Factor Five Hundred

by James

Pete made sure his top was tucked into his jeans, his belt good and tight. He topped up his face protection, extra thorough with the cream around his eyes and the tips of his ears. Next, on with the poncho and his gloves, his face mask, his sunglasses, and the final glory, wide floppy hat with the brim pulled down low.

The boys had nicknamed him The Invisible Man, but never to his face.

He left the pub, sloshing through the hailstone ice strewn across the car park. Even close to home he did not slow, despite the sweat trickling down his back. Pete was of an age before all those trillions had been pumped into the weather forecasting game and he still couldn’t take on faith forecasts with their two-minute accuracy.

He went straight through into the kitchen with removing any of his garb. He held a glass under the tap but didn’t set the water running.

His daughter half naked in the garden again.

Pete charged down the decking, trying to keep the urgency from his voice as he commanded Robyn to get inside out of the sun, right this moment, young lady.

He halted, Robyn with one hand up over her eyes. She was not alone. Sitting below her on the steps in just his swimming costume was the boy she’d met at the hospital, Johnathon.

No one said anything. Pete removed his face mask and his sunglasses. The silence continued.

Pete took charge. He said, ‘How is your…uh…grandfather? How are those gallstones?’

‘He’s good, thanks. One more visit, then he’s cured.’

‘Glad to hear it.’

More silence, Pete standing there beneath his layers and his factor five hundred, a grotesque glove puppet towering above these youngsters semi-naked sprawled around on the decking without a care. Robyn with a smile, but it was tight-lipped, and she kept looking at Pete then flicking her eyes to look back at the house.

Pete said, ‘I know I sound like a mother hen, but it’s important. You miss one scrap of skin, just one, and the way the sun is these days…’

Johnathon nodded seriously. ‘I get it, Mr S, but we’ve been real careful. I guarantee it: I haven’t missed one inch of your daughter’s skin.’

This time the silence with real weight to it, fastening itself around the boy’s legs to pull him down into a pit of sudden horror. His eyes had gone wide.

He said, ‘I meant the suntan lotion, Mr S. Mr Sutcliffe. Just the suntan lotion, yeah?’

Pete stared at the boy, Pete trying to not to laugh. There was this little ball of warmth inside him, his wife’s voice again in his head, telling him how could they ask for anything better to apply sun protection to their teenage daughter than a teenage boy?

Robyn had her eyes closed. She said, ‘Oh God,’ then rolled to her feet to tug at her father’s arm and shepherd him back to the house. He let himself be drawn, happier now than he’d felt in a while. Halfway through the kitchen door, he stopped and faced his daughter. He couldn’t help but smile at her scowl. It deepened.

Pete said, ‘I lost one of my girls to the sun. You think I’m going to let it happen again?’