As a child, Kathy-now thirty-one years old-lived at Hails, a private school n the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hails friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.
And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hails. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed-even comforted-by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailstorm’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood-and about their lives now.
A tale of deceptive simplicity, “Never Let Me Go” slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance-and takes its place among Kazoo Guiro’s finest work. A novel by To Loran and Naomi England, late sass Part One Chapter One My name is Kathy H. I’m thirty-one years old, and I’ve been a care now for over eleven years. That sounds long enough, I know, but actually they want me to go on for another eight months, until the end of this year. That’ll make it almost exactly twelve years. Now I know my being a care so long isn’t necessarily because they think I’m fantastic at what I do.
There are some really good careers who’ve been told to stop after just two or three years. And I can think of one care at least who went on for all of fourteen years despite being a complete waste of space. So I’m not trying to boast. But then I do know for a fact they’ve en pleased with my work, and by and large, I have too. My donors have always tended to do much better than expected. Their recovery times have been impressive, and hardly any of them have been classified as “agitated,” even before fourth donation.
Okay, maybe I am boasting now. But it means a lot to me, being able to do my work well, especially that bit about my donors staying “calm. ” I’ve developed a kind of instinct around donors. I know when to hang around and comfort them, when to leave them to themselves; when to listen to everything they have to say, and when just to shrug and tell them to snap out f it. Anyway, I’m not making any big claims for myself. I know careers, working now, who are just as good and don’t get half the credit.
If you’re one of them, I can understand how you might get resentful-about my bed-sit, my car, above all, the way I get to pick and choose who I look after. And I’m a Hails student which is enough by itself sometimes to get people’s backs up. Kathy H. , they say, she gets to pick and choose, and she always chooses her own kind: people from Hails, or one of the other privileged estates. No wonder she has a great record. I’ve heard it said enough, so I’m sure I’ve heard it plenty more, and maybe there’s something in it.
But I’m not the first to be allowed to pick and choose, and I doubt if I’ll be the last. And anyway, I’ve done my share of looking after donors brought up in every kind of place. By the time I finish, remember, I’ll have done twelve years of this, and it’s only for the last six they’ve let me choose. And why shouldn’t they? Careers aren’t machines. You try and do your best for every donor, but in the end, it wears you down. You don’t have unlimited patience and energy. So when you get a chance to choose, of course, you choose our own kind. That’s natural.
There’s no way could have gone on for as long as I have if I’d stopped feeling for my donors every step of the way. And anyway, if I’d never started choosing, how would I ever have got close again to Ruth and Tommy after all those years? But these days, of course, there are fewer and fewer donors left who I remember, and so in practice, I haven’t been choosing that much. As I say, the work gets a lot harder when you don’t have that deeper link with the donor, and though I’ll miss being a care, it feels just about right to be finishing at last come the end of the year.
Ruth, incidentally, was only the third or fourth donor I got to choose. She already had a care assigned to her at the time, and I remember it taking a bit of nerve on my part. But in the end I managed it, and the instant I saw her again, at that recovery centre in Dover, all our differences-while they didn’t exactly vanish- seemed not nearly as important as all the other things: like the fact that we’d grown up together at Hails, the fact that we knew and remembered things no one else did.
It’s ever since then, I suppose, I started seeking out for my donors people from the past, and whenever I could, people from Hails. There have been times over the years when I’ve tried to leave Hails behind, when I’ve told myself shouldn’t look back so much. But then there came a point when I just stopped resisting. It had to do with this particular donor I had once, in my third year as a care; it was his reaction when I mentioned I was from Hails. He’d just come through his third donation, it hadn’t gone well, and he must have known he wasn’t going to make it.
He could hardly breathe, but he looked towards me and said: “Hails. I bet that was a beautiful place. ” Then the next morning, when I was making conversation to keep his mind off it all, and seed where he’d grown up, he mentioned some place in Dorset and his face beneath the blotches went into a completely new kind of grimace. And I realized then how desperately he didn’t want reminded. Instead, he wanted to hear about Hails. So over the next five or six days, told him whatever he wanted to know, and he’d lie there, all hooked up, a gentle smile breaking through.
