Robert Kincaid tunes the old radio in the darkroom, the dim red light illuminating the knobs just enough for him to find his favorite blues station. He adjusts it slightly, trying to get rid of some of the static, and backs away when a rich baritone and a melancholic saxophone flow through the speakers.
He stands over the trays of chemicals and the overwhelming fumes comfort him, settling into his body like a good brandy. He knows these odors. He's comfortable with them. He relates to them. They do what nothing else can: replace the scent of Iowa.
One of the perks of working for National Geographic means that he could have people developing his photos for him. He prefers to do it himself when he is able; it makes him feel like he has control.
In this case, he wants his privacy.
He removes the 8x10 photograph from the fix bath and places it in the water rinse, flipping it right side up as it glides beneath the surface of the water. He looks down at it through the ripples and feels lightheaded at the sight of Francesca gazing up at him. Even though his heart constricts in his chest, he can't help but smile.
It's clear by her stance in this photograph (hiding awkwardly from the lens but smiling regardless) that she's not used to being photographed. He wonders why that is and considers it a travesty. He has the pick of the most beautiful subjects in the world to photograph, and he somehow feels as though his lens has never shot a more perfect being.
He wonders why her family doesn’t take more photographs of her. Perhaps they're not interested in photography. Perhaps they don't see her as someone worth capturing on film.
Indignant anger riles inside of him and he has to bite his tongue and look away.
It's been difficult coming to terms with her decision to stay.
When Francesca's friend had stopped by and unwittingly stolen their afternoon, Robert quietly crept through the upstairs of the house, committing it to memory. He wanted to remember every aspect of her life. He scanned the upstairs hallway of its many framed pictures and somberly stared for a long time at the wedding portrait centered amongst the dozens of baby photos.
He remembers it now with a startling clarity. He remembers Francesca's overwhelmed, vacant smile and Richard's pleased expression. The man looked as though he had just won a prize at a county fair.
Robert isn’t going to try to convince himself that there isn't love between Francesca and her husband. He's not going to condescend to think that Richard's even a bad guy. He just can't help but resent him for meeting Francesca first.
He hopes that Richard deserves Francesca. The lucky son of a bitch gets to sleep beside her every night.
Robert was allotted only a medallion, four days, and several beautiful photographs that will haunt him for the rest of his lonely life.
He doesn't have to be lonely. He knows this. In a week's time he'll be in New York. He knows several women in the city. He would easily be welcomed into their beds, but his interest in them is non-existent. They're not Francesca. They can't help that, but Robert can't bring himself to consider sleeping with anyone else.
The loneliness will get to him. It'll only be a matter of time before he gives in to what his body craves. The thought of it now nauseates him. Though it hasn't yet happened, it feels like an impending infidelity looming over his head. He wonders if he'll feel guilty afterwards. He knows he shouldn't. Francesca has no claim to his loyalties; she's certainly not going to deny her husband of his marital rights.
He can't rid himself of the foul taste in his mouth at the thought of it.
He reaches into the water bath with a pair of plastic tongs and pulls out the photo, leaning it against a propped up plastic easel while he squeegees the excess water from it. He takes extra care on this photograph before he drops the small tool and holds the image in front of him.
Francesca, endearingly bashful, eternally captured for him on this piece of photo paper. He wishes that he could use it in a book. He wants to show the world what love embodied looks like.
For now, Robert places the photograph on a drying rack and moves back to the enlarger. The negative strip is already prepared for the next 8x10. He's glad that he thought to take so many photographs of her, even if it means several more hours of chemical fumes and melancholy blues. It will be worth it in the end.
He will put the photographs away, but he will keep one out. Perhaps he'll stick it by his desk or beside his bed or on his refrigerator. It will be painful to see her every day and only have her in a two dimensional form.
But, it's all he has. Robert realizes that it's better to have these photographic reminders of four perfect days with the love of his life rather than nothing at all.