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Creative Writing: Not Yet Exposed

December 13, 2010

Hello, all :).

I just wanted to share this piece of creative non-fiction writing with you. It’s based off of my time working as a photo technician at a drug store. If all you’re interested in is fashion or lifestyle pieces, feel free to skip this one. It’s a story, and not just me rambling about a subject.

Any feedback is appreciated! Read it after the jump.

Not Yet Exposed

By: Rebecca A. (theplussideofme)

1.      Pour KODAK FLEXICOLOR Developer into appropriate container to drawn line.

2.      Pour KODAK FLEXICOLOR Bleach III into appropriate container to drawn line.

WARNING: Photo-lab chemicals can be hazardous when handled improperly.

I pulled on my gloves with a loud smack as the latex cracked against my skin. I stretched my fingers into the glove, mimicking a surgeon preparing for a scalpel. The old photo minilab machine’s usual hum went silent as it powered down for me to refill the chemicals, and all noises in the pharmacy seemed amplified in the absence. The floor fans on display in the back of the store gave their rusty groans, and the few customers that came in just as the store was opening were now rustling through the sales items, unsorting our carefully stacked soaps, knocking down the lines of toothbrushes. As I poured in the Kodak Developer, my eyes began to burn despite my safety glasses. The liquid meandered into the machine in slow methodical glubs. I finished pouring the chemicals and closed the containers, pushing the start button and waiting for the hum of the machine to begin again. The bells at the front door of the store jingled, and as I peeled off my gloves, my coworker, Rosie, entered the store and strolled towards me.

“Whew, that machine sure does give off a stink, but it’s better than it was 10 years ago,” said Rosie. I smiled at her. Rosie had been working at the pharmacy since it used to be Medco. In fact, she’s known me since I was a baby. She rang up my mother’s every purchase of diapers, cough medicine, and Halloween candy; witnessed my siblings and me bickering over who got the RugRats valentines versus the embarrassing puppy dogs. She probably knew more about my life than I could even remember.

“So Caroline, who’s turned in film for today? Has Hung Low Joe come in?” said Rosie.

“No, thank God. I might actually be able to keep my breakfast down today. All I’ve got is some film that my friend Megan brought in last night. Looks like it’s going to be a sloooow morning,” I replied.

“Oh no, don’t say that. Next thing you know we’ll have a herd of people in here buyin’ condoms, umbrellas, and gum. I’ll just pretend like I didn’t even hear you,” chuckled Rosie.

We always laughed at the combinations of what customers would buy. It’s like the customers thought that maybe, just maybe, the granola bars would throw us off from the fact that they were indeed buying condoms and fishnet tights. Personally, I blamed the store. We just gave them too many options. I pulled Megan’s film canister towards me, gathering the tape dispenser that we employees used to guide the end of the film strip out.

3.      Insert Film Leader Retriever tape through the felt lips of the film canister.

4.      Apply pressure downward onto the film strip.

5.      Pull the tape back out through the felt lips.

WARNING: If you cannot get the film out, use the black box to open the film canister and insert the film into a Moore’s Pharmacy canister. This process is necessary to not expose the customer’s film before processing.

“You know,” said Rosie as she scooted closer to me, “I might just have to say something to Hung Low Joe.”

“Like what?” I said.

“Well, I just don’t think it’s right. I mean, a 40 year old man comin’ in every week like clockwork with a new set of nude pictures. He knows you’re the one developin’ them. Just sick! You’re still in high school, for cryin’ out loud,” said Rosie.

“Believe me, I know it’s gross, but you know we can’t say anything. We’re not allowed to mix our personal feelings with the customers’… um… needs,” I replied.

“I guess. Just let me know when he comes in this week. I’ve been practicin’ my evil-eye with my grand-kids, and I’ll make sure to give Hung Low Joe my best one yet,” said Rosie.

“All right, all right, I will,” I said. It had always troubled me that some of my customers had the nerve to bring in inappropriate photographs. Hung Low Joe was a repeat offender. The first time it happened was in my 2nd week of work. I was so flustered and embarrassed to ask what to do with it that I ran over to Rosie for advice. I remember her boney finger coiling in as she called over our manager, Steve.

