Natalie Rose


Natalie Rose is a writer, teacher and MFA candidate at Northern Arizona University. A Mexican Lebanese American, she often writes about food, memory, identity, and how they intersect. Her work has appeared in Freerange Nonfiction, Gothamist, Word Riot, The Latin Kitchen and others. She is the nonfiction editor of Thin Air Magazine. She is currently working on a memoir about her time in Guatemala. More of her work is available at


Para ‘To Go’ 

I’m late for work, but I take time to fix my makeup in the reflection of a dirty window set inside one of the beautiful stucco houses the line Antigua’s streets. There’s a golden cone from the old streetlamp that sheds enough light to see my reflection, and I position a headband with shiny devil horns on my head. Carlos told me to wear a costume too late, so I wore all black and picked up the devil horns at the local tienda. The American in me thinks how sad it is that I’ve become that woman who flaunts a little cleavage and a red headband and says she’s a sexy devil, but the expat in me having what my mother calls a “mental breakdown” in Central America says, “Who the fuck cares, as long as you get paid?” Plus, Carlos says I can get a raise if my sales are good tonight.

Some teenage boys come toward me and I flatten myself against window to let them pass. They hold masks or their faces are painted like zombies. Once they’ve cleared a safe distance, they whistle back at me. “Guapa,” one says as he sips from a baggie full of liquid, probably beer, a popular beverage to-go method in Guatemala. I can see he’s been trying to grow his five o’clock shadow since last Christmas. As he looks back at me, he trips on the cobblestone. I can’t contain my laughter. The other monsters and zombies pick him up, his only injury his bruised ego, and they all walk away. These boys are the tamest I’ll deal with all night. It’s almost nine on Halloween in Antigua, Guatemala, the craziest night of the year only behind Christmas Eve and Good Friday.

I take one final look at my reflection. I pout my lips, smile, check that I don’t have lip gloss on my teeth. Satisfied, I whisper, “Damn girl, you are the best fucking shot girl in Guatemala.”

Five minutes later I arrive at La Casa, the bar where I work, a popular watering hole for Guatemalans and gringos alike. Mario, the owner, an English-speaking, American-education jackass from the capitol, is in the corner sweet-talking his latest gringa. Servers and bartenders walk back and forth from the storeroom with crates of beer. Carlos, a struggling volcano guide working behind the bar until he can land gringo clientele, is behind the square bar that sits like a bullseye in the middle of the room.

“Sarah!” Carlos shouts. Carlos was one of my first friends in Guatemala, and he got me the job at La Casa after the English-teaching gig I thought I could get fell through. “Nice costume.”

“Yeah, thanks. Where’s yours?” I toss my bag behind the bar and grab tequila, orange juice, grenadine, and four clean milk jugs.

Carlos ignores my question and wipes out shot glasses. “Have you seen your roommate lately?”

“Katrin? Not today, no. Why?” I pour the liquids into the jugs, eyeballing my measurements. Carlos cocks his head to the other side of the bar where Mario is. I now recognize Mario’s gringa as my roommate Katrin, here on her gap year from Düsseldorf. They are standing close and Katrin is giggling like she does when she wants male attention. She is tall and slim. She tans nicely in the sun, which Guatemalans love. She’s nineteen.

Hola, Sarah.” Mario greets me in Spanish even though he will never practice with me. He’s very proud of his English. He pulls my body against his too tightly for a friendly hug, his cheeks smooth from a fresh shave. He smells like expensive cologne.

“Hey, I didn’t know you two were roommates,” Mario says, squeezing Katrin’s shoulder.

“Yeah,” I say, half smiling as I cock my head, “fun fact, isn’t it?”

“So, look,” Mario says, “I thought it would be good to have two of you tonight because I think we’ll be busy. You can show her around?” Carlos is miming something that looks like “I-just-found-out-I’m-sorry” behind Mario’s back.

Normally I like Katrin. We live together in a homestay on the edge of town and she’s always been a considerate roommate. But jobs you can get as a foreigner without a visa and that pay under the table are hard to come by in Guatemala. I like mine at La Casa just fine, and it pays enough, so I’m not pleased Katrin’s here. She looks small and dumb next to Mario, who is broad-chested and confident. She smiles at her feet. I want to punch her.

