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I had lunch today with my friend Anna in Café Artista and she told me an amusing story…

Anna has a friend with a thirteen year old son named Jake. Like many young men who spend too much time indoors playing computer games, Jake was very white. His skin had the clammy, unhealthy whiteness of things which live under rocks or in the black depths of ponds. Yet Jake was at the age when one starts to pine after girls, and he was increasingly self-conscious about his complexion. When the June heat arrived and the city emptied on to the Meadows, Jake told his mother that he was going out to sunbathe.

“You should be careful you don’t get burnt,” she warned. “You’re not used to the sun…”

“Mother!” Jake hissed crossly.

“You should put on some suntan lotion. I think that we have a bottle in the attic. I remember buying it a few years ago…”

“Mother, really, it’s okay…” Jake tried to insist. But his mother was already on her way to retrieve the lotion. When she returned, she would not allow Jake to apply the lotion himself, but squirting a blob of it into her palm, she began to smear it liberally on to his arms and neck and face.

Mother!” Jake cried as she dabbed under his eyes. He had wanted to lie unprotected under the sun until he had acquired a rich bronze tan, but now the sun’s rays would bounce off his cold slimy skin. Jake’s mother plopped a dusty old hat on to his head and he traipsed miserably off to the Meadows.

Walking over to the park, Jake tried to scrape as much of the lotion as he could from his arms and face. His hands became grimy with the lotion, and he wiped them on the grass. But then, inevitably, he was worried that he had removed too much, and that he would end up burning in the sun. Perhaps the sun would burn off all his skin, leaving him red and smarting. Arriving at the Meadows, he tried to dismiss these anxieties, but he remained uncomfortable under the pounding June sun.

The trimmed grass of the Meadows rolled under the sun as wide and stark as a yawn. It was a Saturday morning and the park was still quiet. A steady traffic of pedestrians crossed the thoroughfare of Middle Meadow Walk, but few people were sitting or lying on the grass. Although the sunshine was a rare visitor in Edinburgh, like a distant but kindly grandmother, the heat was now as mighty as the bellows of a lion. Jake lay down grimly on the grass, troubled by a feeling of aimless anticipation.

The grass was ticklish and faintly bumpy beneath him. The sun was all in his eyes and he wished that he had some sunglasses. He cupped a hand over his eyes, but this was not quite enough and he was still wincing in the light. He turned his head so that the sun was now all on one cheek, resting like a big hot paw. It was so hot that he could not even sweat. Nervously, he pulled off his tee-shirt and lay with the sun warming his bare chest. He could not put from his mind the fear that he had rubbed off too much of his suntan lotion, and that he would dry up like a fish in the sun. They said that one returned home in a pleasant mood, went cheerfully to bed, and then woke up in the night scorching with agony. Perhaps his mother had some of that morning-after ointment – was it called Aftershock? – and this would put the pain to sleep.

Jake shifted in the heat. He listened to the sky droning, and the distant trotting up on Middle Meadow Walk. He looked up at the enormity of the sky. It had never occurred to him how gigantic the sky actually was. Every day its immense beauty hung unnoticed above him. Now he gazed into its fathomless depths, which soared as vast as the greatest mountain range. He turned his head so that the sun blazed on his other cheek. A small insect had settled on his arm and he was conscious of its tiny footsteps, but he did not wish to disturb this visitor. Flapping air into his face with his hat, he wondered how long he had been lying in the sun, and how much of the morning was left to lie there.

Jake did not see or hear the seagull until it was too late. The great fowl crashed down on to his chest, as heavy as a sack of potatoes. It looked Jake straight in the eye – a look of sheer black evil – before uttering a sort of bleating croak, and ducking down its head. Jake reeled with shock and amazement. Up popped the head again, this time with a beak full of intestines, and then the seagull was flapping up inelegantly into the sky and Jake was rattling with the motion of somebody falling down the stairs as his remaining intestines were quickly unravelled. Soon the seagull was soaring away over the Meadows, the string of guts dangling from its beak.

Jake stood up, blank with pain and shock. He was dripping untidily and his hands shot down to hold himself shut.

He walked home. It must be past midday he thought. The tennis courts were now full and two girls yelled to him to throw their ball back. He managed to scoop up the ball and throw it over the net.

When he got home his mother was having lunch in the conservatory with her friends Anna and Tori. “Hello Jake!” they cried, waving.

“Hi,” Jake mumbled.

“Hard luck with the tan. He’s still as white as a sheet!” his mother laughed.

“The best tan is out of a bottle,” Anna said.

“You are joking?” Tori looked scandalised.

“The technology is much better these days. It looks natural and real.”

Tori gazed out of the window. “I may look happy, but inside I’m pleading and begging for it to rain. The summer is so tiresome. It seems that you have be outside – getting physical and appreciating the open air – and you feel bad about spending all day indoors watching television.”

Jake’s mother smiled mischievously and offered up a note of sarcastic protest. “But it’s so rare to get the sun in Edinburgh!”

Tori frowned. “We’re living in Gotham city. All of the buildings are grey and half of them are Victorian-Gothic. The city simply looks out of place in the sunshine, rather like a nocturnal animal seen in broad daylight. Demanding summer from this city is like requiring tenderness from a headache.”

Anna frowned. “We are grumpy today. Is it your period?”

“No, but I’m terribly bloated.” She clasped her stomach and grimaced.

“Stop it! You’re forgetting that Jake is still here…”

“Hey, are you okay Jake?”

Jake had been coughing, trying to attract his mother’s attention, and he flinched as they all turned to look at him.

“Oh I’m fine… Really… It’s just that… Well, err… I mean…” He shrugged hopelessly. “A seagull has eaten my intestines.”

He crumpled to the floor. Anna had her car outside and they rushed Jake to the hospital, where the surgeons undertook an emergency transplant of his upper and lower intestines. Unfortunately, the only available organs had been donated by an elderly gentleman who, when alive, had drunk eight pints of stout a day. To the innocent and delicate young Jake, the degree of flatulence which he had inherited with his new intestines seemed superhuman. Dismayed by his body, he now rarely leaves his house, and his story should serve as a warning to anybody who sunbathes in the Meadows.

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