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Fiction

The house had never been this quiet before. You could almost smell the hazy dust as it drifted through the air, illuminated by sunbeams shining through the curtains. It was a misplaced silence, but a peaceful one. If you closed your eyes and focused, you could hear the distant laughter of cousins gathered at Christmastime, of babies crying and mothers shushing, of clattering pots and muffled conversation in the kitchen. These sounds weren’t ghosts, though, just— echoes. The last resonance of the full and joyful lives that were lived within these walls. 

“You know how to do it, right?” Camila asked, teasing her sister. 

“I hope you’re joking— it only took me twenty eight years to get Abuela to tell me the recipe; I’m not going to forget it soon!” Mariel laughed as she measured out the milk into a pot. Her Abuela’s shaky blue cursive had sunk deep into the yellowed recipe card— almost to the point of illegibility— but the paper was mainly sentimental by now anyway. Mariel could grind piloncillo, cacao, and cinnamon sticks into a perfect, delicious mixture in her sleep. She looked up at her sister,

“Mix up the masa harina? You always get it smoother than me.” Camila smiled and obliged, whisking up corn paste with warm water into the perfect consistency that Mariel could never quite achieve. The girls worked together in comfortable silence, humming old Catholic hymns and working around each other in the kitchen with experienced ease. Mariel dropped a cinnamon stick into the simmering milk along with her spice mixture. Camila measured out the vanilla and salt, then whisked them into the pot with her masa harina. The girls watched the mixture simmer as sweet and spiced nostalgia filled their nostrils. Mariel didn’t realize how emotional the experience was making her until a hot tear dripped off her face into the pot. 

“Oh! Sorry…” Camila laughed and pulled her sister into a hug. It wasn’t long before both of them were quietly crying. 

“I’m going to miss her so much,” whispered Mariel, and Camila just hugged her tighter in response. Mariel continued, 

“She really saved us, you know?” 

“Yeah. But you know what?” Camila pulled away to look her sister in her puffy eyes, 

“She knew. She knew how much she did for all of us, and she knew how grateful we were. We even got a chance to say goodbye.” 

“Yeah… Oh!” Mariel sniffed and quickly turned the heat down as the mixture on the stove started to boil up. She laughed, 

“She’d probably climb out of her grave to slap me if I burnt the champurrado!” The girls giggled and sat down at the kitchen table to wait for their hot, chocolatey drink to finish simmering. Camila wandered into the living room, and after a minute, came back with a large yellowed photo album. It was literally bursting at the seams from all the love and memories that filled it. 

“Oh…” Mariel knew that as soon as they opened the cover, she’d start crying again. She reached over anyway. That familiar, shaky blue cursive graced the first page. Camila whispered out the text, 


“In this book, I keep all my babies. They are the joy of my life and the sun on my face in dark days. Each one is a beautiful angel from the Lord, and I treasure them always. I love them all with my whole heart. 


♡, Abuela Antonia” 


Mariel turned to the next page, and both girls laughed out loud at the photos it contained. There they were, two and four years old, covered in flour from head to toe and standing in the middle of the kitchen, stunned.

“I forgot about that! Stupid Mateo— I still believe that was his fault.” Camila shook her head, and Mariel just smiled,

“I’ll have to take your word for it— I don’t remember that at all.” They turned to the next page, filled with nearly a dozen faces they once knew. They looked through the photos quietly, occasionally pointing out kids they remembered and offering treasured anecdotes. Somewhere near the middle was a beautiful, high quality photo of Camila at her quinceañera. She teared up as she reminisced, 

“Abuela spent so much money on that dress. I know she couldn’t have afforded it, but God, I loved it so much. I had never owned anything so beautiful. And she paid a professional photographer for this— I felt like a princess.” Mariel grinned,

“She always had a way of making us feel like the most special kids in the world, didn’t she?”

“Yeah, she did.” 

“Oh, look at this! My junior prom— what a disaster….” Mariel shook her head and covered her eyes as Camila laughed jovially. 

“You got soooo drunk— I thought you would never stop puking. And Julian—” Mariel groaned loudly and shook her head as she cringed. 

“Poor Julian! Oh, I bet he still talks about his crazy prom date who threw up in the limousine and then still tried to kiss him!” 

“Abuela got you cleaned up, though.” 

“Yeah…” Mariel reflected back to the horrible night. Her first prom, her first time getting drunk, her first breakup— in her hormonal teenage mind, she had truly wanted to die from embarrassment. When Julian finally delivered her to the doorstep, Abuela hadn’t shouted at him or demanded he explain; she gave him a ten dollar bill to thank him for getting Mariel home safely, and then closed the door on him forever. She didn’t scold Mariel either. Without any words exchanged, Abuela had led her to the bathroom and held her hair while she emptied her stomach of the six wine coolers swirling around in there. 

Abuela had helped her out of her prom dress, which must have cost a painful fortune and was irrevocably ruined by sick, and into her soft pajamas. She put Mariel in bed and stayed in her room all night until she woke up around noon the next morning. She made a breakfast of plain toast and water to help with the hangover, and held Mariel as she wept for her lost love. He was really going to be the one, she had told Abuela. And Abuela had listened. 

