Salvage the Bones

by Jesmyn Ward

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Chapter 11 Summary

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“The Eleventh Day: Katrina”

Esch wonders where all the animals go when hurricanes occur. She used to think that all the animals ran away, but now she thinks that the small animals just hunker down in their homes to wait out the storms. The telephone always rings on the day before a hurricane to play a message from the state government encouraging evacuation and warning residents about the potential consequences of staying in the area during a hurricane. The hurricane becomes real when people realize that they could die during the storm. The worst hurricane that Esch remembers, Hurricane Elaine, a category 3, happened when she was eight years old. Randall and Daddy slept through the storm, but Skeetah and Esch had sat up with Mama in the living room, watching the trees blow in the wind from the slits between the boards over the windows. Now, the house is quiet because the power has gone out. Esch is the first to wake, and she sits and listens to the howling wind that makes the house creak. All is gray outside. Skeetah wakes, and Esch asks him if he is scared. He says that he is not because they are not on the bay where he thinks the storm will be the worst. Esch recalls that Mama said the wind howled this way during Hurricane Camille, another category 5 storm. Skeetah asks Esch if she remembers the last thing that Mama said to her. She cannot, so Skeetah reminds her, “Look after each other.”

The kids sit near the window trying to find the source of a dog’s frantic barking outside. China squeals and looks at the ceiling moments before a loud boom rocks the house. A tree has fallen onto the house and protrudes into Daddy’s room. Daddy takes a plastic bag of pictures out of his dresser and stuffs it down his pants before leaving the room. The family huddles in the living room as the storms whips outside. A while later, Randall accuses Junior of peeing on himself, but then all realize that water is coming up through the floorboards. They look outside and see a pool of water in the yard—the Pit has overflowed. The water creeps up the family’s legs, and Daddy says that they must get into the attic. All clamor up the stairs, and Skeetah shuts the door behind them. Daddy says that the water has never come back this far from the Pit before. The water and wind beat off the thin roof, and Randall says that he once heard about a family drowning in their attic during a storm. Soon water comes through the floor of the attic, and Skeetah finds a chain saw and begins banging a hole in the roof. Light comes through the hole, and Randall climbs out into the storm.

The family huddles together on the roof watching the water consume everything around the house. Skeetah wraps China in his jeans and ties her to him like a sling. He sees that Mother Lizbeth and Papa Joseph’s house juts from the top of the water—it has been built on a hill. He proposes that they use the nearby tree to cross the water to the house. They leap for the branches while Skeetah leads. Esch is carrying a bucket with China’s puppies over her shoulder, and she presses on although it digs into her skin. Skeetah tells Daddy that he will swim across and break a window in the house, and he wants Esch to follow so that she is safe. He tells Daddy that Esch is pregnant, and in disgust, Daddy pushes Esch away. The bucket is launched from her arm as Esch falls into the water. Esch tries to swim, but she is overpowered by the water. Skeetah releases China from the sling, and he dives into the water to save his sister. China swims to keep her head above water, and the current pulls her towards the woods. Randall breaks the window glass, and the family climbs into the top floor of the house. Skeetah braces himself on the roof, wailing, “No!”

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