OVER-EXPOSED • by Patrick Mahon

Rick Sanderson’s resignation was spectacular. Ten years to the day since becoming a City trader, in the middle of a senior staff meeting arranged to discuss recent losses by the London office, he was asked how his team was going to help.

“Not my problem,” Rick said.

He pulled a magnum of champagne from his bag, sprayed it over the directors, shouted “I quit!” and walked out.

The following day he bought himself a one-way ticket to Rio. He’d made a packet and wanted to enjoy it while still young. The weather in South America was great, and Brazilians knew how to have fun.

His travel agent, on the other hand, didn’t. Rick told him he wanted to get everything sorted in one go, so there was a lot of paperwork. Visa applications, proof of net worth, immunisations, insurance…

“Hold on,” Rick said. “I’ve already got health insurance.”

“Not enough. The Brazilian Government demands at least ten million dollars’ worth, because of the hole in the ozone layer. You can’t get an entry visa without it. Do you want the details?”

“Not my problem,” Rick said, zoning out the greasy adolescent. “Just make sure it’s the cheapest you can find. I don’t want to waste my hard-earned cash on crap like insurance.”

A week later, a courier delivered a package from Brazil. Inside were the health insurance policy, and a seriously cool pair of sunglasses, which seemed to be their way of apologising for all the bullshit paperwork. Rick put them straight on, chucking his own in the bin. They came in a box labelled ‘IntelliShades’. There was even an instruction manual.

That went in the bin too.

Two weeks later, having sold his Docklands flat, he flew first class to Rio.

***

Atenção: o tempo de exposição UV máxima diária se aproxima. Por favor…

Rick touched the side of the sunglasses and the message cut out.

“Sorry about that,” he said to the woman lying beneath him. “Now, where were we?”

He bent his head down and kissed her again.

***

Rick was having the time of his life. Rio was his kind of city: energetic, noisy and cheap. Everything could be bought — for the right price. He spent his days in the affluent South Zone, playing volleyball on Leme Beach. If he needed more excitement, he’d go hang gliding or climb Sugarloaf Mountain. When the storms came in, he stayed in with his laptop, trading on the Bovespa stock exchange to keep his bank balance topped up.

Whatever the weather, every night was party night in Rio. The spirit of Carnaval seemed to infect the city all year round and Rick took full advantage. He had a succession of beautiful girlfriends who were happy enough to spend their days — and nights — with a man who kept himself fit and was always ready to flash the cash.

The relationships generally lasted a few months. Then there would be an argument, things would be thrown and Rick’s wallet would clang shut. Once they’d seen his true face, few of the women stuck around for long. Not his problem. He’d head to the bars, open his wallet again and find himself a new girlfriend.

***

Day followed night followed day. And every afternoon, Rick’s sunglasses would start up again: “Atenção: o tempo de exposição…”, and he’d have to cut them off midstream. There was probably some way to stop them, but he couldn’t be bothered to figure it out.

If they hadn’t been such a babe magnet, he’d have junked them.

***

The good times lasted five years. Then one evening, when he was checking his hair in the mirror before going out, he noticed a mole on his face. He could have sworn it hadn’t been there the day before.

Rick’s looks were very important to him. The mole would have to go. Not a problem. After all, he had insurance.

***

‘What do you mean, I’m not covered?’

Rick squeezed the phone tighter against his ear. A nurse had just rung from the Hospital Samaritano. Their initial examination indicated the mole was cancerous, but might not be malignant. They took a biopsy to find out, but his insurers refused to pay for the tests — or for any treatment. He called them to find out why.

“Coverage for skin cancer was cancelled last month, in line with data received from your IntelliShades.”

“What?!”

“The sunglasses monitor your exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun. They warned you to avoid over-exposure.”

“All they ever spouted was some foreign drivel!”

“They are made here in Brazil, so the default language is Portuguese. The manual explains how to change languages.”

“I threw the manual away!”

“Nonetheless, you invalidated the skin cancer element of your policy when you failed to comply with the IntelliShades’ warnings for the hundredth time. This is all clearly explained in the policy documentation.”

“So what am I supposed to do now?”

“Not my problem.”

The line went dead.

***

Rick looked up at the mirror in front of him. The mole looked like it was going to weep blood again.

He didn’t need any more test results to see that he was in trouble.

So Rick did what he always did when the chips were down. He went out and got drunk. So drunk that he ended up in a favela in the wrong part of town, shouting abuse at the locals. A young member of the Comando Vermelho gang, keen to prove himself, shut Rick up by stabbing him in the stomach with a six-inch stiletto knife. He left Rick bleeding to death on the sidewalk.

The next morning, a detective went to Rick’s apartment looking for evidence. On the doormat she found a letter from the hospital, enclosing an invoice alongside the results of the biopsy. The mole on his face, though unsightly, was benign. It wouldn’t kill him.

The detective put the letter with Rick’s other personal effects, and left.

Not her problem.


Patrick Mahon writes reviews for the SFCrowsnest website and for the British Science Fiction Association’s journal Vector. He lives in Buckinghamshire, UK and works in the environmental sector. He’s on Twitter as @PJMahon. This is his first story for Every Day Fiction.


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Camille Gooderham Campbell

  • Michael Stang

    Really like your use of the anchor (one liners) a great way to move the story forward, and here the live by the sword die by the six inch blade is highly entertaining.

  • Tina Wayland

    I loved the opening of this–the pace and intrigue gets going right from the start. By the end, though, I felt there was something missing. Not that you have to spell everything out (and the mystery of Brazil’s ozone problem is nicely written), but I got the the last line and found myself not quite satisfied.

    That said, the pace and fine details in this piece are simply brilliant. And let me praise that opening again. It drew me in like almost no other story does!

  • Ian Nathaniel Cohen

    This. Was. AWESOME. I feel like I ought to go on more about the excellent quality of writing, or the brisk pacing, but honestly, those three words just sum everything up perfectly.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    When a man doesn’t know the difference between a girlfriend and a prostitute he is likely to make all kinds of other foolish mistakes.

  • Marisa Samuels

    Great story, but cancerous and malignant are the same thing.

  • Trillian

    I was pretty riveted until the end. The gang murder seemed kind of convenient. If he’d overdosed or drank himself into a car wreck, or got on a prostitute’s bad side, I would have liked it more as his end would have tied into his excesses a little more neatly.

    But the beginning was a great hook and the pace was excellent.

  • Loved it. And the IntelliShades seem like a pretty good idea. Wish I had a pair.

  • Joseph Kaufman

    @5: Just curious, but isn’t “benign cancer” a valid term? I typed it into Google and found several references, same for “malignant cancer.”

    If cancerous and malignant are the same thing, then “benign cancer” shouldn’t exist, and “malignant cancer” is redundant, yes? At the very least, if what you say is true, the author is in good company in his redundancy around the web, including some medical and reference sites.

    In any case, it didn’t jar me or distract me as I read the story…

  • The ending was a bit weak, I felt, though the opening hook was great.

    The numbers didn’t seem to add up though. His girlfriends each lasted a few months, yet the policy was cancelled a month before ago the hundredth daily warning!

  • John Brooke

    I found this a compelling read from the first sentence to the sharp ending.

  • Eric Brown

    A sly, funny – and relevant – tale: I loved the economy, and the SF-nal ideas slipped in deftly. At this length you can get away with an unsympathetic central character, and was anticipating his come-uppance from the off. I thought the ending worked well, in keeping with the build-up. Great story.

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