A Yellow Raft in Blue Water
Summary: Chapter 14
When I thought back … I saw my greatest hits, the K-Tel Christine Taylor album…. That was what I amounted to, my big days revolving on the TV screen like Four Seasons titles.
The doctor at Indian Health Services tells Christine that she has worn out her liver and pancreas, and that she has only about six months left to live. Christine’s only response is to ask the doctor for a deck of cards. He tells Christine she needs to plan for her daughter, but she persists in asking for cards. The two Native American women in the beds next to Christine are interested in her story. They were in the hospital when Christine was brought in the night before, kicking, screaming, and ridiculously drunk.
Christine knows Rayona is coming to visit but dreads talking to her because she knows her death will have severe consequences for Rayona. When Rayona arrives, Christine braids her hair. Christine is amazed at how little Rayona resembles her and recalls that when she was Rayona’s age she was already popular and knew all about boys. When she finishes with Rayona’s hair, Christine teaches her a game of cards. Elgin shows up to deliver the Volaré but does not seem to want to talk. Christine wants Elgin to stay for a while, and is furious and disappointed when he leaves. Christine hides her head beneath her sheets, and when she looks up both Elgin and Rayona are gone. Christine steals some nurse’s clothes and sneaks out of the hospital. Rayona surprises Christine while she is trying to break into the Volaré. Christine tells Rayona she is going to crash the car and leave Rayona with the money from the insurance settlement, but Rayona decides her mother is bluffing and forces her way into the car. Rayona annoys Christine by guessing her destination, which is Point Defiance in Tacoma. When they arrive, Christine pulls over and tells Rayona to get out. Rayona screams at her and kicks the Volaré. Christine turns the key to leave, but the car is out of gas. Looking at her child, Christine realizes that whatever else she has to do in her life she has to do with Rayona. Deciding she has scared her daughter enough for one day, Christine attempts to cheer Rayona up by kidding with her as they walk to the gas station.
Christine decides to take Rayona to Aunt Ida’s because she wants Ida to look after Rayona when she dies. Christine and Rayona go home to pack but there is not much to take. Christine persuades her neighbor, who works at a pharmacy, to send her some painkillers through the mail. Christine wants to leave something for Rayona to have while she is on the reservation, but realizes she has nothing really impressive to give. She then remembers her membership at Village Video. She chooses the movie Christine as one of the rentals because she wants Rayona to remember her as tough, like the car in the movie. They leave the video store and head off to Aunt Ida’s.
The Volaré dies about a mile away from Aunt Ida’s, and Christine decides that she and Rayona can walk the rest of the way. When they get there, Ida is outside mowing the lawn. She asks Christine for three reasons why she should be glad to see her. Christine knows Ida is happy to see her crawling back. She carefully chooses her first two reasons and tells Ida, “I’m your daughter, your only living child” and “[W]e need someplace to stay.” She chooses the first response because it touches on Ida’s motherly obligations and reminds her of Lee—a subject that would surely come up later—and the second response because it gives Ida some satisfaction to know that Christine needs her. Christine knows that if she admits she was wrong to defy Ida as her third reason for returning, Ida will take her in and give her anything she needs, but she cannot bring herself to admit her error in front of Rayona. Instead Christine insults her mother and turns back toward the road.
In school they had taught her all this crap about drinking and how bad it was for you, smoking too, and she was convinced I used more than I did, that I was an alcoholic.
Analysis: Chapter 14
For the first time, the events of Christine’s story overlap with the events of Rayona’s, which gives us a great amount of insight into the two women’s different perspectives. Christine’s braiding of Rayona’s hair, which immediately precedes the game of cards that opens Rayona’s narrative, is the prefect metaphor for the narrative structure that Dorris is employing here. A Yellow Raft in Blue Water consists of the stories of three women of different generations, but these three stories all overlap to create one unified structure, just as a braid weaves separate strands together. Dorris uses the braid as a symbol of this union, and introduces this metaphor at a point in the novel when the connection between the three stories first becomes apparent.
Christine’s actions in the hospital, which seem silly, irrational, and selfish from Rayona’s point of view, take on a whole new meaning for us when we see them in the larger context of Christine’s life, and the disagreements in their stories tell us more about each character. There are small discrepancies between the two versions of the story that make us doubt that either one is the absolute truth and recognize how each character’s perspective inevitably shapes how she understands the story. For example, in Christine’s version, she tells Elgin to go back to his “little fat girl,” but Rayona translates this command as “go back to your little black girl.” Considering Christine’s earlier reference to Elgin’s flirtation with a fat woman, her version seems the more accurate. From this simple discrepancy, therefore, we can see that Rayona often sees a racial issue where there is none, which in turn tells us more about how Rayona’s mixed heritage has heightened her sensitivity to the issue of race.
These misunderstandings between mother and daughter take on a tragic tone later in the chapter. We know Christine has just found out that she has only a few months to live, but Rayona and Elgin are unaware of this fact and think Christine is just being melodramatic. At the end of the chapter, the consequences of Christine’s behavior expand to her relationship with Ida as well. Christine continues to keep her fatal illness a secret, even though, if told, it would smooth out her relationship with both Ida and Rayona. Instead, Christine remains silent and leaves Rayona feeling abandoned and Ida feeling confused and irritated. Christine’s behavior is motivated by her desire to find Rayona a home, but she never lets anyone know her plans or motives. Therefore, what seems natural and right to Christine frequently seems irrational and selfish to others. Ironically, Christine alienates the two people who should be closest to her at a time when she needs them both the most.
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