Salvage the Bones

by Jesmyn Ward

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Chapter 12 Summary

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“The Twelfth Day: Alive”

The family sits in the attic of Mother Lizbeth and Papa Joseph's house until the wind quiets and water recedes. Esch scoots past everyone to get to Skeetah who is sitting near a gap in the roof. He looks outside like he wants to jump. Esch touches him between his shoulders, and his skin is hot to the touch. He jerks but does not look at her. He says that he has failed China, but Esch reminds him that he did not fail his family. He starts to shake, and Esch tightly embraces him. Skeetah says that as soon as the water gets down to the middle of the tires on the truck outside, he is going to go out to search for China. But he cannot wait that long, and as soon as he sees the first sliver of a tire poke through the water, he goes out through the hole in the window. Daddy and Randall try to stop him, but Skeetah says that China is waiting for him and he cannot be stopped.

When all the water recedes, Daddy’s truck is covered with muddy slime. The family trudges through puddles of cold water that fill the yard and find the back door has been blown open. Inside the house is wet and muddy. They find some food that has been sealed away, and they wrap it up in their shirts. Randall says that they cannot stay in the house and that they need to find better shelter, so they head for Big Henry’s house. The landscape all around is smashed to bits, and when they get to Big Henry’s house, he says that they were lucky that all the trees fell away from their house. He tells them that he and his mother have lots of space in the house and that they are welcome to stay. Across the road, Manny is sitting in a white pickup truck, and he stares across the crowd. Randall asks Esch if he is the father of her baby, and she nods. They walk past without acknowledging him. Big Henry’s mother Ms. Bernadine welcomes them into her home and sets to taking care of them. Esch wonders where Skeetah is and imagines him sitting before a fire waiting for China to come home. Big Henry’s uncle Solly arrives and brings news of the destruction that the hurricane has caused, bridges knocked out and roads full of water. Daddy apologizes to Esch for pushing her into the water during the storm and tells her to make sure she takes care of herself so that the baby is healthy. Esch knows that she will name the baby Rose after her mother if it is a girl and Jason after Skeetah if it is a boy.

Big Henry decides to drive into St. Catherine to survey the damage, so Randall, Esch, and Junior pile into his truck. Many trees lie in the road and stores have been smashed, their contents spewed into the streets. Houses have been knocked off their foundations. From the rubble of the liquor store, Randall fishes out a bottle for Daddy to help ease the pain in his hand. Big Henry squats next to Esch and tells her that he overheard the conversation that she had with her father about the baby. Esch says that the baby does not have a father, and Big Henry corrects her by saying that the baby will have many daddies to look after it. He assures Esch that he will always be by her side.

Back at their house, Skeetah has made a clearing in the yard. Esch and the others have brought him food. Randall tries to persuade Skeetah to come down to Big Henry’s house, but Skeetah will not leave. Esch tells him that if China comes home she will stay put, but Skeetah says there are no ifs about it and he means to be there when she returns. Esch, Randall, and Junior all sit with Skeetah to watch over him while he waits. Esch knows that China will return and regard her as a mother.

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Chapter 11 Summary