Esch walks across the Pit towards Mother Lizbeth and Papa Joseph’s abandoned house, swatting away fleas that bite at her legs. She and her brothers and her Daddy often “pick at the house like mostly eaten leftovers,” taking from the shell of the house things they need for their own. Esch finds Skeetah in the kitchen pulling up linoleum—he wants to put it down in the shed to keep the puppies out of the dirt, as he believes that’s where the parvo comes from. He doesn’t want any more puppies to die—“they’re money,” he says.
Skeetah asks Esch if she wants to come with him into the woods today—he needs her help with something, but she has to be able to run if she wants to join him. Esch agrees to go. Esch realizes that since the puppies have been born, she’s been spending much more time with Skeetah. Where he was once mostly an enigma who spent his free time playing with China or practicing hiding razor blades in his mouth, the two are now almost constant companions.
Esch and Skeetah have been shown to have a close relationship for the entirety of the novel thus far, but this passage implies that this closeness is a recent development, brought on by the great change China has brought into both their lives.
Esch and Skeetah are startled by the sound of their father’s tractor approaching. As Daddy walks into the house, Esch wonders if Medea felt about her father—from whom she fled—the way Esch feels about her own. Daddy tells Esch and Skeetah he needs their help with something. Skeetah insists he needs to get back to China, but Daddy tells them that there’s a new storm in the gulf and they need to pull down plywood from the attic so they can board up the windows of their house.
Esch can’t stop seeing parallels between the Medea myth and her own life. She, too, has been captivated by a man who doesn’t love her; she, too, longs to escape her overbearing and dangerous father.
Esch gives Skeetah a boost up into the attic; Daddy tosses him a hammer, and Skeetah starts pulling boards up and dropping them down without looking. He hits Daddy twice, and though he says he’s sorry as he peers down from the attic, Esch can see that he’s smiling; she smiles, too.
Esch and Skeetah are even further united in this passage over their shared dislike of their father, and their shared desire to get away from him as soon as possible.
Later, Esch and Skeetah make their way about a mile through the woods to the east of the pit towards a piece of property where white people live. There is a pasture full of cows, a big barn, and a stately farmhouse; Esch and Skeetah have changed into brown and green clothes so that they blend in with the forest as they make their way towards the white people’s land. As they hurry through the woods, Esch thinks again of Medea, who fled her father’s home alongside her brother, to join the Argonauts.
As Esch and Skeetah head off on an adventure together, Esch is again—or still—reminded of her favorite myth. Picturing herself as Medea allows her to entertain the illusion that she has control over her circumstances and that she is powerful,
When Skeetah and Esch arrive at the edge of the woods, Skeetah tells Esch to keep watch while he breaks into the barn to steal cow wormer; Rico told him once that it was okay to give dogs cow wormer in order to knock out worms and infections. Skeetah tells Esch to whistle if she sees anyone coming—he warns her that if they’re about to get caught, she should run towards home without looking back.
Throughout the novel, Esch is often positioned—and often even positions herself—as a passive observer. This passage shows her engaging in a role which requires of her nothing but observation, the purest form of one of her oft-chosen escapes from the responsibilities of her difficult life.
Skeetah places a razor blade in his mouth and he and Esch begin crawling through brambles and underbrush as they make their way around to the other side of the property, closer to the barn. Once the wooden barn is in sight, Esch is struck by how much the wood looks like the wood of Papa Joseph and Mother Lizbeth’s house. Skeetah points across the clearing to the group of trees where they first spotted the property; someone is there.
The wood on the barn matching the wood on the abandoned house on the Pit shows how very different Esch and her family’s lives are from their more privileged neighbors; their properties, united by this one similar detail, could not be more different despite their close proximity.
As Skeetah and Esch make their way back around to investigate, they realize that Randall, Big Henry, and Junior have followed them through the woods. Skeetah insists that someone needs to bring Junior home; he doesn’t want his little brother to see him stealing. Randall tries to get Skeetah to abandon the mission entirely; it is too dangerous, and the repercussions could be too great. Skeetah protests; he could get nearly eight hundred dollars for the puppies, and he needs them to live. Seeing that Randall is still not convinced, Skeetah offers to give Randall some of the money from the puppies for basketball camp; this convinces Randall, who is touched that his brother would do something like that for him.
Skeetah is so desperate to keep the puppies alive that not only will he risk his own physical danger—but he promises to give the money away. This is the first passage where Skeetah is revealed to see the puppies as more than just a financial opportunity; they are a part of him, and his devotion to China dictates that he will do anything to keep them safe.
Skeetah advises everyone to start running the second they see him emerging from the barn, and then heads out of the woods and across the field towards the structure. Esch watches as Skeetah approaches the window at the side of the barn and tries to open it, but finds that it is locked. Skeetah pulls off his t-shirt, wraps it around his arm, and elbows the window twice; it shatters, and he climbs through.
There is a wrinkle in Skeetah’s plan, but he has come too far to turn back—he presses on, now as committed to his own survival in this mission as he is to the puppies’.
Esch is seized by the sudden need to urinate. She knows she cannot hold it, and desperately searches the grass for a place where she can surreptitiously pull down her shorts and relieve herself. She finds a spot and goes, but just as she feels relief, she hears Randall’s whistle, and is overcome by terror: the white property-owners have come home.
Even Esch’s commonplace natural urges are tinged with violence in her newly pregnant state.
Esch stands up and looks through the trees; Skeetah pulls himself through the window as the white couple drive up in their pickup. There is a shaggy dog in the back of the truck, and it is barking agitatedly. Skeetah lands in the grass beneath the barn window just as the white people begin getting out of the car; as Skeetah starts running back towards the trees, the white man starts shouting after him. The man is old and couldn’t possibly chase them through the woods, but Esch is nervous about the man’s dog.
Again, Ward uses a common detail to link the unlikely similarities between the Pit and this property on the other side of it; protective, loyal, vicious dogs exist in both places, and represent very different but very real threats.
As Skeetah reaches the tree line, Esch, Junior, Randall, and Big Henry all begin running back through the woods. Behind them, Esch hears the white man’s continued shouts, as well as the pop of a rifle and the barks of the man’s dog as it chases after them. Skeetah grabs a tree branch and begins swinging at the dog as Esch, her brothers, and Big Henry run in a pack through the woods. As they arrive back at the Pit, the dog stops chasing them, but continues barking. Soon, China emerges from the shed and attacks the shaggy dog. She gets him by the neck and is about to shake him when Esch yells at Skeetah to call China off.
Even though China is a new mother, and has been shown to be entirely devoted to the survival of her brood, she comes out of the shed to protect Skeetah. She is as devoted to him as he is to her, and their symbiotic relationship is shown here to impact both of their desperate attempts at survival.
Skeetah reaches into his pocket and pulls out the vials of cow wormer he’s stolen before calling for China to stop. As soon as he tells her to “hold,” she lets go of the farmer’s dog; the dog runs, yelping and bleeding, back into the woods.
China bests the other dog, demonstrating that her violent nature is intact and that she is, perhaps, even stronger and more protective than ever.