The next morning, Esch barges into the bathroom, her bladder full to bursting, to find Skeetah examining himself in the mirror; he is shirtless, and his torso is covered in angry cuts. Skeetah leaves the bathroom so that Esch can relieve herself, and when she’s finished, he comes back in. He explains that he sustained the scratches while clambering out of the barn window. He has an old, faded Ace Bandage in his hand, and begins wrapping his cuts with it. Esch knows that the bandage is one of Randall’s old ones from basketball. Seeing Skeetah struggle to dress his angry wounds, she offers to help, and asks if the wrap is washed; Skeetah confirms that he washed and bleached it the night before.
This passage demonstrates the extreme nature of the rural poverty that Esch, Skeetah, and the rest of their family live in every day. Skeetah wounded himself stealing medicine to help his dogs survive—and he cannot even afford to treat the injuries he sustained in doing so in a totally safe, clean way. Though he’s washed and sterilized the bandage, the family’s inability to purchase basic medical supplies underscores the dire nature of their situation as the book’s central tensions ramp up.
Skeetah points out that Esch ran slowly the day before, and he asks her why. She defensively says she doesn’t know. Skeetah points out that Esch is gaining weight. She tries not to cry—she doesn’t want to admit that she’s pregnant to Skeetah when she’s barely admitted it to herself. Skeetah clarifies that he doesn’t think Esch is getting fat—she’s “just growing up, maybe.” Skeetah pins the bandages and leaves the bathroom, and Esch quietly vomits into the sink.
When she’s finished throwing up, Esch pulls herself up onto the counter so that she can look at her body. Her breasts have grown fuller, and though her stomach is by no means protruding, Esch can see a new “layer of meat” around her bellybutton. Esch pushes against the “honeydew curve,” long and slight, hoping it will sink into her like fat; the curve resists though. She decides to start dressing in more loose-fitting clothing, borrowed from her brothers, until none of them have a choice “about what can be seen […] and what will turn [them all] to stone.”
Esch knows that to reveal a secret (and a vulnerability) that is this important and intense in the all-male world she occupies would to be to turn her family “to stone”—in other words, Esch believes that her secret would paralyze and alienate her brothers and her father, leaving her feeling even more remote and isolated than she already does.
Today, Daddy is not gathering supplies for the storm; he is underneath his truck, working on the undercarriage. As Esch walks past him and Junior, who is helping him by passing him tools, Daddy asks Esch to find her brothers; he needs their help. Esch tries to keep walking, but Daddy orders her to get into the truck and start it up when Junior gives her the cue. Daddy gives her instructions for how to start the truck and then disappears underneath it. A few minutes later, Junior hops up into the passenger seat and tells Esch to start it. She turns the key, but nothing happens. After another two tries, the engine still won’t start, and Esch jumps out of the car, walking away against Junior’s protests that his older siblings are always leaving him behind.
Though Esch has serious problems of her own going on, she is still at the beck and call of the men in her life. Her father’s masculine preoccupation with getting his truck in order contrasts Esch’s more feminine preoccupation with her body in the previous scene, showing how divergent her interests and needs are from those around her.
In the yard, Skeetah and Manny stand talking while China sits between them, snapping at gnats. Manny flinches every time China’s powerful jaws close. China’s mouth is still stained with the blood of the farmer’s dog, and Manny suggests Skeetah give her a bath; Skeetah insists he’s going to wait until right before an upcoming fight to clean her so that she is “shining.” Manny asks Skeetah if he really plans to fight China in her current state, with her teats full of milk; Skeetah answers that he’s not fighting China, but still wants to bring her to the fight so that the other dogfighters don’t forget about China.
This passage shows clearly how frightened Manny is of China’s power. She is clearly an exceptionally strong dog—a fact that Skeetah doesn’t want the other local boys from the dog fights to forget, as his livelihood and his reputation depend so much on China’s reputation.
Manny tells Skeetah that his cousin Rico is bringing his dog, Kilo, to participate in the next fight; Kilo is the dog that sired China’s puppies, and Manny has always loved to brag about Kilo’s size and strength. As China grew bigger and more fierce, Manny tried to ignore her size, strength, and beauty by talking about Kilo all the time, but when China and Kilo mated—and China sunk her teeth into Kilo’s neck—it became clear that China was just as much of a “fire dog” as Rico’s.
