Salvage the Bones

by Jesmyn Ward

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Chapter 5 Summary

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“The Fifth Day: Salvage the Bones”

In the morning, Esch bursts into the bathroom, her need to pee intense. Skeetah stands shirtless at the sink, gently tracing wounds on his stomach. He tells Esch that he was cut on the window glass while hurrying from the barn. Skeetah picks up an old Ace bandage that he has cleaned and bleached and tries to wrap it around himself. Esch takes the bandage to help him. While she wraps him up, Esch notices that Skeetah smells like wind over the Gulf of Mexico, and this makes her think about times past when her father took them swimming there. They dug up oysters and watched the pelicans floating on the water. Once when Mama went along, she caught a shark, which she cooked that night in butter. Esch finishes wrapping, and Skeetah tells her that she ran slowly the day before in the woods. Esch wonders what her pregnant body looks like to others, so when Skeetah leaves the bathroom, she hoists herself onto the sink so that she can see herself in the mirror. There is a “honeydew curve” under her belly button. Her T-shirts and loose jeans and shorts cover the bulge, and Esch plans to not tell anyone until it can no longer be avoided.

Outside, Esch’s father is underneath his dump truck trying to fix the broken parts. Junior sits next to him to hand over tools. Daddy wants the help of the other boys, but Esch says that she does not know where her brothers are. He makes her get into the truck to try to start the engine. After several tries and more tinkering, the truck still will not start. Daddy does not know how he will make money after the hurricane without the dump truck to haul away garbage and debris for others.

Skeetah brings China out of the shed because he thinks she needs time to herself away from the puppies. Manny is there, and Skeetah tells him that he plans to take China to the upcoming dogfights so that no one forgets that she is a “boss” dog. Manny says that his cousin will bring his dog, Rico, to fight. Esch looks at Manny hoping that he will return her gaze, but he never looks at her. Manny says that China is not as boss as she used to be, but Skeetah claims that since she is now a mother, she is as tough as she will ever be. Esch asks Skeetah if he has wormed China yet, and when Manny hears that Skeetah has not properly mixed the medicine, he warns him that he needs to cut it with oil before giving it to the dog. At home, Skeetah mixes the wormer with bacon grease, and China takes all of it.

In the bathroom, Esch recalls what she has heard from the girls talking about what to do if you are pregnant. She considers all these abortive options and concludes that none of them is an option for her. Sitting on the toilet, Esch pulls back the makeshift curtain and sees Skeetah dragging wood to the shed. Daddy pulls into the driveway very slowly, a sign that he is quite drunk. He curses the stores for not having the part that he needs for his truck, and then he accuses Skeetah of taking wood from the hurricane piles. Daddy yells and curses at Skeetah, saying that none of the children appreciates what he tries to do for them. He grabs Skeetah’s arm, and China jumps forward. Skeetah tells her to hold, and Daddy says that he would call the pound if China ever tried to hurt him. Daddy turns to walk into the house, all the while watching Skeetah and China.

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