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Say a Lil Prayer




     Written by Leo D. Martinez 
     Illustrated by Kaitlin Woodlen (TBA) 

     Est. Reading Time: 16 min 





    Desperate, Juan Luis ran to his mother’s altar and dropped to his knees. A white sheet covered a small table that held white candles, red roses, nine glasses of clear water, and a statue of the patroness of the DR, Our Lady of Mercy, draped in a tunic and shawl of white gold—the one who allegedly shielded Columbus' goons from the righteous rage of the Native army. He removed his cap and cowered in his lap. Outside, the rooster sang praises to the sun as the dawn mist faded on his father’s farm. Swords of light pierced through the window and refracted a yellow hue on Juan Luis’s back.

    “Please, please, send Pablo back to me—you are the only one who can send him back to me.”

    Tears fell to the floor, and a feeling in his gut intensified.

    “I’m not at peace–can’t sleep, can’t eat. This love I feel for him…I’ve never felt before. I want to give them a piece of my soul, spend my life forever with them. Their love is a gift that I never want to lose. Please send Pablo back to me!”

    Under the veil where you cannot see, a prayer materialized on the tip of the Lady’s open hand and fell like a chinola from its tree. Dust-sized and glowing dimly, they rolled back and forth. They had been preparing for their first mission for ages, but the prayer now didn’t know how to move—or lacked the will to move. They only knew that they had to find a “Pablo.” What made him so important?

    An elder spirit mounted Juan Luis to speak through him. An aura like the Lady’s raised above his body. His arms twisted and knocked over one of the glasses. Water doused the prayer, pushing them towards the doorway. The elder gave instructions for the prayer through Juan.

    “Pablo is the love of Juan Luis’s life. He lives by the river and is going to make a terrible decision that will kill him. Get to that river! Do not verge off. Do not take any detours. Do not help anyone or anything but Pablo. You’re his only hope.”

    The prayer gained more confidence—a new light. They stood upright and recalled that, in this reality, they would need large vessels to travel long distances. The family dog, curious to learn who was screaming so loud, stepped into the altar room near the prayer. They climbed on his paw, and when the dog used it to scratch his head, the prayer clung like a flea to a black mole behind his ear.

    The elder spirit returned under the veil, and Juan Luis remembered who he was. He heard a ringing in his ear and turned to see the dog. For a moment, it was like he recognized the prayer. The dog couldn’t handle his intense look and skirted into the kitchen. Juan Luis turned back to the Lady’s open arms.

    Smelling the scent of stewed chicken in the kitchen, the dog encountered Juan Luis's mother, who snatched the broom and smacked it on the floor. Her “No, you dirty bitch!” hurt the dog’s feelings. He rushed out the front door and head-butted into a rooster, his black-blue comb wobbling. The dog yelped while the rooster got ready to fight. The prayer leaped to the rooster’s wing and held onto the fibers of its feather. The rush of oxygen from the impact reminded the dog of his lover, another male dog across the road. He ran to be with him to love unashamedly.

***

    The rooster didn’t know what to do with himself. He sang his morning song to celebrate that the sun had returned. What was he to do now? He scratched the red dirt, and his second purpose came to mind: to fuck as much as he could in a single day.

    The prayer, cocooned in the rooster’s feathers, gained more mass. They liked feeling heavy. Back home, they were a massless particle, but Juan Luis’s words became their flesh. Here, they weren’t just one of many. They don’t have to submit to the collective will or consider the greater good. They could be selfish.

    A devious thought came to mind: What if they didn't find Pablo, instead got bigger and explored this world? They had heard so much about this world's strange humans with too much knowledge. Humans have made so many errors—enslaved and eaten and buried alive their own kind, and yet they are still worthy of our mercy?

    The prayer fantasized about becoming a human—making love, eating, shitting, cussing, fighting. They could move with abandon. Then they remembered what their elders had chanted to their students: everything here dies and dissolves into chaos. If you are lost here and never complete your mission, you can never return home. Never return home? Fuck that! They had a mission and didn’t want to spend one more minute here than necessary.

    While the prayer contemplated their free will, the rooster made his way to the hen house, and the girls weren’t having it. He clucked around them, waving his comb and puffing up his chest, but they ignored him. He called out their names; they all side-eyed him and chuckled at his clownery.

    Tired of the rooster’s endless games, the prayer needed a new vessel to travel to the river. They peeked out of his wings and looked at the environment: a hot sun, bored hens, a mango tree with too many mangoes, cows napping under the shade of that tree, green hills and more hills, and beyond that, more hills—nothing was moving anytime soon. They retreated into the wing’s darkness; would they remain in this reality forever?

    A bell rang. Confused, the prayer saw a yellow cow pushing against the wired fence. She yelled, “That farmer always too drunk to take care of us! His offspring sit on their asses! And I don’t get any fresh water! Fuck this shit; I’m going to the river!”

