“Then I walked out before he could realize I knew he’d strung together more than six words at once.” Explain the meaning within the context of The Red Convertible.
The speaker is the story's narrator, Lyman, and Henry is his brother.
The red convertible was a car that Henry and Lyman bought on a whim. They used it throughout the entire summer (before the war), and it was a time of joy and brotherly escapades, traveling to new places and meeting new people.
Henry is in the Vietnam War in 1970, and when he returns home, he is not the same man. He is nervous and angry. Lyman isn't sure what to do to help.
In order to get through to his brother, Lyman goes out one night and beats the convertible up with a hammer. He does all he can to make the car inoperable, and then sits back and waits. In about a month, Henry finally comes to Lyman and complains that he hasn't taken good care of the car. Lyman hasn't really spoken at all since returning home: this is where he strings together more than six lines.
This is the context of the statement: Lyman [thinks he] manipulates Henry into caring about the car. Lyman says it's a piece of junk, but Henry argues the point and decides to fix it. Lyman seems to think that if he distracts him from his pain, Henry can be saved. He sees hope in his brother's singleminded desire to refurbish the car. By the end of the story, we find that Lyman hasn't really been keeping one step ahead of Henry. Henry has been on to what Lyman was trying to do, and Henry knows what he has become.
The two men go out for a ride to the river water to see how high it is. All of a sudden, Lyman is able to understand his brother's pain. He shouts at him and tells him to wake up, and here Henry admits to what he has become. Henry has lost himself. It's as if he is now just a ghost, a shadow of who he used to be.
At the water, Henry is ready to give the car to Lyman, perhaps symbolizing his desire to just give up. Perhaps he tries to return the car to Lyman, as if he knows somehow he'll have no need of it himself, or it is a symbolic gesture that rejects the past because Henry cannot find his way back there. The car means nothing to Henry except for what he thinks it could mean to Lyman, but Lyman doesn't want it. They start to fistfight, and before too long, they are both laughing. They reach out and can almost touch the past.
Lyman, still trying to distract Henry, suggests that they might pick up some girls, but Henry says all girls are crazy. Lyman tells Henry he is crazy. Lyman becomes thoughtful about this, but then agrees that he is crazy.
On an impulse, Henry jumps into the water for a swim, and is carried off. He doesn't seem concerned as he hollers back to Lyman that his boots are filling up with water. Then he is gone. Lyman searches until dark. At this point, he turns the car on, headlights shining, and drives it—empty—into the water.
Does Henry commit suicide? I don't think so. He doesn't seem to care enough anymore to even bother taking his life. He just goes into the water and is lost again, but this time it's for good.
The line may simply mean that we can run from who we are, but we cannot hide and we cannot be distracted. Henry could not face who he had become; his loss was too great for him to overcome it.