Mason Martinez (they/them)
is a Latinx, queer writer from NYC. Recipient of the Ginny Wray Senior Prize and the ‘23 SAFTA Fall Residency, their work explores today and tomorrow’s environmental issues among other things. After graduating from Purchase College with a BA in Creative Writing, Mason is now a freelance writer and Managing Fiction Editor of Chaotic Merge Magazine. Their work has been featured in Defunkt Magazine, The Institutionalized Review, Yuzu Press, and more. You can read more of their work at: masonandthejars.com
Servings: 2 Prep Time: 9 months Cooking Time: 16 years
4 green plantains
5 Tbsp unsalted butter
a splash of balsamic vinegar
1 red onion, sliced
1 Tbsp vinegar
queso de freir, sliced
salami dominicano, sliced
1. You want to start by pickling the red onion. As with many things, pickling takes time. You have to marinate the onions in vinegar. They will soak in the juices of the warm womb, developing one-by-one, membrane-by-membrane, until they become a pinkish-purple and a scream lets out. Take a knife—the sharpest one you have—slice through the thick skins until tears like ocean salt drip onto your lips. Let it sit for nine months. They’ll be ready just a week shy of eight.
2. Peel and chop the green plantains. It may take some time to shimmy the knife beneath the hard skin, to rip its shell from its insides, but you’ll manage—you always do. You’ve got a mother’s warm embrace, her softness, her kindness—but not your mother’s, no, she was cold to the touch even before the day she died.
3. Add enough water into a large pot to cover the plantains and salt to taste. Use the sweet tea containers Ana picks up every Friday after school—the same ones you used when she was in elementary school. Together, you built a mini-ecosystem, the bottom packed with dirt from outside, a dandelion from the side of the road where your husband sells bags of quenepas and sliced mangos for five dollars in the summers so next year Ana could go to school with a handmade world behind glass.
4. She buried a quenepas’ seed inside so you both could have a piece of home with you, but when she brought it to school…
5. Bring everything to a boil until the plantains are tender enough to mash like fragile pieces of glass. This should take about 15-20 minutes.
6. Reserve ½ cup of water from the pot you boiled the plantains in, drain the rest. As the boiling water trickles down the pipes, you think of Ana and her lengthening showers, how when she comes out her skin is scathing red.
7. “You have such good skin, mija, you keep taking showers like that you’ll age faster. Trust me!”
8. “No, Mami, I don’t think I will.” You chalked up her comment as a teenager’s pride. Maybe you should have listened instead of…
9. Add butter to the plantains and begin mashing them with a fork. You’ll feel the tension in your fingers as it explodes into your wrist. You’re not as strong as you once were, but you keep mashing anyway. It’s the only way to let your emotions out.
10. Add in the reserved cup of water and a splash of balsamic vinegar—this is the secret touch, the only thing your mother ever taught you.
11. Mash until Ana lets you in again. Mash until you can figure out the right combination of things that will make her happy so you can go back to days when the two of you sat on the edge of the window sill, overlooking the city and the sunset as it left the world in an orange-pink glow. Mash until you find that glimmer in her eyes again. Mash until you achieve a smooth consistency.
12. Cold water is everything, you tried to tell her, it’ll jolt your system, keep you alert, keep your skin looking good. Grab some cold water now and add it to the plantains to keep them from hardening. It may seem like a lot, but the plantains will absorb it the same way Ana’s skin hides all her tears.
13. In another pan, add oil—canola or vegetable is fine—to coat the bottom and place over medium high heat. The ideal temperature for frying is between 360-365 degrees. You learned this the hard way. Try not to think of the distance in Ana’s eyes when she stepped into your room with a wrist of burnt flesh.
14. Unravel the thick tube of salami and slice it into inch-sized pieces. Ana shakes round pills out of translucent orange tubes into her hand every morning and evening now. The doctors say it will help “level her out” and you suppose they do, except now she finds any moment to sleep the day away. Even if it’s only for the 2 to 3 minutes it takes to fry the salami on both sides.
15. On a plate, shake out a bit of flour to coat the slices of cheese. You always cut four pieces for Ana, the last chunkier than the rest because it’s her favorite. When she bites into it and the cheese oozes into her mouth, there’s a moment of bliss. You can see her at every stage of her life.
16. Fry for 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side until the flour becomes crisp. Be mindful of the flame from the gas stove; it’ll make the oil sizzle and pop loud enough for you to miss the call.
17. Things are better now; you try to tell yourself as you crack an egg against the edge of the countertop. You watch as the shell breaks in all different directions, but not deep enough for an even split. You jam your fingers into the yolk until a loud splat hits the pan and oil spits out onto your wrists.
18. Cook until the edges are crisp, until you wash the oil off and start again. Repeat three times.
19. In a clean pan, take the slices of onions that have been marinating as you reminisce of happier times. Pour the onions and the vinegar drippings out. Let them soften in the heat of your warm embrace as you piece together a life that formed and shaped within the comfort of your body and wonder where you went wrong, when the truth is—you did all you could.
20. When everything is cooked and hot, carefully plate it all together. A heaping amount of mangu topped with freshly pickled onions. Leave the egg off to the side so Ana can choose whether or not she wants her mangu soaked in the blood of the yolk. Decorate the side of the plate with salami and cheese and take a step back.
21. This will make her happy; this you are sure of.
22. Place the plates on the dinner table. One for Anna. One for your husband. One for you and wait.
23. Wait for the jingling of keys, wait for the door to unlock, for Ana to offer you the last sip of her sweet tea. Wait until the call comes.