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A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

Michael Dorris

Chapter 2

Chapter 1

Chapter 3

Summary: Chapter 2

I listen, eavesdropping into her life, while she lights Kent after Kent and the room fills with smoke while she kills the bottle.

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Rayona and Christine put three gallons of gas into the Volaré. Christine decides that they are going to go to Aunt Ida’s, and that they should leave right away. Rayona reflects on her mother’s few ties to Seattle, the most notable of which is her lifetime membership to Village Video. Christine had seen an advertisement for a ninety-nine-cent membership the week before her last visit to the hospital and decided it was too good a deal to pass up, even though she does not own a VCR. When Christine and Rayona had arrived at Village Video to sign up they saw a woman arguing with the store manager because she had bought a membership just four days earlier that had cost her significantly more. Christine was delighted at the woman’s loss. Christine and Rayona also learned that the special offer was for lifetime membership and Christine therefore decided that the membership should be in Rayona’s name because she would retain her membership at Village Video even after Christine’s death. The memory of her mother’s words—“’Till death”—as Rayona signed the Village Video contract gives Rayona a strangely depressed feeling. Rayona remembers that the week after they got the membership at Village Video, Christine checked into the hospital.

Later that night, Christine and Rayona pack for the trip to Aunt Ida’s. They fill four trash bags with various things and do not finish until five in the morning. Rayona wants to leave right away but Christine insists on waiting a few hours so she can stop at Village Video. They wait for the store to open, rent Christine and Little Big Man, and then set off for Montana. As she drives, Christine starts to talk about Aunt Ida, her adoptive mother whom she believes is her biological mother. Aunt Ida is actually Christine’s mother, but since Ida was unmarried when Christine was born, she decided to have Christine and her son, Lee, both call her “aunt.” Christine asks Rayona if she will miss anyone in Seattle, then quickly concludes that Rayona won’t. Rayona knows her mother is right because they have moved around too much for Rayona to make any friends.

After a couple days of driving, Christine and Rayona arrive in Montana. Less than a mile before they reach Aunt Ida’s, Christine accidentally drives the Volaré into a dip in the road, and it stalls. The car will not start up again, so they start walking. Aunt Ida is not glad to see Christine and asks her for three reasons why she should welcome Christine home. Christine gives two reasons—that she is Ida’s daughter and that she needs a place to stay—but as a third reason she can only think of “go fuck yourself anyway.” After she spits this third reason at Ida, Christine turns and runs back down the road. Rayona tries to follow her but cannot keep up. A passing pickup truck stops for Christine, and Rayona collapses furiously into the dirt by the side of the road. Aunt Ida comes for Rayona, and the two walk back toward the house.

Analysis: Chapter 2

Rayona’s portrayal of her mother’s actions continues to be less than flattering. She finds Christine’s membership to Village Video absurd since they do not own a VCR. From Rayona’s point of view, Christine’s enthusiasm over the membership deal at Village Video seems impractical and ridiculous. In addition, Christine’s decision to put Rayona’s name on the membership seems rather selfish, especially when she comes back a week later and rents two videos with no intention of returning them—Christine’s own interpretation of what “lifetime membership” means.

As Christine and Rayona drive away from Seattle, Rayona’s already severe sense of isolation becomes even more profound. Leaving Seattle gives Rayona the opportunity to reflect that she has never stayed anywhere long enough to have friends. She has always been the new kid, avoided because she is “[t]oo big, too smart, not Black, not Indian, not friendly.” Elgin, her father, is the only person in Seattle Rayona might conceivably miss, but she has largely given up on him. The only person Rayona has is her mother, which makes Rayona’s increasing disillusionment with and eventual abandonment by Christine all the more poignant. Without her mother, Rayona feels rootless and cast adrift. Infuriated and confused after Christine leaves her at the end of the chapter, Rayona has difficulty finding an appropriate outlet for her feelings. She can only tear at the ground and scream incoherently at Aunt Ida. It is not until Ida takes Rayona into her arms that Rayona is grounded again. Rayona’s search for belonging has suddenly become more precarious, as she has been separated from Christine, the most stable influence in her life up to this point. All her life, her circle of family and friends has consisted almost exclusively of her mother. Left to her own devices now, Rayona must find something new to hold on to.

We continue to see popular media and culture take a prominent place in the story. Christine makes two rentals at the video store: Christine and Little Big Man. She chooses the former because of the title and the latter because she dated one of the extras. Both of these movies offer her some sort of escape from the unpleasant reality of her life. These videos follow Rayona through her subsequent adventures and become a kind of symbol for her. Pop culture also provides an important moment of foreshadowing: the song lyric Aunt Ida is singing when Rayona and Christine arrive, “Looking for love in all the wrong places,” in addition to describing the emptiness that Christine finds in Ida and Rayona finds in Christine, becomes very important later in the novel when Aunt Ida and Christine get to tell their stories.

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