Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones Summary and Analysis of Chapter 2


Skeetah wakes our narrator, who we learn is named Esch, by hammering at a kennel he’s building for China’s new litter. He guides Esch into the shed, where the puppies are nursing, and confesses he feels like new fathers on TV shows profess to feel: as if they thought their children were miracles.

Hungry, Esch searches the Pit for eggs, as the chickens her father owns tend to hide their eggs well. She remembers following her mother around the junk-filled yard as a child as they looked for eggs, only finding her by touch, since Mama blended in with the woods.

Esch finds egg hunting difficult, and remembers, in contrast, how natural sex felt to her the first time. She lost her virginity at age twelve to Randall’s friend, Marquise, in the front seat of a dump truck rotting in their yard. “It was easier to let him keep on touching me than ask him to stop,” she remembers, having taken to sex as easily as she took to swimming when her father threw her in the Pit pond as a child (23).

She carries the eggs she finds back to the house in her shirt, wondering if human eggs are as heavy and opaque as these chicken eggs, or as light and transparent as the frog eggs she and Skeetah pulled out of the pond to examine when they were younger. Junior is dissatisfied with the idea of eating scrambled eggs yet again, opting for dry ramen noodles instead, so Esch brings the eggs outside for Skeetah to feed to China.

Enthralled by the puppies, Skeetah lifts up one of the puppies for Esch to see, breast milk running down China’s belly. Esch can’t help but see the similarities between China’s teats (which she calls "titties") and human breasts, and she runs outside just in time to throw up in the dirt (26).

Skeetah decides to go to the grocery store to buy dog food and asks if Esch and Big Henry, the latter of whom is dodging Daddy’s awkward, drunken remarks on his large build, will come with him. At the store, which is swamped by white locals stocking up for the hurricane, the three black kids stick out as they focus on dog food rather than food for themselves. Normally, Esch wouldn’t worry about their food supply before a hurricane, but something about the frantic cashier makes her nervous. Or perhaps she is just psyching herself out about the stolen pregnancy test she feels poking her from inside her shorts.

Worried about her recent menstrual irregularity, Esch is distracted when she and the boys encounter a car accident on a particularly dangerous bend in the road home. A white man bleeding from the head is on the phone with an emergency dispatcher and ignores the woman lying, seemingly unconscious, on the curb nearby. The man approaches Big Henry’s car and asks him to talk to the 911 operator, and Big Henry politely obeys.

While Big Henry assists him, Skeetah expresses his distrust of the white man, especially because he continues to ignore the woman lying unconscious nearby; he assumes they are lovers. Esch perks up at the word "lovers" and asks Skeetah what he means, to which he replies, “You know what I mean” (33). Esch worries that Skeetah has witnessed one of her sexual encounters at the Pit.

Amid Skeetah’s continual complaints that he must return home to care for the dogs, the injured man suddenly approaches the car, insisting that he has seen Skeetah mowing the local church’s cemetery. Annoyed, Skeetah ignores the man, and the three kids continue driving home once an ambulance arrives.

At home, Esch rushes to the bathroom to use the pregnancy test she stole. It indicates that she is pregnant, and she panics, realizing for the first time that there is something—someone—inside her.


Eggs play a huge role in this chapter, as they serve both as one of the family’s primary food sources and as an invisible means by which to become pregnant. These divergent purposes unite in Esch’s memories of her mother searching for chicken eggs when Esch was a child, situating the hidden chicken eggs as a major symbol of Esch's own reproductive system, which remains a mystery to her. When she asks, whether a human egg would allow itself to be perceived, she expresses curiosity not only at the literal invisibility of her own eggs, but also at the figurative invisibility of her own womanhood in an environment fueled by testosterone.

Again, Esch invokes mythology, this time comparing herself to Eurydice, whom Orpheus famously attempted to resurrect from the underworld by playing beautiful music. Alluding to Eurydice while she strolls through a supermarket full of white people preparing for the hurricane, Esch implicitly compares the store to the underworld, lending the scene a portentous, almost apocalyptic tone.

In this chapter, we also see the motif of Esch’s mother as a ghostly presence extended. Mama seems almost to guide Esch through the Pit to search for eggs from beyond the grave, as invisible now as she was while alive, blending into the earth tones around her. Esch also realizes the extent to which her mother’s dialect has influenced her own, a recognition that further develops the idea that her mother’s spirit verges on a physical presence at the Pit.

Ward continues to expand her dependence on sensuous simile in this chapter. She compares the decrepit old cars littering the Pit property to “picked-over animal bones,” and compares actual animal bones—the ribs of dogs that Skeetah brought home as a child—to “a school of fish darting around under their skin” (22; 33). To describe the smell of the dump truck in which she lost her virginity to Marquise, she compares it to “boiled milk,” and her bed sheets that summer to “dry red clay” (22-23). In doing so, Esch both creates the sense that the Pit property is rotting, which foreshadows the impending hurricane, and conflates the living and the inanimate (cars as ribs; ribs as fish) much like when she imagines her deceased mother guiding her around the Pit to find eggs.

Perhaps the most powerful metaphor in this chapter rests in the way Esch compares learning how to swim to losing her virginity. Recalling the afternoon she and Marquise had sex, Esch follows that memory with an account of the first time she learned how to swim, when Daddy threw her into the pond behind the Pit. “I’d taken to it fast,” she narrates, “hadn’t coughed up the muddy pit water, hadn’t cried or flailed...I’d pulled the water with my hands, kicked it with my feet, let it push me forward. That was sex” (24). Here, Esch draws a parallel between sex and swimming to highlight how natural both of these new experiences were to her, further lending a pervading tangibility to her memories (23).