He’d ask me about the big things and the little things. About our guardians, about how we each had our own collection chests under our beds, the football, the rounder’s, the little path that took you all round the outside of the main house, round all its nooks ND crannies, the duck pond, the food, the view from the Art Room over the fields on a foggy morning. Sometimes he’d make me say things over and over; things I’d told him only the day before, he’d ask about like I’d never told him. “Did you have a sports pavilion? “Which guardian was your special favorite? ” At first I thought this was just the drugs, but then I realized his mind was clear enough. What he wanted was not just to hear about Hails, but to remember Hails, just like it had been his own childhood. He knew he was close to completing and so that’s what he was doing: getting me to describe things to IM, so they’d really sink in, so that maybe during those sleepless nights, with the drugs and the pain and the exhaustion, the line would blur between what were my memories and what were his.
That was when I first understood, really understood, just how lucky we’d been-Tommy, Ruth, me, all the rest of us. Driving around the country now, I still see things that will remind me of Hails. I might pass the corner of a misty field, or see part of a large house in the distance as I come down the side of a valley, even a particular arrangement of poplar trees up on a hillside, and I’ll think: “Maybe that’s it! I’ve found it! This actually is Hails! ” Then I see it’s impossible and go on driving, my thoughts drifting on elsewhere. In particular, there are those pavilions.
I spot them all over the country, standing on the far side of playing fields, little white prefab buildings with a row of windows unnaturally high up, tucked almost under the eaves. I think they built a whole lot like that in the fifties and sixties, which is probably when ours was put up. If I drive past one keep looking over to it for as long as possible, and one day I’ll crash the car like that, but I keep doing it. Not long ago as driving through an empty stretch of Worcestershire and saw one beside a cricket ground so like ours at Hails I actually turned the car and went back for a second look.
We loved our sports pavilion, maybe because it reminded us of those sweet little cottages people always had in picture books when we were young. I can remember us back in the Juniors, pleading with guardians to hold the next lesson in the pavilion instead of the usual room. Then by the time we were in Senior 2-when we were twelve, going on thirteen-the pavilion had become the place to hide out with your best friends when you wanted to get way from the rest of Hails. The pavilion was big enough to take two separate groups without them bothering each other-in the summer, a third group could hang about out on the veranda.
But ideally you and your friends wanted the place just to yourselves, so there was often jockeying and arguing. The guardians were always telling us to be civilized about it, but in practice, you needed to have some strong personalities in your group to stand a chance of getting the pavilion during a break or free period. I wasn’t exactly the wilting type myself, but I suppose it was ally because of Ruth we got in there as often as we did. Usually we just spread ourselves around the chairs and benches-there’d be five of us, six if Jenny B. Name along-and had a good gossip. There was a kind of conversation that could only happen when you were hidden away in the pavilion; we might discuss something that was worrying us, or we might end up screaming with laughter, or in a furious row. Mostly, it was a way to unwind for a while with your closest friends. On the particular afternoon I’m now thinking of, we were standing up on stools and benches, crowding around the high windows. That gave us a clear view of he North Playing Field where about a dozen boys from our year and Senior 3 had gathered to play football.
There was bright sunshine, but it must have been raining earlier that day because I can remember how the sun was glinting on the muddy surface of the grass. Someone said we shouldn’t be so obvious about watching, but we hardly moved back at all. Then Ruth said: “He doesn’t suspect a thing. Look at him. He really doesn’t suspect a thing. ” When she said this, I looked at her and searched for signs of disapproval about what the boys were going to do to Tommy. But the next second Ruth gave a little ugh and said: “The idiot! And I realized that for Ruth and the others, whatever the boys chose to do was pretty remote from us; whether we approved or not didn’t come into it. We were gathered around the windows at that moment not because we relished the prospect of seeing Tommy get humiliated yet again, but just because we’d heard about this latest plot and were vaguely curious to watch it unfold. In those days, I don’t think what the boys did amongst themselves went much deeper than that. For Ruth, for the others, it was that detached, and the chances are that’s how it was for me too.
