When Mami was dying, I made a pact with Dominican Jesus, a crucifix I bought on the side of the road in La Romana. I would learn to make flan in exchange for a miracle.
It was December and cervical cancer had metastasized in her lungs. Her doctor said she had a year at most. I was in a race against time; I had to escape an abusive marriage alive so that my mother could die in peace. I also had to master the art of making the perfect flan.
Neither was going to be easy.
When I asked for a divorce, my albatross threatened to kill me.
The foundation of a perfect flan eluded me; I could not get the sugar and water to melt.
“Why don’t you just leave?” everyone asked.
A five-ingredient dessert should be easy to make.
When I woke up with my albatross straddling me, digging a pair of rusty scissors into my neck on Día de los Muertos, I begged Dominican Jesus for divine intervention. The albatross had a nose bleed and it trickled onto my forehead. This freaked him out enough to get off of me.
When I pulled the glass jar from the blender, the bottom cap came off. The blend of eggs, vanilla, and various milks leaked all over my kitchen floor. My feet did a slippery dance on top of el flan desparramado. I caught myself from falling and rescued the jar from shattering. I was done walking on broken glass.
When you fail at flan but master custard and crème brulee, it’s time to recalibrate your escape plan.
Mami underwent experimental chemo.
The albatross flew back east to help his mother recuperate from a broken ankle. I vacated our Brentwood apartment, put his stuff in storage east of East LA, and moved to Culver City.
In my new kitchen, I became proficient in flan. The trick was lessening the amount of water and using an old school, aluminum cast caldero to give the caramel its rich amber color.
I leaned into the brujo powers of Dominican Jesus to manifest my second and last husband; I bribed him with weekly ofrendas of flan de guayaba, flan de coco, and flan de batata.
The allure of a perfect flan wrought miracles.
At our wedding, Mami’s cancer was in a short-lived remission.
We feasted on flan from Northgate Market.
Once I grasped the enduring power of flan I took back control of my life.
Lucy Rodriguez-Hanley, she/her/ella, is a Dominican American non-fiction writer and filmmaker. She creates engaging stories for and about bilingual, bicultural brown girls and women. Her writing is featured or is forthcoming in The Latinx Project at NYU, Gathering: A Women Who Submit Anthology, The Washington Heights Memoir Project and HarperVia’s Somewhere We Are Human edited by Reyna Grande and Sonia Guiñansaca. Lucy is the Chapters Liaison for Women Who Submit and leads the Long Beach, CA chapter of the organization.