A Yellow Raft in Blue Water
Summary: Chapter 6
Rayona, Sky, and Evelyn arrive at Sky and Evelyn’s trailer at the end of the day. Evelyn puts on a housecoat and slippers that remind Rayona of her mother. Evelyn has bought two packs of macaroni and cheese for each of them, but Rayona falls asleep on the couch instead of having dinner. Sky and Evelyn go through Rayona’s pockets while she sleeps in an attempt to find out more about her. They suspect Rayona is a runaway, but when they find the letter she picked up during her rounds, they decide she must be telling the truth. The next morning, Sky and Evelyn are groggy but Rayona is fresh and ready to start work. The three drive to work, where Evelyn makes Rayona breakfast again. Rayona can tell that Evelyn likes her, and she likes Evelyn in return.
Rayona starts her rounds. She reaches the lake where she and Father Tom went swimming and considers taking a dip, but someone is already there. Looking from behind a tree by the side of the lake, Rayona sees an attractive girl on the yellow raft. Rayona sees the girl as everything she herself is not “but ought to be.” The girl is talking to someone on the shore, and Rayona overhears that her name is Ellen. Soon, Ellen dives into the water and swims away.
Rayona starts to become accustomed to her rounds. In addition to trash, she sometimes finds lost articles of clothing. Once something has been in the lost and found box for three weeks, anyone can claim it, so Rayona slowly gathers a new wardrobe for herself. Rayona sometimes also finds things for Sky and Evelyn. One day she finds a blanket that Dave, one of the college students, wants, but Rayona keeps it for Evelyn.
Rayona cannot seem to get Ellen out of her mind, so she asks around to find out what she can about the girl. Evelyn does not particularly like Ellen because “she’s some kind of vegetarian,” and Sky knows only that Ellen drives a red Toyota Celica and buys premium gasoline with her father’s credit card. Andy’s opinion of Ellen is focused mainly on her “[b]azzooms,” and Dave thinks that Ellen is a “bubblehead,” so Rayona gathers most of her intelligence from Ellen herself. On the morning of the Fourth of July, Ellen enters the lodge kitchen with her parents and politely asks Evelyn to make them breakfast. Ellen starts talking to Rayona, who is surprised by how much Ellen knows about her. Ellen’s father shows Rayona a picture of Ellen’s foster brother, a Native American child whom Ellen’s parents sponsor through the Save the Children charity. The boy is named Rocky and reminds Rayona of Foxy. Ellen’s father proudly explains that Rocky has begun to call him and his wife “Mother and Pops.” The conversation turns to Ellen’s skills with children and animals, and Ellen’s mother mentions how lonely “Rascal” is now that Ellen is gone. Rayona catches Evelyn looking at her and realizes that Evelyn recognizes “Mother and Pops” and “Rascal” from the letter Rayona picked off the ground. Rayona runs from the diner and throws the letter onto the ground, but soon picks it up again, reading it and seeing her own family in her mind.
Analysis: Chapter 6
Sky and Evelyn’s house seems strangely familiar to Rayona because a number of the objects and decorations in their trailer fulfill a role similar to that of the physical details of Rayona’s past. Even though Rayona never acknowledges it, the trailer is similar to Aunt Ida’s house in many respects. Sky and Evelyn’s trailer is full of tabloid newspapers such as the National Enquirer and the Star, the literary equivalent of the soap operas Ida watches. Evelyn’s typical outfit of a sleeveless housecoat and fuzzy slippers also reminds Rayona of her past, particularly her mother. However, Rayona resists the memories and feelings that Sky and Evelyn’s trailer evoke because they interfere with her attempts to make her new life as separate as possible from the one she has lived for the past fifteen years.
In Ellen, Rayona encounters the idealized embodiment of her own fabricated life. Seeing Ellen on the yellow raft, Rayona considers the girl to be everything she herself should be but is not. Rayona’s quest to find out everything there is to know about Ellen is partly an attempt to become more like Ellen, at least in her fantasies. Indeed, when Rayona sees Ellen at the lake, she avoids looking for too long for fear of seeing something imperfect. Rayona maintains only limited contact with Ellen, probably out of fear of ruining her fantasy, but is able to idealize the little contact she does have.
In her interactions with Sky and Evelyn, Rayona is able to live her fantasy life to some extent, but her romanticizing is jeopardized by her encounters with Ellen. Having read the letter in Rayona’s wallet, Sky and Evelyn see Rayona only in the context of the life she has made up. Because they treat Rayona like she actually lives the life described in the letter, she can imagine that she really does have two loving parents, a big house with a yard, and a dog. Rayona is free to imagine that her time at Bearpaw Lake is just a small break from her idealized real life. Rayona’s fantasy breaks down, however, when she finally comes into contact with the true owner of the life she has borrowed. When Ellen and her parents come to the diner for breakfast, Evelyn recognizes in their conversation facts that she had previously attributed to Rayona. The whole purpose of Rayona’s fantasy life is to make other people believe it is her reality, and when that belief evaporates, her dream world comes crashing down around her. Nonetheless, even though she is aware that her constructed life is a lie, she cannot let go of the fantasy. Rayona keeps Ellen’s letter, reading it again and putting herself back into the world it creates for her.
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