Or maybe I’m remembering it wrong. Maybe even then, when I saw Tommy rushing about that field, undisguised delight on his face to be accepted back in the fold again, about to play the game at which he so excelled, maybe I did feel a little stab of pain. What I do remember is that I noticed Tommy was wearing the light blue polo shirt he’d got in the Sales the previous month-the one he was so proud of. I remember thinking: “He’s really stupid, playing football in that. It’ll get ruined, then how’s he going to feel? Out loud, I said, to no one in particular: “Tommy’s got his shirt on. His favorite polo shirt. I don’t think anyone heard me, because they were all laughing at Laura-the big clown in our group-mimicking one after the other the expressions that appeared on Tommy’s face as he ran, waved, called, tackled. The other boys were all moving around the field in that deliberately languorous way they have when they’re warming up, but Tommy, in his excitement, seemed already to be going full pelt. Said, louder this time: “He’s going to be so sick if he ruins that shirt. This time Ruth heard me, but she must have thought I’d meant it as some kind of joke, because she laughed half-heartedly, then made some quip of her own. Then the boys had stopped kicking the ball about, and were standing in a pack in the mud, their chests gently rising and falling as they waited for the team picking to start. The two captains who emerged were from Senior 3, though everyone knew Tommy was a better player than any of that year. They tossed for first pick, then the one who’d won stared at the group. “Look at him,” someone behind me said. He’s completely convinced he’s going to be first pick. Just look at him! ” There was something comical about Tommy at that moment, something that made you think, well, yes, if he’s going to be that daft, he deserves what’s miming. The other boys were all pretending to ignore the picking process, pretending they didn’t care where they came in the order. Some were talking quietly to each other, some re-tying their laces, others just staring down at their feet as they trampled the mud. But Tommy was looking eagerly at the Senior 3 boy, as though his name had already been called.
Laura kept up her performance all through the team-picking, doing all the different expressions that went across Tommy’s face: the bright eager one at the start; the puzzled concern when four picks had gone by and he still hadn’t en chosen; the hurt and panic as it began to dawn on him what was really going on. I didn’t keep glancing round at Laura, though, because was watching Tommy; I only knew what she was doing because the others kept laughing and egging her on. Then when Tommy was left standing alone, and the boys all began gingering, I heard Ruth say: “It’s coming. Hold it. Seven seconds.
Seven, six, five… ” She never got there. Tommy burst into thunderous bellowing, and the boys, now laughing openly, started to run off towards the South Playing Field. Tommy took a few strides after them-it was hard to say whether his instinct was o give angry chase or if he was panicked at being left behind. In any case he soon stopped and stood there, glaring after them, his face scarlet. Then he began to scream and shout, a nonsensical jumble of swear words and insults. We’d all seen plenty of Tommy’s tantrums by then, so we came down off our stools and spread ourselves around the room.
We tried to start up a conversation about something else, but there was Tommy going on and on in the background, and although at first we just rolled our eyes and tried to ignore it, in the end- probably a full ten minutes after we’d first moved away-we were back up at the endows again. The other boys were now completely out of view, and Tommy was no longer trying to direct his comments in any particular direction. He was just raving, flinging his limbs about, at the sky, at the wind, at the nearest fence post. Laura said he was maybe “rehearsing his Shakespeare. Someone else pointed out how each time he screamed something he’d raise one foot off the ground, pointing it outwards, “like a dog doing a Pee. ” Actually, I’d noticed the same foot movement myself, but what had struck me was that each time he stamped the foot back down again, flecks of mud flew up around his shins. I thought again about his precious shirt, but he was too far away for me to see if he’d got much mud on it. “l suppose it is a bit cruel,” Ruth said, “the way they always work him up like that. But it’s his own fault.
