The next morning, Esch wakes up to the sound of someone throwing up in the bathroom. She worries that she is half-asleep, and that she is the one hunched over the toilet retching, but soon realizes she is still in bed—the sound belongs to someone else. She goes into the bathroom and finds Daddy throwing up into the toilet. He asks her to get Randall.
For the entirety of the novel, vomiting has been a specifically feminine act, associated with pregnancy. The reversal of the situation, with Daddy being the one sick in the bathroom, disorients and even frightens Esch.
In Randall and Skeetah’s room, Randall is in bed but Skeetah isn’t. After the fight last night, Skeetah washed China and covered her in antibiotic ointment, wrapping her wounds in the same washed-and-bleached Ace bandage he used just a few days ago to wrap his own wounds. Seeing Skeetah’s empty bed now, Esch realizes he must have slept in the shed with China and the puppies.
Skeetah’s devotion to China in this passage is, possibly, tinged with regret and remorse. The fact that her wounds are wrapped in the same Ace bandage Skeetah recently used symbolizes the symbiotic—even dangerous—bond between them.
Esch wakes Randall and tells him that Daddy is sick in the bathroom and asking for him. They go together to the bathroom, where Randall pulls Daddy off the floor and brings him back to bed. Daddy protests, saying he needs to be near the toilet, but Randall says he’ll bring Daddy a garbage pail; the man needs to be in bed. Esch and Randall heave Daddy back into bed. Esch and Randall notice that there are several empty beer cans on the bedside table. Randall tells Daddy that he isn’t supposed to drink with the medication for his hand, and this is probably why he’s so sick. Daddy tries to get out of bed, claiming he has to get the house ready for the storm, but Randall insists that Daddy needs to stay in bed. He asks him to tell them all what needs to be done to prepare.
Daddy’s desire—or, more likely, his need—to drink has directly impacted his health in a new way; by combining alcohol with his medication, he has incapacitated himself and diminished whatever illusions of control he had not just over storm preparation but his own body.
Outside, the wind has grown stronger. Esch and Randall look through Daddy’s pickup truck for nails, hammers, drills, and spare boards to put up over the windows. Skeetah emerges from the shed and asks what they’re up to; Randall explains that they need to prepare for the storm. Skeetah says he can’t help, though, because he needs to tend to China. Randall turns on the car radio, where the news announces that Katrina, now a category three storm, is scheduled to make landfall nearby in Louisiana.
Skeetah again turns towards the maternal force of China and away from the paternal force of Daddy and his storm preparations—but Katrina, a new kind of mother, is on the way to rattle the Batiste siblings’ concepts of femininity and violence.
Skeetah says he needs to go to the store for supplies for China, and Randall tells him to pick up canned food while he’s at it. Skeetah insists he doesn’t have money for food, and Randall realizes Skeetah was intending to shoplift. Randall begs Skeetah not to get caught. Skeetah asks Esch and Randall to keep an eye on China.
Skeetah shows again how desperate he is—and to what great lengths he would go, even putting himself in danger—in order to keep China alive and healthy.
Esch calls for Junior; she needs his help pulling nails from their bin. She can’t find him anywhere, but she eventually locates him standing next to Daddy’s bed, staring at Daddy while he sleeps. Esch pulls Junior out of Daddy’s room, and Junior tells her that he’s worried Daddy wasn’t breaking. Esch warns Junior to stay out of the room, but Junior becomes hysterical, complaining that everyone always tries to keep him from the truth. He pulls out of his pocket something small and maroon—Daddy’s bloody wedding ring—which he throws across the living room before running down the hall and out of the house.
Junior has, over the course of the novel, been exposed to an escalating series of intense and terrifying things. Though Daddy insisted from the start that Junior was old enough to bear witness to certain things, this passage demonstrates the toll this witnessing has taken on Junior, stressing him and confusing him to the point of distress.
Esch and Randall chase Junior to where he’s hidden—beneath the house—and drag him out. Randall asks Junior what’s wrong with him, and points out he could’ve gotten a disease pulling Daddy’s wedding ring from his severed finger. When Randall asks why Junior salvaged the ring, Junior answers, “She gave it to him,” sobbing and wailing.
Junior’s attachment to the ring is revealed in this passage to be an attachment to the idea of his dead mother—a longing for maternal influence and a connection to someone everyone else knew and lost but whom Junior never even got to experience.
Later, Esch and Randall recount the story about Junior and the ring to Skeetah—Esch has found the ring and cleaned it, though she threw up while doing so. Junior, still crying slightly, is picking nails out of the toolbox and dropping them in the truck bed. Esch says that she’s put the ring in her drawer, for safekeeping; Skeetah suggests they look for Daddy’s fingers, since they’re “free protein” and could be fed to China. He is laughing, but seems only half-joking. Big Henry arrives to drive Skeetah to the store, and though he asks what’s wrong with Junior, Skeetah hurries him away.
Violence, death, and motherhood continue to be entwined in this passage as Esch symbolically preserves something technically tied to their mother while Skeetah discusses symbolically destroying something which was once a part of their father.
Esch, Randall, and Junior work together to prepare the house for the storm. They board up windows, clean and fill water jugs, cook the food in the fridge, and drive Daddy’s truck to town to fill it with gas. They then park it at the edge of the pit, near the pond. Skeetah and Big Henry return home from the store; Skeetah has two giant bags of expensive dog food, but the only canned goods he’s brought back for the family are peas and ramen noodles. Randall chastises Skeetah for getting such a slim selection, but Skeetah insists there was nothing left on the shelves. Esch worries that the food won’t be enough for all of them; Skeetah says that if worse comes to worst, they can eat China’s dog food, which tastes like pecans. Randall tells Skeetah that they are not dogs—and neither is Skeetah.
The false equivalency between dogs and humans that Skeetah has been espousing the entire novel is called out starkly for the first time in this passage, as Randall refuses to sink so low as to eat dog food out of desperation. It is almost as if Skeetah himself longs to be one of China’s pups—he tends to her, sleeps in the shed with her, and here reveals that he has even consumed her food. Randall, though, doesn’t see Skeetah’s symbolic desire to be mothered by China for what it is—he simply doesn’t want to sink to a new level of poverty, a level which requires him to eat food meant for animals.