The sun is a bloodthirsty ball of gas that shoots death rays through your epidermis to turn your cells against you. If you’re a lucky one you can get these traitor chunks of flesh gauged out of your body before they enter your bloodstream and the real mutiny begins. Still, I lie on the sand, exposed to the sun’s homicidal touch: half naked and covered in a layer of aerosol SPF. I have aloe vera gel waiting in my bag to suck the heat out of my red skin: cure rather than prevention. Mum tells me to check my moles every now and again for any changes in shape, colour, or topography.
I look at the water and think of percentages: what percentage is salt, what percentage are blowfish, what percentage are plastic bottles, what percentage are victims of the Titanic, what percentage is wee (quite much), what percentage is wedding rings, what percentage are old ships resting on the bottom. We don’t know what a lot of the sea is, because if you go down too deep then the pressure of all that water above you squishes you like a little bit of bubble wrap under a thumb. Our desire to explore the planet is outweighed by our desire to not implode, which might sound profound, but it’s not.
The sun bears down on the outside of my head so that my skull acts like a little oven baking a brain cake. My mouth is dry and my ears are full of salt water (and a bit of wee, probably, considering percentages). The sand is hot against the soles of my feet as I lethargically waddle through the dunes, to the sanctuary of the cool puddles surrounding the shower. I stand beneath it as it covers me with lukewarm water, rinsing the salt from my crinkled hair and the sand from betwixt my toes. Children run across the grass with bare bums and icy poles. My teeth hurt when I eat cold things.
My rubber thongs slap against hot bricks as I look for something to fill my empty, reddened belly. I return nursing a hot parcel of fish and chips and a pineapple fritter, freeing a couple of fingers to hold my ginger beer. I find a small patch of shaded grass, free of cigarette butts and ice cream wrappers. The hot oil resting underneath the batter of my fish burns my tongue and fingers. I forgot to ask for lemon in my parcel.
The air con turns my car into a fan-forced oven. The steering wheel is too hot to touch. As I drive home I can see the illusion of heat rising from the bitumen, the air above it appears distorted. A bead of sweat falls into my eye and stings me all the way home. I see a man walking by wearing jeans and a jumper and I wonder if there is something wrong with him, and wonder what percentage of his clothes are cotton fibres and what percentage is perspiration.
When I get home I wash the final grains of sand from my body. There is sunburn across my ribs and shoulders and on the backs of my knees. The skin is rosy red, and when I press down on it it stays pale yellow for 3 seconds before the blush returns. It stings like I have been slapped hard, even when my clothes brush against it lightly. When I get into bed the sheets feel as though they are pushing into my back hard enough that they will leave light green bruises. The air con is broken and my hair sticks to my neck and forehead. I wake up four times in the night to get water, because humans are meant to be 70% water, and most of it has seeped out of my skin.
Words by Hannah Cockroft, Art by Danyon Burge
Hannah is Pelican’s 2017 creative writer in residence.
This article first appeared in print volume 88 edition 1 HEAT.