If he learnt to keep his cool, they’d leave him alone. ” “They’d still keep on at him,” Hannah said. “Graham K. ‘s temper’s just as bad, but that only makes them all the more careful with him. The reason they go for Tommy’s because he’s a lavabo. ” Then everyone was talking at once, about how Tommy never even tried to be creative, about how he hadn’t even put anything in for the Spring Exchange. I oppose the truth was, by that stage, each of us was secretly wishing a guardian would come from the house and take him away.
And although we hadn’t had any part in this latest plan to rile Tommy, we had taken out ringside seats, and we were starting to feel guilty. But there was no sign of a guardian, so we just kept swapping reasons why Tommy deserved everything he got. Then when Ruth looked at her watch and said even though we still had time, we should get back to the main house, nobody argued. Tommy was still going strong as we came out of the pavilion. The house was over to our left, and since Tommy was standing in he field straight ahead of us, there was no need to go navy. ‘here near him.
In any case, he was facing the other way and didn’t seem to register us at all. All the same, as my friends set off along the edge of the field, I started to drift over towards him. I knew this would puzzle the others, but I kept going-even when I heard Rut’s urgent whisper to me to come back. Suppose Tommy wasn’t used to being disturbed during his rages, because his first response when came up to him was to stare at me for a second, then carry on as before. It was like he was doing Shakespeare and I’d come up onto the tag in the middle of his performance.
Even when I said: “Tommy, your nice shirt. You’ll get it all messed up,” there was no sign of him having heard me. So I reached forward and put a hand on his arm. Afterwards, the others thought he’d meant to do it, but was pretty sure it was unintentional. His arms were still flailing about, and he wasn’t to know I was about to put out my hand. Anyway, as he threw up his arm, he knocked my hand aside and hit the side of my face. It didn’t hurt at all, but I let out a gasp, and so did most of the girls behind me.
That’s when at last Tommy seemed to become aware of me, of the others, of myself, of the fact that he was there in that field, behaving the way he had been, and stared at me a bit stupidly. ‘Tommy,” I said, quite sternly. “There’s mud all over your shirt. ” “So what? ” he mumbled. But even as he said this, he looked down and noticed the brown specks, and only just stopped himself crying out in alarm. Then I saw the surprise register on his face that should know about his feelings for the polo shirt. “It’s nothing to worry about,” said, before the silence got humiliating for him. “It’ll come off.
If you can’t get it off yourself, just take it to Miss Jody. ” He went on examining his shirt, then said grumpily: “It’s nothing to do with you anyway. ” He seemed to regret immediately this last remark and looked at me sheepishly, as though expecting me to say something comforting back to him. But I’d had enough of him by now, particularly with the girls watching-and for all I knew, any number of others from the windows of the main house. So I turned away with a shrug and rejoined my friends. Ruth put an arm around my shoulders as we walked away. “At least you got him to pipe down,” she said. Are you okay? Mad animal. ” Chapter Two This was all a long time ago so I might have some of it wrong; but my memory of t is that my approaching Tommy that afternoon was part of a phase I was going through around that time-something to do with compulsively setting myself challenges-and I’d more or less forgotten all about it when Tommy stopped me a few days later. Don’t know how it was where you were, but at Hails we had to have some form of medical almost every week-usually up in Room 18 at the very top of the house-with stern Nurse Trash, or Crow Face, as we called her.
That sunny morning a crowd of us was going up the central staircase to be examined by her, while another lot she’d just finished with was on its way down. So the stairwell was filled with echoing noise, and I was climbing the steps head down, just following the heels of the person in front, when a voice near me went: “Kathy! ” Tommy, who was in the stream coming down, had stopped dead on the stairs with a big open smile that immediately irritated me. A few years earlier maybe, if we ran into someone we were pleased to see, we’d put on that sort of look.
But we were thirteen by then, and this was a boy running into a girl in a really public situation. I felt like saying: “Tommy, why don’t you grow up? ‘ But I stopped myself, and said instead: “Tommy, you’re holding everyone up. And so am l. ” He glanced upwards and sure enough the flight above was already grinding to a halt. For a second he looked panicked, then he squeezed himself right into the wall next to me, so it was just about possible for people to push past. Then he said: “Kathy, I’ve been looking all over for you. I meant to say sorry. I mean, I’m really, really sorry. I honestly didn’t mean to hit you the other day.