When all of Mariel’s tears were spent, Abuela fixed her up a steaming cup of sweet and spicy champurrado. It could fix any heartbreak, she had whispered, and time had proven her right. 

“I think it’s ready,” Camila said as she walked over to the stove and clicked the burner off. The girls leaned over the pot and breathed in deeply together. In unison, they smiled, 

Perfect.” Camila poured them each a mug and topped them with cinnamon. As they drank, Muriel flipped through to the very end of the scrapbook. It was the only blank page, and they had already planned how to fill it. She grabbed the yellowed paper off the counter and pulled a manila folder out of her bag. She spread the articles out on the table: the headshot from Abuela’s funeral service, her faded champurrado recipe card, and a lengthy newspaper clipping from last week:


FOSTER CARE HERO, “ABUELA ANTONIA,” DEAD AT 94


“Local legend, known to most as “Abuela Antonia,” passed away peacefully in the comfort of her home at 6:42 Friday morning. Antonia Lopez is survived by the seventy-six children she fostered over the course of her lifetime, all of whom were present with their families at her funeral Sunday morning. She is remembered as being the kindest, most loving, and most generous person that those around her knew. Former foster child Mateo Diaz said of her, 

“Abuela Antonia saved my life. I was one mistake away from juvie, and she chose to take me in. I was headed down a dark path— drugs, alcohol, all the usual stuff— but Abuela whipped me into shape. She was a no-nonsense kind of woman who wouldn’t let you give up on yourself, even if the rest of the world had given up on you. She loved me more than anyone ever has. I owe her my life.” 

Another of her foster children, Miguel Moreno, fought tears as he shared: “I never really pictured myself with a family, but now I have three beautiful girls and I love them the way Abuela loved me. She taught me how to be a parent. She taught me how to love.”


The article went on and on, sharing testimonies from the various kids and teenagers Abuela had fostered. Mariel had given a statement when the journalist reached out, but Camila had felt that her relationship was too private and special to share with the world. The girls jumped slightly at the sound of a honking horn outside, and then, with eager glances at each other, raced outside to be the first to greet the guests. 

A parade of minivans, cars, and a few motorcycles (representing the few who were still single) pulled up to the curb. All seventy four of Mariel and Camila’s foster siblings— with their dozens of spouses and children— spilled out onto the verdant lawn as shouts of recognition and love filled the air.  

Laughter echoed through the quiet Miami street, and the sounds of children filled the walls of Abuela’s house once again. Her family had come to say goodbye, and her life’s work was complete. 


December 04, 2023 03:23

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12 comments

Bob Long Jr
14:40 Dec 05, 2023

And that was a life well lived. Beautiful!

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David McCahan
05:20 Dec 08, 2023

This is a beautiful story.

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12:02 Dec 06, 2023

You succeeded - I cried! The scene setting was so perfect, I felt like I was there. This was so sweet and beautiful.

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E. B. Bullet
20:45 Dec 04, 2023

How sweet!! The final "twist" (not sure if that's what you would call it) at the end was the cherry on top and gave the story that extra nudge it needed to push it into something more full. Good job for taking that leap! Coincidentally I saw a champurrado recipe just today! I've never made it before, but it looks delicious so I'm hoping to give it a try sometime. Many of the comments were critiquing the drink, calling it strange. Crazy how some people are so closed off to different cultures. I'm happy you shared a piece of that in this sto...

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Mallory Jones
16:05 Dec 05, 2023

ah, yes, please try it!! <3 soooo delicious. ;)

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AnneMarie Miles
14:16 Dec 04, 2023

What a beautiful story, Mallory! And a great way to turn this prompt into something so meaningful and rich. I loved how you used the newspaper article to really show us what Abuela was like and how she influenced so many people. Thanks for sharing!

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Ray Murphy
02:57 Dec 15, 2023

When I begin reading and I see smooth, flowing sentences, I keep reading. If I am pulled into a rhythm, I feel like I am listening to music - never mind the lyrics, it’s the music that makes a song worth hearing, at least at first. That’s what you did. If you keep writing like this you are going to be someone no one will want to miss. I hope you win.

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Mallory Jones
03:33 Dec 15, 2023

thank you! ❤️

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John Van Winkle
19:03 Dec 14, 2023

Touching... and although I didn't know Abuela, I knew someone like her, and how the Camila and Mariel felt as they made the champurrado... just like my wife and I feel whenever we make her mom's smizzle-smazzle.

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19:37 Dec 10, 2023

Ohhh! Such a wonderful story full of love and nostalgic memories. I love it! It is a beautiful way to show love and respect to one who gave so much love to children. Well done, Mallory.

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Belladona Vulpa
14:50 Dec 10, 2023

Really beautiful story! Well-written, rich, and meaningful.

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J. D. Lair
03:53 Dec 08, 2023

Such a sweet story about a beautiful human being. This champurrado sounds delightful!

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