Ruth and Kathy drive several days later to Kingsfield, to pick up Tommy at his treatment center—a run-down place, with a dilapidated concrete “square” at its center, where patients mill about and talk a little. Ruth and Kathy spot Tommy, and Ruth and Tommy have a rather heartfelt, if stilted, hello; Tommy them kisses Kathy politely on the cheek, and the three set off to see the boat.
Ruth and Tommy, as it turns out, have not had occasion to see each other for a long time since leaving the Cottages, as they were placed in different areas for caring, and are now in different treatment centers. Both seem calmer around one another, perhaps because of the trials they have endured after their respective donations.
Ruth talks on and on, in the car-ride to the boat, about a particular woman at her treatment center, but Kathy and Tommy finally complain to her—saying they don’t understand the point of her story—and Ruth seems shocked by their honesty, and stops talking. The three reach the boat and get out of the car; Tommy makes his way under a wire fence with relative ease, despite the fact that he has had two donations already, but Ruth is frail enough that she can barely make it under the wire. The three walk out on the marshy ground, and spot the beached boat, which they all find beautiful. Tommy wonders aloud if the decrepit boat looks the way Hailsham looks now, although Ruth dismisses this notion abruptly.
Seeing the dilapidated boat is an important moment for the three friends. The boat seems to symbolize several things: something that is left behind; a large thing that is now hidden, but which can be uncovered with a certain amount of effort. Ruth wants to go back to the past, that which she has “left behind,” and to uncover a few things she has done. She wants to try to put the past right—and this means being honest with Tommy and Kathy about their possible future together. Thus the boat seems a stand-in for the entire conversation Ruth wishes to have.
Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy begin talking about people they knew. Chrissie has completed, or died, during her second donation, although Rodney seems to have taken the news well (they are now broken up, and Rodney is also a donor). Tommy mentions that he is a better donor than he was carer, and Ruth characteristically notes that donating is more important than caring—it’s what the clones are “supposed to do.” Kathy takes this barb in stride, however, noting that caring is also important, but Ruth tries to team up with Tommy and make it seem that Kathy does not understand the difficulties of their position. Tommy, for his part, remains neutral, and muses that sometimes people survive difficult donations they thought they wouldn’t make it through.
Another of the book’s small debates, which seems to crop up throughout, is the idea of donating being the “higher” or more important job, and of caring being the lesser. Of course, Kathy is loath to feel this way, since she has devoted a great deal of her life to caring, and she is a good one—perhaps this explains her little speech at the beginning of the novel, where she mentions how good of a carer she is. Donating, on the other hand, is the ultimate “goal” of a clone’s life—and, of course, Tommy and Ruth want recognition for all the suffering they have endured in that job.
The three get back into the car, and though their conversation at the boat was a difficult one, Kathy feels they are now able “to talk more freely.” They spot an ad that resembles the ad Ruth once saw on the ground—of the office on which she based her dream future. Tommy recognizes the ad as similar, too, to the office in Norfolk where they tried to find Ruth’s double. But Ruth pretends she has difficulty remembering these things, and that she didn’t really care about the office that much. Tommy and Kathy press her, however, saying that she often talked about the office, and that Ruth should have “pushed her case” with the Madame, and tried to see if she could delay her caring and donation in order to try an office job.
Ruth, despite all her honesty, still has trouble admitting the silliness of her “dream job” and of her youthful fantasies while at the Cottages. It seems unlikely that Ruth has totally forgotten this time—rather, it is more likely she simply is embarrassed by it, and doesn’t wish to relive the things she said to Tommy and Kathy back then, about working in an office. Ruth redoubles and tries to convince Tommy and Kathy that they must work together to find a deferral, while they are still alive—this is one of the novel’s most poignant and emotionally fraught scenes.
But Ruth counters that this wouldn’t have been possible—she wouldn’t have even known how to petition—and, suddenly, Ruth also begs Kathy to forgive her. Kathy is surprised by the change in Ruth’s tone, and she wonders what else Ruth is going to say. With Tommy still listening, Ruth admits to Kathy in the car that she “lied” to Kathy about her “urges,” and that Ruth also experienced strong sexual desires, causing her to cheat on Tommy “at least three times” at the Cottages. Tommy hears this news impassively, and Ruth continues, saying that it was awful of her to “have kept Tommy and Kathy apart.”
Perhaps it is surprising that Tommy does not react more strongly to the news that Ruth cheated on him several times while at the Cottages. There are several explanations for this: maybe Tommy already knew; maybe, as a donor, he is more willing to let the past slide; or maybe he, too, cheated on Ruth. In any event, Tommy accepts this news passively, much as the clones accept a good deal of the news regarding their difficult adult lives.
Kathy begins to “sob” as Ruth goes on, saying that Tommy and Kathy ought to be together, and that the two of them should try to get a deferral, since they are clearly in love, and have been for some time. Kathy continues sobbing, and Tommy simply stares straight ahead—so overcome by the events that he cannot respond. Ruth suddenly gives Tommy a sheet of paper on which she’s written Madame’s address—Ruth admits that finding it took a lot of work, but she knew it was important for Kathy and Tommy to have, if they were to try for a deferral.
The reader does not find out the kind of work Ruth had to do in order to gain access to this address. Presumably, it required a lot of talking to people, and a good deal of sneaking around at her treatment center. This, like her previous search for Kathy’s lost tape, shows Ruth’s soft side, and her ability to get things done if she truly puts her mind to them.
Kathy stops crying and realizes that she must drop off Tommy in Kingsfield and then Ruth in Dover. The three drive back quietly, and when Tommy leaves the car in Kingsfield, he “smiles and waves” to the two of them. Kathy then takes Ruth back, and for several more weeks, Kathy cares for Ruth, and Ruth tries to convince Kathy to become Tommy’s carer, although this idea makes Kathy feel nervous and “tense.” Soon after Ruth’s second donation, however, her health takes a turn, and Kathy watches her condition deteriorate. As Ruth is dying, Kathy sits beside her, and though Ruth is barely conscious, Kathy promises “to be Tommy’s carer.” Kathy isn’t sure that Ruth has heard, but at this moment, Kathy realizes that caring for Tommy is exactly the thing she wants.
Ruth dies relatively quickly. She was, by her own admission, not a good carer, and she was not much as a donor either. Perhaps Ruth never really came to terms with the horrors of her life after the Cottages—with the strictness of her profession, or the difficult things asked of her as a carer and as a donor. Or perhaps her body was simply not up for the abuse it had to take, after several organ donations. Tommy, for his part, seems stronger physically, better able to donate—but he too was a poor carer, although he is a good and patient friend to Kathy.