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Excerpt from Perish by LaToya Watkins, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Perish

A Novel

by LaToya Watkins

Perish by LaToya Watkins X
Perish by LaToya Watkins
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  • Published:
    Aug 2022, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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After a few minutes, she rose up from the floor of the outhouse, pulled up her panties, and opened the door. Ernestine's wide, stout body blocked the exit. One of her hips sat higher than the other, so despite her wide girth, she appeared fragile, leaning against the wooden stick she used for a cane. She was only twenty-six, ten years Helen Jean's senior, but due to the slight handicap, she carried herself like she was older than that. Her tight eyes became two straight lines on her face as she attempted to take all of Helen Jean in before she finally asked, "What happened in there? It come out?"

Helen Jean shook her head and stepped down from the outhouse. "Nawh, still there," she said, and she could hear a low grittiness in her own voice.

"Well," Ernestine began. "Maybe you was too far gone for turpentine. Momma in the house. Can't do it now, but if you come back tomorrow when she go to Ms. Dorothy Ann's, I can get it out with a wrench for you. Got Reesa's out like that last week."

Helen shook her head again and walked past her cousin. "Nawh. That's all right. I'm gone go see Jessie B. in the morning."

Ernestine grabbed her arm, and Helen Jean stopped walking. The moonlight was shining bright enough for her to see her cousin's toffee skin perfectly. Her hair was rolled into pin curls and Helen Jean knew bobby pins were holding the perfect circles in place.

"You sure, Helen Jean? I mean, I think Jessie B. a catch. Shoot, wish I could go find him and tell him yes for myself, but you ..."

Helen's lips began to quiver and she felt her knees going weak, so she stomped her foot and said the first thing that came to her mind. "Shit," she said. "I'm sure. This what I got to do. This how it got to be."

And she told herself that this was how it had to be. Jessie B. was a silent man with no family and he just seemed to appear from nowhere two years before. His face was hard-set and mean like he didn't want to be bothered, so no one dared ask him where he was from or about his family. There were all types of stories about him. Most of them centered on some type of rage or murder, but Helen Jean simply thought the way he carried himself garnered respect. He was always dressed nicely and had a quiet, stoic quality about himself. She had seen with her own eyes how white and black men tipped their hats at him in public. They respected him. Feared him, even. As far as they were concerned, he came from nowhere in the world.

The people of Jerusalem didn't understand that. Most of them had come from families that trickled in from the smaller surrounding towns at the turn of the century. Family histories were shared things. Known things. Even those silent shames.

Jessie B. was mysterious in a place where most folks didn't have a clue about how to keep themselves to themselves. So that mysteriousness was something the people envied more than feared, but most folks didn't know the difference.

Helen Jean found that he was easy enough to talk to, but he had taken the few words she'd ever spoken to him and turned them into a marriage proposal. A month before the night at the outhouse, when she first discovered she was with child, she sat in a booth at the Hut Cafe on 33rd, nursing a Coca-Cola and shuffling the Hut's famous fries around her plate. She didn't even see Jessie B. approach, but when her puffy eyes looked up to find him standing over her, it seemed that he'd been standing there holding his hat to his chest for a while.

"Evening," he said, nodding toward the seat across from her.

She replied, "Hello," and turned her face back to her fries without responding to his request to take a seat.

"Little gal," he said, sliding into the seat anyway. "I was over yonder having a bite and looked over here and saw the saddest thing in the world. Beautiful young lady, having dinner on her own. Face looking like she done lost her very best friend."

She looked at him and took in his dark skin and beady eyes. His hair was cut low, but she could still see that he was balding at the top by the way his cowlicks reached toward the back of his head. She had seen him from a distance many times, and pegged him for someone close to her father's age. She'd never seen him this close up, so she hadn't noticed that he was missing her father's frown lines, crow's feet, and other hard marks and lines that time and real evil create on faces. No. He wasn't that old. Close up, he was in his late twenties, maybe even his early thirties, but he wasn't her father's age. He wasn't in his fifties. He was younger than that. He wasn't her father.

Excerpted from Perish by LaToya Watkins. Copyright © 2022 by LaToya Watkins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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