“She was a whale of a woman!” Joy clearly loved her job and immediately, I sensed her life would always be better than mine. “I almost used two bottles of oil just for her back,” Joy’s powerful raucous laugh caused her head to move back like a pez dispenser. I hated her and she was ruining my vacation.
I grinned, squeezing my frosty Toña a little too hard. I looked up at the giant palapa that protected us, wishing it would cave in on her. I didn’t plan to be in Nicaragua, but here I was, prompted by a sale from a budget airline and my husband, Harry, recognizing that his life would be better without me.
Joy and I met a few days earlier in the bar of the Pequeño Volcán Feliz, after spending 2 days isolated in my cabana: no internet, no t.v., just a few copies of outdated New Yorkers and Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice that I carried with me for the last 2 years. She had been working at PVF for a little over 3 months. She explained, in detail, how the universe brought her here and excitedly stated that she had been born in Los Angeles, but reborn in Nicaragua. I wanted to choke her, but was relieved to talk to someone.
“So, what do you do?” She chirped.
“Me?” I was imagining her her being eaten by iguanas. Joy would be good for eating. She was fat for a masseuse– not obese, but someone who would be considered full-bodied. That type of Parton-esque full body that she could cinch her waist with wide leather belt and create the perfect hourglass shape. I looked down at my body, the exact reflection of an overfed cat in a bikini. “I push papers.”
“Oh! What does that mean?” Joy said with genuine interest, leaving me even more annoyed.
I took a sip of my beer. “Administrative assistant at FedEx. Not that interesting. What did you do in LA?”
“Actress, but who isn’t there?” Joy giggled and fingered the rim of her margarita. She paused and then confessed, “By actress, I mean, I worked at Ed Debevic’s as a character waitress.” She let out a soft sigh. My heart softened for her. “Then I found my destiny and now I’m here, living the dream!” As she lifted her arms upward and twirled in her chair, my original feelings about her returned.
“Merita! Buenas!” Joy exclaimed with delight. Merita, the new bartender for the evening, eyed Joy up and down, smirking, then whispered something in Spanish to the other bartender through her teeth. Joy turned back to me to say, “Habla espanol un poco!” squeezing her index finger to her thumb to indicate how little Spanish she spoke.
I wish I could say her energy was infectious, but it wasn’t. She was too much of a reflection of her name. Something about her pleasant disposition felt impossible to achieve and slightly false. Her brunette hair piled up in a three tiered bun with the rest of her hair falling perfectly messy around her face. Admittedly, I loved her coral lipstick painted mouth. When she smiled, it was easy to trust her, but because of that, I didn’t trust her.
“Señora, una mas?” Merita queried. She was exactly my type of gal. She looked worked, used, too many days in the sun, too many Toñas. I liked that I could see her belly fat extending over her pants, stretching her polo too tightly across her back. Her eyebrows unplucked and her hair in a bun, as if to say she meant business.
“Yes, please.” Merita cracked open my beer and slid it across the bar. I turned to Joy, who was now softly humming a Burt Bacharach song. In between notes, she would lick the salt off the rim of her glass. Her painted fingernails, slowly twirling the stem as she continued to hum and lick.
In my brain I could hear myself humming, struggling to figure out the name of the song, struggling to not hum out loud alongside her. “Is that What the World Needs Now?”
“Do you know it? It’s my favorite!” Joy squealed. “I used to sing it to my mother when she was sick. She had cancer, uterine cancer. She was my best friend. I mean, I know a lot of people say that about their mom, but it’s true for us. All my life, it was just me and her and no one else. My daddy disappeared. Mama said he went out for a pack a cigarettes and never came back. No one’s heard from him since. Mama drove a big rig across the country and let me go with her every time. There I was, all of 4-years-old, sitting next to the toughest broad I would ever know! The southwest was my favorite – the sunsets, the dirt roads, the blossoming cactus flowers, the sounds of the big truck horns speeding by…”
Joy stopped talking to take a moment to breathe. We both scanned the beach, listening to the palm trees rustle near us. Then the humming started again. Joy stopped only to ask for another margarita.
“Mama was a good lady, you know? She didn’t deserve to go like that. She fought the good fight, though. She did. By the end, she was half her size and lost all her hair. Mama had beautiful hair. She stopped talking to me, so I started singing to her. When, I sang, her eyes lit right up. What the world needs now is love, sweet love…” Joy started singly softly until she drifted off into silence. I wanted to hear more.
“Well, I better go. Don’t you dare leave without getting a massage, all right? I’ll give you 10% off, how’s that?” Joy’s eyes looked different, still bright, but slightly more human.
“Yeah, I’d like that.” The sun was setting as Joy walked away, outlining her swaying hips in a pinkish orange glow.