Longlisted for the National Book Award
An extraordinary and unforgettable short story collection about community, home, betrayal, and forgiveness—from a writer whose “spellbinding, buoyant”* storytelling will break your heart as it tends to the wounds.
In Holler, Child’s eleven brilliant stories, LaToya Watkins presses at the bruises of guilt, love, and circumstance. Each story introduces us to a character irrevocably shaped by place and reaching toward something—hope, reconciliation, freedom.
In “Cutting Horse,” the appearance of a horse in a man’s suburban backyard places a former horse breeder in trouble with the police. In “Holler, Child,” a mother is forced into an impossible position when her son gets in a kind of trouble she knows too well from the other side. And “Time After” shows us the unshakable bonds of family as a sister journeys to find her estranged brother—the one who saved her many times over.
Throughout Holler, Child, we see love lost and gained, and grief turned to hope. Much like LaToya Watkins’s acclaimed debut novel, Perish, this collection peers deeply into lives of women and men experiencing intimate and magnificent reckonings—exploring how race, power, and inequality map on the individual, and demonstrating the mythic proportions of everyday life.
Release date: August 29, 2023
Publisher: Tiny Reparations Books
Print pages: 224
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
For the Only Son
The visits done died down a little bit now. When it first happened, a week ago, all kind of reporters was camped out in my yard. Some still come. The rustlers, like this one sitting in front of me. They still asking bout Hawk. Bout how he come to call hisself the Messiah. Bout who his daddy is, but I ain't got nothing for them.
I look out the window I keep my chair pulled up next to. Ain't no sun, just cold and still. Banjo lift his head up when he see my eyes on him, but it don't take him long to let it fall back on his paws. He done got his rope a little tangled up. Can't move too much with it like that, but he can breathe and lay down. He all right. I'll go out and work out the knot when I can-when this gal leave.
It's cold out there, but I ain't too worried bout Banjo. He got natural insulation. I'm the one cold and I'm on the inside-supposed to be on the inside, cause I'm a person. I ain't got no insulation, though. This old house ain't got none neither. The window is rickety and wood-framed. Whole house is. Whole house ain't no thicker-no stronger than a big old piece of plywood. Ain't nothing to separate me from the cold wind outside but the glass and the pane.
This gal sitting there shivering like white folk ain't used to the cold. Everybody-even me-know white folks is makers of the cold. And this one here white as the snow on the ground out there. Ain't no whole lot of snow; not enough to stick, to keep these wandering folks like her out my face. I wonder if the snow reached Abilene fore Hawk and his white folks left life for good. Fore he crucified hisself and took all them other people with him. Wonder if he left this world clean.
"Trees on the outside my window naked all the time," I say, and I pretend in my mind I was raised here and not on Thirty-Fourth. Just pretend I been on the East Side all along. On the East Side, where good-time whoring didn't never catch, even if being strung out on drugs did. Where snow come to cover up the dirt in places where grass don't never grow like icing covering up chocolate cake or brownies or anything dark and sweet. The East Side. Where you be happy poor and don't try to pretend you can fuck your way out. I just pretend in my mind I was brought up poor and wasn't never no whore.
"Ma'am?" the girl say, like I done confused her. Lines come up on her forehead. Make all them big freckles look like they shifting. Like she got skin like a sow. Skin that got a life of its own and move and breathe and filthy. She run her hand through her stringy red hair. White-folk hair. I pray to Jesus she don't leave none of it in my orange shag carpet.
"Some folks see green in the summer. But come this time of year, everybody trees look like them out yonder." I nod my head at the window. I want to make sure she get a good look at the naked, flimsy trees out there. "Like they naked. Like they poor," I say after a while.
"Oh. Yes," she say, nodding her head and letting her eyes open real wide like she recognize something I just said. She lift up her head a little bit to look past me-to look out my window. "But won't you let the dog in? He's so small for the cold." I don't say nothing, but she say something else. "Joshua's father, Ms. Hawkins. I asked about him. Remember?"
I sigh real loud. I want her to know that what she asking me to talk bout don't come easy. I'd rather tell her my momma was a junkie whore just like her momma, and the little two-room shanty the government help me rent now would've been a mansion in the sky for either one of them. I want to tell her I was fourteen and pregnant when Butch Ugewe come to the Hitching Post and saved me. Made me his. A honest woman. I want to finally tell somebody-anybody-how Momma ain't put up no fight. How all Butch had to do was offer her a little bit of under-the-table money and she let him take me. But I can't.
I shrug my shoulders. "Everything different when you traveling through places," I say, thinking bout where I growed up and how pretty everything looked on the outside. How the womens that lived in Ms. Beaseley's whorehouse on Thirty-Fourth was poor and throwed out by the world, but couldn't nobody tell it by looking at them on the outside. Men couldn't even see the ruin of the place they was in once they got past Ms. Beaseley's nice lawn and long country porch. The painted up women with twice-douched snatches covered up all the ugly they was pushing theyselfs into.
I move my eyes away from the window and put them on the girl. She got a long bird face and her teeth stick out a little too far for her tiny mouth. I can tell by the way the sides of her mouth drooping down, she ain't used to being in a place like mine. I don't want to make her feel more uncomfortable, so I don't say nothing bout the pregnant-looking roach crawling slow up the wood-paneled wall behind her head.
"I reckon peoples be just like them trees, you see?" Her face blank. I can tell she don't see. "Everybody got a season to go through being ugly and naked." I laugh a little bit.
