Salvage the Bones

by

Jesmyn Ward

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Salvage the Bones: The Seventh Day: Game Dogs and Game Men Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The morning after Daddy’s accident, Esch recalls the events that followed it directly. Big Henry drove everyone to the hospital; Daddy sat in the front seat with his hand wrapped in a towel while Esch, Junior, and Randall sat in the back seat, trying not to choke on the smell of blood in the car. The group took the back way to the hospital, and when they arrived, Randall and Big Henry half-carried Daddy inside, where a nurse wheeled him away after seeing how badly he’d damaged his hand. By the time Randall and Daddy came back out to the waiting room, it was three in the morning, and Daddy’s eyes were shining as if he were drunk.
Though the actual accident seemed strange, uncanny, mythic, and exceptional, bathed in blood and darkness, the fallout of the accident was much more banal and quotidian. Daddy, whose alcoholism had already made him a mumbling, stumbling figure, is now zonked on pain medication and antibiotics—and completely incapacitated, unable to continue his storm preparations.
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Now, Esch wakes up to find everyone but Junior still asleep; Big Henry is on the sofa, and Daddy and Randall are in their rooms. Skeetah and China—who’d stayed behind in the shed while everyone else went to the hospital—are gone.
Though everyone else dropped everything to attend to Daddy, Skeetah—as usual—made China his only priority, in spite of the viciousness and volatility she displayed.
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Esch goes into Daddy’s room, bringing him chicken soup and helping him adjust the television. He wants to watch the weather channel, which reports that Katrina has made landfall in Miami and that mandatory evacuations may be issued as the storm continues to move northwest across the state. Daddy drifts off to sleep, and Esch steps out into the hall, where she can hear the sounds of China barking loudly in the field behind the house.
The continuing threat of Katrina advances steadily, while China’s barks—a reminder of her viciousness and her betrayal of her own puppy—form a different kind of threat in Esch’s mind.
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Randall has a basketball game later today, and Esch oils her hair and gets ready. Skeetah comes back inside, sweating and stinking. Esch asks what China was barking about, but Skeetah insists it was nothing. When she presses him further, he says that China forgot him last night; now, he is going to keep her on a chain in the yard for “as long as it takes” for her to remember who is in charge.
Skeetah has been so devoted to China and her well-being that he has, he thinks, allowed her to forget both who he is and who she is. He now attempts to use some tough love to remind her of both, displaying his first sense of real detachment from her so far.
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Everyone waits outside near Big Henry’s car; it is almost time to leave for the game. Big Henry asks Esch if she thinks Randall is ready for the game, and she insists he is. Marquise tries to flirt lewdly with Esch, and Big Henry urges Marquise to stop. She hurries into the house to fetch Randall, and can feel the two boys watching her as she heads across the yard. 
Esch is—again, and constantly it seems—the subject of the male gaze as the boys around her make lewd jokes at her expense and look at her as if she is an object or commodity.
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The group drives to the gym at the local elementary school. The gym is dark and hot, and Esch sits with Junior, Big Henry, Marquise, and Skeetah as Randall warms up on the court. Skeetah tells the others how earlier, when the puppies nursed, Skeetah held China’s muzzle shut and bopped her on the nose every time she moved her head towards them. Skeetah is determined not to be “beat,” and to ensure that the three remaining puppies live.
Skeetah’s motivations continue to morph and grow more complicated as the novel progresses; his desire to see the puppies through to the six-week mark is now compounded by his desire to dominate China and to ensure that she’s not responsible for any more of the puppies’ deaths.
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Big Henry offers Junior money for a snack, and Junior takes it and runs off without even saying thank you. Big Henry offers Esch some money, too, but she doesn’t take it, and instead excuses herself to go to the bathroom. As she makes her way out of the gym she watches Randall on the court, and doesn’t even notice when she bumps smack into Rico—Manny’s cousin. Manny and Shaliyah are with him, and though Rico tries to talk to Esch, she runs past them towards the bathroom. 
Esch is shy and nervous at the game—as she attempts to hide her pregnancy, the physical symptoms keep making her life more and more difficult, thrusting her into situations she doesn’t want to be in, such as this run-in with Manny and Shaliyah.
