Home > Never Let Me Go(11)

Never Let Me Go(11)
Kazuo Ishiguro

That was what had happened to Sylvie C. once on the second-floor landing, and on that occasion Miss Emily had gone into one of her rages. She never shouted like, say, Miss Lucy did when she got mad at you, but if anything Miss Emily getting angry was scarier. Her eyes narrowed and she’d whisper furiously to herself, like she was discussing with an invisible colleague what punishment was awful enough for you. The way she did it meant half of you was dying to hear and the other half completely not wanting to. But usually with Miss Emily nothing too awful would come out of it. She hardly ever put you in detention, made you do chores or withdrew privileges. All the same, you felt dreadful, just knowing you’d fallen in her estimation, and you wanted to do something straight away to redeem yourself.

But the thing was, there was no predicting with Miss Emily. Sylvie may have got a full portion that time, but when Laura got caught running through the rhubarb patch, Miss Emily just snapped: “Shouldn’t be here, girl. Off you go,” and walked on.

And then there was the time I thought I was in hot water with her. The little footpath that went all round the back of the main house was a real favourite of mine. It followed all the nooks, all the extensions; you had to squeeze past shrubs, you went under two ivy-covered arches and through a rusted gate. And all the time you could peer in through the windows, one after the other. I suppose part of the reason I liked the path so much was because I was never sure if it was out of bounds. Certainly, when classes were going on, you weren’t supposed to walk past. But at the weekends or in the evenings—that was never clear. Most students avoided it anyway, and maybe the feeling of getting away from everyone else was another part of the appeal.

In any case, I was doing this little walk one sunny evening. I think I was in Senior 3. As usual I was glancing into the empty rooms as I went past, and then suddenly I was looking into a classroom with Miss Emily in it. She was alone, pacing slowly, talking under her breath, pointing and directing remarks to an invisible audience in the room. I assumed she was rehearsing a lesson or maybe one of her assembly talks, and I was about to hurry past before she spotted me, but just then she turned and looked straight at me. I froze, thinking I was for it, but then noticed she was carrying on as before, except now she was mouthing her address at me. Then, natural as you like, she turned away to fix her gaze on some other imaginary student in another part of the room. I crept away along the path, and for the next day or so kept dreading what Miss Emily would say when she saw me. But she never mentioned it at all.

But that’s not really what I want to talk about just now. What I want to do now is get a few things down about Ruth, about how we met and became friends, about our early days together. Because more and more these days, I’ll be driving past fields on a long afternoon, or maybe drinking my coffee in front of a huge window in a motorway service station, and I’ll catch myself thinking about her again.

She wasn’t someone I was friends with from the start. I can remember, at five or six, doing things with Hannah and with Laura, but not with Ruth. I only have the one vague memory of Ruth from that early part of our lives.

I’m playing in a sandpit. There are a number of others in the sand with me, it’s too crowded and we’re getting irritated with each other. We’re in the open, under a warm sun, so it’s probably the sandpit in the Infants’ play area, just possibly it’s the sand at the end of the long jump in the North Playing Field. Anyway it’s hot and I’m feeling thirsty and I’m not pleased there are so many of us in the sandpit. Then Ruth is standing there, not in the sand with the rest of us, but a few feet away. She’s very angry with two of the girls somewhere behind me, about something that must have happened before, and she’s standing there glaring at them. My guess is that I knew Ruth only very slightly at that point. But she must already have made some impression on me, because I remember carrying on busily with whatever I was doing in the sand, absolutely dreading the idea of her turning her gaze on me. I didn’t say a word, but I was desperate for her to realise I wasn’t with the girls behind me, and had had no part in whatever it was that had made her cross.

And that’s all I remember of Ruth from that early time. We were the same year so we must have run into each other enough, but aside from the sandpit incident, I don’t remember having anything to do with her until the Juniors a couple of years later, when we were seven, going on eight.

The South Playing Field was the one used most by the Juniors and it was there, in the corner by the poplars, that Ruth came up to me one lunchtime, looked me up and down, then asked:

“Do you want to ride my horse?”

I was in the midst of playing with two or three others at that point, but it was clear Ruth was addressing only me. This absolutely delighted me, but I made a show of weighing her up before giving a reply.

“Well, what’s your horse’s name?”

Ruth came a step closer. “My best horse,” she said, “is Thunder. I can’t let you ride on him. He’s much too dangerous. But you can ride Bramble, as long as you don’t use your crop on him. Or if you like, you could have any of the others.” She reeled off several more names I don’t now remember. Then she asked: “Have you got any horses of your own?”

I looked at her and thought carefully before replying: “No. I don’t have any horses.”

“Not even one?”

“No.”

“All right. You can ride Bramble, and if you like him, you can have him to keep. But you’re not to use your crop on him. And you’ve got to come now.”

My friends had, in any case, turned away and were carrying on with what they’d been doing. So I gave a shrug and went off with Ruth.

The field was filled with playing children, some a lot bigger than us, but Ruth led the way through them very purposefully, always a pace or two in front. When we were almost at the wire mesh boundary with the garden, she turned and said:

“Okay, we’ll ride them here. You take Bramble.”

I accepted the invisible rein she was holding out, and then we were off, riding up and down the fence, sometimes cantering, sometimes at a gallop. I’d been correct in my decision to tell Ruth I didn’t have any horses of my own, because after a while with Bramble, she let me try her various other horses one by one, shouting all sorts of instructions about how to handle each animal’s foibles.

“I told you! You’ve got to really lean back on Daffodil! Much more than that! She doesn’t like it unless you’re right back!”

I must have done well enough, because eventually she let me have a go on Thunder, her favourite. I don’t know how long we spent with her horses that day: it felt a substantial time, and I think we both lost ourselves completely in our game. But then suddenly, for no reason I could see, Ruth brought it all to an end, claiming I was deliberately tiring out her horses, and that I’d have to put each of them back in its stable. She pointed to a section of the fence, and I began leading the horses to it, while Ruth seemed to get crosser and crosser with me, saying I was doing everything wrong. Then she asked:

“Do you like Miss Geraldine?”

It might have been the first time I’d actually thought about whether I liked a guardian. In the end I said: “Of course I like her.”

“But do you really like her? Like she’s special? Like she’s your favourite?”

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