Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones Summary and Analysis of Chapter 9


Esch wakes to the sound of Daddy throwing up in the bathroom and, in her slumber, almost mistakes it for her own vomiting. She investigates the noise, and Daddy is so sick he cannot get up from the toilet bowl. He asks her to call Randall, who helps her to pick Daddy up and carry him to his room.

Daddy looks so limp that he reminds Esch of the way her mother used to hang sheets on the clothesline: limp at first, and then taut. She and her older brothers used to play in them as children. Now, she and Randall are responsible for the laundry.

Watching Randall care for Daddy, Esch marvels at how different from each other they appear, and she wonders about the ways in which her own baby will resemble her and Manny.

Randall scolds Daddy for drinking beer with his pain pills and supposes the combination explains his sickness. Daddy wants to get up and finish his preparations for the hurricane, but Randall tells him to leave it to the kids.

The first task is to cover the windows, and Esch looks for nails to hammer wood. Skeetah emerges from the shed, where he slept with China and tended her wounds. Randall tells him to help with the chores, but Skeetah insists he has other things to do, all of which relate to caring for China. This irritates Randall, who orders Skeetah to buy canned food at the grocery store with Big Henry while he shops for China’s dog food.

Esch realizes she can’t find Junior but finally locates him in Daddy’s room, sticking his pointer finger out so it almost touches Daddy’s face. Esch drags him out of the room and interrogates him. Junior explains that he didn’t think Daddy was breathing, but, after Esch scolds him, he also manically insists that he knows Daddy is sick and that he found Daddy’s wedding ring at the site of Daddy’s accident. He throws it into Esch’s room and runs outside to hide under the porch, but Randall catches and spanks him. Esch finds the ring, which is covered in blood. She throws up after cleaning it.

Esch and Randall tell Skeetah what Junior did, but Skeetah only laughs. In the background, Junior sobs and hiccups while he sorts out nails to cover the windows.

Together, the kids embark on Daddy’s list of tasks, starting with covering the windows. Small streaks of light still shine through the windows—there is not enough wood. Inside the house, it’s dark, like a solar eclipse.

Later, Junior and Esch clean the jugs of water they filled days ago. Daddy throws up again, and Esch finds that he missed the toilet. She washes out the rags she used to clean up the vomit and sees that they are stained both yellow and red.

Next, Esch, Randall, and Junior fill Daddy’s gas tank, and Esch remembers that Mama was the one who furnished the truck seats with itchy rugs so the leather upholstery wouldn’t burn her kids’ legs. When they return from the gas station, Randall follows Daddy’s order to “cook whatever’s in the ‘frigerator,” which turns out to be rice, bologna, and eggs with creole seasoning (189).

Randall drives Daddy’s truck out to the clay pits behind the house. Following him to the rear of the house, Junior kneels next to the grill they used to fry the squirrel days ago, letting the red ants that now cover it bite him until his hand is swollen.

Skeetah returns from the store with two fifty-pound bags of dog food for China and only canned peas and meat, plus dry ramen noodles, for the family. Randall and Esch are angry at the lack of food, particularly Esch, who secretly knows her baby will need constant nutrition. Skeetah rebuffs their criticism, supposing that they will still be able to cook the ramen with the outdoor grill, as he doubts the hurricane will be that bad. He suggests they eat dog food if they get desperate, arguing it tastes like pecans, and that if it’s good enough for China, then it will suffice.

Big Henry steps in, offering that they could take some of his or Marquise’s families’ food. Randall is still angry, and tells Skeetah, “We ain’t no dogs...And you ain’t neither” (193).


Halfway through this chapter, Esch’s narration takes on a new structure: it is segmented into passages that each corresponds with a task that Daddy assigns to her and Randall. Each one, perhaps with the exception of their trip to fill the truck with gas, is capped with a foreboding tone that foreshadows the chaos that will result from the combination of a hurricane, a secret pregnancy, little food, and a dying patriarch.

Covering their house’s windows serves as a particularly loaded image in this chapter, since medieval families used to practice the same procedure in the final stages of a woman’s pregnancy, hoping that rest and darkness would beget a healthy delivery. Esch’s allusion to a hurricane in her description of the house’s darkness likewise contributes to the sense that the story is escalating into the final stages preceding disaster and apocalypse.

Another particularly powerful image is the wedding ring covered in blood, which evokes themes of love mingling with violence that are present throughout the novel. That Junior stole the ring from Daddy’s decapitated finger also alludes to a character in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables who steals rings from the hands of dead bodies to sell them for profit, as well as to William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, to which Esch explicitly references earlier in the novel. There is a sense in this chapter that Daddy will not recover from his illness, and this is only heightened by Junior’s excavation of his severed, decomposing fingers from the dirt in order to recover a souvenir caked with blood.

Junior becomes another psychic figure in this chapter, taking on properties that were previously only attached to Skeetah. His declaration that he sees things has a clairvoyant ring to it that surpasses the literal intention of the passage, which asserts that Junior notices more than he’s given credit for. In previous chapters, this supernatural sixth sense for impending doom has been almost exclusively associated with Skeetah, who, for example, tells Randall the water moccasins will not bite him because he smells like death. In this chapter, however, Skeetah becomes the naysayer, playing down the severity of the hurricane and, somewhat counterintuitively, comforting his siblings by insisting that they can eat China’s dog food if they run out of their own. Laughing at Junior’s gruesome excavation of his father’s rotting fingers, Skeetah only has eyes for China now. It is Junior who joins Daddy as the ambassador of doom.