Ginny continues to get letters and postcards from Rose, and each one infuriates her: they’re proof that Rose still isn’t dead, and that she and Rose are still sisters.
Ginny is still spinning her wheels, waiting for the day that Rose drops dead (although it’s unclear why Ginny still resents her sister to such a murderous degree). The problem, of course, is that Ginny spends entire years waiting instead of moving on.
One day, Ginny gets a letter from Rose: Rose will be in the hospital in Mason City. Ginny agrees to go see her. In the hospital, she’s shocked to see Rose looking very thin and pale. She’s been in and out of chemotherapy for a long time. Rose makes Ginny promise to take her children back home—she also hints that she and Ginny need to talk about “when.”
After many years, Rose’s cancer has finally and tragically caught up with her. The understated way that Rose talks about her impending death (“when”) suggests her fear of death. It’s Rose’s fear of death that has inspired her to reunite with her sister (by sending the letter). But even while she’s close to death, Rose’s behavior around Ginny is subdued, suggesting that the sisters remain somewhat estranged. The sisters don't show strong emotions around one another; therefore, there’s no catharsis or reconciliation between them (a fact that Smiley emphasizes, powerfully, at the end of the chapter).
Ginny reunites with Linda and Pammy, both now teenagers. Ginny has sent them both gifts every year, but never opens their thank-you notes for fear that they’ll be too painful to read. Back on the farm, Ginny sits in Larry’s old house with Linda and Pammy. She learns that the girls are both vegetarians, though they’ll sometimes sneak some Kentucky Fried Chicken. Ginny is amazed to learn that her nieces haven’t seen their mother in the hospital. She promises to take them tomorrow.
Linda and Pamela remind Ginny of how long she’s been away, and how much joy she has denied herself (she loved her nieces, and yet she’s missed out on most of their childhoods). The fact that Linda and Pamela have become vegetarians, yet also cheat sometimes, reminds us that they could still eat the poisoned sausage (Ginny’s revenge plan wasn’t very well thought-out), and also suggests that they’ve absorbed some of Jess’s tendencies (perhaps through their mother).
Ginny drives back to see Rose in the hospital, and tells her that Linda and Pammy are coming to see her soon. Rose wonders why Ginny is still trying to fight with her, and assumes that she’s still angry about Jess. She tries to tell Ginny that Jess was crueler and more manipulative than Ginny knew, but Ginny refuses to believe Rose.
To the very end, Rose is distanced from her children; she doesn’t let them see her at the hospital, and maintains the same stoic tone while talking about them. Jess continues to drive a wedge between Ginny ad Rose, despite the fact that he’s left them both behind. Ginny continues to think of Jess as the solution to all her problems—a dangerous way to think about any person, let alone someone as devious as Jess.
Rose tells Ginny what’s going to happen: after she dies, she’s leaving the farmland to Ginny and Caroline, not Linda and Pammy—she wants the family quarrels to end in “this generation” instead of poisoning Linda and Pammy. The farm hasn’t been profitable in a long time, and Ginny will probably have no choice but to sell it all.
Rose is a hardened, loveless woman, and yet she’s perceptive enough to realize why she’s so unhappy: it’s the farmland she owns and her memories of Larry’s abuse. Thus, she refuses to allow the land to tear her own children apart. After four generations, the Cook family will have to part with its most valuable property—but will also be free of the greed, revenge, and abuse that have accompanied it.
Ginny tells Rose that she tried to kill her years ago with the jar of poisoned sausages. Rose barely reacts; she explains that after Jess abandoned her she put the jar in the cellar, along with everything else that reminded her of Jess.
This should be an emotional highpoint of the text, and yet it’s curiously anticlimactic. Rose and Ginny are finally honest with each other; Ginny even owns up to her murder plot. And yet Rose doesn’t express either forgiveness or anger—she and her sister are both essentially broken by tragedy and their own inner corruption.
Rose takes Ginny’s hand and tells her what she thinks about her own life: Rose hasn’t been a success in any way, not even as a parent or a mother, let alone as a farmer. Everyone in town speaks of Larry as a saint, and nobody believes Rose’s accounts of how Larry used to abuse her. Her only accomplishment, she claims, is refusing to forgive anyone in her life. As Rose says all this, Ginny pulls her hand away from Rose, and Rose waves her out the door.
Notice that Larry has died at some point before the events of this chapter. While Smiley never describes when or how, exactly, this happens, Larry dies before his daughters can confront him about his crimes, meaning that, agonizingly, he’s never brought to justice, and Ginny and Rose continue to suffer in secret. The chapter (and really, the novel) ends on a note of hopelessness: Ginny and Rose are estranged from one another, and they seem to look back on their lives with nothing but regrets. Their desire for land and control, as well as their traumatic memories of their father, have kept them from a happy life—and their abuser is still remembered fondly in the community.