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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.
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
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Yellow Raft in Blue Water!