"Yes, ma'am," she say. Then she sigh and let her eyes roll halfway round in the sockets. "We all have problems, but can we-"
"That enough heat on you?" I ask. "Can't never keep this old lean-to warm. That enough heat on you-" I stop myself from calling her "miss." I want to spank the back of my own hand. She younger than me. Probably by bout twenty years or more. Still, I want to make sure the old electric heater sitting on the cracked and splintered floor, humming near her feet, is doing what it's supposed to do. Sometimes it blow cold air instead of heat. I want to make sure it ain't freezing her.
She look confused bout my question. Them lines in her head get deeper and she start shaking her foot a little. She want her story for the paper. Want to find out if I think my son was God like them folks that was following behind him in Abilene.
Last time I saw him, Hawk told me he was the real son of God, and Jesus was a scud. Told me he was the truth, and me and the rest of the world best believe it. Dust storm was swirling outside like it was the end of things that day. He walked into my life after more than twenty years, and all I could wonder was how he found me. Walked in and spread his arms like a giant black bird and said, "Woman, you are the mother of I Am."
I shake my head. "Hawk was always a good boy. Always. After Butch died, he helped me raise hisself for as long as he could. He did everything he could to make sure we was tooken care of. Hawk wasn't but nine, but he sure learned to do what he had to do."
Hawk asked me bout his daddy when he was still a little boy. I told him it was Butch, and Butch denied it right in his face. Later on, after Butch was dead and my legs was back to welcoming mens all night long, I told him bout Mary and Jesus and me and hisself. Tucked him into bed and he looked up at me like I was something. Everything was still in the house that night. No tricks, no Butch, no drugs. And I wanted him to be still and special and good, so I told him the same story I heard as a girl. Same story the preacher shouted over the pulpit some Sundays when Ms. Beaseley would drag every whore in the house down to Good Shepherd's Baptist Church. Cept I made him the star. Truth is you dropped right out the sun to my arms, I told him. I was just a girl. Ain't know nothing bout mens and babies. You special, Hawk. You special. God your daddy. You special. I wanted him to be normal. I ain't want him to be no whore son. Folks would've judged him for what I was.
When Hawk first died, the papers and stuff ain't bother with me too much. Reckon wasn't really no way for them to know who I was. I hadn't been his momma since I gave him up. But after his body went missing from the morgue last week, all kind of stuff done printed in the paper. Newspapers coming to get my story-to know bout Hawk and me and how everything happened. Some of them say I can make money and be rich, but I want to be where I am. I want to be happy poor. I tried most of my life to fuck myself rich. I don't want to pretend. I'm gone be where I'm at.
Fore his body went missing, it was all scandal. It was a story printed in the paper bout him messing with a little girl up there in Abilene. Say he was charged with aggravated sexual assault on a child cause he used some kind of doctor instrument to see if the little girl had some kind of cancer in her woman part. Paper say he was doctoring them Abilene folks and ain't have the right training. Had his own community-own world out there. He was God and made soap and growed food, and them folks gave him everything they had so he could have more than they did. Hawk got thirty years in prison that I ain't never know bout for doctoring on that little girl. Least that's what the paper say. Called it some kind of rape or something. Say he made all them folks kill theyselves so he wouldn't have to do his time.
Now, though, since they can't figure out what done happened to his body, they printing stuff bout proving who he really was, eyewitness accounts of his miracles, and the search for his real daddy. I can't tell them nothing. I don't know what to think. All I know is I don't talk to the big ones. I only let them small-timers come through my door. They don't come promising nothing. They just want to hear me.
The lady look at the pad she been writing on. "Yes, but Butch Ugewe wasn't his biological father, right?"
I try to dig back to stuff I remember from church and Ms. Beaseley talking. She was like some kind a madame preacher. Always saying the world need whores so the good Lord can have folks to save.
I finally smack my lips and say, "Shoot. Baby, you gone have to forgive me. Bonanza bout to happen." I get up slow cause my body don't move the way it used to. I cross over her legs and say scuse me, making my way to the TV. I push the button on the thing and it make a loud popping noise that make the girl jump a little bit. "Ain't no need to be afraid, chile," I say, making my way back over her legs. "Things old round here. We all got our ticks."
She sigh. "Yes, but Butch Ugewe-"
"You a God-fearing woman, umm . . . What's your name again, baby?" I ask and wait for her to tell me for the third time.
She look at me like she don't know what to say. Then she say, "Rhoda. Rhoda Pearson, and I was raised Catholic." She kind of tilt her head up a little, like Catholic is better than regular God-fearing.
"Oh," I say, and I don't know what else to say cause I don't know much bout them Catholics. "Y'all go by the Bible?"
She nod her head and shrug her shoulders at the same time. Her lips is straight across like a line drawed on a stick-figure face. Like she don't know what that got to do with anything-her religion.
I think bout my last conversation with Hawk. He talked bout earthly fathers and his heavenly one. "Well, you know in one them books, Matthew, I think, when everybody get to begetting somebody else?" She nod her head. "Well, Hawk told me that ain't had nothing to do with Jesus momma. That's all bout Joseph. The stepdaddy."
"That's right. The genealogy in that book is Joseph's," she say, nodding her head. She interested in what I got to say now.
"Well, if that Jesus, the one you and half the world think was the Messiah, and his disciples ain't care nothing about who was and wasn't his real daddy, why we always trying to prove DNA and mess today?"
She laugh a little and then sigh. She sit the pad down on her lap and look at the old TV I got sitting on top the big floor model. Bonanza going and she act like she into it.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...