Margareta felt less like honoring her ancestors and more like getting flayed. She lingered at the bus stop in front of the Arnie’s Ink and Jab tattoo parlor, waiting for the 305 to take her out of the sketch part of town. She could see Jade through the window, hair spiked and black sleeves half-finished against her brown skin, sweeping the grit that the door didn’t catch.
Three minutes late. Nothing in the grand scheme of things, but enough to change her mind about going or staying. Pushing up from the bus stop bench and tightening her rebreather straps, she dusted off her jeans and stepped out into the biting wind. Fifth day sandstorm and the city couldn’t decide to shut down or wake back up. Red sand and small pebbles burrowed their way into the folds of her jacket, making it a zillion times heavier. Larger particles pinged off her goggles, but she no longer flinched.
The bell rang when she entered, announcing her presence like a stranger’s, and Jade looked up to greet her. Her professionally neutral expression shifted when she recognized Margareta.
Margareta pushed through the particle screen, feeling the feather-light touch of the field tingling on her skin beneath her clothes. The doorway flared red when she stepped through and the bell rang again as she shut the door. She lingered a minute to watch the dirt and sand she’d left on the other side be swept away by the wind.
“I just want to talk.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.” Jade lifted her rebreather to her mouth and inhaled. She still put Joy in the charcoal. Margareta never approved. “You made your bed. Lie in it. Suffer.”
“Feliz dia de Los Muertos, Jade.”
They stared at each other. Jade dropped the rebreather so it hung once more around her neck, then gripped her broom like she was thinking of chasing Margareta from the store.
Snap decision. “I want a tattoo.” Margareta said.
“No.” Jade’s instantaneous denial startled both of them, eyes widening as a fizzle of remembered tension flew between. Margareta’s heart began to beat faster. Jade hesitated. Gave in. “Fine.”
Margareta took off her coat, hung it on the rack. “I want a heart. Black. Right here.” She turned around again, shell-less without her coat and goggles, breather and pack. She tapped her collarbone, pushed her hair away from her face.
“Going to hurt.” Jade said, professional.
Less professional, “You trust me not to fuck you up?”
“No. Do it anyway.”
Preparations took time enough for Margareta to get nervous. Logic tried to process why she laid on the padded chair. Stuttered, failed, gave up. She looked around instead and realized this might be the last time she came here. The rich reds and vibrant blues that swirled the walls, stylized sunset sandstorm, home but more than home. A remembered life, unreality, nostalgia.
“You want a sketch?” Jade sat, pulled the tray cart close and let the generator hum to life. Power went out on day three. Didn’t matter when the city knew how to stretch a thimble of gas a year. No hurry.
“Freehand. You know what it looks like.”
Jade’s eyes darkened, jaw clenched. “Your funeral.” She tugged Margareta’s shirt off her shoulder, exposing her canvas. With firm pressure, she forced her back. “Don’t move.”
Margareta tried to relax, but Jade’s face was a breath away, the hand with the pen resting on her collarbone. Electricity passed between skin, little tingles like the particle screen, followed by the pinpricks of the needle. Old-fashioned, intimate technology.
Neither spoke, just touched. The whir of the needle lost in the generator’s thrum, Margareta felt the image take shape. Jade’s thumb on her jugular forced her chin up so she couldn’t look before time.
The small image took no time to complete, black against skin, just two simple arches combined at points, anatomically incorrect and symbolic. Margareta could see the conflict in her tattooist’s eyes, the desire to draw the line across her breasts, deface her memories in one vengeful, painful motion. A moment before she declared the tattoo done and Jade’s integrity warred with her anger, Margareta braced herself, accepting either outcome.
Jade sat back. “Done. Look.” She held up a mirror.
Pitch black, not more than an inch wide, but gracefully curved and filled with the grace of an artist. Simple. The skin around the tattoo flamed angry red and purple. Blood welled just enough to let Margareta remember the pain. “Done.”
Together, they bandaged her up, recited care instructions, and Margareta went to find her wallet.
“No charge.” Jade said, facing the wall.
“No charge, goddamnit. No fucking charge.”
Margareta hid her wallet behind her back, the motion pulling at her heart, reminder her heart was tender. “Fine. No charge.”
The tension went out of Jade’s shoulders. She turned around, glared at Margareta. “I never want to see you again.”
“You won’t.” Careful of her new tattoo, but not so careful as she wouldn’t know it was there, Margareta suited up to return to the storm. “Promise.”
“We both know how much your promises are worth.”
Rebreather already on, Margareta didn’t have to answer. The bell rang, but before she could step outside she felt the weight and pressure of a hand squeezing her shoulder. Left shoulder, above her heart, pulling newly inked skin. She rested her gloved hand on top of the gift, but didn’t turn around, said nothing. She stepped through the barrier, the weight disappearing as the tingles swept across her skin.
Margareta took the next bus going the wrong direction.