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All the Light We Cannot See

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2019 год
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The first boy moans grotesquely. Marie-Laure raises her book as if to shield herself.

The second boy says, “Make them do things.”

“Nasty things.”

An adult’s voice in the distance calls out, “Louis, Peter?”

“Who are you?” hisses Marie-Laure.

“Bye-bye, blind girl.”

Then: quiet. Marie-Laure listens to the trees rustle; her blood swarms. For a long and panicked minute, she crawls among the leaves at the foot of the bench until her fingers find her cane.

Stores sell gas masks. Neighbors tape cardboard to their windows. Each week fewer visitors come to the museum.

“Papa?” Marie-Laure asks. “If there’s a war, what will happen to us?”

“There won’t be a war.”

“But what if there is?”

His hand on her shoulder, the familiar clanking of keys on his belt. “Then we will be fine, ma chérie. The director has already filed a dispensation to keep me out of the reserves. I’m not going anywhere.”

But she hears the way he turns newspaper pages, snapping them with urgency. He lights cigarette after cigarette; he hardly stops working. Weeks pass and the trees go bare and her father doesn’t ask her to walk in the gardens once. If only they had an impregnable submarine like the Nautilus.

The smoky voices of office girls swirl past the open window of the key pound. “They creep into apartments at night. They booby-trap kitchen cupboards, toilet bowls, brassieres. Go to open your panty drawer, and you get your fingers blown off.”

She has nightmares. Silent Germans row up the Seine in synchrony; their skiffs glide as if through oil. They fly noiselessly beneath the bridge trestles; they have beasts with them on chains; their beasts leap out of the boats and sprint past the massifs of flowers, down the rows of hedges. They sniff the air on the steps to the Grand Gallery. Slavering. Ravenous. They surge into the museum, scatter into the departments. The windows go black with blood.

Dear Professor I dont know if youre getting these letters or if the radio station will forward this or is there even a radio station? We havent heard you in two months at least. Did you stop broadcasting or maybe is the problem ours? Theres a new radio transmitter in Brandenburg called the Deutschlandsender 3 my brother says it is three hundred thirty-something meters tall the second-tallest man-made construction in the world. It pushes basically everything else off the dial. Old Frau Stresemann, shes one of our neighbors, she says she can hear Deutschlandsender broadcasts in her tooth fillings. My brother said its possible if you have an antenna and a rectifier and something to serve as a speaker. He said you can use a section of wire fence to pick up radio signals, so maybe the silver in a tooth can too. I like to think about that. Dont you Professor? Songs in your teeth? Frau Elena says we have to come straight home from school now. She says were not Jews but were poor and thats almost as dangerous. Its a criminal offense now to tune into a foreign broadcast. You can get hard labor for it, things like breaking rocks fifteen hours a day. Or making nylon stockings or going down in the pits. No one will help me mail this letter not even my brother so I will do it myself.

Good Evening. Or Heil Hitler if You Prefer. (#ulink_c9379eb3-c876-5264-8028-4c9ce89cdd8c)

His fourteenth birthday arrives in May. It’s 1940 and no one laughs at the Hitler Youth now. Frau Elena prepares a pudding and Jutta wraps a piece of quartz in newspaper and the twins, Hannah and Susanne Gerlitz, march around the room impersonating soldiers. A five-year-old—Rolf Hupfauer—sits in the corner of the sofa, eyelids slipping heavily over his eyes. A new arrival—a baby girl—sits in Jutta’s lap and gums her fingers. Out the window, beyond the curtains, the flame atop the waste stack, high in the distance, flaps and shivers.

The children sing and devour the pudding, Frau Elena says, “Time’s up,” and Werner switches off his receiver. Everyone prays. His whole body feels heavy as he carries the radio up to the dormer. In the alleys, fifteen-year-old boys are making their way toward mine elevators, queuing up with their helmets and lamps outside the gates. He tries to imagine their descent, sporadic and muted lights passing and receding, cables rattling, everyone quiet, sinking down to that permanent darkness where men claw at the earth with a half mile of rock hunched on top of them.

One more year. Then they’ll give him a helmet and lamp and stuff him into a cage with the others.

It has been months since he last heard the Frenchman on the shortwave. A year since he held that water-stained copy of The Principles of Mechanics. Not so long ago he let himself dream of Berlin and its great scientists: Fritz Haber, inventor of fertilizer; Hermann Staudinger, inventor of plastics. Hertz, who made the invisible visible. All the great men doing things out there. I believe in you, Frau Elena used to say. I think you’ll do something great. Now, in his nightmares, he walks the tunnels of the mines. The ceiling is smooth and black; slabs of it descend over him as he treads. The walls splinter; he stoops, crawls. Soon he cannot raise his head, move his arms. The ceiling weighs ten trillion tons; it gives off a permeating cold; it drives his nose into the floor. Just before he wakes, he feels a splintering at the back of his skull.

Rainwater purls from cloud to roof to eave. Werner presses his forehead to the window of the dormer and peers through the drops, the roof below just one among a cluster of wet rooftops, hemmed in by the vast walls of the cokery and smelter and gasworks, the winding tower silhouetted against the sky, mine and mill running on and on, acre after acre, beyond his range of sight, to the villages, the cities, the ever-quickening, ever-expanding machine that is Germany. And a million men ready to set down their lives for it.

Good evening, he thinks. Or heil Hitler. Everyone is choosing the latter.