“This gentleman here has his wobbly bits out in every picture. What do we do, Steve what do we do?” Rosie asked as she flashed picture after picture into his face. Steve’s face turned red and he mumbled in a heavy breath that we had to deal with it as long as there weren’t two people touching: no contacting authorities, no confronting the customer. Steve’s word was law, so week after week, Hung Low Joe returned with new rolls of film, and I had to witness the pictures and then stand face to face with him at the counter. At first, Rosie thought it was funny. She’d have me call over the intercom, “Code 5, Rosie, Code 5,” every time Hung Low Joe came in the store, so that she could get a look at him. But after a couple of weeks, the novelty of watching him saunter up to the counter wore off, and we began realizing just how sick it was. I felt like an unwilling dirty spectator to Hung Low Joe’s one-man show. I tried to get the disturbed thoughts of Hung Low Joe out of my head and returned to work finding the plastic film lead. Megan said she was stopping by later that morning, so I needed to get it finished.

6.      Attach the inch of film with tape to plastic film lead.

7.      Guide the lead and the canister into the correct position in the processing machine.

Note: The film will emerge with the images developed, and will be washed and dry. The film will now be ready to be scanned and printed by the scanning machine.

I wasn’t left to my thoughts for long before I heard the rapping of knuckles on the counter by a customer.

“Hey there, Caroline,” said Mrs. Harriett Lee, a regular in the store.

“Oh hey, Mrs. Lee,” I replied, automatically pulling out the envelopes of her finished photos. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Rosie giving Mrs. Lee a surly glance. I tightened my lips to refrain from expressing the same emotion.

“I have just had the craziest morning. Running all over the place getting the kids to school, had to drop off the dog at the vet. I’m just pooped,” said Mrs. Lee. I gave her my best attempt at a smile as I rang up her photos. She ran her palms across her shirt’s collar, smoothing the edges to perfection. I took her in at that moment. She appeared so perfect, make-up placed with the utmost attention, nails manicured on a weekly basis. I knew better though. Dealing with Mrs. Lee was always tough for me. I really liked her at first. Her pictures were always bright and colorful. They showed off trips to Disney World with her kids, picnics with the smiling faces of a family of four. But, the last couple of months had changed my view. Suddenly I found myself standing on the outskirts of an affair. Her pictures began featuring a new man, and eventually less and less of her children and husband, Mark. This last set of photographs showcased her new lover’s motorcycle and Mrs. Lee herself dressed in a lace teddy. Sometimes she’d come in with her husband, giving me a slight nod of the head to indicate that she’d pick up her pictures later.

“How’s your morning been, Caroline?” asked Mrs. Lee, trying to fill in the silent lull.

“Oh, you know, the usual stuff, nothing too exciting,” I replied.

“That’s too bad. Everyone needs a little excitement. I’ve been so busy,” she said with a wink. Her mouth curved into a broad smile as she tried to form an inside joke with me.

“Well, here you go. I hope you have a great day, Mrs. Lee,” I said, as I handed her the bag.

“Oh, I will,” said Mrs. Lee with a wink. Rosie gave me a cold stare as I watched Mrs. Lee leave the store. I turned to Rosie and shrugged.

“Who am I to say something to her? It’s not like I know what to tell her. I’m not some marriage counselor with all of the answers. I shouldn’t even care,” I whispered to Rosie.

“But you do care,” said Rosie. I waved off Rosie’s comment as I attended to the ticking of the processing machine. It wasn’t just the affair that bothered me, I mean I barely knew her husband; it was that I mostly didn’t like being made to feel as if I was a part of Mrs. Lee’s lies. The recurring noise gave me a needed break, and I stared down at the strip of film, rolling the edges over my palm, trying to find a moment to decide if I knew right from wrong.

8.      Insert exposed film into the scanning dock with the pictures positioned right-side up.

9.      Guide film through scanning dock until the machine grabs hold of the film.

10.  Click the ‘Scan Now’ button on the computer screen.

  • Images will begin to appear on the screen by order. Go through the images to make sure each has been scanned at a good quality.