I wouldn’t dream of hitting a girl, and even if I did, I’d never want to hit you. I’m really, really sorry. ” “It’s okay. An accident, that’s all. ” I gave him a nod and made to move away. But Tommy said brightly: The shirt’s all right now. It all washed out. ” ‘That’s good. ” “It didn’t hurt, did it? When I hit you? ” “Sure. Fractured skull. Concussion, the lot. Even Crow Face might notice it. That’s if I ever get up there. ” “But seriously, Kathy. No hard feelings, right? I’m awfully sorry. I am, honestly. ” At last I gave him a smile and said with no irony: “Look, Tommy, it was an accident and it’s now one hundred percent forgotten. Onto hold it against you one tiny bit. ” He still looked unsure, but now some older students were pushing behind him, telling him to move. He gave me a quick smile and patted my shoulder, like he eight do to a younger boy, and pushed his way into the flow. Then, as began to climb, I heard him shout from below: “See you, Kathy! ” I’d found the whole thing mildly embarrassing, but it didn’t lead to any teasing or gossip; and I must admit, if it hadn’t been for that encounter on the stairs, I probably wouldn’t have taken the interest I did in Tommy’s problems over the next several weeks. Awe a few of the incidents myself. But mostly I heard about them, and when I did, I quizzed people until I’d got a more or less full account. There were more temper tantrums, like the time Tommy was supposed to have heaved over two sees in Room 14, spilling all the contents on the floor, while the rest of the class, having escaped onto the landing, barricaded the door to stop him coming out. There was the time Mr.. Christopher had had to pin back his arms to stop him attacking Reggae D. During football practice.
Everyone could see, too, when the Senior 2 boys went on their fields run, Tommy was the only one without a running partner. He was a good runner, and would quickly open up ten, fifteen yards between him and the rest, maybe thinking this would disguise the fact that no one wanted to run with him. Then there were rumors almost every day of ranks that had been played on him. A lot of these were the usual stuff-weird things in his bed, a worm in his cereal-but some of it sounded pointlessly nasty: like the time someone cleaned a toilet with his toothbrush so it was waiting for him with shot all over the bristles.
His size and strength-and suppose that temper-meant no one tried actual physical bullying, but from what I remember, for a couple of months at least, these incidents kept coming. I thought sooner or later someone would start saying it had gone too far, but it just kept on, and no one said anything. Tried to bring it up once myself, in the dorm after lights-out. In the Seniors, we were down to six per dorm, so it was just our little group, and we often had our most intimate conversations lying in the dark before we fell asleep. You could talk about things there you wouldn’t dream of talking about any other place, not even in the pavilion.
So one night I brought up Tommy. I didn’t say much; I just summed up what had been happening to him and said it wasn’t really very fair. When I’d finished, there was a funny sort of silence hanging in the dark, and I realized everyone was waiting for Rut’s response-which was usually what happened whenever something a bit awkward came up. I kept waiting, then heard a sigh from Rut’s side of the room, and she said: “You’ve got a point, Kathy. It’s not nice. But if he wants it to stop, he’s got to change his own attitude. He didn’t have a thing for the Spring Exchange. And has he got anything for next month? I bet he hasn’t. Should explain a bit here about the Exchanges we had at Hails. Four times a year-spring, summer, autumn, winter-we had a kind of big exhibition- UCM-sale of all the things we’d been creating in the three months since the last Exchange. Paintings, drawings, pottery; all sorts of “sculptures” made from whatever was the craze of the day-bashed-up cans, maybe, or bottle tops stuck onto cardboard. For each thing you put in, you were paid in Exchange Tokens- the guardians decided how many your particular masterpiece merited-and then on the day of the Exchange you went along with your tokens and “bought” the stuff you liked.
The rule was you could only buy work done by students in your own year, but that still gave us plenty to choose from, since most of us could get pretty prolific over a three-month period. Looking back now, I can see why the Exchanges became so important to us. For a tart, they were our only means, aside from the Sales-the Sales were something else, which I’ll come to later-of building up a collection of personal possessions. If, say, you wanted to decorate the walls around your bed, or wanted something to carry around in your bag and place on your desk from room to room, then you could find it at the Exchange.