    She was their opportunity!

    They fled from the rooster at the right moment because he, not caring that the hens weren’t interested, forced himself on one that was the slowest to run.

    Hopping to the cow became challenging: patches of morirvivis littered the ground, and its green leaves closed at the prayer’s light presence. They bounced from stalk to stalk to avoid danger. Morirvivis are said to be sensitive to touch because they fear being pulled from their roots and grieving their soil.

    Cut by the wire, the cow wailed, and, caught off guard, the prayer slammed into the plant. It had trapped them in its softness. They struggled to free themself, but the leaves smothered them, tiring them out. When they stopped resisting and rested on its fibers, they imagined spending the rest of their existence there.

    The plant, sure of its safety, opened again. The first thing the prayer saw was the cow halfway through the fence, her body scraping against the wires and hooves hitting the ground on the other side. They made the difficult choice to leave the comfort. Bouncing on the red-orange dirt was easier, and they hooked themselves onto her tail, the last part of her body, to escape.

***

    Licking the snot from her nose, the cow trotted down the road toward the river. The prayer moved up to her head to have a better view than her ass. They rested on an eyelash on her right eye and processed all the emotions they had experienced: selfishness, frustration, despair. Was this what a human experiences daily? They couldn't believe they had fantasized about staying here. At least back home, everything could behave as one being, one consciousness. But here, humans cause problems for themselves and scatter. What mercy did they deserve?
The cow slowed to eat a patch of tall weeds. She closed her eyes and chewed on its fresh bitterness. It tasted like the first time she could eat all by herself without her mama’s milk. Her mama who was later sold to another farmer and never seen again, a cruelty the cow never forgave. She held onto her pain and turned her rage into hating her master, his family, all humans.

    As she moved forward, she bumped into a charred body hidden in the grass. Its head, hands, and genitals were cut off. The parts that weren't burned to a black crisp were black-blue bruised.

    “A-ha!” she laughed, seeing the truth the humans could be ruthless with each other. The prayer, on the other hand, felt pity. They knew that a desecrated person’s soul could never sleep in peace. These souls were stuck between the veil and here and would complain about every pain they could remember. No one listened to them. How could they transition when their histories were erased?

    The cow ate around the body until it was visible. She wanted other humans to see they could be slaughtered, too. The prayer made a mental note to listen to this soul’s story if they would ever encounter it.

***

    Juan Luis’s father woke up hungover that afternoon and went to the window to see his property: his wife scrubbing the patio floor, his rooster harassing the hens, his cows getting fatter. He noticed a lack of color among the cows and was pissed to find his yellow cow, his most valuable possession, had escaped. A buyer who wanted to breed her and sell her offspring planned to pick her up later that day.

    The farmer cussed out his wife for her negligence. She came up to him and shifted the guilt to their children. “Don’t disrespect me, stupid. You know I don’t give two shits about those cows. They shit and shit everywhere. You told the boys to watch her—remember, asshole? And you smell like cow shit. Go wash your ass, and I’ll get your food.”

    The farmer wanted to smack across her smart mouth but needed to leave as soon as possible. He grumbled to himself, washed his face, armpits, dick, and balls, and called his sons to the kitchen.

    Most of his children—all boys, no girls—left the farm to work in the city because that's where the money was. They were dead to the farmer. His family came from a long line of men who farmed, back when their ancestors were forced to work on someone else’s land. Now they own their own land; how could they leave behind what was their overdue reparations? Those who remained were his youngest, 20-something Juan Luis and his pre-teen twins.

    He spat curses at their faces while he ate stewed hen with mashed auyama. Juan Luis, hoping to appease him, said, “I was praying at Mami’s shrine, Pa. And I sent the twins to the colmado to buy some casabe.”

    The farmer narrowed his eyes and grabbed Juan Luis’s ear. Twisting it clockwise, he said that praying was the last thing Juan Luis should have been doing; God was not going to rain money on them. If Juan Luis wanted to pray so bad, the farmer suggested he chop off his dick and join a monastery. The twins stayed quiet to avoid their father’s wrath.
When his anger plateaued, he announced that they were catching that cow. Juan Luis heard something ringing in his ear again. The twins started up their shared motorbike; the farmer got on Juan Luis’s bike, removing his cap and rubbing Juan Luis’s head like he’d done when he was a baby. Juan Luis snatched his cap and placed it back on.

    They all rode through the gate; his wife, hands on her lower back, asked God, “When will this life get easier?”

***

    The cow marched forward while the prayer retreated into their fears. They had no clue what they were going to do. From their vantage point, they still saw fields and, beyond that, more fields. Where would they even find Pablo? He could be anywhere at any time. Why would the elders put them in a difficult situation like this? One part of themself remained steadfast, but that prayer was scared shitless.

