The chapter is structured around another hypothesis for Kathy’s disappearance: Kathy heard John walking around in the night and got scared. Thus, she left the cottage. She might have heard John saying “Kill Jesus,” or seen the plant he destroyed. She might have then left the house in her nightgown.
In the early chapters of the novel, Kathy seems like the innocent victim of John’s hypocrisy and deception. Here is no exception—she doesn’t know how to deal with John, because John keeps his feelings about Vietnam bottled up. Thus, she runs away.
Staring into the cottage from outside, Kathy might have seen John, yelling and laughing and looking completely unlike the man she thought she knew. Perhaps she contemplated going to the Rasmussen cottage a mile away to find a doctor and calm John down, but then decided to wait. John needed love right now, she must have thought—but the love she had given him in their marriage never seemed to satisfy him.
Despite being married to John for years, Kathy doesn’t fully know him. Nevertheless, she feels great love for him—a love we have yet to fully understand. We get the sense that John and Kathy’s love is asymmetrical—Kathy gives more to John than John gives back to her.
Kathy might have thought about everything that had happened to John lately. In August and September, the newspapers broke new information about John, information that made his audiences hate him and yell at him. When Kathy asked him if the information was true, John only replied that it happened a long time ago, and challenged Kathy about her dentist; he asked Kathy if he was right, and she nodded. Shortly after this incident, John gave a concession speech, and Kathy was amazed by how easily he pretended to be gracious and cheerful.
Kathy has a keen eye for John’s hypocrisy and political talent—she sees how easily he moves between tense confrontation and glib speeches. And yet as Kathy challenges John about his secrets, John shows that Kathy too has secrets, which it seems likely involves an affair with a dentist.
As Kathy watched her husband that night near Lake of the Woods, she might have gone inside and seen the plants John killed. At this, she may have left—or, the narrator admits, maybe not. Maybe she walked into the bedroom, where she smelled wet wool and saw John pouring boiling water on the bed. After this, she might have concluded that her husband was beyond all help, and always had been, and then grabbed a sweater and run to the Rasmussen place. From here, she might have hurt herself or made a wrong turn. She might have gotten lost, the narrator admits, and she may still be out there.
In this scenario, John is responsible for Kathy’s disappearance, even if he didn’t directly hurt her or drag her from the cottage. Kathy finally sees that John is “beyond help”—even though she’s been trying in vain to help him for years and years. Kathy’s epiphany at this moment is undercut by the qualification that this is—as in the other “Hypothesis” chapters—only one possible scenario. We have no idea what actually happened to Kathy that night.