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Brianna Garcia

Brianna Garcia is currently a second-year creative writing major attending community college in California. So far, my work has been published in the 2022 - 2023 edition of my college's literary magazine Talisman andLoserphony's mutli-media zine 'Too Pure.' Look for it in Quimby's Bookstore and Atomic Books.

Moira’s freezer is stuffed full of frozen meals.

From the frozen mini pizzas from the Dollar General to the ‘healthier’ grilled chicken and wild rice bowls she’d eventually moved on to, they all jam the freezer door every time she or her niece try to close it after digging out their dinner. They ate something from the freezer when the diner bill ran up too high. They even crowd the part of the fridge where Moira keeps her medication in while up top, the main area remains a wasteland, only occasionally housing a carton of milk or whatever the spirits fancy picking up that week.

Moira didn’t need to explain why there was never any real food in the house. Mariah had pretty much figured it out the second her mom mentioned her accident. Most of the nerves in her body are already eroded and it’s a chore to even stand still half of the time. Their trash bins are filled to the brim with bottles of ibuprofen because she goes through them like candy. Of course, it’s easier to just toss a bunch of taquitos in for a minute than of lugging heavy groceries up an uneven dirt path and spending the next hour or so running around, chopping things, etc. Mariah would never ask Moira to do any of that, especially considering the circumstances of her stay there.

But there’s only so much processed, frozen crap one can put in their body before feeling some pain, and even Mariah can tell that there’s a distinct melancholy in her aunt’s eyes every time she has to force the same three flavors of acai down her throat and pretend it’s all fine until three hours later when she’s writhing around in bed.

So, when Thursday rolls around and Moira sends her into town to handle a few chores she’s here to do, she decides to take some of the extra cash her mom tucked away in her duffle bag and makes a quick stop at the supermarket.

She crouches in the one corner with available wifi to search for recipes that she knows and can theoretically make and starts down the aisles. She takes note of the money she has and the coupons left in the various baskets scattered around the store as she shops, doing her best to keep her cravings at bay. She loads the cart with as much fresh produce as she can afford while also taking pictures of the prices on things she leaves behind for next time (if there is a next time).

‘Moira used to make a mean arroz con leche back in the day,’ she thinks as she compares the prices on small bags of rice on the floor. ‘I think I have enough to get two bags and maybe vanilla. But do I get the real vanilla or the vanilla flavoring? Fuck, I shoulda brought my card”


Mariah jumps with a yelp, dropping the bags of rice on the floor. She whips around expecting her aunt, but instead has to hide a cringe when she nearly bumps noses with Agnes Clark from the PTA. Her faux grin is blinding, and she is much too close for comfort. Mariah backs up, keeping a firm grip on the edge of the cart.

“Agnes—Hi. What—What are you doing…here?” Mariah stammers.

“I could ask you the same thing! I never see you around this part of town. You’re always at Caterina's little plant store.”

Mariah forces a smile, grabbing the rice off the floor. “Oh, I’m just out here doing some shopping for dinner–”

“You’re here all by yourself?”

Mariah’s brows scrunch in confusion, “Uh, yeah? I—I am? Why?”

Agnes doesn’t answer. Instead, she takes a step to the side and tilts her head just a tiny bit to get a look inside Mariah’s cart. Her face scrunches up in the same way the kids in her middle school used to whenever she took out her lunch in front of them. She changed to eating grape jelly Uncrustables after that.

Mariah steps back, spins the cart around, and starts down the aisle, “Sorry, Agnes. I gotta get goin’. Tell the twins I said hi.”

“I will! Tell Moira I said hi back!”

Mariah rolls her eyes the same way Agnes is probably doing right now and speeds off to pay, abandoning the rest of her plans. It’s best not to get too ambitious for the first time anyway.

It’s a struggle trying to drag the groceries up the dirt path. They keep knocking into Dona Caterina’s tinctures in the bag in her other hand, but she manages to make it up the hill and to the foot of the porch before she falls through the door at the same time Marcelo opens it to greet her.

He doesn’t immediately offer her help, instead the akes a second to stand over her with her head cocked to one side. He’s smirking.

“My, my. Someone’s been a busy bee today,” he says, gently poking some of the fallen groceries with the tips of his squared-toed Oxfords.

Mariah raises her head and throws him a glare, “You – Did you learn to cook before you died?”

“I did.”

“You still remember how to?”

Marcelo raises a brow, “I believe I d—”

“Good,” Mariah pushes herself to her feet and shoves a bag of groceries into his chest, “Then you’re helping me cook.”

Marcelo doesn’t argue. He helps pick up the rest of the fallen items and follows Mariah into the kitchen where she drops everything on the counter.

“Can you wash the veggies and stuff? I need to get the pans going and wash some of the rice…”

Marcelo nods. He peels off his suit jacket and rests it on the back of one of two dining room chairs. He rolls up his sleeves to reveal more bee stings that trail down from the upper right side of his sepia neck. He dutifully washes all the produce while Mariah tries to get her head on straight and scrolls through the recipes on her phone.

Cooking is…a lot harder than it looks She supposes that’s why people say it’s an art. Art takes a lot of time, and she realizes that now. If it weren’t for Marcelo’s help, Mariah probably would have set the place ablaze while running around helplessly. She has several pans going in front of her with different cooking times that she needs to be mindful of. She’s got more alarms set than she does to get her up in the morning. She relies on Marcelo to give her insight on how Moira might like her things to be cooked, but he can only vaguely recall what she might’ve enjoyed in her earlier days, so he sticks to directing her on how to cook things in a way that won’t give her several aneurysms:

“Keep these on the stove for at least 10 minutes.”

“No, no, no! Don’t flip them yet!”

“The beans are too hard. Put them back on.”

