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Lee’s corpse is finally delivered to the reservation,
and Christine takes Rayona to the funeral. Christine drives her
new car, a Volaré, through a snowstorm late at night. At one point
during the drive, Christine, in a fit of snow blindness, thinks
she sees Lee standing by the side of the road, halfway up a golden
staircase and holding his hand out for her. Focused on this vision,
Christine skids the car and spins off the road. After changing Rayona’s
diaper and feeding her in the car, Christine starts off again toward
By the time Christine and Rayona arrive, Lee’s body is
lying in wait at Aunt Ida’s house. When Christine sees Ida, she
is struck by the similarities between Ida and Rayona. Many people
attend Lee’s wake, but Dayton is not among them. Christine is ready
to forgive Dayton for not going to war, but she soon realizes that
some of the people on the reservation blame her for Lee’s death.
Christine asks Ida where she can put Rayona to sleep. For the first
time Ida shows some affection to Rayona.
Lee’s funeral is the next day, and Father Hurlburt stops
by to lead everyone to the church. Christine has not been to church
once since the world failed to end years before, so she stands at
the back. Christine sees Dayton sitting in the pews, and she flashes
her wedding ring at him as he is leaving. As it is winter, the ground
is too hard to bury Lee, so the mourners take handfuls of potting
soil to throw on the casket. When they are finished, Ida cleans
off the dirt and shakes cedar out onto the casket in a six-pointed
pattern, in the center of which she places Lee’s championship buckle.
The only person who does not throw her dirt is Christine, who stands
petrified and unable to move. Finally, Dayton grabs Christine’s
wrist and tells her she must bury Lee. When Dayton lets go of Christine’s
arm, she is able to move again and throws dirt on the coffin.
There is a get-together at Pauline’s, but Christine and
Dayton skip it and go to dinner in town instead. They order food
but do not talk much. Christine brags about her life in Seattle.
Later, the veterans hold an honor ceremony for Lee at the mission
gym. Willard Pretty Dog, one of the veterans, pulls Ida into a dance.
Christine dances with Vernon, another veteran, and Dayton dances
with baby Rayona.
Despite Christine’s disillusionment with religion, in
this chapter we see her fall back on her faith as a support, and
religion takes on a new credibility in the novel. As she is driving
through the snowstorm to the funeral, Christine prays for protection
against skidding on the icy road. Unlike her previous religious
experiences, which were as a member of an organized religious group,
Christine’s prayer exhibits a personal faith. Out on the snowy road,
Christine does not have to deal with religious dogma and prays directly
to God without an intermediary. This is the first time we see personal, purified
religious faith in the novel. Rayona’s dealings with the church,
for instance, actually have very little to do with God and are more
style than substance. The God Squad and other catchphrases of Father
Tom’s had characterized religion in Rayona’s section more than had
any actual religious faith. Christine’s faith as her car skids out
of control, however, is a purer, more meaningful version of religion
than we have previously seen.
Christine’s vision of Lee clearly has religious overtones,
but its meaning is open to interpretation and gives all of the events
surrounding the vision a mysterious feel. The image of Lee climbing
a flight of golden stairs is an unmistakable symbol of him ascending
to heaven. However, the fact that Lee is holding out his hand toward Christine
is intriguing, as Lee seems to be indicating that he wants Christine
to follow him. This vision could mean that Christine is going to
die soon, literally following Lee up the golden staircase. It could
also, however, indicate that Christine is meant to follow Lee in some
other way, to more closely emulate Lee’s life. The vagueness of this
vision leads to a car accident of equally ambiguous nature. The skid
appears to be an accident, but it can also be read as a passive suicide
attempt, since Christine says she “let [the world] go with no regrets.”
Even so, as she spins off the road Christine throws herself over
Rayona to keep her baby from flying out of the car. This gesture is
clearly protective, and signifies that Christine cares enough about Rayona
to keep from seizing an opportunity to end her life and truly follow
Earlier we encounter the possibility that Christine wanted
Lee to join the army at least partly out of concern for her own
reputation, and now we see this selfishness backfire. At Lee’s wake,
Christine sees that Lee’s enlistment has, ironically, actually been
detrimental to her reputation, as many people on the reservation
blame her for Lee’s death. Christine’s reaction to this blame is
two-fold. She comes to the reservation ready to forgive Dayton for
dodging the draft and to play the part of the grieving but kind
sister. When she realizes that people blame her, Christine becomes
angry at Dayton and Ida, a reaction that seems to indicate that
Christine’s primary interest is still her own reputation. However,
Christine’s emotional state at Lee’s funeral shows that her grief
is very real. While the other mourners are sad, they are at least
able to contribute to Lee’s burial, but Christine is too stricken
with grief to throw her handful of dirt onto Lee’s coffin. She does
not want to forget Lee and is unable to make this final gesture
until Dayton forces her to. For Christine, Lee is still only halfway
up the golden steps.
Dayton finally forces Christine to accept the reality
of Lee’s death and let go of his memory. Now that Lee is gone, Christine’s
best and clearest memories of him are through Dayton. Christine
and Dayton share a connection after Lee’s death that is as strong
as the one they shared over Lee’s future when he was still alive.
Lee was originally a source of competition for Christine and Dayton,
but now their shared memories of him bring them closer together.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Yellow Raft in Blue Water!