Kathy combats her increasing sense of disconnectedness by seeking out Ruth. However, silence and suspicion continue to define their relationship as carer and donor. Like Laura, the adult Ruth has become a faded and weary version of her former self. The walk to the marsh highlights Ruth’s physical frailty, as she relies heavily on Tommy and Kathy for guidance. The marsh itself offers additional reminders of mortality, including the dead tree trunks on which they sit. The boat is a crumbling skeleton, stripped of its former vitality. Both Ruth and Tommy associate the marsh with Hailsham, which emphasizes the fact that Hailsham itself is no more than a ghostly memory. Yet the marsh is also a beautiful and tranquil place, suggesting that Hailsham still continues to offer a quiet comfort. Although Ruth dreams about Hailsham as a flooded ruin, she feels a sense of peace and safety in her imagined return to the school.
The visit to the boat is also a somber echo of the trip to Norfolk years earlier. Kathy drives while Ruth and Tommy sit in back, highlighting the absence of Chrissie and Rodney. Their talk by the boat also emphasizes this absence, revealing that Chrissie has completed. Chrissie’s death is a dark reminder of the future that awaits Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy. Chrissie’s death also recalls the failed hopes that she once had for a deferral. Instead of gaining time, Chrissie prematurely completes on her second donation. In addition, the conversation by the boat highlights divisions between Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy. While Kathy is still a carer, Ruth and Tommy are donors. Ruth herself marks Kathy as an outsider for this reason, claiming that Kathy cannot understand how Rodney felt when Chrissie completed because she is a carer. Reflecting this divide, Ruth and Tommy sit together on one tree trunk while Kathy sits by herself on another.
In addition to their status as donors, Ruth and Tommy share a past as a couple. This also separates them from Kathy, whose behavior hints at her own desire for closeness with Tommy. On the way to the boat, Kathy alternates between upsetting Ruth and supporting her. After she cuts off Ruth’s story in the car, she feels both a momentary closeness with Tommy and a sense of guilt towards Ruth. She quite literally holds Ruth up on the walk, offering physical support her as if to balance her insensitivity in the car. This oscillation reflects the ongoing tensions in Kathy’s friendship with Ruth, which remains complicated by Kathy’s unspoken feelings for Tommy. Kathy’s decision to point out the billboard is another characteristically indirect attempt to upset Ruth, linked again to Kathy’s own sense of disappointment about Tommy. The open-plan office on the billboard further reinforces the parallels between this trip and the visit to Norfolk. It ironically recalls Ruth’s former dreams, at a moment when her future looks most bleak.
But while the office on the billboard reflects the disappointment of Ruth’s adolescent dreams, it also continues to symbolize her hopefulness. Instead of dreaming about her own future, Ruth now hopes to change the future for Tommy and Kathy. Ruth extends this hope in the form of Madame’s address, which represents the chance for a deferral. Appropriately, her last gift to them is one of possibility. It is also a sort of blessing, in which Ruth acknowledges the shared feelings between Kathy and Tommy. Ruth’s apology and her gift show that despite her flaws, she is still essentially guided by a deep sense of decency and goodness. They also mark a final turning point in her friendship with Kathy, which becomes more open and nostalgic in the days that follow. Instead of speaking about the future, Ruth and Kathy look back on their shared memories of the past. Ruth turns to memories of Hailsham in the face of her coming donation, while her only allusions to the future concern Kathy and Tommy.