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A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

Michael Dorris

Chapter 15

Chapter 14

Chapter 16

Summary: Chapter 15

A truck pulls up next to Christine, and the boy inside offers her a ride. He is Kennedy Cree, better known as Foxy, Pauline’s son and Christine’s cousin. Christine gets in the truck and they drive off. Foxy offers to take her to Pauline’s house, but Christine is not in the mood for Pauline’s self-righteous preaching. Christine asks Foxy if Dayton’s mother is still around. She has died, but Dayton still lives on her land in a new house next to her former residence, which is now boarded up. Christine asks Foxy to take her there, and although he has a strange reaction to her mention of Dayton’s name, he agrees. He puts in an eight-track of Santana on the car stereo and they drive off.

Christine finds a spare key and lets herself into Dayton’s house. The house is very clean and new. Christine is surprised to find a picture of herself on the wall, next to a picture of Dayton’s mother and one of Lee and Dayton together. Christine puts her things away and lies down on the couch. When Dayton arrives, she pretends to be asleep, watching him through half-closed lids. When he sees Christine, Dayton nervously files away some papers that are out on his desk. Christine makes a show of waking up, and the two have a very awkward conversation. Christine tries to tell Dayton about her health condition, but does not get very far. Dayton lets her stay. Christine goes to the guest room and takes a long rest.

When Christine wakes up, Dayton is gone, but has left a note saying when he will be back. Christine sets herself to finding the papers Dayton put away so hastily when he saw her on his couch. The papers are not in Dayton’s drawers, so Christine searches the rest of the house, and they turn up in a box of detergent in the laundry room. Most of the papers are newspaper clippings that tell a surprising story: Dayton had become a teacher at a public school just outside the reservation, but one of his students had accused him of “improper conduct.” Dayton denied all the allegations but was nonetheless sentenced to five years in jail. The papers also contain some Xerox copies of other articles, one about Dayton’s mother’s death, the other an interview with Dayton just after he was released from jail early for good behavior. In the article, Dayton said he had learned accounting in jail and had gotten a job with the tribe, hoping to leave the past behind him. Christine spends the rest of the day looking around Dayton’s house.

When Christine’s supply of pills runs low she calls Charlene, her friend in Seattle, who was supposed to send her a refill. Charlene has sent the pills to Aunt Ida’s. Christine has Dayton drive her to Ida’s during the day, when Rayona will be away at school. Ida is watching her soaps when Christine arrives. They get into an argument and Ida shouts that she never wanted Christine. Christine starts to leave as Ida tries to call her back. Christine tells Ida just to take care of Rayona, and Ida storms off.

Analysis: Chapter 15

Christine’s journey to Dayton’s house is, in a sense, a return to her childhood. Now that Lee is dead, Dayton is perhaps the only person still alive who shares the same experiences of growing up as Christine does. On the way to Dayton’s house, Foxy puts on an eight-track recording of Santana on the truck stereo. Although Foxy does not really recognize the songs, Santana is of Christine’s era and returns her to her childhood. Christine’s reaction to this small bit of pop culture indicates that part of her still longs for the era of her childhood. The Santana song is an apt anthem for the ride to Dayton’s house, since visiting Dayton is, for Christine, a journey into the past.

When Christine arrives at Dayton’s house, however, she is struck by how new everything looks, and the house becomes a hopeful symbol of new beginnings. At this point, Dayton’s house is practically the only thing in the novel that has a feeling of novelty. Everything on the reservation, as well as everything Christine has encountered in Seattle, has been old, used, and worn out. Dayton’s shiny new house represents the possibility and allure of starting anew. Even so, this monument to newness stands next to Dayton’s mother’s boarded-up residence, an inescapable reminder of the past. The old house remind us that, like Christine, Dayton is burdened by his past and plagued by bad memories that remain even after he has tried to build a new life for himself. There is, however, sometimes a good side to holding on to the past, and although Christine is a portion of Dayton’s past, he does not mind her staying in his house. Likewise, the pictures Dayton keeps on his wall clearly demonstrate that there are in fact some memories he wishes to preserve.

The final scene of the chapter is another case of confrontation brought on by misunderstanding. As is the case with Christine and Rayona, the misunderstanding between Christine and Ida goes both ways. Although Christine is rude and combative, Ida refuses to listen to Christine and does not give her a chance to explain. We later come to understand Ida’s wild remarks better when we hear her own story, but at this point we can see only how bruising her remarks are to Christine. Because we hear Ida’s words through Christine’s ears, we are able to interpret them only from Christine’s perspective. When Ida says she never wanted Christine, she assumes that Ida means she never wanted Christine as a daughter. As we learn later, however, this is only partly true, and the remark becomes more understandable when seen in context. Caught up in the confusion of the moment, Ida retreats “into a place [Christine] couldn’t see.” Although Christine means these words literally, they could also refer to events she does not know of in Ida’s life, and it is because Christine cannot see this place that she cannot understand her supposed mother.

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