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Dr. Zhivago

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Submitted By blaine
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"The Red Convertible" is a short story about the relationship between two Native American Indian brothers. It analyzes how their bond changes with the passage of time and is affected by both internal and external factors in the late 1960's and early 1970's.

The story is told from the point of view of Lyman Lamartine, a young man who is a Chippewa Indian living on a reservation in North Dakota in 1974. Lyman remembers that he was the first person to ever drive a convertible on the reservation. The convertible was red, and Lyman owned it jointly with his brother, Henry. At present, Henry still owns the car, and Lyman must walk everywhere he goes.

Lyman relates that he had always been good at making money and was able to buy his share of the car when he and Henry came upon it. Lyman had worked as a shoeshine boy in the American Legion Hall when he was very young and sold spiritual bouquets door-to-door at Christmastime to make money. When he was fifteen, Lyman got a job washing dishes in the Joliet Cafy, which he came to own just a year later. A tornado destroyed the cafy, and Lyman had just enough money remaining to buy his share of the red convertible.

Both Henry and Lyman have all their money with them when they take a ride with a friend to Winnipeg and spot the convertible. Neither brother ever mentioned buying a car, but both knew immediately upon seeing it that they wanted to buy it.

During that summer, Henry and Lyman drive all around the Dakotas and end up in Montana with no plan or need for an itinerary. Along the way, the brothers pick up a hitchhiker named Susy and take her home to Alaska. They spend the balance of the summer there, before returning home to North Dakota.

Upon their return, Henry is called into the military and returns home for a Christmas visit before going overseas. The year is 1970, and Henry's letters home report only that he is stationed in the northern hill country. Lyman thinks Henry is in Vietnam, but has trouble remembering which part of Vietnam the good soldiers come from.

The whole time that Henry is gone, Lyman works on the red convertible, trying to repair some of the damage done during the long road trip of the previous summer. Lyman is as good with numbers as he is with money. Fortunately, his number never comes up, requiring him to go into military service.

It is three years before Henry returns home, and Lyman has worked on the convertible until it is in nearly perfect condition. Lyman is distressed to see Henry's condition, particularly his brother's restless, sullen moods. Lyman remembers times when he and Henry would just sit and watch the scenery and talk to anyone who happened to stop by. Henry used to like a good joke, too, but now he never smiles. Lyman determines that Henry is just "jumpy and mean."

During the time of Henry's service, Lyman purchased a color TV set for the family. Now, he regrets it, because Henry gets so intense watching it that he grabs the armrests of his chair as if the pictures might propel him forward, crashing into the set. Lyman recalls one evening when Lyman bit through his lip while watching the screen and does not even notice the blood running down his chin.

Getting help for Henry is not an easy job as there are no Indian doctors on the reservation. To make matters worse, their mother does not trust the medicine man who may take revenge on Henry, as she spurned the man in younger days. Both Lyman and his mother agree that hospitals cannot help with Henry's problem, because they just give a person drugs and do not address the real issues.

Out of all the "viable" options, Lyman remembers how Henry had loved the red convertible and hopes that the car might rejunate him . One night when Henry is away, Lyman beats the underside of the convertible with a hammer so that the car is in desperate need of repair.

Lyman waits until Henry makes the observations about the car and begins to make the necessary repairs after chastising Lyman for not maintaining the convertible while he was gone. The winter is breaking into spring, and Henry spends most of his time working on the convertible's repairs. Lyman can see some improvements in Henry's mood, but not enough to say that the real Henry is back.

Finally, spring arrives, and Lyman's hopes are buoyed when Henry asks Lyman if he wants to take a ride in the convertible. Before the two brothers leave, their little sister, Bonita, takes a picture of Henry and Lyman posing in front of the car.

Lyman's narrative transitions to the present, and he mentions that he never looks at that picture anymore. A short time ago, Lyman had pinned the picture to the wall, because he liked looking at it. Now, Lyman cannot bear to see it. One day, a friend of Lyman's helps him put the picture in a brown paper bag in the back of a closet; but Lyman is still very much aware of the photo's presence.

Lyman begins to remember the day that he and Henry took a ride in the car after their sister took the picture. The brothers have a full cooler in the trunk and head out for the Red River, where the water is always so high. Lyman has the feeling that his life is starting again, because the spring breezes have begun to wash away the dregs of winter.

Upon reaching their destination, Henry and Lyman build a fire on the riverbanks where little piles of snow still sit among the winter's trash. The river has not yet overflowed its banks, but Lyman can tell that it will soon. Lyman feels a constricting sensation inside and realizes that this is what Henry is experiencing too.

Lyman does not know what comes over him, but he jumps up and begins to shake Henry by the shoulders, urging him to wake up. Lyman sits again beside the unresponsive Henry, who can only say that he understands, and that it is no use. Henry gives the convertible to Lyman, who does not want it. The brothers scuffle, and Henry tears the sleeve off of Lyman's good, suede jacket.

Lyman hits Henry very hard in the jaw, bringing both blood and tears. Henry just laughs and tells Lyman to have fun in the car. The brothers share some beers and laugh for awhile, and Lyman thinks that maybe the old Henry is returning.

Lyman suggests returning home and picking up some girls, but Henry's mood has turned dark again. Suddenly, Henry jumps up, throws off his jacket and begins to dance wildly. Lyman laughs at his antics. Yelling that he needs to cool off, Henry runs to the river and jumps in. Lyman tries to see where Henry is, but cannot locate him in the high waters.

Finally, Lyman spots Henry halfway across the water and hears Henry say that his boots are filling. Then, the current carries him away. Lyman jumps into the water but is not able to retrieve Henry. It is now evening, and Lyman pulls the convertible to the riverbank and turns on the high beam lights. Putting the car in first gear, he gets out and watches the red convertible sink until the headlights go out. Lyman is aware of the sound of the rushing water in the darkness.

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