“No problem.” I must look like a baby who’s just shit her diaper.

Mario claps his hands together. “This is great. My two gringa shot girls. Tonight is going to be the best party ever. Let’s kill the lights in five minutes!” This is the cue for the rest of the staff to go have a cigarette on the balcony before service starts. Mario and Katrin hurry to join them.

“Carlos, can you help me get a box from the back?” and I haul ass to the storage room. The door shut behind us I say, “Que putas, Carlos? You said I was going to get a raise, not competition from Toddler Barbie. When did those two even meet?”

“Relax. She told me this is her first job. You were, like, an accountant back in los Estados…”

“A CPA. I’m certified. It’s different.” I sit down on a crate of empty beer bottles and bury my face in my legs. “If Katrin’s here stealing clients, she’s going to cut into my twenty percent. If I don’t have this job, I might have to go back to the States.”

The States are not where I want to be. Before I came to Guatemala three months ago, I was a freshly dumped, twenty-seven-year old number cruncher in Boston, where I’d lived since college. I’d done everything right – the good university, the lucrative job, the stable relationship – and then one day in April my guy told me he was done, and I sort of melted into a lumpy puddle of pudding on the still-icy Boston streets. Through a bourbon-haze, I remembered that a long time ago I wanted to learn Spanish. The next day I booked a ticket to Guatemala, started Spanish classes, met Carlos and got a job that allowed me to work for only five hours a night, three nights a week. There was no way I was going back to the States.

 “I know,” Carlos reaches for my shoulder. His hand is warm. “But you can make sure she’s here just for tonight, and then I swear you can get thirty percent. You just have to make a shit ton of cash tonight, chica.”

“Easy for you to say.”

“It IS very easy for me to say.”

Sometimes Carlos doesn’t understand English sayings.

“You have worked here for four weeks, you are doing well, your Spanish is getting better. Tonight you can hit it.”

“I think you mean ‘nail it’...”

“Sarah,” Carlos says, kneeling in front of me, “just go out there and be amazing like you always are.” He high-fives me.


The house lights are still up when we leave the storage room and the rest of the bartenders and servers are back preparing for their shifts. They fill bottles, light candles, and stack extra bags of ice near the service station. The servers—all women, all five years younger than me with at least a kid apiece—wear sexy-something costumes. All the bartenders wear masks or face paint, except for the Salvadorian, who thinks so highly of his body that he’s wearing a diaper, body glitter and a makeshift bow and arrow strapped across his chest. Cupid. In the light, I can see the bags under our eyes, our acne, our pudge creeping over the tops of our jeans and our stretch marks. But when the lights go out, we instantly look better, sexier, more confident and less ordinary. That’s why I like it here. That and the money, at least until Katrin showed up.  

The DJ kicks on the strobe light and spins a remix of Pitbull’s “Don’t Stop The Party.” A few straggly-haired gringos in tank tops and boardshorts walk in after being patted down by the bouncer in an Einstein wig. Surfers, most likely Australian. I rush back to the bar to finish getting ready. Katrin is waiting.

“Hi.” Her German accent is thick but her English is good. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you that I would be here. Mario just asked me tonight…”

“Don’t worry about it. This will be fun!” A fake smile is plastered across my face as I start pouring shots. “Let’s get started. Have you ever sold shots before?”

She averts her eyes. “No.”

“That’s totally fine. So the first thing you need to know…” Carlos and Mario are at the end of the bar. Mario gives me a thumbs up. I start building a pyramid of shots. “… is Mario really likes it if we can make the shots look pretty on the tray, which is why we make pyramids. Carlos! El pisto, por favor.

Carlos tosses over a rolled up wad of quetzales in small bills. I divide it between us.

“I don’t have any pockets,” Katrin says. She grabs her tight black jeans just to be sure.

“No problem, you want to put it in your bra anyway. That way you won’t be pick-pocketed.” I fold up my bills and stick them in the side of my bra. Katrin does the same.

“OK, now you’re good. Q10 per shot, no freebies, no two-for-ones, no drinking with the customers. You got this?” I give Katrin the tray that has thirty shots piled on it.

“Do you think I should have so many?” Her baby bird arms look like they might drop it.

“I mean, we can take some off, but Mario really likes us to do it this way.” My face is granite cold.

