life. Fixing the paper I saw the image complete. She was beautiful. Her hair a tangle, wild and dark. Her eyes white hot. Pupils dark as india ink, her mouth drawn in secret. Her stare held me, shook me. I’m not sure how long I stood, hands tingling, breath shallow. I hung her up to dry and left her, in that room with no light.