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Esch uses the bathroom and when she comes out of her stall, Manny is by the sinks, waiting for her. She tells him he’s in the wrong bathroom; he replies only that he’s been thinking about her. He pushes her back into the stall, sits on the toilet, and unzips his pants, revealing his erect penis. He pulls off Esch’s shorts and underwear and the two begin having sex; Esch grabs Manny’s face and looks into his eyes. Manny twists his head to the side again and again, but Esch keeps pulling him back, demanding he look at her.
This time, when Esch has sex with Manny, she handles the act differently. Normally a passive observer, Esch decides to be an active and even demanding participant in this encounter—she wants for Manny to acknowledge her, to feel something for her, and she both does and doesn’t want him to know the truth about her pregnancy.
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Related Quotes
Manny grabs Esch’s sides with his hands and presses his thumbs into her stomach. He looks down at her, and Esch knows that he is seeing her—seeing the fact that she is pregnant. Manny swears and throws Esch off of him, then stands and leaves the bathroom. Esch tries to leave the bathroom three separate times, but each time she walks out the door, she starts crying again at the thought that Manny at last saw her—and then turned away from her.
When Manny realizes that Esch is pregnant, her plan to get him to “see” her backfires—he recoils from her, leaving her dejected and feeling utterly outcast.
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When Esch finally comes out of the bathroom, Junior is standing outside waiting for her; Big Henry sent him to come check on her. He asks if Esch is okay, and she says that she is; the two of them walk back to the bleachers arm-in-arm, and Esch is upset to realize that Manny, Shaliyah, and Rico are sitting just a few seats below them. Skeetah, noticing Esch’s demeanor and intuiting what has happened, spits a curse in Manny’s direction. Rico turns around and walks up the bleachers toward Skeetah; “I heard your bitch had our puppies,” he says, asking if Skeetah is still planning on splitting China’s litter with him down the middle.
Once again, Big Henry—with Junior as his proxy—has gone out of his way to look out for Esch when no one else will. The secret of her infatuation with—and rejection by—Manny is getting harder and harder to hide, and as her brothers begin to catch on, a new tension floats in the air, comingling with the already tense, volatile atmosphere between Rico and Skeetah.
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Skeetah deflects Rico’s questions, replying that because it was China’s first litter most of the puppies were born dead. Rico says he heard from Manny that one of the puppies looks like Kilo, and that’s the one he wants; Skeetah replies that the puppy is dead because China killed it and all that is left for Rico is the runt. Esch knows that Skeetah is omitting the all-white puppy, the China clone. As if on cue, Rico calls down to Manny to confirm that there is an all-white puppy in the litter, and Manny does; Skeetah tells Rico it is too early for him to be trying to claim one of the puppies; they won’t be ready to go until they’re six weeks old. 
There is a delicate web of secrets, lies, and withholdings being woven between Skeetah, Manny, and Rico in this passage. Rico is a dangerous figure, imposing and shady, and as Skeetah tires to dodge Rico’s invasive questions, he finds his attempts at secrecy and privacy thwarted by the fact that Manny is in the middle—and his allegiances lie with his true family, Rico.
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Rico, enraged at Skeetah’s attitude, threatens to “fuck [him] up.” Manny tries to calm Rico down, but Skeetah yells at Manny, to which Rico expresses his outrage at the idea that Manny would let Skeetah talk to him that way. Skeetah punches Rico, and soon a fight breaks out. Big Henry tries to pull them apart, but Manny is fueling the fire, and soon Marquise and Big Henry are involved, too. The referee, down on the court, blows his whistles at the boys, but they don’t stop fighting. Randall’s coach, realizing that it is Randall’s family up in the stands causing a scene, takes Randall out of the game and orders him to go home.
Once again, Skeetah’s prioritization of China, her puppies, and his dog fighting enterprise leads to trouble for the rest of his family, and Skeetah doesn’t even seem to care. Randall must pay the price for Skeetah’s bad behavior, once again putting his own dreams on hold in order to tend to his little brother’s mistakes.
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Esch pulls Junior towards the doors as the fight migrates outside. Randall follows the group, demanding to know what has happened. Rico snarlingly tells Skeetah he’ll see him and his dog tomorrow, and Skeetah vows that Rico will never get one of China’s puppies. Randall warns Skeetah not to fight China—if something happens to her, the remaining puppies will be motherless. Marquise says that his cousin will fight his dog against Kilo on China’s behalf. If Kilo wins, Rico gets a puppy of his choice. Skeetah agrees to the terms and spits blood down onto the ground.
As the violence between Skeetah and Rico threatens to escalate, their friends and relatives step in to try and defuse the situation. An uneasy bet or bargain is struck—both boys, obsessed with laying claim to and controlling China’s puppies, begrudgingly agree to put their financial futures in the hands of a chance fight.
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