Kathy notes that things between herself and Tommy become strained after the meeting with Emily and Madame, perhaps because they know there is no more deferral—that the animals no longer matter. Tommy also notes that he is soon approaching his fourth donation, and that this donation is often the one at which donors, even hearty ones, complete.
It is perhaps striking that donors can even make it to the fourth donation at all. Ishiguro does not explain which organs are taken first—but if the donors give away one kidney here, and perhaps other peripheral organs in later donations, they could conceivably make it to a fourth—a morbid and bitter notion.
One day, when Kathy is visiting and tending to Tommy, the two go outside for a walk, and Tommy tells her that he thinks he should get a new carer for this part of his donating life. Kathy becomes very upset, and says that Ruth wanted her to be Tommy’s carer till the end, but Tommy counters that Kathy should not care for him during this “difficult part,” and that if Kathy were a donor herself, she would understand why Tommy wants to go through this final donation alone.
Tommy also has a degree of self-knowledge that allows him to understand that he wants to be alone, away from Kathy, when he undergoes the difficulties of the final donation. He will be in a severely weakened state, and he feels that he and Kathy have had their time together—that nothing, now, can keep them a couple, and that Tommy would rather spare Kathy this last, brutal and wrenching moment.
Tommy notes that “he and Kathy have loved each other all their lives,” but that, at this point, they are like two people in a river, and the “current is so strong, it’s pushing them apart.” Kathy is reminded of “holding Tommy in the cow-field,” and though she recognizes that she loves Tommy and does not want to say goodbye to him, she understands why he wants to complete on his own, and spare Kathy this part of his life. Kathy agrees to find Tommy a new carer.
Kathy realizes that she truly loves Tommy, and that Tommy truly loves her. Despite all the other tragedies and misfortunes of the novel, this remains an important fact—Ishiguro allows the novel, despite all its other trappings of drama and technology, to remain a love story between two young people.
Tommy and Kathy have their last several meetings, and at their last one, they talk briefly about Ruth, wondering if Ruth would have liked to have known everything Tommy and Kathy found out, about Hailsham and their own lives, from Emily and Madame. But Tommy notes that Ruth “wanted to believe in things,” and that, therefore, it’s probably better that she completed before she knew that deferral was impossible, that Tommy and Kathy could not have extra time together, and that her plan for allowing them to be happy together didn’t really work in the end.
Tommy understands Ruth far better than Ruth ever understood herself. He knows that, for Ruth, it was more important to continue deluding herself, to make herself feel that, perhaps, one day, she might elude the fate that was closing in on all of them. Ruth seemed to understand, when she became a donor, that there was no escaping this fate—but she still relied on the idea that a deferral for Tommy and Kathy was possible.
Kathy tells herself that her emotions about Ruth are more complicated. She, too, is partly glad Ruth was spared this knowledge. She also feels that there is a “mean-spirited” part of her that wishes Ruth knew that Tommy and Kathy couldn’t get a deferral—perhaps so Ruth could feel even worse for “keeping them apart for so long.” But mostly Kathy recognizes that, because Ruth died before knowing the truth about Hailsham, there’s “a line with Tommy and Kathy on one side and Ruth on the other,” and that division between them upsets Kathy more than anything else.
Kathy’s honesty here is very important in the novel. Kathy is not a perfect narrator nor a perfect person—she has petty jealousies and angers and fears like anyone else. But her poise in coping with and acknowledging these lesser parts of her character are commendable. She knows that Ruth wronged her, and that she will always be, in part, mad at Ruth. But she also knows that Ruth did her best, and was a good friend to her and Tommy before she died.
Kathy says a final goodbye to Tommy, but since they have been saying “goodbye” to each other for a long time now, the end is difficult but not excruciating. Kathy goes on with her life, and hears after months that Tommy completed after his fourth donation. She remarks to herself that, though she has “lost Tommy and Ruth and Hailsham,” she still has memories of these places, and she can keep these memories with her, and fight the decay of these memories, during her time as a donor, which is set to begin shortly.
What Kathy is saying here is that despite the constrictions imposed on her life, she still had a life—a deeply human life—to remember and cherish. Hailsham may have been a bit of a sham and a failure at that, but it was still a place of love and comfort for her. Her relationships with Ruth and Tommy may not have been perfect, but they still contained love.
Kathy also tells the reader that she allowed herself an “indulgence” after hearing of Tommy’s death. She drove back to Norfolk, and saw nearby a long stretch of trees designed to break the wind coming off the water. In the trees were bits of trash that had been blown off the sea—and Kathy believes that the trees, like Norfolk in general, are part of the apparatus that “finds” things that are lost. Kathy then imagines that Tommy might also come out of the water and stand before her, “perhaps wave at her.” This memory of Tommy causes her to cry, but she maintains her composure, noting that she did not “sob,” before “driving off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.” The novel ends.
A terrific, and terrifically sad, image at the close of the book. It is important to note that, even in this romantic and lovely scene, Ishiguro has chosen to compare Tommy, in Kathy’s mind, to trash—the trash that is left behind on the shore, and that blows into and is caught in the trees. But in this trash Kathy chooses not to see the bad—the refuse—but the good, the idea that even things people have left behind will be captured and held by some part of nature. Kathy will continue to endure her life as it becomes even more difficult, as the constrictions it places on her become even more tight and inescapable, and all the while she will hold Tommy and Ruth close to her, in her heart and mind.