The Difference between Dollars and Pesos

by Adam Giles

Under their palm-thatched sunshade, shots of welcome rum in hand, Kim held out her phone, snapping selfies of the two of them for future social media posting.

“Look natural.” Kim elbowed Landon. They’d scooched their loungers close for the picture. “Pretend you’re happy.”

A boy was missing. Or so Landon gathered. There’d been a huddle of people in resort shirts at the check-in desk. The hefty managerial-looking one ushered a hysterical couple into a back room. He spoke urgent Spanish to staff, distributing what Landon swore were photocopies of a passport.

Landon quit posing. He and Kim sat in the muggy breeze, taking in that postcard view, that shimmering tropical panorama. Landon looked beyond the resort boys raking seaweed on the shore and the cluster of wading/splashing/boogie-boarding vacationers, and scanned the water out by the windsurfers for a floating body.

Kim, skin slicked with coconut lotion, backhanded Landon’s arm. “What’d I tell you?”

Since their Mexican honeymoon 34 years ago, Landon’s experience with tropical panoramas had been limited to mid-winter island-getaway commercials and his Climate Change Apocalypse Blu-rays (the Kiss Exotic Coastlines Goodbye episode in particular).

“Yeah, totally crisper than 1080p,” he said in his I-knew-this-was-going-to-be-a-disaster tone.

It wasn’t so much Landon’s gloom that bothered Kim—it was how predictably his obsessive anxiety surfaced. It took Kim decades to execute a scheme to get the man to take a vacation and, having just settled on the beach, he was already ruining it. Apparently one of the resort people at the check-in desk hadn’t been shielding his photocopy. Landon told Kim he’d made out the face of a boy, maybe eight or ten, in the little passport photo square—black and white, grainy, faded. Like an archived newspaper clipping, filed away and forgotten. Too many episodes of Unsolved Conspiracies, Kim told him—if they were looking for a kid, it was probably because he stole something. It was best, Kim said, to drink your drink and stare out at the sea.

Boys in resort shirts steered a kayak through the mess of tourists in the water.

“See? They’re ruling out drowning,” Landon said, thinking it’d take forever to find a body in that never-ending turquoise expanse. Inland, search parties probably pursued leads on kidnapping and/or the kid getting lost amongst the buffet crowd. This is why they’d never had kids—the risks had obliterated the rewards in the ledger Landon drew up all those years ago (top risk: “losing the child”).

“I think they’re lifeguards,” Kim said, thinking a kid-free resort would have been good. She’d have been a more seasoned vacation booker if Landon ever agreed to go anywhere.

“Exactly. So does everyone else.” Landon’s unbuttoned floral shirt flapped in the wind, exposing grey sweat-matted chest hair.

Kim tuned out Captain Buzzkill and sucked back her rum. Which was what one did when one wanted to keep the peace in a marriage. One sucked back one’s rum. She swiped through her selfie haul, trashing the losers: those with unfavourable lighting, unflattering up-the-nose perspectives, and forced-looking facial expressions. Also, those with other vacationers snapping selfies in the background.

“It’s the socioeconomic disparity here,” Landon said, watching the kayak crew—their joking, their laughing, their non-urgent paddling. Which instantly had Landon doubting his interpretation of the events at the check-in desk. Stop overanalyzing! He suppressed this thought. “You know, poor country? Cash-cow resort? Search has to be hush-hush or they bust the illusion this place is paradise.”

Kim looked at him, her sunglasses reflecting in his. Landon was plagiarizing again. He picked up socioeconomic disparity from that horrific-realities-of-two-tiered-vision-care documentary they’d seen on Discovery. He did this—turned into a fact-regurgitator—to cope with being out of his element, his element being the TV-room recliner. She wanted to call him on it. She wanted to call him on his years of armchair-expert excuses, his fear-induced strategy for avoiding travel: terrorists, pickpockets, bedbugs, Montezuma’s revenge (as exacted on their honeymoon). What Kim actually wanted to do was spill the truth: Guess what? This isn’t all-expenses-paid. We didn’t score Punta Cana tickets from any raffle. Three grand. On my MasterCard. Accruing interest. Kim had to eliminate cost from the equation to get past Landon’s overarching we’re-going-to-get-ripped-off defence. Her closing of the deal featured Bacardi, resort brochures, additional Bacardi, and handholding by the fire.

