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All the Light We Cannot See

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2019 год
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The structure around them gives off another tremor, and hot dust cascades everywhere.

Soon Volkheimer’s light is making a circuit of what is left of the roof. The three huge wooden beams have cracked, but none has given way entirely. Between them the stucco is spiderwebbed, and pipes poke through in two places. The light veers behind him and illuminates the capsized workbench, the crushed case of their radio. Finally it finds Werner. He raises a palm to block it.

Volkheimer approaches; his big solicitous face presses close. Broad, familiar, deep-sunk eyes beneath the helmet. High cheekbones and long nose, flared at the tip like the knobs at the bottom of a femur. Chin like a continent. With slow care, Volkheimer touches Werner’s cheek. His fingertip comes away red.

Werner says, “We have to get out. We have to find another way out.”

Out? say Volkheimer’s lips. He shakes his head. There is no other way out.

Three (#ulink_5b9b86ce-f406-54ae-a61b-abe7d1afd1fa)

June 1940 (#ulink_5b9b86ce-f406-54ae-a61b-abe7d1afd1fa)

Château (#ulink_28839565-3c39-5046-b381-e0547f7ccf80)

Two days after fleeing Paris, Marie-Laure and her father enter the town of Evreux. Restaurants are either boarded up or thronged. Two women in evening gowns hunch hip to hip on the cathedral steps. A man lies facedown between market stalls, unconscious or worse.

No mail service. Telegraph lines down. The most recent newspaper is thirty-six hours old. At the prefecture, a queue for gasoline coupons snakes out the door and around the block.

The first two hotels are full. The third will not unlock the door. Every so often the locksmith catches himself glancing over his shoulder.

“Papa,” Marie-Laure is mumbling. Bewildered. “My feet.”

He lights a cigarette: three left. “Not much farther now, Marie.”

On the western edge of Evreux, the road empties and the countryside levels out. He checks and rechecks the address the director has given him. Monsieur François Giannot. 9 rue St. Nicolas. But Monsieur Giannot’s house, when they reach it, is on fire. In the windless dusk, sullen heaps of smoke pump upward through the trees. A car has crashed into a corner of the gatehouse and torn the gate off its hinges. The house—or what remains of it—is grand: twenty French windows in the facade, big freshly painted shutters, manicured hedges out front. Un château.

“I smell smoke, Papa.”

He leads Marie-Laure up the gravel. His rucksack—or perhaps it is the stone deep inside—seems to grow heavier with each step. No puddles gleam in the gravel, no fire brigade swarms out front. Twin urns are toppled on the front steps. A burst chandelier sprawls across the entry stairs.

“What is burning, Papa?”

A boy comes toward them out of the smoky twilight, no older than Marie-Laure, streaked with ash, pushing a wheeled dining cart through the gravel. Silver tongs and spoons hanging from the cart chime and clank, and the wheels clatter and wallow. A little polished cherub grins at each corner.

The locksmith says, “Is this the house of François Giannot?”

The boy acknowledges neither question nor questioner as he passes.

“Do you know what happened to—?”

The clanging of the cart recedes.

Marie-Laure yanks the hem of his coat. “Papa, please.”

In her coat against the black trees, her face looks paler and more frightened than he has ever seen it. Has he ever asked so much of her?

“A house has burned, Marie. People are stealing things.”

“What house?”

“The house we have come so far to reach.”

Over her head, he can see the smoldering remains of door frames glow and fade with the passage of the breeze. A hole in the roof frames the darkening sky.

Two more boys emerge from the soot carrying a portrait in a gilded frame, twice as tall as they are, the visage of some long-dead great-grandfather glowering at the night. The locksmith holds up his palms to delay them. “Was it airplanes?”

One says, “There’s plenty more inside.” The canvas of the painting ripples.

“Do you know the whereabouts of Monsieur Giannot?”

The other says, “Ran off yesterday. With the rest. London.”

“Don’t tell him anything,” says the first.

The boys jog down the driveway with their prize and are swallowed by the gloom.

“London?” whispers Marie-Laure. “The friend of the director is in London?”