11.  Click the ‘Print Now’ button on the computer screen once the correct pictures have been selected.

As the images of Megan’s film began appearing on the computer screen, I had to control my laughter. The pictures had been from a field trip we had taken in our band class the previous week. My friends’ faces stared into mine with joyful expressions, each hamming it up for the camera. I began clicking through them one by one. There was Jill making bunny ears behind our band director’s head, Josh and Logan trying to annoy the clarinet players. It was sad for me to think that my senior year was coming to a close, and I’d be leaving all of these people. As I clicked through the pictures, the subject of them suddenly became alarming. I could feel the blood rush to my cheeks as I clumsily hurried to change the picture on the screen.

I turned towards the counter trying to understand the images of Megan in her bathroom. Her right arm had gushing cuts below her elbow. There was a picture of a bloody razor. The bright crimson gashes were scarring themselves into my mind, and my stomach churned with nausea.

“What’re you doing, Caroline? If you’re going to be sick, better head to the back,” said Rosie. She pressed her caring hand on my back trying to guide me towards the back of the store.

“No-no, I don’t need to leave,” I said, stammering in my response, “it’s just my friend’s pictures, y’know the ones I told you about earlier. I… I…”

“Let me have a look,” said Rosie, taking in my frantic appearance. She made her way to the screen.

“Oh dear… Oh, what is she thinking, doing that to herself?” said Rosie.

“I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed. I mean look at that one! You can obviously see she’s been doing it for awhile; there are some marks that have healed. I’m her friend, supposedly one of her closest friends. How could I not have known?” I said. My head began to spin. Megan had obviously known these pictures were on her film. It’s like she sent me her worries etched in the see-through film, waiting for me to expose them.

“You have to do something, sweetie. She’s your friend. Talk to her,” said Rosie, rubbing my arm trying to calm me down.

“I don’t know…I’m not supposed to say anything about pictures that we process in here, but then again this is different. This isn’t some random person in town, this is Megan. How can I not say anything? I just don’t understand why this kind of stuff always happens to me here. Does my lab coat give off the impression of a knowledgeable doctor? Because I certainly do not have it all together,” I said.

“Honey, we all got to deal with rotten things. There are times in life where we are pushed and dragged into actions we don’t want to take, but we have to,” said Rosie. The bells at the front door rang then, and I glanced over to see Megan walking in the store. She wore a black sweater with long sleeves that covered her arms. Rosie squeezed my arm and looked at me with pity, before leaving to help a customer. I took a deep breath in and out, deciding whether I should confront her like a therapist, and wondering why the Hell I should have to.

12.  Place printed pictures into Moore Pharmacy envelope.

13.  Place sticker reading: “One Hour Exposure.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 14, 2010 8:16 am

    You are a fantastic writer!! This really is an amazing piece. I have always thought that being a photo developer would be a fun job because I am such a nosy person, but I never thought about how some of the stuff.. you would just rather not have to see. Really, this pulled me in and had me feeling sick when you talked about your friends pictures. That was clearly, as I’m sure you are aware, a call for help. So sad; I hope she got the help that she needed. (And from a structural point of view, I think you did a great job of building up to that gut-wrenching story by premising it by the other, equally appalling, if not quite as sad, anecdotes about your other customers.)

    Sorry if this is rambling and doesn’t really make any sense.. I’ve been studying Senate floor procedure non-stop for the past 12 hours.. I think it has made me a little nonsensical. Loved your piece though, keep em coming!!

  2. December 14, 2010 10:01 pm

    Thank you so much, Danielle! I feel really comfortable writing essays, but this kind of writing is new to me. I’m hoping to write more soon, so I’ll get better at developing a story. You’re so right about the job. For the most part it’s really interesting, but you do have odd experiences. One time I had a girl come in and pick up her pictures, and she started going through them really fast and then started balling. I guess someone she had taken pictures of had died recently, and those were her last pictures of that person. You don’t realize you have that much responsibility. Film is so fragile! Yes, my friend (actually, my cousin) did get the help she needed.

    Yuck to the studying! I myself am analyzing a political interview in a linguistics course. Not so fun! Good luck on your finals and thank you for the thoughtful feedback!

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