“No,” Katrin says. “If Mario likes it like this, I’ll try.”

“Cool, why don’t you go over to those Aussies and see if you can’t make your first sale.” Katrin teeters across the floor trying not to spill as I start loading up my own tray. I don’t flinch when I hear the sound of thirty full shot glasses hitting the ground. Cupid runs over in a blur of glitter to help clean up. Mario and I lock eyes. I lift my tray, also stacked with thirty shot glasses, twenty-five more than I could handle on my first night, and give Mario a smile. The bar is already a quarter full, and Carlos rings the cowbell to get everyone excited. I walk over to the Aussies.

Buenas noches, vaqueros. Welcome to La Casa. Quieren shots?” I speak with a Spanish accent. I learned my first night that you have to know your customers. Gringos come here to meet Guatemalans. Guatemalans come here in hopes of going home with gringos. To maximize profits, I’m both.

“What’s in them?” one asks. He’s the cleanest cut, his sun-bleached hair only goes down to his shoulders.

“Tequila Sunrise” usually turns guys off, but coyness works well. “Oh, a little bit of fun, a little bit of dancing, and a lot of tequila.”

“Ha. Nice, you from around here?” the Aussie asks.

“Yes, just on the other side of the volcano.” The lies tumble out.

“Cool. Can I get one for each of my mates here?”

I give them two-for-one, eight shots in total, and pocket Q50. A Q10 tip! I see Katrin trying to lift a tray with far fewer shots on it, so I wrap up with the Aussies.

“Hey, will you come back?” asks the Aussie.

Por suuuuupuesto,” I make sure to wag my ass when I leave. I approach the next group of guys. They’re Guatemalan. “La diabla,” they all shout as I approach.

“Hi! Hablan ingles?” I ask in the worst Spanish I can muster.

“Yes, I do,” says a guy in the back. He steps forward. “Where are you from?”

This is a common question. Sometimes I say L.A., sometimes New York. If I’m feeling lazy I just say Boston. Tonight I am not lazy.

“I’m from Texas. Dallas, actually.” Carlos smiles at me from the bar.

“The Lone Star State,” says the Guatemalan guy, proud of his knowledge.

“Exactly! So cool you know that.” I try to speak with a Texas accent. “Hey, do you guys want some shots?” They buy five and give me a Q50 tip. “Hey y’all. Since you are so sweet, this one’s on me.” I give them five more shots as I see Katrin struggling across the bar to make her first sale. The guy she’s talking to is shaking his head.

“Hey, will you do one with us?” asks the Guatemalan guy.

“You know what? Sure. Saludo!” Texas accent is in full effect now.

I make my way around the perimeter quickly, selling off my remaining shots, then stop by the service station to drop off empties and reload.

“Hey,” Mario comes up behind me, “how’s she doing?”

“Super well!” My voice is really high-pitched for some reason. “She’s a natural. Look at her right now.” Katrin is trying to get change from her bra and the hold the tray without spilling.

“Well, she may need a few more pointers,” Mario says.

“I got it,” and wink at Mario.  

“You are the best, Sarah.” I roll my eyes as turn away and walk over to Katrin.

“Hey, how’s it going?”

Katrin puts her tray down. “Keeping the money in my bra is hard, and it hurts.”

“Yeah, you get used to it,” I say. “Sorry about the first tray. But you look like you’re doing OK now. I wanted to tell you, though, a way to warm up the customers is to tell them that the bar will give them a free beer with every shot. I do it all the time.”

“Wait, but you said no freebies.”

“Yeah, but this is different. I mean, the more alcohol they drink, the more they’ll buy, right?”

Katrin looks visibly relieved. “OK, cool, because it’s hard getting people to buy.”

“I know. Just try it.”


In the next several hours, the bar fills up with Disney princesses and Fredy Krugers, sexy witches and Donald Trumps. The music is a steady rotation of other Pitbull songs, Bob Marley remixes, and Macklemore’s Thrift Store. Sweaty bodies grind up against each other on the dance floor, the air is laced with cigarette and marijuana smoke, and I’ve sold 2000 quetzales worth of shots. That’s as much as I make in a normal night. I take home 20%, so I’ve already made Q400 and almost that much in tips. Hell, the Aussies have bought almost Q500 alone. I need to mix more sunrises, so I ask Carlos for tequila. I look around for Katrin as he passes the bottles over the bar.

