NEA Literature Fellowships

Patricia Engel

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(2014 - Prose)

Excerpt from The Veins of the Ocean

All of this is to tell you how we ended up a prison family. It’s funny how these things go. After Carlito went to jail, people started saying it was his inheritance—que lo llevaba en la sangre. And this prison shrink, Dr. Joe, told me that very often, people seek to reenact the same crime that was inflicted upon them. I said that sounded a lot like fate, which I am strictly opposed to, ever since this bruja on Calle Ocho, a blue-haired Celia Cruz knockoff with a trail of customers waiting outside her shop door, told me no man was ever going to fall in love with me on account of all the curses that have been placed on my slutty mother.

What happened is that Carlito, when he was twenty-two, found out his Costa Rican girlfriend, Isabella, was sleeping with this insurance guy from Kendall. And that’s it; instead of just leaving her like a normal person would, he drove over to her house without letting on that he’d caught on to her sneaking after following her around for a solid two weeks, told her he was taking her baby by her high school boyfriend out to buy toys, and instead Carlito drove right back over to the Rickenbacker Bridge and without a second’s hesitation, he flung baby Shayna off into the water like she was yesterday’s trash going into the landfill.

But the sea wasn’t flat and still like the day Carlito had gone in. Today it was all white-capped breaking waves from a tropical storm moving over Cuba. There were no fishermen on a account of the choppy waters, just a couple of joggers making their way over the rising bridge. After the baby went in, Carlito either repented or thought better of his scheme and jumped right in after the little girl but the currents were strong and Shayna was pulled under. Her little body is still somewhere down there, though somebody told me that water is actually full of sharks and let’s be realistic here.

When the cops showed up, Carlito tried to play the whole thing off like it was one big, terrible accident but there were witnesses in sports-bras who lined up to testify that Carlito had tossed baby Shayna like a football into the angry Atlantic. If you ask him now, he’ll still say it was an accident. I’m the only one who listens because since they arrested him, Carlito’s been in solitary confinement for his own protection. If there’s one thing other inmates don’t tolerate, it’s a baby killer.

Patricia Engel is the author of It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris (Grove, 2013) and Vida (Grove, 2010), which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway and Young Lions Fiction Awards, and named a Best Book of the Year by Barnes & Noble, NPR, and LA Weekly. Her fiction has appeared in The Atlantic, A Public Space, Boston Review, and Harvard Review, among other publications. She has received awards including the Boston Review Fiction Prize, and fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Key West Literary Seminar, Hedgebrook, Ucross, Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony, and the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs. Born to Colombian parents and raised in New Jersey, Patricia currently lives in Miami.

Photo by Elliot and Erick Jimenez

Author's Statement

I was having breakfast with my parents when I received the call from the NEA. It seems fitting that my mother and father were with me to receive the news of the grant as they came from Colombia to the United States so many years ago specifically so that their children would have the opportunity to pursue their dreams, whatever they may be. My parents could never have imagined that decades later, their adopted country would support their youngest child’s creative goals in such a direct and meaningful way.

The grant will facilitate work, travel, and research for a particularly difficult obsession of a novel that I have lived with for many years and have found myself unable to abandon. The NEA’s investment in my work is enormously humbling yet invigorating, and for their support of this project, as well as for the judges’ selection of my manuscript, I am grateful beyond measure.