I am allergic to the sun. Solar Urticaria. We’ve been told it’s supposed to be hereditary. There’s nobody on my mom’s side who has ever seemed to have had it, so likely it was from my father’s side. It’s something we’ll never know, I guess, as he left years ago, never to be heard from again. Ironically enough, it was his leaving that forced my mother and I to move to a different town, a smaller place we could better afford. That was the coast, where the consistent overcast clouds and the wearing of always at least a sweatshirt kept the condition hidden away.
Then we moved to the valley, where it is delightfully sunny most days out of the year. I experienced the hives right away, as the sole mover was shoving what little boxes we had into the apartment. Rather than spending my first night in a new place in the somewhat familiarity of my own bed, I found myself in the hospital, attempting to find out what was the cause of the red, swollen, bumps on my arms and chest, and the difficulty breathing and nausea that came with it.
We were told to keep out of the sun the best we could, to cover up the best we could when going out, and to just hope that it would eventually go away. We- or rather, just my mom- decided to pull out my new school’s enrollment until we knew the full extent of my problem. That was two years ago.
The night had slowly become my realm since then. It was during the nights I would go out and do my thing proper. Tonight, the moon was a bright three-quarters. I had worried, at the beginning, if the moonlight would have the same effect on me, being that it was just the reflection of the sun’s light. There was no significant result. If anything, I was being vaccinated little by little by that certain pale glow.
My favorite place to go was the convenience store three blocks down, a little bit over, and down the long flight of stairs to the bottom of the embankment, then right at the opposite side of the street down there. Everything between our apartment and the store were more apartment blocks and their little, dirty, partially covered parking lots. I had yet to discover anything within the same radius that was also open twenty-four hours, of course, not for the lack of trying.
Right between the hollow totem for depositing smoked cigarettes and the cage full of propane tanks was a rounded pile of messy blond hair, and underneath, a man, crouched to the ground. I felt his eyes from underneath his long, choppy bangs. There was an odor of alcohol emanating from him, like someone had passed gas in a small room while also attending to a cut. I averted my eyes and went inside.
My favorite things things to buy were the non-sharing size bag of peanut M&M’s and one of those exorbitantly-sized foam cups of a perfect mixture of both Wild Cherry Pepsi and Diet Pepsi, poured over a hefty pile of ice. I liked how it melted and left me with vaguely soda-flavored water some time later in the night. This combination of treats was often my dinner some nights.
I payed the man at the counter. He appeared to be some age between a college student and a middle-aged who had never married but had recently broke up with a long-term girlfriend. I knew his name, obviously, after the many times having gazed at the badge pinned to his chest, but I never used it. I know he knew me, of course, but he never acknowledged how often I was in. We simply lived separate lives, and in the infinitesimally small time we spent during those interactions, we had a sort of silent agreement to never broach our nice, unique communication barrier. In the few times I happened to come in when he was not working, the coworker would attempt a certain few more words, but my trained counting out and preparation of the change for my purchase always saved me having to fabricate more than a few responses.
The blond mop man was still outside when the bell chimed my exit from the store. He was stood up this time, a short blue can of beer moving back and forth in his hand, sloshing about a minuscule amount of alcohol inside.
“Hey.” I heard him mumble at me the second I attempted to pass. I continued to walk, pulling the back of my sweatshirt over my back pocket to disguise the bulge of my wallet sitting upon my ass.
“What’s a girl doing out here so late?” He spoke up again. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that he was following after me.
Just before leaving the safety of the storefront lights, I stopped. He was still shuffling closer to me. I looked up and around, hoping to spot a security camera hanging off one of the corners of the stucco exterior of the store.
His stumbling diverged him from my path, where he stopped abreast of the exterior trash bin. He lifted the can to the sky before him, draining the last bits of his drink into his mouth before throwing it away. “Whatever.” He mumbled and began to walk back to his perch.
“You’re not going to recycle?” I called back. The man stopped in his tracks.
His hair swayed with the puzzled head tilt he offered my way. The blond locks resembled a bowl-cut that had been left to flourish for many months, and his skin was like that of an old leather couch, burnished and wrinkled. “Huh?”
“Don’t you get like five cents per can or something? That adds up.” I shrugged and prepared myself to head off again.
I heard his beat-up sneakers scrape around after me. “You think I’m one of those bums, huh?” He said lazily. The odor of alcohol crept up again closer to me.
“Or maybe you just like to help the environment. Well, hold on now, you’re in to that foam cup there.” His tone was almost teasing.
I maintained my pace to keep him at least a few strides behind me. “It’s what the store’s got. I like it. It doesn’t get my hands all wet with the condensation.”
“You gonna’ be okay, walking home alone so late? Isn’t it a school night? How old are ya’?”
“You should get yourself a car.”
“Don’t need one.” I glanced back at him. His hands were stuffed in the pockets of his tattered jeans. His arms were visible under a stained, striped tank top, and were similarly tanned as his face, also thin with a faint hint of toned muscle. “Where’s your car?”
“Don’t got one.”
“Then you’re in the same boat as me.”
He went silent for a few moments. I had unintentionally slowed my pace to match his. Over my shoulder, I noticed him nodding his head and up and down with a slow, thoughtful rhythm. “You got me there.”
“So you are a bum.”
“I have a house that I live in.” His face turned to a frown for a brief moment before returning to his aloof grin of yellowed teeth, save a gap just behind his incisor.
“It isn’t this way, is it?” I stopped, changing the cup of soda from one hand to another. I patted the limp pocket at the front of the sweatshirt to make sure the candies were still inside.
“Other way.” He shrugged behind him.
“Goodnight, then.” I grabbed the handrail in my grasp and took the first step up.
“You gonna’ be okay so late at night? There tends to be weirdos out at this time.”
“Is that so?” I forced eye contact with him.
“Yeah, and you’re looking like you’re fresh out of middle school.”
“You said sixteen.”
“Happy birthday to me, then.” I grunted and began to heft my way up the steps, skipping the occasional step up.
“But seriously.” His voice continued after me. Another glance to my rear revealed him still following after slowly. “You must be a vampire or somethin’, out here this late.”
“Well, I am allergic to the sun.” I shrugged. I stopped at one flat areas of the stairway and took my first sip of soda. The ice water had already began to dilute the sugary flavor.
“Poppycock.” His interjection was painfully serious.
I let out an unintentional snort. “Poppycock? Who says that in this day and age?”
“I do.” He shrugged.
“More ridiculous than being allergic to the sun?” He lifted his arms to the sky, as if attempting to soak in the nonexistent UV rays.
“Solar Urticaria.” I hadn’t been able to say the word aloud in some time, having to explain my condition.
“It’s what I have.”
“So not, like, vampirism?” He tilted his head again. “The moon’s almost full, you should watch out.”
“You read too many books.” I prepared myself to continue heading up the stairs.
“I don’t think reading books is much of a bum thing to do.”
“I don’t know what a bum does.” I rolled my eyes out of his sight. “Besides, you already said you’re not one.”
“You would think bums do do a lot of reading, with libraries being free and all.”
“I don’t know.” I continued up the stairs, already in sight of the top. “They’re only open during the daylight hours.”
He wandered listlessly up a few more sets of stairs to the flat section to finally rest. “You’re sure you’re fine goin’ home all alone?”
“There’s nothing but apartments up here. Everyone is already in bed.”
“Alright then.” He concluded, stopping where he stood. I climbed the last few steps to the top of the embankment before looking at him one last time. He offered a emphatic wave back before calling out. “Goodnight, then, Sunshine!”
I shook my head and turned away. “…Sunshine.”