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  • Route 7 Review

Sun Poisoning by Robing Vigfusson

Robin Vigfusson’s stories have appeared in South Carolina Review, Foliate Oak, Meat for Tea, Glassworks, Tower Journal, Constellations and other literary Magazines. Her first collection of short stories “Macular Degeneration and Other Stories” was published by Main Street Rag Publishing Co. in May, 2021.


Sun Poisoning



Maida had fallen asleep, which was dangerous to do on a beach in Miami, especially for a


redhead. Just two hours before, she’d been swimming in an ocean as tame as water from a faucet


and now, she looked as if the sun had ripped her skin off, exposing raw muscle.


“Maybe we should go to the hospital,” Her friend, Liv, said, staring in fascinated horror.


“Maybe we should.” Maida wept, lying flat on her back since it was too painful to sit up.


Because she couldn’t walk, an ambulance was called and a knot of gawkers watched as if an ugly


mermaid had washed ashore. One boy even took her picture with his cellphone and his father,


standing beside him, slapped the side of his head.


“What the hell’s the matter with you?” the man hissed.


When the medics arrived, they handled Liv tenderly, putting her on a stretcher. The closest


hospital was Mt. Sinai and a doctor saw her right away.


“It’s sun poisoning,” he said. “You have second degree burns.”


“Sun poisoning?”


“It means you’re allergic to the sun,” he said. “How long were you outside?”


“A couple of hours. I accidentally took a nap.”


“Well, that explains it.”


Nurses wrapped her in cold compresses, inserted a tube in her arm and she fell asleep. When she


woke, she was still in the ER and Liv’s stepmother, Elena, hovered over her.


“How are you, honey?” she asked.


“Better.”


“The doctor said you don’t have to stay here so we’re taking you home.”


“To New Jersey?”


“Oh, no. To our house. On Prairie Avenue. You’re going to be fine.”


Though the discharge was official, Maida felt like Elena and Liv were sneaking her out. Liv used


to hate her stepmother, but now they looked alike with buttercream skin and blonde highlights


streaming through their hair like neon. It was as if they’d bonded at the spa.


Their sleek ranch house was restrained compared to other homes on Prairie Avenue. The


neighborhood was full of pastel villas flanked by palm trees that made Maida think of Barbie’s


Malibu play set.


When the girls lived across the street from each other in New Jersey, they’d played in Barbie’s


world for hours. Maida had been awestruck to see it realized like this, but now she only wanted


to leave. She didn’t trust Liv. It was Liv who insisted she get a tan as if her pallor insulted the


ethos there. She’d ordered Maida not to use sunscreen, but doused her in baby oil.


“You’re hyperwhite. I mean, like an albino,” was how Liv had put it.


Liv had always been bossy, but now so far from home, she made Maida feel defenseless.


That night Maida dreamed she’d been forced to audition for a role in a movie, but only wanted to


go home. She searched for buses or tried to hitch rides with strangers and she was relieved the


next day when Elena told her she’d be going back to New Jersey.


“I called your parents to tell them what happened and we all think it’s best you recover at home,”


Elena said. She’d brought Maida an ibuprofen, a bowl of gazpacho and a glass of iced water on


a wicker tray.


Maida’s pain was no longer severe, but she felt as if she had the flu.


“I know how disappointed you must be.”


Maida wasn’t disappointed at all. She felt so ugly she just wanted to leave and hide in her room.


After she finished her soup, Maida fell asleep again and when she woke, Liv was taking pictures


of her like that moron at the beach.


“What the hell are you doing?” she yelled at Liv. “What are you going to do? Post them?”


“Of course not! I just thought we could look at them in maybe a month from now and laugh.”


“You think this is funny?”


“I think in time, it could be. Jesus, Maida, my brother took pictures of me right after my nose


job, wrapped up like a fucking mummy.”


Liv had gotten a bump reduced on the bridge of her nose for her thirteenth birthday. As soon as


she healed, she’d moved to Miami to live with her father and Elena, his pretty young wife.


“You wanted a nose job,” Maida said. “This is totally different.”


“That was surgery, for shit’s sake. You got a sunburn – so what? Since when did you turn into


such a drama queen?”


“When you became a total bitch,” Maida muttered.


“What did you say?”


“Nothing.”


Liv rolled her eyes and walked out, slamming the door.


The next day blisters formed over Maida’s rash like lucent teardrops. When Elena drove her to


the airport, Liv didn’t come because she wasn’t there. She’d gone to a party at the beach, then


slept over a friend’s house. Maida had met some of Liv’s new friends, intimidating girls who


demanded attention like varnished cars gunning their engines.


The day was stultifying, but no one seemed to notice. People here adapted to the heat and even


flourished the way exotic plants do, splashed with color and dripping jewelry like petals. Elena


drove past rows of art deco hotels painted pink and yellow.


“I’m sorry things turned out this way,” Elena told Maida.


“Me too.”


“Oh sweetie, don’t be upset. Olivia really should have seen you off. She’s a selfish girl,” Elena


lowered her voice. “Of course, this is just between you and me. Not that I don’t love Liv, I do,


but her father spoils her.”


In the past few days, Maida had seen more of Liv’s father, Hank, than when he lived across the


street. He was a large, good-looking man, a lawyer whose smile beamed a pharaoh-like pleasure


with everything. When Maida first arrived, he seemed intent on her happiness, even treating


her to a shopping spree on Lincoln Road, but she hadn’t seen him in the last day or so as if the


visit had turned into what he’d call a ‘clusterfuck’.


Elena waited while Maida boarded the plane to make sure she got on safely. Maida was only


twelve, and the news was full of stories about girls being kidnapped by Uber drivers. Elena


waved and blew a kiss.


