Coppertone

Sarah Manley

When I was a child I was not allowed to suntan. My grandmother told me it would make me throw up. It’s true I did throw up a lot. If I ate pork or went for a long car drive in the back seat of her 1974 Triumph with the sticky hot brown seats. The smell of liquid Gravol still makes me retch, I so closely associate it with waves of sick. The sun tanning thing though was a bone of contention. Before I went outside to the saltwater pool at our country house in Discovery Bay, she would lather me in Coppertone lotion from the green top bottle. It was my bottle. The lotion was thick and white. The other kids would already have chosen sides in Marco Polo by the time I got to the pool. They didn’t need lotion, weren’t forced to use it by their own mothers who were covered in the oily orange top Coppertone. Hell, they could use baby oil if they wanted, but not me. I stamped impatiently while the cream was rubbed into every exposed inch of flesh.  At 11 am sharp I had to come out of the sun.  The midday sun was the worst so between eleven and three I was not allowed in the pool or on the beach. I accepted this all as fact for a long time although I wondered why the other kids did not have such strict rules. It was the throwing up,  apparently. 

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I Am Here

SARAH MANLEY

I am here mamma. I am here. When your ship docks in the Harbour after that abomination they called the ’middle passage‘ and you are released from the leg irons to stumble ashore terrified, decimated, emaciated, I am here to welcome you no matter the centuries that separate us. I am here. To take you to my home, no matter its simplicity, its near collapse, it’s full of love. For you. I am here, no matter your many daughters between us that don’t won’t can’t claim you, I claim you. I bring you to my own worn mattress, put cool clean fresh sheets for you to lay on. Wash your broken feet, your matted hair, put the finest softest clothes I can find on your tired body. Prop you up with the best of the flattened pillows, bring you cool water and help you sip sip til your dry lips get plump and moist again. I am here. To bring you little meals of the best I have in the house even if that’s only Vienna sausages. Feed you slowly til your tummy expands to normal size again. I am here to hold you while you cry for all you’ve lost, to look and look and look into your eyes until you can see yourself in me, see we survived it mamma, you survived in me and I will tell your story, no matter the screaming denial of your many daughters that stand between you and me. I will tell your story loudly, quietly, brutally, gently, endlessly. I am here mamma. Me. Never mind them in between us. Look at me. I am here.