It is the day before Easter Sunday in Williston, an oil town in southern North Dakota. June Kashpaw, a Chippewa woman, walks down the main avenue. She is “aged hard in every way” but attractive and sure of herself at the same time. She catches the attention of a man in a bar, and he taps on the window. June thinks he looks like someone she knows, but she thinks this about a lot of people, so she goes inside the bar to see.
June is immediately introduced as a strong, yet fragile woman. She is “aged hard,” meaning she has had a rough life, but she is still confident and proud. While it isn’t explicitly stated, Erdrich implies that June is a prostitute; thus, many men look familiar to her.
Inside the bar, cartons of brightly color eggs are everywhere, and the man sits peeling the shell of a pink egg. June sits down, and the man remarks on her shirt, claiming her turtleneck is the same color as the egg. June corrects him; it is not a turtleneck, she says, but a “shell.” The man tells her that he is willing to “peel” that shell, too, and hands her the egg. June can’t remember the last time she had anything to eat, so she eagerly takes the egg.
The Easter eggs connote Christianity, particularly Catholicism, which reflects the influence of European culture on American society. Christianity was brought to America by white settlers, and Native Americans, such as June, have been assimilated to this culture at the detriment of their own indigenous culture and spirituality.
June tells the man that she doesn’t have much time until her bus, but he tells her to never mind the bus. She looks at him. Maybe the eggs are “lucky,” she thinks, and maybe he isn’t like the others. Her bus ticket will always be good, and no one is really expecting her back on the reservation. Plus, June’s ex-husband, Gordie, would always send her money if she really needs it. “Ahhhhh,” June says out loud, surprising even herself. Her voice is nearly one of “pain.” She looks again to the man, whose name she has learned is Andy. “You got to be different,” she says.
Andy immediately assumes a position of power over June. She tells him she must leave, and he tells her that she isn’t going anywhere. While June is certainly free to do as she pleases, Andy tells her rather than asks her what she will be doing, which aligns with the oppression of women seen throughout the novel. In June’s experience, most men seek to do her harm—they either beat her, abandon her, or use her for sex—and she is desperately hoping Andy is different, which is why her voice is full of “pain.”
Sitting at the bar with Andy, June suddenly feels “fragile.” She gets up and heads toward the bathroom, thinking that her skin feels “hard and brittle,” like she could crack at any moment. She feels uncomfortable in her clothing, and she has begun to sweat under her vinyl jacket (a gift from her son, King). Taking the jacket off is out of the question, as she needs it to hide a large rip in the shirt underneath. Inside the bathroom stall, June fumbles and drops her purse. The contents spill to the floor, including a large doorknob, which she has to take with her every time she leaves her room to lock the door. She picks up the porcelain knob and puts it in the pocket of her jacket.
It's likely that June puts the doorknob in her pocket so that it can be easily accessed for self-defense in case Andy turns violent. June is a battered woman, but the fact that she arms herself again reflects her strength. June is ready to fight and won’t submit willingly to the violence of men. She is strong, yet she is “fragile” and prone to cracking and breaking. This suggests that, despite her strength, she is still vulnerable to the oppression and violence of men. Furthermore, June’s ripped shirt and vinyl jacket suggests that while she doesn’t have much, she is still a fiercely proud woman.
Andy drives June out to a country road on the outskirts of town and parks. He begins to take her clothes off, but he is drunk and awkward, and she must help him along. She pushes up her top, being careful to keep the rip hidden, and arches her back so he can unbutton her pants. Andy pulls June’s tightfitting pants down her legs and static electricity sparks in the dark. “Oh God,” Andy says, laying on top of June and grinding his hips. “Oh God, Mary.” Then he suddenly stops, falling with all his weight on top of her. June shakes him, but he doesn’t move.
Andy drives June out to a deserted country road, which suggests he could do anything he wants to June and no one would be around to help her. This isolation reflects just how vulnerable June is; she is at his mercy with only a porcelain doorknob to protect herself. Andy’s calls to God also reflects the prevalence of Christianity in American society. Even in the throes of passion, June can’t escape this European influence.
Andy is deadweight on top of June, but his breathing is deep and easy. She begins again to feel “frail,” like she will “crack wide open,” so she reaches behind her head and swings open the car door. Leaving the door open, June walks out into the cold, in the direction of Williston. After walking a while, she can see the town’s light in the distance, but she suddenly decides to change direction and head for the reservation instead. The wind blows—a “Chinook wind,” June thinks—and she pretends that she is just heading home to Uncle Eli’s after a dance or from a friend’s house. It begins to snow, and June’s fee are numb, but she doesn’t stop. She is going home.
June’s feelings of frailness and the sensation that she will “crack wide open” again reflects her vulnerability as a woman. Despite this vulnerability, however, June remains strong and walks away, even though she is heading towards her death. This passage also reflects June’s Native identity and her desire to get home to her family and tribe. A “Chinook wind” is a wind that blows off the Rocky Mountains near the end of winter, and it is calling June home to her North Dakota reservation.