Before Fairuz got the tattoo, I’d never even heard of the beetles.
I just knew that the tattoo she wanted was enormous, and that it would take all night, and even as I agreed to come with her I said, “This is a bad idea.”
“Good,” she said, and hit the gas.
I expected some shithole off the main drag, the kind of place Fairuz would go to make a point. But it was clean as a dentist’s office, and they gave us paper caps and told us to watch what we touched.
Inside was even cleaner, and the man waiting for us was in a work suit that zipped up to his neck.
“Lie down,” he said, turning on the projector.
As Fairuz pulled off her shirt and settled onto her stomach, the ink drawing snapped into place over her skin: fifteen constellations, scattered on her back from the shoulder blades down past the waist of her trousers; freckles with labels, pulled together by string.
“You want something for the pain?” the guy asked.
Fairuz shrugged. “Sure.”
He picked up a container of gold and pink marbles and poured them over her back.
Of course they weren’t marbles, but when you haven’t heard of the beetles before, you don’t think that kind of thing will ever happen, that someone gets a Tupperware of bugs and dumps them out.
(You only need one or two, if the area’s small, but Fairuz never did anything small if she could help it; the tattoo was all over and so were the beetles.)
They skittered back and forth over her skin, a shirt of rosy sequins, and across their bodies the projected constellations flickered in and out of sight.
I think this is before she died.
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