The photo shows two dozen red and yellow beetles inside a dog’s mouth. A trail of ladybug-like insects thumbtacked to the roof and wedged behind the front teeth to clear down the back. Are there more lining the throat and pinned to the insides of the stomach? And what about tucked to the underside of the tongue and glued to the gums?
I do a quick search of my own dog’s mouth. Wrench her jaw open and look cautiously. All clear.
Imagine the beetles stuck to the inside of my own mouth. The way they’d make a home amongst my molars, lodge between the gaps, latch onto the soft flesh of my cheeks, adhere like limpets to the contour of the roof. Not just one or two, but twenty or thirty or more. A whole swarm.
My tongue works furiously to dislodge the vermin and spit them out. I feel inside with my fingers just to be sure and imagine how I’d need to scrape them out. Would they flick off with a pop? Peel like scabs? Turn into a purulent, sludgy mess as I pick them out one by one?
Later, my dreams are full of hundreds of spiderlings slipping down my throat; ants that crawl into my ears to nest; thread-thin snakes that loop through my hair and slither up my nostrils; and teeny, tiny fruit-flies that burrow under my eyelids to lay eggs in my tears.
Once – and this is true, I swear – I slept out in the open on a canyon floor and after a restless night, woke with my face covered in spider bites. Little red spots scattered across my forehead, speckled over my eyelids, running down the length of my nose. They covered my cheeks, my chin, my lips.
That time, I didn’t have the stomach to look inside.