The morning after the birth, Esch is awakened by the sound of hammering in the yard. She goes outside to find Skeetah building a kennel for the puppies—though they’re too little for it now, he says, they’ll need it in six weeks. Skeetah asks Esch if she wants to see the puppies, and then leads her into the shed. The puppies are no longer slick and squirming; instead they look fluffy and downy, almost like chicks. They roll and tumble over one another as they move towards China. Skeetah remarks reverently how lucky he is to have five puppies; it being China’s first litter, he expected that all but one or two would die. Esch, too hungry to focus on the “miracle” of the puppies, asks Skeetah if he wants breakfast, but he insists on getting back to work on the kennel.
This passage shows how entirely devoted Skeetah is to both China and her puppies. His commitment to keeping them all alive comes out of a combination of love and selfishness; Skeetah cares for the animals, to be sure, but also knows that China represents financial opportunity—and her puppies are valuable enough that selling them all could change Skeetah and his family’s lives.
Esch wanders around the Pit looking for eggs. Her mother taught her how to find eggs when she was a girl. Now, whenever she goes looking for the eggs hidden by the twenty or thirty hens that roam the pit, Esch imagines her mother is just ahead of her. Though she enjoys hunting for eggs, it is still work; the only thing that has ever come to Esch easily is sex. She lost her virginity at twelve to Marquise, Skeetah’s closest friend. The act came naturally to her and felt simple as swimming, and every time she has slept with a different boy since has been easy and effortless.
Esch’s life involves a lot of physical exertion and often the need to scavenge, forage, or salvage to make her way. Sex is the one physical thing (other than swimming) that Esch doesn’t find laborious or humiliating—she has competing feelings about the different parts of the physical realm of her life.
Esch, having gathered up several chicken eggs, heads inside to make breakfast. Junior, though, complains he doesn’t want to eat scrambled eggs again, and he insists on eating ramen noodles. Esch cooks up some eggs and brings them to Skeetah instead, and they head back into the shed to check on the puppies. Skeetah gives his eggs to China, and pulls one of the puppies away from where it is nursing to show it to Esch. At the sight of China’s swollen nipples, Esch runs outside of the shed and throws up into the dirt. Skeetah follows her and rubs her back in the same soft, slow way he touches China.
The revulsion Esch feels at the sight of China nursing her children is symbolic of Esch’s complicated feelings—and latent traumas—where motherhood and mother figures are concerned. It also foreshadows a related trial that Esch herself will soon have to face.
Later, out in the yard, Daddy gets Big Henry—whose name is due to his size and the fact that he looks to be in his mid-twenties despite being just eighteen. Daddy gives him a beer out of the six-pack he’s just bought and he jokes with Big Henry about women while Big Henry pretends to be interested and amused. Esch and Big Henry make eye contact, and she thinks about how kind he’s always been to her, since she was a little girl. Lately she’d begun to assume that he’d one day come to her for sex, but he never has. Skeetah comes up to Esch, Big Henry, and Daddy and asks Esch and Big Henry if they’ll come with him to town to get dog food, and the three of them pile into Big Henry’s car.
All of the different male influences in Esch’s life represent something different—and not all of them are positive. Big Henry, though, shows himself in this passage to be patient and kind; his decency surprises Esch all the time, as she is used to being seen as a commodity by the boys and men who surround her at every turn.
At the grocery store in the next town over, the parking lot is full and the store is busy with people buying up supplies in preparation for the hurricane. Skeetah doesn’t even look at any canned food or water jugs and instead goes straight for the dog food. He picks a giant bag of an expensive brand and then heads for the checkout. Waiting in line, Esch can feel a pregnancy test she’s shoplifted inside the waistband of her shorts.
Skeetah again shows his intense commitment to keeping China and her puppies safe and healthy by purchasing a large quantity of expensive dog food when his own family is surviving on foraged eggs and ramen noodles. Esch tucks the pregnancy test in her waistband, the first concealment of many to come throughout the novel.
On the drive back home, Esch thinks about how watching China give birth made her realize that she herself could be pregnant. She has missed her period two months in a row and has a heavy feeling in her stomach—not to mention the fact that she’s started vomiting every other day. Esch, lost in thought, looks out the window and sees a woman lying in the road.
Esch’s worries about her own possible pregnancy are, seemingly, given physical form when their group encounters a woman in distress. The woman’s physical suffering mirrors Esch’s mental and emotional suffering, giving shape to her fears.
As Skeetah gets closer to the woman, he sees that she has been in a car accident. There is a car in a ditch at the side of the road, and a man, bleeding from the head, pacing back and forth. Big Henry rolls down his window and asks if the two of them need help. The man reveals that he has a cell phone and has called 911, but has no idea where he is. He passes Skeetah the phone and asks him to tell the police their exact location. Skeetah is too stunned to take the phone, though, so Big Henry accepts the call and offers the police their location.
The uncanny and frightening encounter with the accident-stricken couple rattles Big Henry, Skeetah, and Esch, too. The kind of violence they see in their day-to-day lives is natural violence or violence done for the sake of survival; the violence of a potentially fatal accident, however, is something new, and it stuns them all.
When he passes the phone back to the man, Big Henry tells Skeetah and Esch that the police have asked them to stay until help arrives. Skeetah is anxious to get home, though, and tend to China and the puppies. Big Henry gets out of the car to go help the man and the woman, and as Esch observes the man holding his hands in his head and looking down at the body of his wife, she thinks of Greek myth. In stories of ancient Greek lovers “there is never a meeting in the middle.”
As everyone adjusts to the initial shock of the situation, the fear wears off; soon, Skeetah is eager to get back to China, and Esch retreats again into her fantasy world as Ward demonstrates how Esch and her family and friends have been conditioned, through their tough circumstances, to absorb new kinds of violence all the time.
Esch asks Skeetah if he thinks the accident victims are family members or friends, and Skeetah replies that he thinks they must be lovers. The answer surprises Esch; she wonders what Skeetah knows about lovers. Suddenly, the man from the accident approaches the car and tells Skeetah he looks familiar. Skeetah insists he doesn’t know the man, and calls Big Henry over to get him away from the car. Big Henry calms the man and walks him back over to where the woman’s body lies, but the man won’t even look at it. Twenty minutes later, an ambulance arrives; the woman has not moved once the whole time.
The scene at the accident grows more and more disorienting as the boundaries between the accident victims and Esch, Skeetah, and Big Henry start to blur. The longer they wait for the police to arrive, the more they’re forced to wonder about these people’s lives; and, seemingly, the reverse is also true.
Big Henry drops Esch and Skeetah back at the Pit. As Esch gets out of the car, she notices that Big Henry has the man from the accident’s blood on his hands, and urges him to get out of the car and wash his hands under the spigot on the side of the house. Esch, meanwhile, heads inside and takes the pregnancy test; it is positive. She is pregnant. She sits in the tub and presses her eyes into her knees as the “terrible truth of what [she is now]” washes over her.
Esch learns about her pregnancy just after a moment of terrible, traumatizing violence has occurred on the peripheries of her life. Motherhood and violence, entwined intimately since the first page of the novel, continue to be twinned entities as Esch’s story progresses.