Salvage the Bones

by Jesmyn Ward

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Chapter 1 Summary

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“The First Day: Birth in a Bare-Bulb Place”

China, the pit bull, has gone into labor, but she looks nothing like Esch’s mother looked when she was giving birth to Esch's youngest sibling, Junior. Mama had given birth to all four children right there in the house. Esch was only eight at the time so she was of no help to her mother, but Mama had told everyone that she did not need any help. Daddy said that Esch and her two older brothers, Randall and Skeetah, had been easy births, but Junior’s birth was hard. He came into the world purple and blue, and Mama did not want to go to the hospital. Later, Daddy dragged her to the truck to take her anyway, and the children never saw her again. Now, as China suffers in labor, the only person she will let near her is sixteen-year-old Skeetah, who tries to keep her relaxed. Skeetah had her mated with a male pit bull that Manny’s cousin enters into illegal dogfights. China births her first puppy, a large, reddish-orange male that Skeetah says will one day be a killer. The next one comes out backward, a white puppy with black spots. His tongue sticks out—he is dead. The next three are birthed without incident, and when they think she is done, China gets up and goes to the corner of the shed. She spills the afterbirth, and when she walks away, Skeetah sees something moving. A brindle-colored runt has come out last, and luckily, the puppy is breathing.

Outside, Daddy gets the house ready for possible hurricanes, because in summer there are always hurricanes. He can feel a storm coming. He sends Junior under the house to fetch jugs so that they can be filled with water. Meanwhile, Manny arrives at the house—he is nineteen, two years older than Randall—and the two shoot basketball together. While the boys play, Daddy tells Esch to wash the bottles, but one breaks in her hand, and the blood mingles in the puddled water near her feet. She wants Manny to see her, but does not want him to think her helpless. It is her brother Randall who comes to her aid. Later, she takes the broken bottle pieces out to the Pit to be burned with the family’s other trash. Her family inherited the land there in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, from her mother’s parents, Mother Lizbeth and Papa Joseph. Papa Joseph used to sell earth from his land until the Pit grew to the size of a pond, and then he and Mother Lizbeth farmed the land. Now, the land is overgrown. At the Pit, Manny meets Esch, and he touches her where he always does before he takes off her pants. The two lie in the red dirt, and Esch shows him that she wants him by moving her hips. He is not the first boy she has been with, but he is the only one she has truly wanted.

Back at home, Esch makes Junior take a bath. She is the last to shower, and when she goes to bed, she imagines Manny hovering above her.

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Chapter 2 Summary