The Dark Room, by AK Small

My ninth grader hops onto the kitchen counter in her basketball jersey and tells me that at school there is a Dark Room. Disdain fills her voice.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“It’s supposed to be the photography area but, well, it’s not.”

I’m cooking a pot au feu, chopping garlic and onions. I dice and listen.

My daughter continues her explanation, rubbing her biceps. “When Charlotte and Rashni have to use the room for an assignment, first they knock, then, if they are lucky and no one is inside, which is almost never, they have to prop the door open a sliver. The problem: light trails in.  A giant NO for film developing.” She narrows her eyes. “But the crack is a sign to the others that students are actually working.” She waits for me to comment, to be as aghast as she is about what else the Dark Room could be used for. When I don’t respond, she adds, “I’m never taking photography as an elective.”

I laugh.

“You think it’s funny but it’s not. A lot of kids are afraid of the Dark Room.”

“It’s normal,” I offer, unsure of what a regular American mom might say. “You’re in high school.”

In Paris our version of the Dark Room began in middle school—an outside nook with a low stone wall behind the boys’ bathroom where the sun shone non-stop. I still remember the thrill of leaning between Bertrand’s legs one afternoon as he sat up on the ledge—the way my daughter perches on the counter—his white blond hair shining God-like.

“Mom,” my daughter says, pulling me back to the kitchen. “One of the janitors found a pink bra from Aerie, dangling by a clip next to Rashni’s drying photographs. That’s sick.” She hops off the counter, snatches an apple and bites into it.

Again, I laugh.

“Mom!” She yells, waving the apple around like a weapon. “I came here for empathy not for you to make light of IT.”


I want to tell her that it might be time for her to think about following someone into the Dark Room, that facing IT might be less traumatic than she thinks. I also want to tell her that kissing Bertrand in the nook felt like a shrug out of the old stiff coat of childhood into the sleek cape of something larger, more flexible and electrifying.

But that’s nonsense.

What mother would advise her ninth grade daughter to hook up? I check the chuck roast and feel the meat falling off. I add a fresh leaf of thyme.

“Chouchou,” I say suddenly afraid not of private school electives but of The Great Teenage Divide, something I am bound to soon encounter.

“Uh huh?”

“Dark rooms are complicated.”

“Duh,” she replies.

“Maybe when you’re a junior or a senior, you’ll want to take photography. Believe it or not, you might love it.” I look up from my mound of diced vegetables and catch my daughter’s brown eyes.

She does not smile. Instead, she bites at the rest of her apple.  “I don’t think so,” she says.

But I know her. I can tell by the way she twirls the core of the fruit that she is considering it. For right now, that’s enough.    

The End