“Mario took her back to the storage room to comfort her,” he says.

I’ve had a few shots at this point, so it takes me longer than it should to understand what Carlos means. “Why didn’t you tell me they were fucking?”

“I just found out. It started last week. Didn’t you and Mario...”

I blink, taking a minute to understand his gist. “Gross, no never,” I say. Carlos looks relieved. “But Katrin and Mario together is good. I can use this.”

“You’re a little scary like this,” Carlos says. “The devil horns don’t help.”

“Hey, this is my job and I like it.”

Carlos shakes his head. Behind him I see the Aussie staring at me. Carlos notices this too and his smile falls. It’s awkward, so I make my way back to the service station. Mario is waiting.

“I don’t think Cherry Bomb is your color,” I say wiping lipstick from his cheek. Mario doesn’t look amused.

“Sarah, you are very smart. I know you are screwing with Katrin. Why?”

“Mario, I’m the best shot girl you’ve ever had. Because I’ve had a job before. Because I have to support myself. Because I’m not a girl. Katrin has made—what—200 quetzales tonight?”

“That’s because you aren’t helping her.”

“I’ve made Q2000 since we opened.” I slow my words down so he can hear over the booming speakers. “After you pay me my Q400 and subtract the Q100-worth of shitty booze you use, that means I’ve made you Q1500 and we’re open for another two hours. Katrin is taking business from me and not making you much money in the process.”

“Wait, you’ve made Q2000 in three hours?”

“Yes.” I start loading shots onto my tray like it’s no big deal.

Mario runs his hand over his mouth. “Just try to help Katrin, OK?”

“No. I’ll make you a deal. If I can make Q4000 by the time we close the doors, I want to be the only shot girl, and I want 30%.”

“No,” Mario says.  

“I do good work for you,” ignoring him, “and I want to be recognized for that.” I focus my eyes on Mario’s, but I feel the drinks and I think I’m looking at him a little cross-eyed.

“It’s always such a pain in the ass having Americans here. OK. Q4000. Nothing less. And stop telling Katrin we give away free booze. We don’t. Now go out there and sell some shots.” He slaps my ass like a coach encouraging his player.

My first reaction is to punch him in the face, but I’ve been in Guatemala a while now, so I know the rules of male-to-female contact are different here. Instead, I lift my tray above my head with one hand, say, “Will do, boss” and slap his ass as hard as I can, so hard my hand stings. Mario jumps at the contact, and Carlos tries hard to contain his laughter.

I pass Katrin who is trying to fill the tiny shot glasses from the one-gallon jugs where we mix the shots and I survey the room. The music is so loud there’s ringing in my ears, and to make my way through the crowd I have to keep my tray lifted above my head. A bachelorette party of Guatemalan women (normally not my demographic) requests a whole bottle of sunrises. As I walk away, pocketing Q400, a bridesmaid is pouring the bottle into the bride’s mouth. I know she’s the bride because she’s wearing an old wedding dress with vampire fangs and blood dripping from her mouth.

The vibe in the bar is getting a little crazy. This is when I can make a ton of money. I snake through the dance floor offering two-for-ones and come out with a wad of tens and far too many foreign bodily fluids on me. I head to the bathroom, wrap the toilet seat in a roll’s worth of paper and count my earnings while I pee. This is the first time I’ve sat down all night. I count almost Q3000. Money stashed safely back in my bra, I flush, wash up, and head back out. I run into the Aussie.

“Hey,” I say in my normal voice, but remember quickly and switch to a Guatemalan accent, “Are you waiting for me?” If he notices my slip, he doesn’t say anything.

“Yeah, I was.” He smiles. “I was wondering if you would want dance with me?”

I see Katrin talking to a group of Guatemalan guys who are reaching for their wallets, clearly enjoying her presence. Fuck. If I say no the Aussie might be offended and leave, and he’s too good of a meal ticket. But if I say yes I’ll waste valuable time. But the Aussie sweeps his blond locks from his face and smiles.

“Sure,” I say. I try not to look at Carlos as he takes my hand and leads me to the floor.