Sheets of blackened paper scuttle past their feet. Shadows whisper in the trees. A ruptured melon lolls in the drive like an amputated head. The locksmith is seeing too much. All day, mile after mile, he let himself imagine they would be greeted with food. Little potatoes with hot cores into which he and Marie-Laure would plunge forkfuls of butter. Shallots and mushrooms and hard-boiled eggs and béchamel. Coffee and cigarettes. He would hand Monsieur Giannot the stone, and Giannot would pull brass lorgnettes out of his breast pocket and fit their lenses over his calm eyes and tell him: real or fake. Then Giannot would bury it in the garden or conceal it behind a hidden panel somewhere in his walls, and that would be that. Duty fulfilled. Je ne m’en occupe plus. They would be given a private room, take baths; maybe someone would wash their clothes. Maybe Monsieur Giannot would tell humorous stories about his friend the director, and in the morning the birds would sing and a fresh newspaper would announce the end of the invasion, reasonable concessions. He would go back to the key pound, spend his evenings installing little sash windows in little wooden houses. Bonjour, bonjour. Everything as before.

But nothing is as before. The trees seethe and the house smolders, and standing in the gravel of the driveway, the daylight nearly finished, the locksmith has an unsettling thought: Someone might be coming for us. Someone might know what I carry.

He leads Marie-Laure back to the road at a trot.

“Papa, my feet.”

He swings the rucksack around to his front and wraps her arms around his neck and carries her on his back. They pass the smashed gatehouse and the crashed car and turn not east toward the center of Evreux but west. Figures bicycle past. Pinched faces streaked with suspicion or fear or both. Perhaps it is the locksmith’s own eyes that have been streaked.

“Not so quickly,” begs Marie-Laure.

They rest in weeds twenty paces off the road. There is only plunging night and owls calling from the trees and bats straining insects above a roadside ditch. A diamond, the locksmith reminds himself, is only a piece of carbon compressed in the bowels of the earth for eons and driven to the surface in a volcanic pipe. Someone facets it, someone polishes it. It can harbor a curse no more than a leaf can, or a mirror, or a life. There is only chance in this world, chance and physics.

Anyway, what he carries is nothing more than a piece of glass. A diversion.

Behind him, over Evreux, a wall of clouds ignites once, twice. Lightning? On the road ahead, he can make out several acres of uncut hay and the gentle profiles of unlit farm buildings—a house and barn. No movement.

“Marie, I see a hotel.”

“You said the hotels were full.”

“This one looks friendly. Come. It’s not far.”

Again he carries his daughter. One more half mile. The windows of the house stay unlit as they approach. Its barn sits a hundred yards beyond. He tries to listen above the rush of blood in his ears. No dogs, no torches. Probably the farmers too have fled. He sets Marie-Laure in front of the barn doors and knocks softly and waits and knocks again.

The padlock is a brand-new single-latch Burguet; with his tools he picks it easily. Inside are oats and water buckets and horseflies flying sleepy loops but no horses. He opens a stall and helps Marie-Laure into the corner and pulls off her shoes.

“Voilà,” he says. “One of the guests has just brought his horses into the lobby, so it may smell for a moment. But now the porters are hurrying him out. See, there he goes. Goodbye, horse! Go sleep in the stables, please!”

Her expression is faraway. Lost.

A vegetable garden waits behind the house. In the dimness he can make out roses, leeks, lettuces. Strawberries, most still green. Tender white carrots with black earth clotted in their fibers. Nothing stirs: no farmer materializes in a window with a rifle. The locksmith brings back a shirtful of vegetables and fills a tin bucket at a spigot and eases shut the barn door and feeds his daughter in the dark. Then he folds his coat, lays her head on it, and wipes her face with his shirt.

Two cigarettes left. Inhale, exhale.

Walk the paths of logic. Every outcome has its cause, and every predicament has its solution. Every lock its key. You can go back to Paris or you can stay here or you can go on.

From outside comes the soft hooting of owls. Distant grumbling of thunder or ordnance or both. He says, “This hotel is very cheap, ma chérie. The innkeeper behind the desk said our room was forty francs a night but only twenty francs if we made our own bed.” He listens to her breathe. “So I said, ‘Oh, we can make our own bed.’ And he said, ‘Right, I’ll get you some nails and wood.’”

Marie-Laure still does not smile. “Now we go find Uncle Etienne?”

“Yes, Marie.”

“Who is seventy-six percent crazy?”

“He was with your grandfather—his brother—when he died. In the war. ‘Got a bit of gas in the head’ is how they used to say it. Afterward he saw things.”

“What kind of things?”
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