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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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  • First Published:
    Aug 2022, 336 pages

    Paperback:
    Aug 2023, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Print Excerpt

The Flats, 1955

Helen Jean sat on the hole inside the musky outhouse and pushed her palms flat against the bench, willing her body to do the work she needed it to. She waited for the heavy knot to begin to throb and her bowels to break. For the familiar pain to erupt from the core of her stomach. She had followed all of Ernestine's orders, just like the first time. Nothing to eat all day but toast. Nothing to drink. Not even water. But all she felt was nervous.

She tried to remember exactly how it had happened before. Last time, she had been early on when she went to her cousin for assistance. This time, a tight knot had already formed on the inside of her belly, a knot that she was beginning to notice on the outside. A knot her father and three brothers had likely noticed, too. The one they all chose to ignore because it told each of them too much about who they were.

Ernestine had warned her, It might be too late, Helen Jean. Can't give you too much cause you be dead, too. Got to be just enough to ruin the seed but not you.

Helen Jean had prayed to the God of Moses that it would work. She reminded him that she had never gone to the Mr. Fairs Pleasure Gardens with the other girls and boys her age. She reminded him that she'd never sat on any of those benches, letting boys wrap their thick lips around her neck or touch her in the places that were meant to be secret. That she had been a good girl. Obedient to her parents, her father after her mother was dead. She promised God that if he spared her the hell of carrying the thing growing inside her, she would leave Jerusalem, Texas, and find a place where she could fully serve him. A place where no one knew her.

She inhaled and clenched her teeth and then let all the air out of her body in one powerful push. She couldn't hold the grunt, almost a scream, that came out with the push.

The last time she'd taken Ernestine's turpentine, her stomach had cramped up while she was serving her father and brothers turkey necks and beans. It happened just after she popped open her father's can of Hamm's beer. It was unlike the cramps from her monthly and felt more like the time she had drank too much castor oil to relieve herself of a bad case of constipation. She'd wrapped both arms around her stomach and almost toppled over right there. Without moving his head, her father allowed his eyes to shift to her from peering down at the spoon of beans hovering in front of his mouth.

She'd excused herself to the outhouse, which, unlike the one in her current situation, was a two-holer that her father had wired for electricity. The outhouse was the thing her father hated most about their shotgun house. He always complained about indoor plumbing and how it would never reach the blacks in the Flats because nothing was expanding for them, being built for them.

On that night, the last time it happened, Helen Jean sat down on the hole just when she thought her bowels would explode, and, to her surprise, she felt a slimy mass pass through her womanhood instead.

This time, however, nothing was happening. No horrible stomachache. No slimy mass. Just dry pushing, gas, and grunts.

"Did it come out?" she heard Ernestine's squeaky voice ask from outside the door.

She didn't answer. She turned her mind to Jessie B. It was setting in that she'd have to accept his marriage proposal. That she'd have to say yes to the nowhere man. She wanted to cry, but she just sat there breathing hard and staring in the direction of her feet. It didn't matter that she couldn't see them through the darkness. Just like the seed growing inside her, she knew her feet were there. If she had been her usual self, she would have been concerned about snakes being curled up in the corner of her aunt's outdated restroom. But she wasn't her usual self tonight.

She exhaled again and reached down to pull up her panties. Her chest began to tighten and her breathing became rapid. For a moment, she sat there with one hand down at her ankles, gently tugging at her panties, and the other over her heart, as if she would say the Pledge of Allegiance. And then the breathing turned to panting and then loud gasping for air.

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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