Rosemary now realizes that there is something profoundly “NotSame” about her and Fern, which is the fact that Fern is property that can be bought and sold. Lowell says that Rosemary’s father originally tried to keep working with Fern after the family project ended, but it was too expensive and the university refused. There was nothing he could have done to stop it. Lowell explains that he has someone keeping an eye on Fern in South Dakota, and that at least the cruel professor overseeing the lab retired five years ago. At one point, Lowell paid someone to take Fern to a sanctuary in Florida, but the man ended up taking another chimp in Fern’s place. This chimp was then beaten to death.
This passage highlights the limits of Lowell and Rosemary’s understanding of Fern, even if the siblings struggle to understand and acknowledge those limits themselves. Rosemary’s realization about Fern’s status as a piece of property comes surprisingly late, and also seems to miss the larger point that Fern is also capable of inflicting violent damage on the people around her. Lowell, meanwhile, clearly misjudged the viability of taking Fern to a sanctuary, as shown by the fact that the chimp who was taken was immediately killed.
Lowell explains that because Fern grew up with them, she is not interested in sex with other chimps and has thus been artificially inseminated. She has had three children, two of whom were sold to another lab. Fern’s youngest child, Hazel, is now two years old, and Fern is teaching her to sign. Lowell says that Hazel is extremely smart and is already making up signs of her own. Lowell returns to the moment after he saw Fern at the lab in South Dakota, admitting that he’d been naïve to assume he would be able to rescue her by himself. He then heard about a group of animal activists going up to Riverside and decided to join them.
Here it becomes clear that both Rosemary and Lowell were naïve about Fern’s future and their relationship to her. Lowell fantasized about being able to seize her from the lab with ease; meanwhile, Rosemary’s dream of living in a sanctuary with Fern belied the fact that Fern, as an ordinary mammal, would grow up to have children of her own. The story of Fern’s children being sold confirms Rosemary’s horrified realization that Fern is considered little more than a commodity.
Lowell tells Rosemary that he hadn’t planned to leave the family forever; he simply wanted to rescue Fern before doing anything else. However, getting in trouble with the FBI meant that he couldn’t go back to see Fern, or the rest of his family, or to college. Rosemary and Lowell leave the diner and walk to the train station. Rosemary is dismayed that her brother is leaving so soon, but Lowell says it is “too risky” for him to stay. He tells her that looking out for Fern is her job now. While Lowell buys his train ticket, Rosemary sobs. They hug, and Rosemary smells Harlow’s perfume on him.
The fact that Lowell wanted to come home but was prevented from doing so by the FBI’s criminalization of his animal rights activism is certainly tragic. At the same time, Lowell’s disconnection from his family is somewhat selfish. Although he has sacrificed having a normal life for Fern, he has completely neglected his relationship with his other family members. The fact that he seems to have slept with Harlow pushes his betrayal of Rosemary even further.
Rosemary says she knows Lowell blames her for Fern’s disappearance. At first he disagrees, but then says that she forced their parents to “choose” and says that “you were always such a jealous little kid.” Yet he still urges her not to blame herself, as she was only five at the time. Lowell says he’s glad that Rosemary has a friend in Harlow. As the train leaves, Rosemary hears the voice of Mary saying: “You love Fern.” She thinks about all the moments in her life when she’d wished Fern had also been there; at the same time, she knows that Lowell is right, that she was jealous of Fern and still is.
Both Rosemary and Lowell have profoundly mixed feelings about Fern and each other. Lowell seems to know that it’s wrong to blame Rosemary for something that happened when she was only five years old, and yet it’s clear that he does still blame her. Rosemary, meanwhile, feels a uniquely powerful attachment to Fern and yet also (rather understandably) resents her for making the Cooke family’s life so abnormal and difficult.