I lose track of how long I dance with the Aussie. I lose track because the Aussie and I end every song with a sunrise shot. I also lose track of how many dirty looks I get from Carlos. In my head I think, Did I miss something? Does Carlos like me? Do I like Carlos? Wow, the Aussie is getting very familiar with his hands. I thought Carlos and I were friends but he is acting really weird. “Shots” comes on and I see Carlos calling me over as he rings the cowbell. The bachelorette party and other sexy-something women get up on the bar. That’s my cue. “It’s my song,” I tell the bewildered Aussie as I run away. “I’ll be back.”

I make my way to the service station, a little wobbly. Katrin is there.

“Hi! I’ve maybe Q1000! It’s so exciting,” she says.

Shit. I was hoping she wouldn’t break 500. “Yeah, it’s super exciting. How’d you do that?”

“I was just watching you, and you look so confident, so I just tried to act like you, and it worked!” She’s super pleased with herself.

“Great… Well let’s get up there and do this.”

“Where? Do what?”

“Sell some shots on the bar.”

Katrin, as it turns out, is afraid of heights. I’ll be solo. Hallelujah. I squeeze behind the bar. Carlos looks concerned.

“Are you OK to go up there? You’ve had a lot to drink.”

“I’m fine,” I snap. Carlos looks hurt, but helps me up anyway.

I have to grab the rafters in order to steady myself. Sweaty quetzales come toward me. I collect them and deliver shots directly into the mouths of thirsty customers. I collect about Q100 before Cupid comes over and wants to dance. He spins me and I almost slip on something wet, but he catches me. The strobe lights are assaulting my face. Carlos is banging on the cowbell.  I swoon.


I wake up on my back in the storage room. Mario, Carlos and Katrin stand over me.

“Sarah,” Carlos says, “are you OK?”

“Where am I?”

“You slipped and fell off the bar,” Katrin said. “You hit your head pretty hard. You’ve been out for five minutes.”

“Have you been drinking?” Mario asks.

“What? No.” I search desperately for a reason to cover for the fact that I had been drinking.

“She’s been taking an allergy pill,” Katrin says, “and it makes her head fuzzy.”

“Then why the fuck did you get up on the bar?” Mario says. I can’t think of an answer, so I stay silent. Mario walks to the door. “We still have our deal Sarah.”

“What does he mean?” Katrin asks as she and Carlos help me sit up.

“Katrin, can Sarah and I have a minute?” Carlos asks. Katrin, confused but compliant, leaves us alone and Carlos closes the door. “What are you doing Sarah? You’re acting crazy.”

“I don’t know. It makes me crazy that Mario is trying to replace me. I worked really hard for this job…”

“You mean I told you to come meet Mario and he gave you the job on the spot?”

“…and I don’t want lose it.”

Carlos takes a big breath in. “OK, then go out there and nail it.” He takes my face in his hands and makes me look at him. His eyes are dark and piercing, and I can’t help but notice how handsome he looks.

“Piece of pie,” he says.

I smile and stand up.

Walking back to the service station, I think about Carlos, my deal with Mario, and how I’m going to make close to Q1000 in a little under thirty minutes. I’m starting to line up shots when Katrin comes up.

“Your friend left.” 

“My friend?” I’m still a little fuzzy.

“That Aussie guy. You know Carlos has a crush on you.”

More fuzz. The Little Mermaid is flirting with Donald Trump in the corner and this sight does not help my perception of reality. “Yes?”

“I also know you’re sabotaging me.” Her clear blue eyes are staring straight into my bloodshot ones.

“What? Katrin…”

“And it’s OK. I don’t want this job. The only reason I did it is because Mario wanted me to and I wanted to go to his beach house. Have you heard about it? It sounds crazy sweet.”

“Crazy sweet” coming from Katrin in her German accent is a little too much for me to take. “What are you saying, Katrin?”

“I’m saying I think you should take the money I’ve made tonight to get to Q4000.

“How do you know about the…”

“I don’t need to work here. My parents love the idea that their only daughter is off volunteering in Central America. It gives them a lot to brag about at dinner parties, so they’re supporting me. Take the money.” Katrin pulls the wad of bills from her bra and offers it to me. I stare at it.

“No,” I push her hand back towards her. “That’s your money. You’ve worked hard for it. I’m going to do this on my own.”

