Photo Club Project

Jennine Capó Crucet

The white lady follows me into the darkroom to see my pictures. I point to them as they hang from the string. I don’t remember the right names she told me for the string and clips, but I show her the pictures anyway, hoping she’ll see something more than what’s there and tell me I’m a genius.

“This is my Tío Luis,” I say.

She tilts her head to the side so that her eyes line up with the slanted paper. The white lady goes to the University of Miami, but she is from up north. She told me this the first time they came to our class looking for kids for the Photo Club Project—up north.

I see the picture, backwards, in her weird square glasses. I cannot tell from her mouth what she thinks of it. I shuffle to the next one and point.

“This one is of my dad. That’s Tío Luis again, next to him.”

In the picture, Papi is passed out next to his brother. Luis is half-watching the Marlins game on the TV. If you really look, you can see the TV’s reflection in the window glass behind them and on the tipped-over beer bottles on the floor.

“Hmmm,” the white girl says. I hope she asks me what time it is in the picture. She does.

“It’s day time. Just after school. See out the window?”

She leans closer to the picture, tucks a piece of her feather-hair behind her ear. I love her hair because it’s straight. Mine’s very curly, but not so bad that it’s pelo malo, like my brother’s. Last meeting, she told me my hair was luxurious, that she wished she had it. I felt my face get hot and even reached up to let my hair out of the ponytail, but then I heard stupid Jorge, whose mentor is the black guy, whisper to Andrés next to him, Who, her? So I left it alone.

“Do they stay home from work to watch TV a lot?” she asks.

“Yup!” I say, too loud. My answer jumps around the room and sounds too happy. I look down at my flip-flops and step on my own toe. She puts her hand on my shoulder. When I look up, she tilts her head at me, and I worry about my heart now—that she can hear it beating.

Her hand falls from my shoulder as she moves to the next picture and laughs with her mouth closed.

“And who’s this?” she says.

She very gently touches the back of the photo. Her glasses slip low on her nose, but instead of fixing them, she twitches her nostrils so that they crawl up on their own. She looks ugly when she does this, but I’ve learned by now that it means she’s thinking. Then, for the first time today, I see her perfect white teeth. She’s looking at the hands and feet in the picture, at the outstretched arm.

“That’s my cousin Danny. He’s doing the Soulja Boy dance. I know you can’t see his face, but I still like it.”

She had told the class that faces were the windows to the soul. Or eyes were—whatever. I felt bad when I developed the picture and saw that I’d taken it just as Danny had looked down, just before the Superman part of the dance. The Superman part might have made a better picture.

“This picture is excellent,” she says.

“Really?” I say. Then “I thought so, actually.”

She fake-frowns at me, but I know she likes my answer. She talks all the time about confidence. How confidence can save you, how it makes you better. How confidence gives you the power to do anything—even things you aren’t good at.

“At what speed did you take this one?” she asks.

I freeze. I take all my pictures on the automatic setting because the camera belongs to the Photo Club Project and I can’t break it. My mom had to sign a paper that said I was responsible for the equipment, and when I told her what the English words said, I left out the part about having to pay for anything that got damaged. So I never touch nothing but the button that takes the picture. “The regular one,” I say, with extra confidence.

But it doesn’t work, like she said it would. She puts her hands on her hips and stands back up straight. She looks down the string, at the rest of the pictures dangling from it, and says, “You don’t know the speed at which you took any of these?”

I swallow hard and look straight at her eyes, at my eyes looking back at me in the blocks of her glasses. “I took them at the regular one,” I say again.

“Sandra,” she says, “the whole point was to experiment with film speed. That was the goal for this week. Why didn’t you listen?”

I breathe through my nose hard, almost snort, like Papi does when I wake him up by accident taking a bottle out of his hand before it spills, or taking his glasses off. The white lady looks down and shakes her head, then whiffs past me. Pieces of her hair float away, trailing behind her as she leaves the dark room.

I look at the picture of Danny dancing. His feet are blurry. His fingers look like paws, with swirls the color of his skin linking them together, the top of his head a dark spot in the middle of the scene. Even though I use all my confidence, I cannot figure out what makes the photo excellent. I decide to stay there, to stare at it until the blurs make something else, something better than just what I see.


About the Author

Jennine Capó Crucet was born to Cuban parents and raised in Miami, Florida. Her debut book, How to Leave Hialeah, won the Iowa Short Fiction Prize, the John Gardner Award, and was named a Best Book of the Year by the Miami Herald. She's the recipient of the Winthrop Prize & Residency for Emerging Writers, the Devil's Kitchen Reading Award in Prose, and scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. She’s been a finalist for both the Missouri Review Editor's Prize and the Latino Literary Prize. Her stories have appeared in Ploughshares, Epoch, Gulf Coast, the Southern Review, the Los Angeles Review, Lowestoft Chronicle, and other magazines. She currently divides her time between Miami and Los Angeles, and lives online at www.jcapocrucet.com.