The Tan Man
A Short Story by Alice Clark
Written using the suggestion "Tan"
Originally featured on 07-09-2009
As part of our series "The Summer of Our Hopes and Fears"

“You better get that baby to the tan man,” Jenny’s sister said in response to her first viewing of Jenny’s vampiresque baby. It was at that moment that something snapped in Jenny’s head and made her think about why we tan babies. It wasn’t the baby’s fault that he had been encapsulated in complete darkness for several months, and wondered about the necessity of being brown.

She thought of the tan man, with his airbrushes and small canisters of flesh tones. That this was his only function in life. The last time she saw him she’d made an appointment with him to come to her home; it was better than waiting for a tan man to solicit work from her, as they had a habit of, approaching the pale in shopping malls and loudly offering their services. So embarrassing to refuse. It made it seem as if you had no self respect.

The baby writhed in her arms and her sister went on and on about how white he was and she just couldn’t parade him around like that. Looking like nobody loved him. The idea of painting him gave Jenny a guttural response, not just because of the bizarre idea that infants were somehow not good enough in their appearance, but also because of the tan man with his cans. The way we rely on each other to meet tiny, idiosyncratic needs. There are men that make cakes all day, in the shapes of ladybugs and hearts, so we can have cute birthday parties. There are also the road workers, who simply fill holes with asphalt, the cigarette packagers, the people who make dryer sheets. How weird to have a designation, a purpose of filling, mixing, and moving things. But only one thing, for years.

She would keep her baby white, unmaintained, and shameful, because she wanted the tan man to find something else to do.

Read More By Alice Clark

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