Kathy recounts the start of her life as a carer. She says that the long hours, the “solitude,” and the difficulty of dealing with people’s donations makes the job a tough one—but Kathy has shown an aptitude for it. Kathy runs into Laura after several years on the job—one of her acquaintances from Hailsham, who was always cracking a joke—at a treatment center, where Laura is also working as a carer. Kathy notices that Laura is no longer so carefree, and indeed, Laura talks for a long time about the difficulties of her job, before she mentions Ruth, whom neither Kathy nor Laura has seen for some time. Ruth is already a donor, and her first donation has gone “poorly.”
One of the most remarkable aspects of her new life as a carer is the amount of time Kathy must spend alone. One may look at the novel itself as a record of Kathy’s stories and experiences, compiled as a way of combating this loneliness. Even Kathy’s interaction with Laura, a close friend from Hailsham, feels difficult and somehow “distant” when they meet as carers—perhaps because caring requires such draining emotional investment.
Laura suggests that, since Kathy is allowed to choose her donors now, Kathy should volunteer to be Ruth’s carers. But Kathy says that might not be a good idea. Laura also mentions the fact that Hailsham is closing—a piece of information Kathy heard several weeks before. Kathy does not know what to think of this news—she is shocked by it—but she finds an apt metaphor for her feeling when, one day, she watches a clown holding a fistful of bright balloons. Kathy worries that one balloon might be “let go and fly away,” and she wonders whether that isn’t similar to the feeling of the Hailsham students now in the world, with Hailsham gone. The thing that once bound them together will soon no longer exist.
The closing of Hailsham will be another important factor in the final part of the book. Hailsham was, as Kathy acknowledges, more than just a school—it was, for her and Tommy and Ruth, a way of life, a refuge, and a place of comfort. With Hailsham gone, and having made the transition into a life of caring and then donating, Kathy realizes how much of their childhood innocence has disappeared. Kathy’s transition from childhood to adulthood, and from innocence to its loss, parallels the maturation of “normal” adults, but with the twists and difficulties of clone life in addition.
Because of this feeling about the balloons, Kathy decides that, though it might be difficult, she ought to try to be Ruth’s carer. She volunteers for the position and begins meeting with Ruth at a treatment center in Dover. At first, their meetings are somewhat tense, and the two of them have difficulty reconnecting with one another. Ruth seems uncomfortable with the idea that she needs so much help—her health is frail after only one donation—and that Kathy is the one providing aid.
Ruth has trouble working as a donor, although the reasons for this are never fully explained. Ruth’s health in the previous parts of the novel has never been an issue, but perhaps Ruth’s body simply cannot bear the shock of having some of its organs removed. Only the heartiest of clones can still feel strong after the second donation.
Then, “out of the blue,” Ruth mentions one session that there is an abandoned boat that has run aground several hours away, and that one can visit the boat—it’s not blocked off from the surrounding marshes. The rumor of the boat has been going around the treatment centers, and Ruth is in the mood for a break from the monotony of the hospital. Kathy, hesitant and first, finally agrees to take Ruth in her (Kathy’s) car to see the boat, and after a brief conversation regarding Tommy, who is also working as a donor now, Kathy and Ruth decide to pick him up and take him along as well.
Ruth’s desire to see the boat is probably twofold. On the one hand, life in the center is excruciatingly boring, and she wants any excuse to leave. And second, she wants to “get away” with Tommy and Kathy, for reasons that will soon become clear—she wants to have a conversation with them about “bringing them together” and having them ask Madame for a deferral. But for this, Ruth wants to get out of the treatment center and onto the open road.