In this passage, Esch reflects on Manny’s desire to ignore China’s intimidating feminine strength and focus only on Kilo’s masculine power—the whole time, though, Manny has been more afraid of China’s might than any other dog around, and rightly so.
Manny warns Skeetah that China is not going to be “as boss as she used to be” going forward. Now that she has given birth, she is “less strong,” but to nurse and nurture at the price of one’s strength is, according to Manny, the “price of being female.” He looks at Esch as he says this. Skeetah laughs, and argues that motherhood is when animals—and humans—“come into they strength;” it’s only as mothers that they have the power of having “something to protect.”
This passage reflects the fears that Esch is dealing with in this chapter. She thinks that revealing her pregnancy will make her seem vulnerable or weak, but in Skeetah’s eyes, motherhood is not a flattening burden but rather a galvanizing force which emboldens and strengthens female humans and animals alike. Their desire to protect what they’ve created is an advantage, not a vulnerability.
Esch worries that Manny secretly thinks she is weak because she is a girl. She attempts to change the subject by asking Skeetah if he has given China the wormer yet. He says that he tried to earlier, but she wouldn’t take it. Manny instructs Skeetah on how to mix the medicine with oil so that its potency doesn’t poison the dog, and Skeetah then tells Esch to go get some oil from the house. Esch gets bacon grease from the house, and when she returns to the shed, Manny is gone. Skeetah asks Esch to get him a bowl to mix the medicine in, and she begrudgingly goes back up to the house. While she’s there, she uses the bathroom and frets over the fact that Manny has left.
Though Manny has shown himself, over and over again, to be casually cruel and thoughtless—and sometimes even pointedly disdainful—when it comes to Esch, or to any mention of femininity, she still finds herself pining for him when he leaves. She has constructed an idea of him in her head and thus created a myth—a myth which will prove dangerous in the future.
Back in the shed, Esch and Junior watch Skeetah mix up the medicine. Manny returns, having forgotten his lighter, but no one can find it. While he looks for it, Esch quietly longs to touch him. Manny leaves again and Skeetah feeds China the medicine, calling her his “bitch” as she laps it up.
Skeetah’s affection for China is real, but the language he uses to describe her—calling her a “bitch,” which (though scientifically accurate in terms of her being a female dog) has derogatory connotations—demonstrates the wariness even he still harbors about femininity and female power.
Esch leaves the shed, thinking about talk she’s heard from girls at school—talk about how to get rid of an unwanted baby. She has heard that taking a large quantity of birth control pills, drinking bleach, or throwing oneself onto a car from a great height are all ways to get rid of a fetus, but Esch knows she could never get her hands on birth control pills, and isn’t brave enough to drink bleach or throw herself onto something sharp or metallic. Esch knows she has no options.
Esch’s feelings of wanting to get rid of her pregnancy intensify after hearing Manny talk about how motherhood makes females weak. It’s also heartbreaking that her family doesn’t have the means for the birth control pills that would have spared her an unwanted pregnancy in the first place, let alone to buy a ton of pills now to try to miscarry.
Esch is in the bathroom, and she can hear her father’s truck rolling very slowly up the driveway. She knows that Daddy drives slow when he is “bombed-out drunk.” She pulls the bathroom curtain to the side and looks out into the yard, where she watches Skeetah and her drunken father have a confrontation. Skeetah is working on the kennel, and Daddy accuses him of stealing wood from the hurricane pile. Daddy grabs Skeetah by the arm, and China suddenly runs out of the shed as if to attack Daddy. Skeetah calls for her to hold, and she stops in her tracks.
Skeetah’s mother is dead and, in many ways, China is a mother figure to him as much as she is a child or daughter figure. When China confronts Daddy, the tense moment represents the clash of two different “parents” to which Skeetah is beholden. He hasn’t been helping Daddy get ready for the storm at all, and has instead been focusing on China, creating distrust and bad feelings in his father that come to a head in this passage.
Daddy warns Skeetah that if China ever attacks him, he will either take her into the woods and shoot her or call the county pound and make Skeetah watch as she is taken away. Daddy tells Skeetah that he’s trying to save their family, and then orders him to return the wood to the hurricane pile. Daddy walks up towards the house, shuffling drunkenly.
Daddy is both frightened of China and fed up with her (and all she represents). She is taking up Skeetah’s time and attention, and this is in many ways as much a threat to Daddy and his authority as an actual physical attack from China would be.