Excerpt from My Heart Underwater by Laurel Fantauzzo, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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My Heart Underwater

by Laurel Fantauzzo

My Heart Underwater by Laurel Fantauzzo X
My Heart Underwater by Laurel Fantauzzo
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  • Published:
    Oct 2020, 320 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
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"I thought of you today, anak," he says. "I was painting the wall in a house blue, hah? And the lady of the house, she came and start speaking Spanish to me. Very bad Spanish, only 'hola' and 'I like enchilada.' Tanga. I tell her, 'Ma'am, you can speak English to me, or Filipino.' And she give me a dirty look! Her little dog came in, a little white dog, so I had an 'accident.' I drop my paintbrush on the ass of the dog! Now she has a blue-and-white dog! I thought, maybe I'll add red, patriotic for the USA! I thought, if my FilAm daughter is here, she will be proud."

He laughs his high-pitched laugh. Some of the officers around look at him, a Filipino man giggling so silly. It makes me nervous, but I start to laugh too, thinking of my dad and the little painted dog and the frowning lady.

Ma tries to restrain her own smile. "Rom, you shouldn't paint dogs. You need the work. So many customers love their dogs."

My dad winks at me with both eyes, and then I realize the story isn't true. He just wanted to make me laugh. He has mean clients a lot, though. People who think he's dumber than he is, just because of the English he speaks. But he always gets the job done.

As if on cue, his Nokia buzzes. He checks a text. And another buzz, another text.

"Just your brother, texting again," he says. He smiles a little sadly this time. "Small misunderstanding."

The phone rings before I can ask what happened. I get triply annoyed at Kuya Jun. My dad looks at the number, frowns meaningfully at my mom, then answers. "Sir, good evening, sir."

"That client again," my mom sighs.

I relax a little. It's not Jun.

"The client with a blue dog?" I ask.

"No," my mom says. "A different one. A Filipino with a lot of demands."

Papa gets up from the table to talk outside, switching to Tagalog.

I watch my dad, standing in the sparse garden outside In-N-Out, wiping his forehead. He's been up since 4:30 a.m., trying to get as many jobs as he can. He catches me looking and smiles, masking his worry.

He returns. "Just one more thing at the Potrera Street house," he says.

"Rom!" my mom protests. "It's almost sundown. Where's your crew?"

He shrugs. "Okay lang, mahal, easy lang. May flashlight naman."

"It's the middle of your dinner—how can Manolo ask you at this hour—"

"Mom." I'm annoyed at her rising voice. "Tatay is strong, he doesn't even need glasses. He can work if he wants to."

"Oh, see?" My dad laughs again. "Your daughter believes in my work! Finish your food, take your time, I'll drop you at home after."

My mom wraps our half-eaten burgers to take home. She cuts her eyes at me. "We'll go now, Rommel," she says, "so you can work with the light."
In the truck my parents simmer. My dad turns on pop music. My mom turns it down. She looks at me in the rearview mirror.

"So, Corazon," she says. "You know what this quiz means?"

"Not necessarily," I say, though I have a feeling I know what she'll tell me.

"It means you do it once, you can do it again," she says. "Again and again, until succeeding is normal to you. Whatever happens to us, whatever happens in life, your education. Your work. That will protect you."

My dad nods. He reaches for my mom's hand. A truce. I watch the houses and trees speeding by. I don't think I can guarantee that rate of success; I don't think "normal" will ever apply to me. I feel like a failure already.

My dad parks on our street, turns around to me, and snaps his sandpaper fingers in front of my face, making me jump.

"Easy! Easy like that," he says. "You'll do it, anak. Kaya mo yan."

I smile, but my smile isn't real. All their faith in me. It scares me.

My dad walked barefoot through the streets when he was a kid in the Philippines, selling cigarettes and breath mints and newspapers to angry drivers stuck in traffic on their way to the business district. One time someone dumped a can of Coke over his head and laughed. Another time someone took his wooden box of stuff without paying.

Excerpted from My Heart Underwater by Laurel Fantauzzo. Copyright © 2020 by Laurel Fantauzzo. Excerpted by permission of Quill Tree Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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