“But Sarah, I don’t need …”

“I want to do it on my own.”

“What if we do it together?” The Little Mermaid and Donald Trump are now making out. I survey the crowd. Things are rowdy. Goblins have cheerleaders on their shoulders, the servers are elbowing to get through, and Einstein is escorting hordes of rowdy patrons to the door. Carlos rings the cowbell for “last call” and the bar swarms with drunken drooling fools. It’s time for everyone to leave. I look at Katrin. 


There was no way I could compete with the bar at last call. By the time Katrin and I stopped talking, most people already had their final drinks, but they didn’t have anything for the road. I sent Katrin to the storage room to look for plastic cups and plastic bags while I visited Carlos for more supplies. He gave me a sideway glance, but I ignored it. I was on a mission. I mixed furiously while Katrin poured the drinks into cups, and when we ran out of cups, into plastic baggies closed with a rubber band. When closing time came the crowd rushed towards the door talking about which underground after-party—illegal gatherings held across Antigua in basements and garages—they’d attend. Katrin and I were at the door with our to-go cups and baggies. The crowd went nuts. They bought two, three, four to-go’s apiece. I took the money and Katrin handed out the goods. Mario looked on proudly. Carlos laughed at us, shaking his head.

Now that the bar is cleared out, Katrin heads to the bathroom to wash sunrises off her hands, and I sit at the bar counting cash.

“Sarah,” Mario sits next to me, “do we have a deal?”

“No deal,” I say, folding the wad.

“You didn’t get to Q4000?” Mario asks.

“No, I got to Q4000. But I don’t want to fire Katrin.”

“I don’t understand.” Mario drums his perfectly manicured fingers on the bartop.

“We work well together. I want to keep her on.” Katrin returns to my side at this moment.

“This is great! My two gringa shot girls!” Mario says. “So how much did you make tonight?”

“Q5120,” and I plop the wad down on the bar. Mario’s eyes widen.

“Actually, Q6120,” Katrin says, adding her Q1000.

“Well, Katrin earned that,” I say.

Mario stares at the money. He looks like he’s in shock.

“Girls,” he says, coming towards us. He’s had a few, and Carlos looks ready to jump over the bar if needed. Then a Grinch-like grin spreads across his face.


Mario kisses our cheeks hard.

Everybody’s got their thing they get excited about. Mario likes when gringas make him money by selling cheap off-brand liquor masked with OJ. Who am I to judge? 

“Let’s a have drink! Let’s have sunrises!”

“Thanks, Mario, but I’m going home. I’m beat.” It is not a lie. I am exhausted and my head still hurts from where I hit it falling off the bar.

“What, Sarah? Why?” Mario asks, distressed the party might be ending.

“Yeah, I’m tired too. I’ll walk with you,” and Katrin loops her arm through mine.

Mario now looks completely unglued. “But ladies…”

Katrin stands on her tippy toes and plants a kiss on his cheek. “Call you tomorrow.”

In jest I also stand on my tippy toes, kiss him on the cheek and whisper in his ear, “But since I kept my end of the bargain, I’ll expect thirty percent from now on, or I quit.”

“No, no, Sarah,” he says almost falling off his stool. “That’s fine. Quite fine.”

We grab our bags and head for the door, sunrise sticking to the bottom of our boots as we

walk. I wave to Carlos, and he smiles back as he lifts a crate of empty bottles.

Out the doors, the cool fresh air is orgasmic after spending over six hours inside the stale and sour bar. The streetlamps catch the airy mist and the street looks magical. The sidewalks and cobblestone are filled with people heading to the after-parties and street carts selling cheap tacos and sodas.

“You want?” I ask. Katrin nods enthusiastically.

I order two plates and two Fantas and rummage in my bag for my wallet. That’s when I see the note.

You “hit it” tonight, chica. J

Quieres tomar un café mañana? – Carlos

“Who’s it from?” Katrin tries to see at the note.

“Nobody,” I say, trying to keep the smile off my face as I put the note in my bag and grab my wallet.

Katrin smirks.

“Where do you want to eat? Street or home?”

“Home,” she says.

I turn to the vendor flipping street meat and tortillas on the griddle. “Señor, vamos a llevarlos para ‘to go.’”