Bye-bye, Blind Girl (#ulink_06b2a79f-a8d0-5ee9-ab50-884343ff7afd)

The war drops its question mark. Memos are distributed. The collections must be protected. A small cadre of couriers has begun moving things to country estates. Locks and keys are in greater demand than ever. Marie-Laure’s father works until midnight, until one. Every crate must be padlocked, every transport manifest kept in a secure place. Armored trucks rumble at the loading docks. There are fossils to be safeguarded, ancient manuscripts; there are pearls, gold nuggets, a sapphire as big as a mouse. There might be, thinks Marie-Laure, the Sea of Flames.

From a certain angle, the spring seems so calm: warm, tender, each night redolent and composed. And yet everything radiates tension, as if the city has been built upon the skin of a balloon and someone is inflating it toward the breaking point.

Bees work the blooming aisles of the Jardin des Plantes. The plane trees drop their seeds and huge drifts of fluff gather on the walkways.

If they attack, why would they attack, they would be crazy to attack.

To retreat is to save lives.

Deliveries stop. Sandbags appear around the museum gates. A pair of soldiers on the roof of the Gallery of Paleontology peer over the gardens with binoculars. But the huge bowl of the sky remains untracked: no zeppelins, no bombers, no superhuman paratroopers, just the last songbirds returning from their winter homes, and the quicksilver winds of spring transmuting into the heavier, greener breezes of summer.

Rumor, light, air. That May seems more beautiful than any Marie-Laure can remember. On the morning of her twelfth birthday, there is no puzzle box in place of the sugar bowl when she wakes; her father is too busy. But there is a book: the second Braille volume of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, as thick as a sofa cushion.

A thrill rides all the way into the nails of her fingers. “How—?”

“You’re welcome, Marie.”

The walls of their flat tremble with the dragging of furniture, the packing of trunks, the nailing shut of windows. They walk to the museum, and her father remarks distractedly to the warder who meets them at the door, “They say we are holding the river.”

Marie-Laure sits on the floor of the key pound and opens her book. When part one left off, Professor Aronnax had traveled only six thousand leagues. So many left to go. But something strange happens: the words do not connect. She reads, During the entire day, a formidable school of sharks followed the ship, but the logic that is supposed to link each word to the next fails her.

Someone says, “Has the director left?”

Someone else says, “Before the end of the week.”

Her father’s clothes smell of straw; his fingers reek of oil. Work, more work, then a few hours of exhausted sleep before returning to the museum at dawn. Trucks carry off skeletons and meteorites and octopi in jars and herbarium sheets and Egyptian gold and South African ivory and Permian fossils.

On the first of June, airplanes fly over the city, extremely high, crawling through the stratus clouds. When the wind is down and nobody is running an engine nearby, Marie-Laure can stand outside the Gallery of Zoology and hear them: a mile-high purr. The following day, the radio stations begin disappearing. The warders in the guards’ station whack the side of their wireless and tilt it this way and that, but only static comes out of its speaker. As if each relay antenna were a candle flame and a pair of fingers came along and pinched it out.

Those last nights in Paris, walking home with her father at midnight, the huge book clasped against her chest, Marie-Laure thinks she can sense a shiver beneath the air, in the pauses between the chirring of the insects, like the spider cracks of ice when too much weight is set upon it. As if all this time the city has been no more than a scale model built by her father and the shadow of a great hand has fallen over it.

Didn’t she presume she would live with her father in Paris for the rest of her life? That she would always sit with Dr. Geffard in the afternoons? That every year, on her birthday, her father would present her with another puzzle and another novel, and she would read all of Jules Verne and all of Dumas and maybe even Balzac and Proust? That her father would always hum as he fashioned little buildings in the evenings, and she would always know how many paces from the front door to the bakery (forty) and how many more to the brasserie (thirty-two), and there would always be sugar to spoon into her coffee when she woke?

Bonjour, bonjour.

Potatoes at six o’clock, Marie. Mushrooms at three.

Now? What will happen now?

Making Socks (#ulink_888658c7-6697-527f-9cc1-83a29ce5b0c2)

Werner wakes past midnight to find eleven-year-old Jutta kneeling on the floor beside his cot. The shortwave is in her lap and a sheet of drawing paper is on the floor beside her, a many-windowed city of her imagination half-articulated on the page.

Jutta removes the earpiece and squints. In the twilight, her wild volutions of hair look more radiant than ever: a struck match.

“In Young Girls League,” she whispers, “they have us making socks. Why so many socks?”

“The Reich must need socks.”

“For what?”

“For feet, Jutta. For the soldiers. Let me sleep.” As though on cue, a young boy—Siegfried Fischer—cries out downstairs once, then twice more, and Werner and Jutta wait to hear Frau Elena’s feet on the stairs and her gentle ministrations and the house fall quiet once more.

“All you want to do are mathematics problems,” Jutta whispers. “Play with radios. Don’t you want to understand what’s happening?”

“What are you listening to?”

She crosses her arms and puts the earphone back and does not answer.

“Are you listening to something you’re not supposed to be listening to?”

“What do you care?”

“It’s dangerous, is why I care.”

She puts her finger in her other ear.

“The other girls don’t seem to mind,” he whispers. “Making socks. Collecting newspapers and all that.”

“We’re dropping bombs on Paris,” she says. Her voice is loud, and he resists an urge to clap his hand over her mouth.
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