Aye, the rice is going to be too soft! Here, let me handle it.”

Okay, so he does a bit more than help, but Mariah appreciates it nonetheless. She tries to pick up some of the slack when he starts to become weary, but he smiles and shoos her away from what he’s doing.

“Relax, Mar,” he says, “You work on the dessert. I’m almost done here, anyways.”

“Are you sure? You’re looking a little tired there…”

He scoffs, “Have you looked in a mirror recently?”

She rolls her eyes, returning her arroz con leche. It’s nowhere near the same quality as Moira’s—there’s definitely something missing, she just doesn’t know what—but she hopes it’s good enough to remind Moira of some sort of happier times. She made it so many times that she had to have a fond memory or two around it. Or, did she only make it because she knew that Mariah liked it? Did she know her mom wasn’t a fan of sweets, so she didn’t often make it herself? Did she know that there were no Nicaraguense restaurants in their town and the store-bought stuff didn’t hit as hard? Did Moirajust go through the trouble for her? Did she put herself in pain just to give Mariah that small happiness?

Mariah shakes her head, stirring the pudding with her ladle as she sprinkles in the cinnamon. It probably doesn’t matter anymore. Maybe Moira doesn’t have that strong of an attachment to the dish, so it’s easy for her to make it all the time. Maybe Moira won’t mind if it’s not the exactly the same as hers.

That is, unless it’s some old family recipe she’s never heard of…

“Hey, Celo. Could you—”

“What are you doing?”

Mariah nearly drops the ladle on the floor, fumbling it between her hands before catching it by its metal head. Moira stands in the kitchen doorway, her knitted bag heavy on her left shoulder. One of her eyebrows is raised as her amber eyes travel around the kitchen as she slowly approaches. Mariah whips around in search of comfort from her spectral friend but he’s already disappeared in a plume of black smoke. So now, she’s left to deal with…well, she doesn’t know.

She’d never seen Moira angry except for the day Mariah was abandoned at her door two weeks ago, and even then, she couldn’t maintain it for long. Her whole body slumped (in resignation?) after the fifth failed attempt to reach her sister. But still, there’s a first—or, in this case, second—time for everything. What if Moira was offended by all this? What if she thought Mariah only did this to spite or insult her? She hadn’t meant it that way, she just wanted to help–

“Did you do all of this, Mar?” Moira asks softly.

Mariah jumps, “Um, yeah. I—I did.”


Mariah grips the ladle in her hands, “I…wanted to make you a real dinner. Like back in the old days.”

Moira pinches the bridge of her nose and sighs, “You didn’t have to do that, Mar–”

“I wanted to, though! You seem really…sad and achy every time you eat the stuff in the freezer, and I was kinda missing a taste of home, so I wanted to make you stuff that might be a little bit better for you?”

Moira looks at Mariah. Her eyes are narrow but she’s still not angry, and somehow that twists Mariah’s stomach even more because if she’s not angry, then why is she looking at her like that? She tilts her head to one side and continues to study Mariah and the things behind her.

“Ma—Marcelo helped me with most of it. Not gonna lie, I was totally lost through most of it.”

Moira keeps her quizzical stare on her niece. Mariah’s body tenses further.

“Look, I didn’t mean to make you upset or anything! I just figured since you do a lot around here, I could pick up some of the slack and maybe do something nice in the process, you know? It’s the least I can do since…mom kinda dumped me on you. I’m not even sure if any of this is right, so if you don’t want to eat—”

“You’re making arroz con leche.”

Mariah blinks, her racing mind starting to slow down, “I…what?”

Moira points to the ladle with her lips, “I said you’re making arroz con leche, right?”

Mariah’s eyes fall to the ladle in her hands. It’s been dripping half-made rice pudding down her sleeve and onto the floor by her Converse sneakers. She blinks back up at Moira.

“Uh, ye—yeah. I… I am,” Mariah stammers, “But it’s not really coming out right.”

“What do you mean?”

“It—” she sighs, “It doesn’t taste the way you make it. Or, made it. Back in the day. Something’s missing.”

Moira approaches the pot. She gently plucks a teaspoon from the silverware drawer and digs it into the pudding, blowing on it before guiding it into her mouth. Mariah clasps her hands in prayer as Moira takes a long time moving it around her tongue like she’s a judge in a food competition. She finally swallows and places the spoon beside the pot.

“Lemon peel.”

Mariah raises a brow, “Huh?”

“I add lemon peel to enhance the flavor. The zest, that is.”


“You still have lemons left, yeah?”


“Bring some over. Better yet – if you still have the peels from the ones you used, I can zest those easy.”

“You sure? You’ve been out all day. And that bag looked kinda heavy…”

“I’ve made seven batches with a dislocated shoulder. I think I can manage lemon zest just fine.”

Moira’s mouth twitches into a smirk. Mariah almost can’t believe it when a small hint of amusement flashes in her eyes. Mariah smiles back at her.

“What are you doing standing around? Go before they spoil and this burns!”

“R—Right! Sorry! On it!”

“You’re putting all this stuff away when we’re finished eating, yeah?”

Mariah pauses. Moira’s already getting to work on the arroz con leche and some of the other things that she a Marcelo had left cooking, handling each pan and pot with the utmost ease. It’s like only Moira and the stove exist and everything else is utterly irrelevant. She thinks she sees an actual smile stretch across her face.

That makes Mariah’s smile grow even wider as she rushes off to grab more supplies.

The next day, Mariah helps Moira toss out most of the frozen meals save for a few pizzas that they’re keeping for movie nights. That same morning, Moira shows Mariah how to make rice and eggs for the days they can’t cook breakfast together.

She smiles too when Mariah successfully serves up a plate of gallo pinto and scrambled eggs.

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