Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones Summary and Analysis of Chapter 5


Bursting into the bathroom on an early-morning trip to vomit, Esch interrupts Skeetah, who is examining the cuts on his torso, battle wounds from yesterday’s mission. She helps him to wrap each cut with Randall’s old Ace bandages and notices he smells like the salty wind she remembers from family trips to the Bay of Angels, where Daddy used to bring them to swim while he fished.

Daddy’s friends always out-fished him, and on one trip, Mama caught a baby shark and cooked it for them when they returned home. The last time Mama came on a fishing trip, Daddy accidentally caught his hook on Mama’s hand while casting his rod. It produced a thick scar that Esch remembers feeling on the back of her neck sometimes, and it always reminded her of the pelicans they’d see at the Bay of Angels.

Skeetah tells Esch she ran slower than usual during their mischief the previous day and suggests that she’s gaining weight. When he leaves the bathroom, she balances on the sink to examine her belly in the mirror, the only private one in the house. Though her stomach is no more curved than a honeydew, she decides she won’t let the boys see it again until her pregnancy is too far along to be denied.

Outside, Junior and Daddy lie beneath the underbelly of the dump truck while Daddy tries to fix it. He thinks it will be profitable to own a dump truck after the hurricane hits and asks Esch to help him start the truck as he crows about the storms brewing in the Gulf. José has already hit Mexico, he says, but there’s a “tropical depression number ten” developing (90).

While Esch tries to start the truck, she notices Junior’s muscles and recalls how small a part Daddy played in raising Junior, since she and Randall split the childcare duties. Once Esch and Randall finally started school again, Daddy brought Junior to Mudda Ma’am, a local babysitter, until he was old enough for preschool. Esch wonders if Junior remembers any of this.

Unable to start the truck, Esch visits Skeetah and China in the shed, where Manny is also loitering. Watching China respond to Skeetah’s touch, Esch recalls seeing her mother dance with a man at the Oaks, a local blues club in the woods, while Daddy watched.

Skeetah announces he plans to take China to the next dogfight. Because she just gave birth, he will not fight her, but he doesn’t want the dogfighting crowd to forget about her. Manny mentions that Rico’s dog, Kilo, the same dog with which Skeetah bred China, will be at the fight, and Esch remembers watching China have sex with Kilo. China “hated the submission of it" and snapped at Kilo until she drew blood (95).

Manny begins arguing with Skeetah that China isn’t as vicious as she was before giving birth. “Takes a lot out of an animal to nurse and nurture like that,” he says, looking at Esch for the first time in the conversation. “Price of being female” (96). Skeetah disagrees. “That’s when they come into they strength,” he says. “They got something to protect...That’s power” (96).

Changing the subject, Manny advises Skeetah to mix the worm medicine with oil before administering it to China. Skeetah and Esch find some bacon grease, mix it with the medicine, and use a syringe to feed it to China, who delights in the fatty smell of the mixture. Manny returns briefly, looking for the lighter he uses to light his cigarillos. Skeetah assumes Shaliyah has recently scolded Manny.

Esch uses the bathroom again and considers her options. She’s heard girls at school list ways to force a miscarriage: taking a month’s worth of birth control pills, drinking bleach, or throwing yourself on something hard and metallic. Esch thinks she may be able to find something to jump on, like the dump truck hood or a washing machine rotting in the yard. Ultimately, she worries that no one would bring her to the hospital if she needed medical attention, and she wonders if Daddy has forgotten she’s even a girl.

Outside the bathroom window, Skeetah works on the kennel he’s building for China’s litter. Daddy arrives home from shopping for dump truck parts, drunkenly pulling his truck into the yard and forgetting to shut off the headlights.

He scolds Skeetah for taking wood from the piles he’s assembled to cover the house’s windows, which Skeetah denies. Daddy doesn’t believe him and pushes Skeetah down. China emerges, poised to attack Daddy. Skeetah holds her back, and Daddy tells him he wishes China would attack so that he could either shoot her or call the pound to take her away.

Frustrated that his children don’t appreciate the effort he’s making to save them from the impending storm, Daddy orders Skeetah to put the boards he’s using back in the pile and shuffles sideways into the house, his eyes on China. Skeetah agrees, and the sound of insects pierces the silence between them.


Throughout this chapter, Esch narrates with particular emphasis on the way in which “bodies tell stories,” continuing her narrative tendency to use simile and flashbacks to emphasize the physicality of her environment (83). Weaving in and out of stories that tie Skeetah’s fresh cuts to memories of her mother’s puffy fish hook scar, Esch uses scars, muscles, and her newly ballooning stomach as a bridge to the past, invoking themes of memory and physical versus mental pain. Junior’s muscles—like “shoestrings”—remind her, for example, of their father’s inattention after their mother’s passing (91).

The corporeality of Esch’s physical environment likewise takes shape in the way she again describes the geography of Bois Sauvage. Esch lives in “the black heart of Bois Sauvage,” whereas the white man from whom Skeetah stole the worm medicine “lives way out in the pale arteries,” she says, figuring the racial divide will prevent him from coming to track them down (97). In this way, Esch creates a map of Bois Sauvage that reads like an anatomical diagram of the body, positioning her own community as an organ that is vital to the area, black though it may be. This metaphor fits into the novel’s existing imagery of flowers and hearts as symbols of the female reproductive system.

Again, vision serves as an important motif in the chapter, which begins with Esch climbing on top of her bathroom sink to examine her belly in the mirror. She wishes to see herself “as Skeetah, Randall, Junior, Daddy and Manny do...beyond my hands for eyes” (87). Her “outie” belly button, she narrates, is “an eye squeezed shut” (87). However she may try, Esch cannot see her own body correctly, and cannot distance herself from it the way the men around her can.

Once she begins to show, she predicts, no one will “have any choices about what can be seen, what can be avoided, what is blind, and what will turn us to stone” (88). Here, Esch alludes to the story of Medusa, a mythological creature who famously turned Perseus to stone by making eye contact. By invoking this particular myth, Esch parts with her earlier tendencies to compare herself to mythological temptresses, now casting herself in the role of monster and foretelling doom. While she begins trying to cope with what she deems her own crippling blindness to her bodily changes, she also ascribes tragedy to the opposite: the ability to see too clearly.

Esch also builds on her habit of personifying China towards womanhood, this time comparing the dog to shimmying women at a blues nightclub, and later, specifically to Esch's own mother, who danced at the club. This is the first time we see Esch profess to be actively jealous of China, lifting her shirt slightly in hopes that Manny would look at her “like he looks at China” (98). Aligning the blood that coats China’s jaws after fighting with “lipstick,” Esch characterizes China as even more feminine than herself; somehow, China is in tune with the grace of her own mother, able to seduce men like Skeetah and adorn her lips with the blood of a lesser dog.

Ultimately, Esch continues to narrate her own futile love for Manny using similes of pain. He makes her chest feel “like someone has turned a hose on full blast, and the water that has been baking in the pump in the summer heat floods out, scalding” (94). Much like her previous comparison of her love to the way blood pulses out of a dying squirrel, this simile casts Esch as the victim of brutality as a consequence of loving Manny, further developing the novel’s existing notions of the fluidity between fighting and love.