Kim, seriously buzzed from her welcome shot, suddenly indifferent about roaming charges, pulled up the winning selfie—an angled landscape of Kim frozen in laughter, Landon eyeing her (with a look she thought would pass for contentment), a perfect arc of white surf behind them—and posted it to her several social media accounts with the caption: “Finally living a little.” This, Kim calculated, would fetch many positive responses, such as the healthy nature of their relationship and Kim’s superior persistence (i.e., prying Landon from the TV, trashing his unhelpful landing-gear bloopers videos, getting him on a plane).

Right away, her phone dinged. Comment received (re: the healthy nature of their relationship).

Kim waved over a wandering cerveza girl, which Landon thought was lazy—they sat 50 feet from the straw-hut beach bar. The petite girl teetered under the weight of multiple clinking cooler bags strapped around her neck, shoulders, and arms. She wore a fanny pack labeled “Tips.” Her mashed breasts spilled out the top of her tight tank top. Landon caught himself staring and turned away, sucking back his rum.

The kayak boys came ashore, grabbed some wheelbarrows, and followed the seaweed rakers, scooping up, carting off the unsightly piles. So maybe a kid wasn’t missing. Back at the check-in desk, when the hefty managerial-looking one had noticed Landon spying the unshielded photocopy, he smiled, slid his clammy arms around Landon and Kim, and got them their keys and welcome rum. He pulled a wad of Dominican pesos from his breast pocket, peeled off a thick layer, and passed them to Landon. “Souvenirs, my friends.”

Soon after, during Landon and Kim’s what-Landon-thought-he-saw argument from the villa suite to the beach, the hefty fellow’s voice bellowed from speakers bolted to palm trees: he was dispatching the cerveza girls. “Everyone, enjoy,” he said. “Do not worry about nothing but your good times.” Then some Miami Sound Machine came over the speakers and a conga line formed on the beach.

Landon watched the water. Still no floating corpses. Or people looking for one. Kim was right. As usual. What did he know? He was all theory. And he hated that he always had to tint those theories with doom, tragedy, etc.

Kim lightened one of the cerveza girl’s cooler bags by whatever four cervezas weighed—two moderately-chilled bottles went to Landon.

Kim’s phone dinged (healthy nature of their relationship).

Landon pulled the wad of pesos from his pocket and motioned to the girl’s fanny pack.

“Oh, no dollars?” she said, taking Landon’s bills, leafing through them.

Landon patted his shorts. “Wallet’s in the safe.”

“You know the difference?” The girl pulled a crisp green Canadian 20-dollar bill from her fanny pack, overdramatically caressing Queen Elizabeth II’s regal face. “This one? So pretty.”

She found a 20-peso bill, browned and faded, waving it like it had an odour. “This one, we stuck with. Play money.”

“It’s all he’s got,” Kim said. “Don’t want it? It’ll be a nice keepsake for us.”

From Kim’s phone, another ding, various corners of North America celebrating the successful marriage of Kim and Landon Chimera.

The girl’s pouty smirk shrunk. She pocketed Landon’s pesos and set off for another sunshade—a reclined white guy waved for her like he’d been without a beer for several minutes.

“Thought I was doing something good.” Landon swigged from one of his bottles. “Resort probably pays these people peanuts.”

“I think resort workers do alright in third world countries.”

Developing countries.”

Kim swallowed beer. “National Geographic?”

“A&E.”

Kim put her bottle to her lips. “Helped that she had nice tits though, right?”

Landon choked on his skunky beer.

Kim snorted, reaching over, patting Landon’s leg, grasping his hand.

There were more cerveza girls. There were more cervezas. Soon, inexplicably, there were Dominican cigarettes. Kim and Landon took harsh musky drags, coughing, describing their rookie-smoker head rushes to one another, speaking of how they were living their lives (disregarding all those detriments-of-smoking specials they must have seen over the years). Things were spinning. That postcard view melted in a tropical turquoise swirl. Music thumped. People danced.

After sundown, bamboo torches lit a strip of shoreline. Moonlight glimmered on water. Kim and Landon swayed in a subdued crowd to an old Roxy Music song, close and sweaty in the lingering mugginess. Farther down the beach, the party livened: strobing lights, people in glowing jackets. Landon, bleary-eyed, remembered dancing to this song at their wedding. Down the beach: sirens, hysterical screams. Landon’s legs buckled. He held onto Kim, cheek on her shoulder, breathing sweet coconut lotion. Maybe it’d been a different song at their wedding. He wasn’t going to bring it up until he was sure.

 

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