    Seeing an unaccompanied yellow cow walk alone did turn some heads—more than a rotting body. The exploited farm hands with bundles of batatas on their backs were too tired to capture her. Besides, everyone knew that taking another man’s property led to gunfire. They would be the ones who later told the farmer and his sons where they had seen her and in which direction she was headed.

    At a crossroads three miles from the river, an overseer, a good friend of the farmer, reined in his white horse to block the cow’s path. The farmer was excited to sell her to pay off his many debts. He pulled out a lasso and threw and tightened it around her neck.

    The prayer heard her gasping air and shrieking, “Let me go! Let me go!”

    She twisted her head and stomped her hooves. Orange dust flew everywhere. The overseer used all his strength to restrain her irrational movements. Why wouldn’t she obey the noose around her neck?
Her cries became desperate. “I can’t go back, I can’t go back, I don’t want to disappear, I don’t want to disappear! Help me, please, help me!”
The overseer laughed, feeling primal power rising in his chest as he watched her suffer. The prayer was paralyzed, powerless against this senseless cruelty. What could they do? If she was dragged back to the farm, they would be back where their journey started—time wasted. They pleaded for a miracle. Please let God be true quickly!

    An ashy-faced owl swooped in. She clawed on the arm that held the lasso. The horse, shocked to see an owl during the day, stood on its hind legs. The overseer fell on his back. The owl flew to the fallen man and tormented him, her talons cutting deep into his skin. He had no choice but to run away, and his horse ran after him.

    The owl flew to the nearest post to be eye-to-eye. "My sister, are you ok?"

    “No, I’m not,” her tone quivered, “I can’t be at peace nowhere.” The noose lingered around like a bruise. “Nowhere I can be at peace. Maybe leaving my farmer was a mistake.”

    The owl squinted at her. “You came from a farm?”

    “Yeah, was thirsty for fresh water—for something to nourish me. My spirit’s weak, and maybe the water from the river can heal me, you know what I mean?”

    She flapped her wings. “That will not happen, you know that? Your owner will be coming for you, and you will be put in the same place where you were. I see it all the time. I only helped you because your screams woke me. I am quite upset to be here in the first place—over some farm cow.”

    “I didn’t ask you for your help. Get the fuck out!”

    “Don’t bite the claw that fed you, stupid cow. Be grateful that I have gotten rid of that human. Go back before you are dragged back.”
“You don’t know shit about me or what I’ve been through, so don’t tell me what I gotta do!”

    The owl turned her back and flew away, leaving the cow to spiral: “Owls are supposed to be wise, and us cows mindless, right? What do I know? What do I know what I want? Why am I here—all these terrible decisions I made—what’ll they do to me? Shit, shit, shit, I'm fucked.” She couldn’t move nor cry, her heart beating slower. The prayer trembled as they felt a darkness overtaking her. Crap, they didn’t plan on caring about this cow; she was just a vessel to get to the river. In this situation, the elders would advise them to find another vessel.

    No, the prayer couldn’t do that; they understood the gravity of her pain: she had been mistreated, objectified, and attacked. Her life was not hers. Compassion sprouted inside the prayer and bore love. Forget about Pablo and the mission and going back under the veil. Their priority was to convince her to keep going to the river.

    Moving into her ear, they sat inside and hummed a soft chant they had learned long ago. The cow heard a ringing that wouldn’t stop—a ringing that reverberated through her body, reaching her heart. In her mind, she heard:

    Praise our Mother who cools our heads
    Your powerful water fills us
    You give barren mothers babies
    Praise our Mother who cools our hearts
    The one who heals our weary hands
    The one who wears a coral comb
    Praise our Mother who washes our hair

    A hidden memory rushed to the front of the cow’s mind. When she was a calf, she, her mama, and the other cows were being herded through the mountains and had to cross the nearby river; the herd complained about getting wet, but her mama loved it; it was the first time the cow saw her mother laugh; her black and brown coat radiating, she splashed until the farmer whipped her; her mama’s light was strong at the river.

    The cow, excited to immerse herself in the water, to feel her mama’s joy, lowered her head, stepped on the rope to free herself, and walked on. The prayer could feel her light again.

    The farmer and his sons caught up with the defeated overseer. He explained how he was attacked and told them they weren’t far from catching her. The farmer pissed himself laughing. Imagine it—a strong man defeated by a cranky owl. Betrayed, the overseer looked unaffected but learned a lesson he would pass down to his children and their children: God don’t like ugly.




 


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Published July 5, 2024
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.





Author’s Bio
Leo D. Martinez (she/her & they/them) is an Afro-Dominican-American and non-binary femme queen. She is a creative writer and artist born and raised in Harlem, New York who now resides in Atlanta, GA. Her writings explore the intersections, disconnections, and parallels of gender fluidity, unruly bodies, nationalism, racial identity, migration, and Afro-syncretic spiritualities.
︎ @leotheecreator
︎ @leo2gay

Artist’s Bio
Kaitlin Woodlen is an illustrator and published kidlit artist.




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