“If we’d left it at seeing the woman through the glass of her office, even if we’d followed her through the town then lost her, we could still have gone back to the Cottages excited and triumphant. But now, in that gallery, the woman was too close, much closer than we’d ever really wanted. And the more we heard and looked at her, the less she seemed like Ruth.”
This quotation takes place in Chapter 14, after Kathy, Ruth, Tommy, Chrissie, and Rodney have followed Ruth’s possible to an art gallery in Norfolk. Although the woman seems like a legitimate possible when viewed from afar, she does not look like Ruth from up close in the gallery. This episode shows the paper-thin nature of the rumors and speculation that sustain the students’ hopes. These rumors hold up from afar, but crumble when scrutinized from up close. The disappointing truth about Ruth’s possible foreshadows the disappointment that Kathy and Tommy will face in their pursuit of a deferral. Just as Ruth’s possible proves untenable in an art gallery, Kathy and Tommy later learn that deferrals are nonexistent in the house where Madame keeps her “gallery” of student artwork. The disappointing possible also marks a turning point in the novel. Ruth, Chrissie, and Rodney all come to Norfolk hopeful about the possibility of altering, or at least deferring, their futures. Ruth hopes for some sign of her dream future working in an office, while Chrissie and Rodney hope to confirm the existence of a deferral process. All three leave disappointed, resigned to becoming carers and donors.