Salvage the Bones

by Jesmyn Ward

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Chapter 4 Summary

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“The Fourth Day: Worth Stealing”

There are fleas everywhere as Esch walks toward Mother Lizbeth and Papa Joseph’s house. Little is left of the porch to the house, and overall, the house is dilapidated. Mama had tried to keep the house a shrine, but the increasing needs of their own family forced her and Daddy to pilfer items from inside the house. Esch finds Skeetah there pulling up linoleum tiles from the kitchen floor. He says that he needs to build a floor for the puppies because the parvo must be in the dirt. They soon hear Daddy’s tractor approaching, so Skeetah throws the tiles out the window where they will not be seen. When Daddy enters, he makes Esch boost Skeetah up to the rafters to take down plywood to use against the upcoming storms.

Skeetah asks Esch to help him with an important task, and when she agrees, he tells her that they are going into the woods to the east where a small house and old barn belonging to a white family are located. Skeetah found the place one day when they were playing chase in the woods, and he knows that the family keeps cows and supplies in the barn. He is on a mission to steal cow wormer to help the puppies. Skeetah and Esch change into camouflaged clothes and jog out to the barn. The two watch the house for movement and determine that no one is home. Skeetah tells Esch to keep watch and to whistle if she sees a car or a person approaching. Then they see someone in a nearby cove of trees—Randall, Junior, and Big Henry have followed them. Randall gets Skeetah to tell him his plan, and only when Skeetah says that he plans to use some of the money from the sale of the puppies to put Randall through basketball camp does the elder brother submit. Randall also takes up a watch post, while Big Henry takes Junior back into the woods.

Skeetah breaks a window and climbs into the barn. Outside, Esch is consumed by an intense need to go to the bathroom, so she squats at her post. Just then, Randall whistles, and she looks up to see a truck pulling into the driveway. The man’s dog is barking behind the window. Esch whistles too. Skeetah falls headfirst out the window, and the man and dog get out of the truck. The dog gives chase, and the man is yelling, “Hey!” Esch, Skeetah, and Randall run toward home, the dog on their heels. Esch knows that she should be running faster, but her pregnancy betrays her. They make it home, and China hears the other dog’s barking. She immediately attacks the dog, gripping and shaking the dog by the neck. Esch tells Skeetah to back her off before she kills the other dog, and Skeetah gleams in triumph—the cow wormer is in his pocket. He calls China back, and the other dog limps home through the woods, leaving a trail of blood in his wake.

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