I can see now, too, how the Exchanges had a more subtle effect on us all. If you think about it, being dependent on each other to produce the stuff that might become your private treasures-that’s bound to do things to your relationships. The Tommy business was typical. A lot of the time, how you were regarded at Hails, how much you were liked and respected, had to do with how good you were at “creating. ” Ruth and I often found ourselves remembering these things a few years ago, when I was caring for her down at the recovery centre in Dover. It’s all part of what made Hails so special,” she said once. “The way we were encouraged to value each other’s work. ” ‘True,” I said. “But sometimes, when I think about the Ex-changes now, a lot of it seems a bit odd. The poetry, for instance. I remember we were allowed to hand in poems, instead of a drawing or a painting. And the strange thing was, we all thought that was fine, we thought that made sense. ” “Why shouldn’t it? Poetry’s important. ” “But we’re talking about nine-year-old stuff, funny little lines, all misspell, in exercise books.
We’d spend our precious tokens on an exercise book full of that stuff rather than on something really nice for around our beds. If we were so keen on a person’s poetry, why didn’t we just borrow it and copy it down ourselves any old afternoon? But you remember how it was. An Exchange would come along and we’d be standing there torn between Susie K. ‘s poems and those airfares Jackie used to make. ” “Jackass’s giraffes,” Ruth said with a laugh. “They were so beautiful. I used to have one. ” We were having this conversation on a fine summer evening, sitting out on the little balcony of her recovery room.
It was a few months after her first donation, and now she was over the worst of it, I’d always time my evening visits so that we’d be able to spend a half hour or so out there, watching the sun go down over the rooftops. You could see lots of aerials and satellite dishes, and sometimes, right over in the distance, a glistening line that was the sea. I’d bring mineral eater and biscuits, and we’d sit there talking about anything that came into our heads. The centre Ruth was in that time, it’s one of my favorites, and I wouldn’t mind at all if that’s where I ended up.
The recovery rooms are small, but they’re well-designed and comfortable. Everything-the walls, the floor-has been done in gleaming white tiles, which the centre keeps so clean when you first go in it’s almost like entering a hall of mirrors. Of course, you don’t exactly see yourself reflected back loads of times, but you almost think you do. When you lift an arm, or when someone sits up in bed, you can feel this pale, shadowy movement all round you in the tiles. Anyway, Rut’s room at that centre, it also had these big glass sliding panels, so she could easily see the outside from her bed.
Even with her head on the pillow she’d see a big lot of sky, and if it was warm enough, she could get all the fresh air she wanted by stepping out onto the balcony. I loved visiting her there, loved those meandering talks we had, through the summer to the early autumn, sitting on that balcony together, talking about Hails, the Cottages, whatever else drifted into our thoughts. “What I’m saying,” went on, “is that when we were that age, when we were eleven, say, we really weren’t interested in each other’s poems at all.
But remember, someone like Christy? Christy had this great reputation for poetry, and we all looked up to her for it. Even you, Ruth, you didn’t dare boss Christy around. All because we thought she was great at poetry. But we didn’t know a thing about poetry. We didn’t care about it. It’s strange. ” But Ruth didn’t get my point-or maybe she was deliberately avoiding it. Maybe she was determined to remember us all as more sophisticated than we were. Or maybe she could sense where my talk was leading, and didn’t want us to go that way.
Navy, she let out a long sigh and said: “We all thought Charity’s poems were so good. But I wonder how they’d look to us now. I wish we had some here, I’d love to see what we’d think. ” Then she laughed and said: “I have still got some poems by Peter B. But that was much later, when we were in Senior 4. I must have fancied him. I can’t think why else I’d have bought his poems. They’re just hysterically daft. Takes himself so seriously. But Christy, she was good, I remember she was. It’s funny, she went right off poems when she started her painting. And she was nowhere near as good at that. “