A few days later, Liv posted a video of Maida on TikTok. Maida looked like a patient in a burn


unit and Liv’s new Miami friends all mocked her. Maida knew Liv had done it to officially end


their friendship. She acted as if her nose job had transformed her into a hot girl though the


change wasn’t really noticeable unless she was in profile.


Maida’s mother, Sharon, was furious.


“I can’t believe how vicious Liv is,” she told her husband. “A child who was over our house all


the time. She was a fixture, here.”


In the weeks before school started, Maida retreated to her bedroom as if still convalescing.


She didn’t want to see anyone so she was angry when Sharon told her Liv’s mother, Tracy, had


stopped by the house to speak to her.


“I don’t want to see her,” Maida said. She was lying in bed, binge watching ‘Barbie’ as if the


movie was part of her healing process.


“Maida, I really think you’re indulging yourself. So does your father. The sunburn’s completely


gone. You look beautiful.”


“I still get headaches,” Maida lied and put up the volume, prompting her mother to take the


remote away and turn off the tv.


Maida covered her stomach with her pillow. “I didn’t think you and Tracy were still in touch.”


They’d been best friends when Maida and Liv were little, taking the girls on excursions


everywhere, to parks, shopping malls and even New York City.


“We see each other, sometimes.”


“I thought she was going to sell the house and get a condo.”


“Listen to me, Maida. Tracy’s very ill.”


“Liv never mentioned it.”


“Liv doesn’t know.”


“What’s wrong with her?”


“Cancer. Hopefully, she’ll be all right.”


“When did she get cancer?”


“I don’t know. I just found out, myself.”


“Why didn’t she tell Liv?” Maida asked.


“You’d have to ask her that.”


Maida was quiet.


“I got so upset over that video, I called Tracy,” Sharon admitted. “I told her how withdrawn


you’ve been ever since you came home.”


“Is she here, now?”


“In the kitchen.”


Maida groaned. “Like I have a choice.”


“Do you think you could put some clothes on?”


“I’m already dressed.” She was wearing the camisole and shorts she’d slept in.


Sharon shook her head, but figured at least, Maida wasn’t naked and she’d taken a shower the


night before. She went and got Tracy then left the two of them alone.


Maida hadn’t seen Tracy since Liv moved to Florida and her hair was now completely white.


How hadn’t Liv noticed the change? Even if she wasn’t living with her mother, they still


skyped. Maybe she thought her mother’s downturn was all because of the divorce.


Tracy sat on the bed next to Maida and clasped her wrist. She smelled good like citrus perfume,


but the touch of her hand felt arid. “Maida, don’t be angry at Liv.”


“It doesn’t matter. We’re not friends anymore. Liv doesn’t want to be.”


“Liv doesn’t know what she wants.”


“Mom says you’re still in the house.”


“I should sell it, I guess. It’s too big for one person, but I’m afraid to go through all the bother


of moving and then just die.”


Maida was shocked by Tracy’s glib fatalism.


“How come you’re not telling Liv you’re sick?” Maida asked.


“She’s had enough to deal with. And she’ll have enough to deal with later on.”


Maida was going to ask her if Hank knew she had cancer, but she was certain he did. He hadn’t


left Tracy for Elena; he’d just wanted to escape from someone who was dying.


“What about Trevor?” Trevor was Liv’s older brother who was a sophomore in college.


“What about Trevor?” Tracy echoed. She could have been a facsimile of herself as if she’d


been taken apart and reassembled into an attenuated version.


“Does he know you’re sick?”


“He knows, but I asked him not to tell Liv. I take it you didn’t like Miami.”


“I liked Miami, but Miami didn’t like me.”


Tracy managed a smile. “Hank always wanted to live there, but I can’t stand the heat. And


there’s no change of seasons. Did you go on his boat?”


Hank had a small yacht with sleeping accommodations.


“I saw it in the pier. He didn’t take it out, though. He would have if I’d stayed longer.”


“What’s their house like?” Tracy spoke in a hazy slur as if someone was feeding her words


through an earpiece, but she wasn’t really interested in what she was saying.


“It’s nice. Every room has its own bathroom, and they have an infinity pool.”


“An infinity pool,” Tracy repeated. “That figures.”


She made it sound like a backyard shrine granting its owner eternal life.


“I asked Liv to delete that video and she did,” Tracy said. “That’s what I came here to tell you.”


Maida felt relieved.


“Have you looked at her page on Instagram lately?” Tracy asked.


“No.”


“She went to some sweet sixteen party at the Fontainebleau. It’s on You tube. The theme was


“The Great Gatsby”. God knows how much it cost. No wonder Liv got her nose fixed. They


film all those parties she goes to.”


“She doesn’t look that different except she wears a lot of makeup, now. And she dyed her hair


blonde.”


“She fixed her nose to please her father. All his women have to look like Bond girls.”


Maida took that personally, as if her unsightly presence had been a blight on his household.


“Anyway, I wanted you to know she took down the video,” Tracy said.


“Thank you.”


“I should go, now. I’m on this heavy medication and it really makes me tired.”


“I’ll see you, again, Tracy,” Maida said.


“I hope so, dear,” she said and Maida kissed her goodbye.


Through her bedroom window, Maida watched her mother and Tracy outside on the lawn.


Sharon was supporting Tracy as they leaned against each other, looking like survivors of an


atomized world. When Maida had studied the Cold War, she learned people dreaded Fallout


more than the Bomb, itself. The actual terror was living in the aftermath.


She didn’t feel angry at Liv though she’d probably never see her, again. She’d never return to


Miami or visit any tropical landscape and not just because of her skin’s sensitivity. The sun at


its most extravagant now made her think of Liv and her father, and how readily glamor can turn


cold and malignant.


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