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A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

Michael Dorris

Chapter 16

Chapter 15

Chapter 17

Summary: Chapter 16

Dayton and Christine settle into the routine of an “old married couple.” Christine stays on Dayton’s land almost all of the time. There are certain topics she avoids in her conversations with Dayton: her health, Elgin, and Rayona. One day Father Hurlburt comes to Dayton’s house with Aunt Ida. Ida tells Christine that Rayona disappeared a few days earlier. Ida adds that Father Tom thinks that Rayona has gone back to Seattle, and that it is all for the best. Ida tells Christine to call if she needs her and leaves. After Ida’s visit, Christine thinks and worries about Rayona constantly. In her anxiety, she tells Dayton all about Rayona.

Foxy comes by in early July to take Dayton and Babe, Dayton’s wild horse, to a rodeo. Dayton says he will be gone for the night but will be back the following evening. Christine spends the night quiet and alone. She does not watch television or listen to the radio, but just sits in a chair as the night passes. The next day goes by relatively quickly and Dayton arrives earlier than expected. Christine wants to hear all about the rodeo. She takes some pills so that the pain from her illness will not make her act strangely, then goes outside. Christine thinks she sees Lee stepping toward her from the truck, but the figure turns into Rayona. The pills have made Christine delirious and she does not know how to react. She and Rayona get into a fight, but Dayton shoos them inside. They all sit down and watch the local news coverage of the rodeo on television, but Christine sees Lee instead of Rayona on the horse. Christine says she has to go to bed and Dayton walks her to her room. During the night, Dayton comes into Christine’s room and she snuggles up against him. He is gone the next morning. Walking about after her rest, Christine realizes that her pain feels different because she is now able to control it. She walks out to Babe’s corral, part of her usual morning ritual, and finds Rayona asleep on the ground. Christine sits down and hugs her daughter.

Christine, Dayton, and Rayona begin to do a lot of things together. One night, Dayton rents a VCR and Rayona surprises him by pulling out Christine and Little Big Man. They watch both movies. The night before Christine’s birthday, they invite Aunt Ida over for dinner. Ida is actually nice and compliments everything. Ida has brought over Christine’s high school yearbook and everyone gathers around to have a look. They all then sit down to watch Knots Landing, one of Ida’s shows.

Dayton fixes the Volaré and Christine teaches Rayona to drive. Dayton sees an ad in the newspaper requesting a stud horse and decides to take Babe over. Rayona wants to come as well, so Dayton takes her with him. Just after Rayona and Dayton leave, Father Tom shows up at Dayton’s house, but Christine is not sure who he is. He is very friendly and gives Christine a bottle of the painkillers she needs, telling her to ask him if she needs any more. Christine worried only a few days earlier that her supply was running low and that she would need to check back into the hospital if it ran out. Christine finally remembers out loud that Ida had in fact mentioned Father Tom. Father Tom’s friendliness suddenly disappears and he leaves abruptly.

Later, after Dayton and Rayona return, Rayona starts learning to drive a stick-shift, using Dayton’s truck for practice. Christine decides that she and Rayona should go to pick up Babe themselves. Dayton protests, but Christine is insistent. Rayona drives and tells her mother about some of her friends from Bearpaw Lake. They stop at a diner in Havre for breakfast. When Christine goes to the bathroom to wash her hands, her rings slip off of her fingers, which have grown thin because of her illness. She wraps the rings individually to give to the people in her life: the abalone ring for Ida, the roadrunner for Dayton, and the gold wedding ring for Elgin. The last ring, the silver turtle, she brings out and gives to Rayona. Rayona pays for breakfast with some of the money she made at Bearpaw Lake. A little torn piece of paper slips out of her wallet. Rayona looks at it briefly and then throws it away. When Christine and Rayona arrive to pick up Babe, the horse does not want to leave. The rancher says that his horse and Babe fell in love, and that he has never seen anything like it before.

Analysis: Chapter 16

Christine and Rayona’s reunion is another instance of misunderstanding between mother and daughter. In her version of the story, Rayona says that she is confused and offended by the reception she receives from her mother after she returns from several months’ absence. In this chapter, however, we see the same scene from Christine’s point of view. Whereas Rayona interprets Christine’s surprise as unhappiness to see her, we learn here that Christine’s odd behavior is at least partly due to the pills she takes. In fact, it becomes apparent that Christine is so affected by painkillers that she is incapable of even sorting out her own thoughts and leaves a lot of her own dialogue out of her narrative, as if she does not know or understand what she is saying herself. Instead, she has only the haziest notion of what occurs when she is reunited with Rayona, and sums up the whole encounter in a few brief points.

Christine’s narrative continues for a little while beyond the point where Rayona’s story leaves off, and the significance of the videos they rent in Seattle finally becomes clear. The movies, Christine, and Little Big Man have been Rayona’s companions ever since her departure from Seattle, and for one reason or another she has always taken them with her. It turns out that Christine did not originally rent the videos to impress her friends on the reservation, but because she wanted to leave Rayona something by which to remember her. To some extent, the videos serve that purpose, and, in her own narrative, Rayona remembers her mother every time she thinks of the videos. For the most part, however, the videos in Rayona do not rouse the kinds of memories for which Christine is hoping: every time Rayona mentions the videos, she thinks of how silly it was for Christine to have rented them. When mother and daughter finally get a chance to watch the videos together, however, the movies finally serve their intended purpose, creating a bond between Christine and Rayona.

Rayona overcomes another emotional hurdle a few weeks later when she is eating breakfast with her mother in the diner. Christine only sees a small piece of paper fall out of Rayona’s wallet, which Rayona takes a short look at and then throws away. We can guess, however, that the little piece of paper is the letter Rayona had found at Bearpaw Lake, an integral part of the fantasy life Rayona had created for herself and of the lies she had told to Sky and Evelyn. In throwing the letter away, Rayona demonstrates that she no longer needs this fantasy life to sustain her. She is finally satisfied with her real family and life and does not want to imagine her mother as being any other way than she actually is. In essence, Rayona’s discarding of the letter is a gesture of pride in her family and herself, and an end to her days of coveting other people’s lives.

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