Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones Summary and Analysis of Chapter 3


Esch’s morning sickness comes on with a vengeance and prevents her from sleeping through the night. She wakes up early to vomit and lies on the bathroom floor until Randall knocks on the door, his bladder full. In an effort to stall, she lies and tells him she’s shaving her legs.

After going back to bed the same morning, Esch wakes and continues reading about Medea in Mythology until Skeetah, upset, leads her out to the shed—one of the puppies is sick. Paralyzed but for his spasmodic jaws, the puppy, Skeetah suspects, has parvo, a deadly virus. China snarls when Skeetah tries to force the puppy to nurse, and Esch suggests that China might be trying to prevent the virus from spreading to the rest of the litter.

While Daddy and Junior gather plywood for the hurricane, Skeetah and Esch steal food from the family’s hurricane supplies for a cookout later that night. They steal a jug of water from the ones their father drunkenly inventoried the night before; Skeetah suggests they lie and say Daddy miscounted because he was drunk. Esch struggles to keep down the eggs and rice she eats for lunch.

Seeing Skeetah separate the sick puppy from the litter, Junior grows upset, telling Randall that their siblings are planning to drown the dog. Randall is worried that Junior is too young to grasp death and urges Skeetah and Esch to consider sparing the puppy’s life. “I know,” Esch replies, “But we was young, too,” alluding to their mother’s death (44).

Skeetah prepares for the night’s cookout, where he will put the puppy out of its misery. He watches the animals in the woods behind the Pit, and Esch wonders if their father is overreacting to the impending hurricane, since none of the animals seem to have left the area yet.

Skeetah uses his rifle to shoot a squirrel, skins it, and begins gutting the creature for meat, also revealing that he knows about Esch’s affair with Manny. “Y’all don’t look right together,” he says (47). Esch is defensive, but when Skeetah accidentally severs the squirrel’s intestine, the smell of feces permeates the air and triggers Esch’s morning sickness again.

At the cookout, all the regular boys gather to eat the cooked squirrel in sandwiches with hot sauce. Skeetah invites Esch to name the puppy they will kill, and she names it Nella, after a girl she admired at school named Citronella, for the insect repellent candles. Minutes later, Skeetah grabs the pup, walks away from the group, and snaps its neck, just like he and Randall remember their mother killing chickens. Esch isn’t sure if she remembers her mother doing that.

Skeetah strips down and bathes with laundry detergent in the dirty pond behind the Pit, and the others soon follow. Marquise swings on a branch above the water, which cracks and falls into the water, much to the group’s amusement. With the rest of the boys distracted, Manny swims over to flirt with Esch, and she tacitly remembers seeing Manny have sex with another girl three years ago at the Pit, narrating that this is the moment she fell in love with him. He kissed this girl tenderly on the lips, and Esch wishes he would kiss her that way.

Interrupting Esch’s thoughts, Manny takes her hand and wraps it around his penis. When Esch tries to caress Manny’s chest below the water, he recoils and rebuffs her, telling her that she knows it isn’t like that between them.

Heartsick, Esch curls up and lets herself sink deeper into the pond, imagining that she is a fetus floating in a womb. She thinks about Shaliyah, Manny’s girlfriend, with whom he shares a trailer. She is frequently jealous of girls with whom she suspects Manny to be having affairs, but she has never considered Esch a threat.

Emerging from her reverie, Esch swims to the surface, where Skeetah is watching for her.


Esch begins the chapter by invoking an idea that is most famously discussed in the opening passage of Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust. “Sick from the moment I open my eyes,” she narrates, “I open my eyes, look up at the puckered plaster ceiling, remember who I am, where I am, what I am” (37). By obliquely alluding to a passage in which Proust famously discusses the sensation of waking up and momentarily forgetting who or where one is, Wade cleverly introduces themes of memory and loss, as Swann’s Way’s major thrust revolves around the tragedy of time elapsing and the fragility of memory.

Once again, Ward frequently uses simile to evoke visceral imagery. Perhaps the most shocking instance of simile comes when Esch compares the way Manny makes her heart feel to the way blood squirts out of the squirrel that Skeetah has killed: in pulses corresponding with its heartbeat. By linking her own romantic sensibilities to the grotesque, bestial imagery of a dying squirrel, Esch characterizes herself as a uniquely tough individual, as she foreshadows her own gruesome heartbreak.

Esch likewise foreshadows this heartbreak by framing Manny as either a sun or a moon orbiting her. “He’s swimming in slow circles so he’s orbiting me like the moon,” Esch narrates. “Or the sun” (54). In comparing Manny to these celestial objects, however, Esch incorrectly equates the orbit patterns of the sun to those of the moon, since a moon orbits a single planet, whereas planets orbit the sun. This establishes a confusing hierarchy of power between Manny and Esch, as she does not seem to know whether he orbits her or the opposite.

This episode is only one in a series that establish an ominous tone throughout the chapter by upsetting a larger, natural order. When Skeetah shoots the squirrel, for example, he initially misses, and in skinning it, he accidentally severs the intestine, releasing a foul smell. Later, when Skeetah kills the puppy, everyone sitting around the campfire must bath in the Pit pond to cleanse themselves of the parvo virus; “‘It’s all contaminated,’ Skeetah says, ‘Everything,’” even burning his clothing to cleanse himself (52). Even in attempting to cleanse themselves, however, the boys further contaminate themselves, as the Pit pond is infested with dirt, runoff, and water moccasins. There is a pervading sense—enhanced by Esch’s constant nausea—that something foul is in the air. Fighting it is futile.

Skeetah acts as a prophet figure of this impending doom, which will take its literal form in the shape of the hurricane. When the boys swim and joke around, they are, in part, acting out catharsis, as the scene should serve as a cheerful epilogue to the puppy’s execution in the previous scene. But Skeetah understands that the worst is not over. When Randall teases him that the water moccasins will bite him, Skeetah calmly explains that the creatures will avoid him, as they can smell “death” on him (54).

Indeed, Skeetah is the sole witness to the final, sinister image of the chapter, in which Esch imagines the infested pond water is her own amniotic fluid, spelling doom for both Esch and her unborn child.