The Things She Prays For
by Annell Lopez
Mami lights three votive candles; una para la Virgen María, una para Jesús, y una para San
Rafael—patron saint of healing. She then places her bible on her makeshift altar, a shrine of
knick-knacks and figurines on the mantelpiece.
She tells us faith is the thing that holds it all together. It’s the sherbert-colored sunset at the end
of the horizon. It’s what helped Moses part the Red Sea. Powerful and disarming: a mustard
seed’s worth of it can move mountains.
So when my little brother Carlos is diagnosed with a fruit bowl of cancerous tumors wedged
between a kidney, a lung, and the spleen, Mami says it will be all right.
Like a Tsunami crashing on the shore, she changes; spiraling from sanity to desperation. One day
she is normal. The next, she is planet Earth; and prayer is the sun, and she rotates around it and
around it, every minute of every day. To be worthy of a miracle, she tells us, we must give
everything up: music, TV, internet, books, food—-for this is the house of the Lord, and he shall
be exalted and honored with every waking breath.
So we kneel and pray that the test results are not real. We pray for a wrong diagnosis, for a
misinformed doctor, for the fortuitous malfunction of hospital machines. We pray for charity, for
the mercy of strangers, for a winning lottery ticket, for health insurance. “It’s possible,” she says,
clasping her bony hands, dark and translucent, like a piece of fabric that’s been stretched too
thin. She looks at me. “Remember Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead,” she says.
Wearing her faith as if it were a shield, she forgets tragedy has already infiltrated our home, our
microcosm, our ecosystem. Innocent black children like Carlos die every day, their invitations to
a life among the living rescinded, sometimes without warning.
“Perhaps we can’t be saved,” I say. But she insists. Evil and injustice are among us, she tells us,
but they are no match to God’s omnipotence. And even 10-year-old Carlos wants to believe her,
but he too knows injustice is the greatest common denominator, holding people like us hostage to
the mercy of thoughts and prayers.
She tells us that with enough elbow grease we can fix anything. So we continue to pray, our
knees weak from supporting our weight, our hearts brimming with anticipation for the miracle
we are bound to receive. Except, it never comes.
When Carlos’s frail body ceases to exist, Mami and I pray some more. She asks that I dedicate
my life to prayer. She thinks the problem isn’t the world around us, but rather the one within us.
Our sins became the cells that mutated and multiplied. Had we been better, he would still be
The day we lay Carlos to rest, Mami kneels on a small purple throw pillow asking God to forgive
her sins and mine, and praying for our salvation in the afterlife. And I pray too, because
everything points to the fact that people like us don’t belong to the world of the living.
About the Author
Annell Lopez is a short fiction writer. Her work has been featured at the NYU Spring and Fall Literary Readings and WRBH Reading Radio. She is an alumna of the Cagibi Literary Hudson Valley Writing Retreat. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Crack The Spine, Abstract Magazine and Ponder Review. In her free time, Annell tours independent bookstores across the United States. She documents her bookish adventures on Instagram. You can follow her @annellthebookbabe