Elaine wakes hungover still in her black dress, having already slept until noon. The day feels empty to her, “as if there is nothing more to come.” She walks down the street away from the demolished school, thinking about how she always feels disliked on these streets. She heads to the bridge, rebuilt in concrete—but, to her, it’s the same bridge. She thinks of the buried marbles, and recalls that she used to think that if she jumped over the bridge it would feel more like diving than falling, and that if she died that way it would feel “soft.” She sees a smashed pumpkin below and remembers falling into the water, hearing the voice—she knows that it didn’t actually happen, and that “there was only darkness and silence.”
Elaine revisits the bridge, which weighs on her reflections on the past. The bridge represents how a symbolic image of connection, suspension, and danger can still exist, even if the bridge itself was rebuilt. The bridge represents the space where something beautiful was buried—the marbles—while it also represents the burial of Elaine’s traumatic memories of being bullied and falling into the water.
Elaine hears someone behind her, and imagines it to be Cordelia, looking at her “defiantly” in her old snow jacket, recognizing Elaine’s wrongdoing. Elaine recognizes that she is the person with the power now and worries that if Cordelia stays there any longer she will freeze to death and get left behind in “the wrong time.” Elaine reaches out to Cordelia and tells her, “It’s all right […] You can go home now.” When Elaine turns around, though, all she sees is a middle-aged runner with a dog. Elaine feels like there is “nothing more” in this landscape for her. Even if it isn’t completely barren, it’s just “filled with whatever it is by itself, when [she’s] not looking.”
In this moment, the depth of Elaine’s fantasy makes it almost appear that Cordelia will make a final showing before the novel ends. Elaine’s perspective is that she has fully taken over Cordelia’s role—she has the power, whether through age or experience. Instead, she tries to make peace with this illusion of Cordelia and send her home. Even though it turns out not to be Cordelia, Elaine arrives at a sense of resolution with this moment—it seems that she is able to let go of the past by acknowledging that it happened and has passed, instead of just forgetting. She needs to come to terms with the continued existence of all the spaces of her childhood, which continue to remain, if transformed.
On the plane home, Elaine sees two elderly women on a trip together. Elaine realizes that what she misses with Cordelia is “not something that’s gone,” but a future “that will never happen”—Elaine and Cordelia as “old women giggling over their tea.” That night, there is no moon, and she sees a sky full of stars that are not eternal as once thought,” and also are not located where humanity once thought they were. The stars are “echoes” of events that took place millions of years ago. She thinks even if it’s “old light,” at least “it’s enough to see by.”
In these concluding thoughts, Elaine reflects primarily on time and on relationships. It becomes clear that part of her fixation on the past is that it is all she has of the future that she might have imagined with Cordelia, where the two of them would have grown old together. She feels she has lost that future, and thus holds on more strongly to the past. When Elaine looks at the stars, she reflects first on uncertainty—the stars used to represent eternity, but that has now been disproven, and they also are not located where humanity once thought there were. The stars are the ultimate representation of the way the past bleeds into the present, as their light has traveled for millennia—at the same time, the final note of the novel is optimistic. Even evidence of a past that distant and the simple certainty of death still provide guidance.