Chapter 9: The Message

Phoebe and Sal visit Mary Lou's house, which is chaotic and wild with children. Sal remembers seeing Mary Lou's parents at a school event and being secretly envious of the way they had participated in all the games. The girls sit in Mary Lou's bedroom with her cousin, Ben, and discuss the lunatic. Ben teases Sal about her name and her long hair, and as she is leaving the room, much to Sal's surprise and consternation, he kisses her collarbone. Phoebe and Sal return to Phoebe's house, where Mrs. Winterbottom appears to be crying on the couch. Phoebe quickly tells Mrs. Winterbottom about the lunatic. Mrs. Winterbottom worriedly tells Phoebe not to tell her father. When the two girls walk outside, they find an envelope on the doorstep with a message inside: "Don't judge a man until you've walked two moons in his moccasins." Mr. Winterbottom comes home, and the family looks at the message with worried perplexity.

Chapter 10: Huzza, Huzza

Gram, Gramps, and Sal arrive in Madison, Wisconsin. They stroll around the town, enjoying the scenery and eating ice cream. Sal feels uneasy, still longing to be on the road, rushing toward Lewiston. Her grandparents ask if she wants to buy some postcards, and she adamantly refuses, remembering the trail of postcards her mother sent during her trip to Idaho. They continue on, only to be diverted by the Wisconsin Dells, a theme park featuring Wisconsin's Native American heritage. Sal walks around with Gram, ruminating on her own Native American heritage and the fact that she prefers the phrase "American Indian" to "Native American." While she and Gram watch some dancers, Sal dozes off. When she awakes, Gram is no longer beside her, and she panics, fearing that they have abandoned her and that eventually everyone, like her mother, will abandon her. She calms down, however, when she realized that Gram has merely donned a headdress and joined the dancers.

Chapter 11: Flinching

The travelers reach Minnesota, and Sal continues Phoebe's story. Soon, another message appears on Phoebe's doorstep, reading, "Everyone has his own agenda." The girls, uncertain of the meaning of "agenda," try to decipher the message at Mary Lou's. Later, they go with Mary Lou's brothers and Ben to the store. On the way, one of the young boys runs into Sal, knocking her over into Ben's arms. Ben holds onto Sal, and although she demands that he let her go, she finds herself shivering slightly at his touch. At the store, Sal sees the lunatic, and begins to feel a little frightened. On the way home, Ben starts to tell the girls that they should not call the other boy a lunatic, but does not explain himself. Then he accuses Sal of flinching whenever anyone touches her. He uses this as an excuse to hold her arm, and Sal works hard not to flinch at his touch. He then asks where her mother is, and touches her again, causing her to flinch. Sal, bothered by Ben's comments, recalls hugging her mother, snuggling with her in bed, and pretending that they were on a raft floating away down the river. Ben touches Phoebe, who also flinches, and Sal starts to wonder if Sal used to pull away from her mother the way that Phoebe pulls away from Mrs. Winterbottom.

As they arrive at Phoebe's, Margaret Cadaver pulls up and, despite Phoebe's protests, enlists Ben's help in unloading the contents of her car, which include an axe. Inside, Phoebe shows Mrs. Winterbottom the second note. At home that night, Sal asks her father what it means if a person flinches when someone touches him or her. Her father, eyes red from crying, pulls her to him and hugs her.

Chapter 12: The Marriage Bed

The travelers are closing in on the South Dakota border, but Gramps sees a sign advertising a national monument at Pipestone, Minnesota and pulls off the interstate. At the monument, another tribute to, as Sal would have us say, American Indian culture, they learn how American Indians made pipes from stone and they try smoking from a pipe. Sal irrationally feels her mother is disappearing with the smoke. At the motel that night, Gramps plumps up the bed and repeats his nightly mantra: "Well, this ain't our marriage bed, but it will have to do." Sal then recalls the story of Gramps and Gram's marriage: Gramps had met Gram when he was seventeen and had fallen in love with her immediately. He followed her around incessantly and finally asked her to marry him. Gram, strangely, asked him about his relationship with his dog, and judging from how warm and gentle Gramps was with his beloved beagle, Gram determined that he would be a good and loving husband and agreed to marry him. They were soon married, and on the day of the wedding, Gramp's father and brothers secretly carried Gramp's parent's bed, in which he and his brothers had been born, into the new little house they had built for the newlyweds. Gramps avows that he will die in that very bed, and Sal finds herself wondering if she will ever have such a marriage bed.


As Sal and her grandparents draw closer to Lewiston, Idaho and as Phoebe's story unfolds, we get an increasingly clear picture of what is missing from the narrative. We learn the reason why Sal's mother left them, the reason she went to Lewiston, and what happened to her in Lewiston. Sal's stories circle around that moment and center on this knowledge. She narrates family history, she narrates moments from her life in Kentucky with both of her parents, she narrates the events in Kentucky and Ohio taking place after her mother left, but does not narrate her mother's departure and trip. The string of postcards her mother sent draws a maddeningly incomplete and inconclusive trail between her departure and the events in Lewiston that serves only to intensify our desire for this narrative, the heart of the story. Sal's own refusal to narrate the story indicates that the uncovering of this story is the goal of her quest. The stories she tells and the misadventures she has on the way are merely leading up to her ultimate confrontation with this painful story.

Just as the objects embedded in Sal's stories often carry their own histories and narratives, the stops that Sal and her grandparents make along the way tell a history of the land across which they are traveling. Their stop in the Wisconsin Dells and in Pipestone reminds Sal of this country's ancient heritage. The dances, the stone, and the pipes carry history much as the blackberries do. These artifacts are not merely sentimental, but color the present with emotion and inform Sal's understanding of the present. Though these two stops are tourist attractions, glamorized and stylized for middle-class consumption, Sal and her grandparents cut through this veneer, refusing politically correct terminology by referring to themselves as Indians and throwing themselves into the heart of the rituals, dancing, smoking, and conversing with the people who work at the monuments. Sal's heritage provides another example of the way in which history in not only embedded in the present, but also constantly interacting with and redefining the present.

Sal draws closer to adulthood in both of the novel's parallel narratives. Her emerging sexuality embedded within Phoebe's story mirrors her increasing proximity to her confrontation with her mother, her past, and her loss of childhood in the novel's framing narrative. As they draw closer and closer to Lewiston, Sal finds herself increasingly attracted to Ben and both mark her increasing involvement in the adult world. While these two trends are in one sense parallel, taking place at different levels of the narrative, they also intersect and affect each other. Sal's emerging attraction to Ben leads her back to the painful narrative that she must confront. His comments about her flinching at his touch lead her to wonder if she had drawn away from her mother and if she and her father still hug enough. Sal stands at the cusp of two worlds, wanting physical affection both from her parents and from a boy her age.