“Woman Hollering Creek” begins with Don Serafín granting Juan Pedro Martínez Sánchez permission to marry his daughter, Cleófilas Enriqueta DeLeón Hernández. The marriage will take her far from her home—the “ugly” Monclova, Mexico—to the “lovely” Seguin, Texas. He foresees that one day she will wish to return, so he tells her, “I am your father. I will never abandon you.” Since she was very young, Cleófilas has been waiting for the great love of her life and the kind of passion she has read about in books, heard in songs, or seen on telenovelas. The telenovelas, or Mexican soap operas, show beautiful women and handsome men who persevere through all hardships because of powerful love. She believes that “to suffer for love is good.” She dreams of pretty clothes and a house of her own.

Driving into Seguin, the couple passes over Woman Hollering Creek. Cleófilas wonders why such a pretty creek should have such an odd name, but no one knows. Her new neighbors are Soledad and Dolores, who both live alone. Soledad calls herself a widow, but no one knows if her husband has died or has left her for another woman. Dolores lost both her sons in a war and her husband from grief soon after.

Cleófilas’s “happily ever after” does not last long because Juan Pedro begins to beat her. Previously, she had always believed that if a man hit her, she would behave like the women in the telenovelas—fight back, cry, or run away. Instead, she offers no resistance, even comforting Juan Pedro later when he cries “tears of repentance and shame.” She must remind herself that he is a good man and that she loves him. However, she also comes to see him as her rival and keeper, lord and master, forever.

Cleófilas begins to suspect that Juan Pedro has been unfaithful to her, even going so far as bringing another woman into their home while she is at the hospital giving birth to their child. She begins to dream of escape but worries about the shame she would bring to herself and her family if she were to return to them in Mexico. As she sits by the creek with her infant son, Juan Pedrito, she recalls the legend of La Llorona, the weeping woman whose children drowned and who now wanders in search of them, mourning. She wonders if her despair might drive her to a similar end. Later she overhears a neighbor man bragging about killing his wife, and all the neighborhood men laughing, including her husband. She recalls all the stories she has read of women killed by the men in their lives and shivers at the possibility that she might become one of them.

When Cleófilas becomes pregnant with the couple’s second child, she asks Juan Pedro to take her to the doctor for a prenatal checkup. At first, he balks at the idea out of fear that his abuse might be discovered. He argues that they cannot afford such an expense. Eventually, he agrees after she promises to lie about her bruises. When Graciela begins the examination, Cleófilas does not lie about Juan Pedro’s abuse. Instead, she breaks down in tears. Graciela arranges for her friend Felice to drive Cleófilas to San Antonio, where she can catch a bus back to her home in Mexico. In two days, when Juan Pedro is at work, Cleófilas will make her escape with Juan Pedrito.

At the meeting place, Cleófilas worries that Juan Pedro will find her and hurt her. However, Felice arrives in her pickup truck, and she, Cleófilas, and Juan Pedrito set off for San Antonio. As the truck crosses the bridge over Woman Hollering Creek, Felice lets out a yell. She likes the creek’s name since so few things are named after women. So, each time she crosses the bridge, she hollers joyfully. Cleófilas is amazed at this woman, who laughs easily, is unmarried, owns her own truck, and uses crude language. Felice is like no woman Cleófilas has ever met. She is independent and happy. Cleófilas envisions her own freedom, in Mexico, telling her father and brothers about Felice. When Cleófilas thinks she hears Felice laughing again, she realizes that it is not Felice laughing but herself.