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A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

Michael Dorris

Chapter 5

Chapter 4

Chapter 6

Summary: Chapter 5

This scrap of paper in my hand makes me feel poor in a way like I just heard of rich. Jealous. What kind of a person would throw it away?

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Rayona wakes the next morning and crosses the road to the entrance of Bearpaw Lake State Park. She finds a sign that instructs lost hikers to stay put. She does so, and a short time later encounters a man whom she recognizes from the gas station the day before. The man introduces himself as Sky, and Rayona follows him into the park office. He makes Rayona a cup of coffee and tells her a joke about a priest, a rabbi, and a Hindu. Rayona tells Sky that she is from Seattle, that her parents are on vacation, that her father is a pilot, and that she ran away from the priest Sky had seen her with because she didn’t want to be converted. Although Rayona fabricates nearly the entire story, one element is true: that she has an uncle, Lee, who died in Vietnam.

Sky calls his wife, Evelyn, who works as a cook in the park, to see if she can get Rayona a job. Evelyn makes Rayona breakfast and sends her to see Mr. McCutcheon, the man in charge of park maintenance. Mr. McCutcheon sets Rayona up spearing trash and gives her a uniform, noting how tall and skinny Rayona is as he picks out a uniform for her. Rayona goes to the ladies’ room to put on her uniform, but there is no mirror, so she goes to the men’s room to check her hair. As she is leaving, Andy, Dave, and John, three college students, come into the men’s room. They are also grounds workers and are envious that Rayona has been assigned to work in Zone Seven because an attractive young lifeguard works there. Rayona thinks bitterly to herself that Andy, Dave, and John treat her like one of the guys but then notes that being pretty never helped her mother very much.

There is not much trash to pick up in Zone Seven, and most of what Rayona finds has probably been there for some time. As she is about to leave, she happens upon half of a crumpled letter. The letter, addressed to some unknown camper, is from “Mother & Pops,” and declares how much the parents love and miss the letter’s addressee. Rayona is jealous and is going to put the letter in the trash but finds that she cannot. Instead, she deposits it in her wallet. The letter lingers in her mind and makes her miss the rains of Seattle.

Analysis: Chapter 5

At the beginning of this chapter, Rayona has a blank slate upon which she can construct her fantasy life, and it is interesting to note which parts of her life she chooses to keep and which parts she continues to reinvent. When Rayona meets Sky, she has the opportunity to tell him anything she wants, but even as she makes up her life story, Rayona preserves several facts from her real life. One of these points of reality is Rayona’s uncle, Lee. Lee died in Vietnam, and part of the reason that Rayona includes him in her narrative is because mentioning Lee helps her relate to Sky, who had dodged the draft. Rayona also chooses to keep Lee as a part of her fantasy life because he is non-threatening and never rejected her. Rayona’s vague memory of Lee’s funeral may be another reason why she does not turn her back on this part of her old life. Lee’s funeral is Rayona’s earliest conscious memory, and as such represents a beginning for Rayona. Because Lee’s funeral marks the beginning of Rayona’s conscious life, it is not, in her mind, as corrupted as the rest of her past, and she therefore feels it is a safe memory to hold on to. She continues, however, to deny that she has run away and to assert that her father is a pilot. Instead of saying Christine is dead, however, this time Rayona softens her view and claims that her parents are on vacation.

After her conversation with Sky, Rayona begins the first day of her new life. As she gets a job and meets a number of new people, she begins to change not just her past, but also her future. Importantly, however, Rayona learns that there are some aspects of herself that she does not have the power to rewrite. Mr. McCutcheon comments abundantly on Rayona’s sex, color, height, and weight, even though he is one of the first people ever to be impressed by these attributes. Instead of rejection, Mr. McCutcheon is proud of the fact that Rayona will break new ground for the custodial department at Bearpaw Lake by being the department’s first woman and first minority worker. Rayona is less pleased with the reception she receives from her fellow groundskeepers. She realizes the college boys do not really even think of her as a girl and that her unattractiveness will always limit her to being one of the boys.

The letter Rayona discovers in the dirt presents a picture of ideal family life and becomes another part of Rayona’s escapist fantasy. Reading the letter, Rayona imagines herself as its addressee. Although Rayona keeps Christine as her mother in this fantasy, she imagines Christine acting in an overtly affectionate way, something completely out of character for the real Christine. Nevertheless, the letter makes Rayona miss her mother, whom she imagines as the rains of Seattle. In earlier chapters, Rayona often describes her mother’s speech as rain or water. Now, as she thinks of Christine as part of the ideal family, Rayona longs for the rains of her former hometown.

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