Some authors take time creating the overall feel for their book. But when you're writing a novella of well under 100 pages, you don't have much time to set the tone. Mexican novelist Mario Bellatin doesn't waste any establishing the tenor of Beauty Salon. He does it with the first two sentences: "A few years ago my interest in aquariums led me to decorate my beauty salon with colored fish. Now that the salon has become the Terminal, where people who have nowhere to die end their days, it's been very hard on me to see the fish disappear."
You could take it for dark humor, but there is only the slightest taste of that in this work. With that brief opening, Bellatin sets the stage for almost all that's coming. The unnamed narrator is, in fact, more affected by the death of his fish than humans. That's because the world of Beauty Salon is immersed in a plague so extensive and fatal that most bodies end up in mass graves at the cemetery. Death has become so prevalent that emotional attachment is no longer worth the psychological toll.
The narrator is a transvestite gay hair stylist who first opened the doors of his beauty salon as a hospice to friends who were refused care at hospitals for fear of spreading the infection. In its heyday as a functioning business, he and his two co-workers wore dresses when fixing hair and when cruising for men at night. The plague has claimed both his friends, and he now spends his time providing a refuge for men whose only other option is to die on the streets. No longer a beauty salon, it has come to be know simply as the Terminal.