Flicker in the Porthole Glass cover

My novel Flicker in the Porthole Glass was published by MAMMOTH Books in 2002. The Review of Contemporary Fiction observed that, “…the achievement here is Desautels’s prose, an aural event both jagged and elegant, assaultive and inviting, that moves with the clipped, dangerous, urgent kinesis of hard bop jazz.” Seven years down the road, I’m going to publish Flicker here on Maximum Fiction in serial form.

Today, I give you all of the final section of the book, Part IV, Darkroom. Enjoy! And if you like what you see, please see my Flicker in the Porthole Glass page for information on ordering the MAMMOTH Books edition.



Insisting he just can’t quite seem to get the hang of it himself, Ruineux is fond of telling me that, despite his endless hunting and pecking on that dilapidated old Royal of his, I am the true storyteller between us. It might be true, but his is the only story in my repertoire. Amateurish and teetering on the blind causeway of speculation by which I negotiate the blanks, the bombasts, the camouflage, the him to which he refuses access, it sometimes allows me a Ruineux, sometimes threatens to deny me the very idea of a Ruineux. What I manage to ferret out of him, that Ruineux history I allow myself, in a kind of lackadaisical, creamy naiveté put down as the gods’ honest truth. It’s ripped from me in a cruel snatch-and-grab when, to test him, I bring up an event in his life I’ve slashed from whole cloth: unblinkingly he accepts, digests, elaborates. At times he even corrects: no, as a matter of fact it was his sister who fled the Ruineux nest when life with father became too much. Sometimes I just don’t know what to make of Ruineux. Trying, I become a spinner of tales, but I’m afraid I do my best work with a Praktiflex FX.

One night, because I’d asked, he allowed me into the projection booth so I could photograph him at work. That was a sweet night. All kinds of questions he asked me, wanting, all of a sudden, and engagingly sincere, to know everything about what I do. I started in on my best explanation for beginners, but he wanted to bypass layman’s terms and enroll directly in the advanced class. For the most part he picked up, but depth of field caused him some mental cramping. The logic of it eluded him: that I could bring a greater area into focus by stopping-down the diaphragm and slowing the shutter speed. Were the shutter speed slow enough, I explained, the diaphragm wide open, I could bring almost everything in the booth into sharp focus. Everything except the projector’s rotating reels: two spinning discs in a booth still life. He only half understood, but liked the idea of the two circular blurs and the sense of motion their image would convey. Getting into the spirit of things, he reciprocated by guiding my hand to the payout reel off which we spun several feet of the print. Handing me a length of it, he directed my fingers to the first sprocket wheel, helped me fit the print into place and secure it with the pressure rollers. He told me to test with my fingertips to make sure there was a proper fit between the sprockets and the sprocket holes edging the print. Beautiful, he said, inspecting my work and, together, we wound the print through the projector’s complex of mechanical guts, Ruineux’s educated fingers guiding, teaching, playfully twining with my inexperienced own. Later, when the tripod was in place and I was ready to shoot, the goof started looking, with an exaggerated air of concentration, from projector to camera, camera to projector. “What?” I asked. Some days his clowning amuses, but more often than not it mildly encourages me right up the wall. As if it were necessary for him to have concocted a ridiculous line simply to validate his affection, he took me in his arms and, with the husky cornball whisper of a soap-opera variety Charles Boyer, or of Pépé le Pew, said, “Cherie, you and I are zee complementary opposeetz: I, zee projectioneest, shoot imageez that dance on zee screen; you, zee ‘postceptioneest,’ receive imageez that feex themselves on zee chemical streep.” And then the idiot kissed me. Oh la la….

Read all of Installment IX. (PDF)

For more information about Flicker in the Porthole Glass, and to read installments I – VIII, see the Flicker in the Porthole Glass page.

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