After her encounter with Tate, Kya thinks about how it would be nice and useful to have a friend. She hardly has any contact with the outside world, except when she goes into town to buy necessities. Still, she talks to the seagulls more than any actual person, so she fantasizes about borrowing Pa’s boat to see Tate from time to time, though she knows that Pa would never let her use the boat because it’s his only form of transportation. However, she remembers that he used to let Jodie fish in it, and though Kya doesn’t know how to fish, she wonders if she can perhaps think of something else she could do for her father to convince him to let her use the boat. Thinking this way, she cleans the entire shack, shines the boat, gets more gas from a nearby filling station, and buys groceries.
Kya’s desire to see Tate again signals her gravitation toward the world beyond the marsh. More specifically, she finds herself yearning for human contact, thinking that having a friend would be a good thing. This is significant, since it means Kya is willing to open herself up to others even after having been hurt not only by children her age, but by her own family members, too. As Kya works hard to increase the likelihood that Pa will let her use the boat, then, readers see that human connection is quite meaningful even for somebody as individualistic and self-sufficient as Kya.
When Pa finally comes home after four days, Kya runs into the kitchen and presents him with a delectable meal. Surveying her work, he notes with amusement that she has suddenly grown up and learned to cook. She can tell that he’s tired but sober, so she sits down to eat with him, explaining that she tried to make cornbread but that it didn’t quite work out. Nonetheless, Pa slurps down the food and asks for seconds. He also suggests that Kya put the failed cornbread right into the stew, saying that he bets it’s still quite good. After a moment, Kya asks Pa if he’ll take her fishing, and though he hesitates at first, he says that he could perhaps take her at some point. The very next morning, they go fishing together, and Pa is visibly pleased when Kya catches a large bream.
Interestingly enough, Kya manages to interact with her father without sending him into fits of rage. This, it seems, is something that none of her family members were able to do. Notably, she elicits his kindness simply by showing him kindness, thereby demonstrating the power of human connection. After all, Pa is a human, too, and therefore needs just as much (if not more) compassion as anyone else. By showing him this kindness, then, Kya not only improves the quality of her own life, but actively creates a safe environment for herself. In this way, her benevolence becomes something of a survival tactic (though it’s worth noting that Pa is still prone to abusiveness and most likely won’t be permanently quelled by this behavior).
The next day, Kya and Pa go fishing again. Kya finds a rare feather from a horned owl floating in the water, so she plucks it from the surface and keeps it, along with a hummingbird nest she finds on an overhanging branch. That night, Pa makes fish for dinner and gives her his army-issued backpack, saying that she can use it to store her feathers and various other collections. By the time she remembers to thank him, he’s already out on the porch, and she realizes that this is the first time he’s ever given her anything.
As Kya shows her father kindness, he shows it to her in return. This underlines the fact that human interaction is based largely on the desire to be accepted, though there are of course a number of things that often complicate such dynamics. All the same, though, Kya’s benevolence toward her father allows her to enjoy a period of safety and contentment.
Throughout the winter, Kya and Pa go fishing and Kya thinks about Tate, wishing they could be friends. One day, she sees him in the marsh, and when he waves at Kya, Pa tells her to be careful because most people in this area are “white trash.” On another occasion, Pa unexpectedly tells Kya about his family, saying that they weren’t always poor. In fact, they used to own land, where they planted tobacco and cotton. However, they lost all of their wealth during the Depression. Thinking about this, Kya wonders about her mother’s family history but knows better than to bring this up, since talking about Ma makes Pa furious. Forgetting the conversation, Pa reels in a large fish and says, “Looky here, hon, Ah got us a big un, big as Alabamee!” Later that night, Kya realizes with a start that Pa called her “hon.”
What Pa says about Tate is noteworthy because it suggests that he has internalized the very same prejudices to which the surrounding society has subjected him. Although most people in Barkley Cove would likely think of him as “white trash,” he goes out of his way to say the same thing about Tate, thereby perpetuating the divisiveness that has made it so hard for Kya to interface with the townspeople. Thankfully, though, this implicit bias doesn’t influence the blossoming relationship between Kya and Pa, as evidenced by the fact that he calls her “hon.”