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All the Light We Cannot See

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2019 год
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Birds make strangled cries overhead. Her father turns left, right. It feels to Marie-Laure as if they have wound these past four days toward the center of a bewildering maze, and now they are tiptoeing past the pickets of some final interior cell. Inside which a terrible beast might slumber.

“Rue Vauborel,” her father says between pants. “Here, it must be. Or here?” He pivots, retraces their steps, climbs an alley, then turns around.

“Is there no one to ask?”

“There’s not a single light, Marie. Everyone is asleep or pretending to be.”

Finally they reach a gate, and he sets her down on a curbstone and pushes an electric buzzer, and she can hear it ring deep within a house. Nothing. He presses again. Again nothing. He presses a third time.

“This is the house of your uncle?”

“It is.”

“He doesn’t know us,” she says.

“He’s sleeping. As we should be.”

They sit with their backs to the gate. Wrought iron and cool. A heavy wooden door just behind it. She leans her head on his shoulder; he pulls off her shoes. The world seems to sway gently back and forth, as though the town is drifting lightly away. As though back onshore, all of France is left to bite its fingernails and flee and stumble and weep and wake to a numb, gray dawn, unable to believe what is happening. Who do the roads belong to now? And the fields? The trees?

Her father takes his final cigarette from his shirt pocket and lights it.

From deep inside the house behind them come footfalls.

Madame Manec (#ulink_cd65dfd2-d093-54ce-a8e0-2180962ce977)

As soon as her father says his name, the breathing on the other side of the door becomes a gasp, a held breath. The gate screeches; a door behind it gives way. “Jesus’s mother,” says a woman’s voice. “You were so small—”

“My daughter, Madame. Marie-Laure, this is Madame Manec.”

Marie-Laure attempts a curtsy. The hand that cups her cheek is strong: the hand of a geologist or a gardener.

“My God, there are none so distant that fate cannot bring them together. But, dear child, your stockings. And your heels! You must be famished.”

They step into a narrow entry. Marie-Laure hears the gate clang shut, then the woman latching the door behind them. Two dead bolts, one chain. They are led into a room that smells of herbs and rising dough: a kitchen. Her father unbuttons her coat, helps her sit. “We are very grateful, I understand how late it is,” he is saying, and the old woman—Madame Manec—is brisk, efficient, evidently overcoming her initial amazement; she brushes off their thank-yous; she scoots Marie-Laure’s chair toward a tabletop. A match is struck; water fills a pot; an icebox clicks open and shut. There is the hum of gas and the tick-tick of heating metal. In another moment, a warm towel is on Marie-Laure’s face. A jar of cool, sweet water in front of her. Each sip a blessing.

“Oh, the town is absolutely stuffed,” Madame Manec is saying in her fairy-tale drawl as she moves about. She seems short; she wears blocky, heavy shoes. Hers is a low voice, full of pebbles—a sailor’s voice or a smoker’s. “Some can afford hotels or rentals, but many are in the warehouses, on straw, not enough to eat. I’d take them in, but your uncle, you know, it might upset him. There’s no diesel, no kerosene, British ships long gone. They burned everything they left behind, at first I couldn’t believe any of it, but Etienne, he has the wireless going nonstop—”

Eggs crack. Butter pops in a hot pan. Her father is telling an abridged story of their flight, train stations, fearful crowds, omitting the stop in Evreux, but soon all of Marie-Laure’s attention is absorbed by the smells blooming around her: egg, spinach, melting cheese.

An omelet arrives. She positions her face over its steam. “May I please have a fork?”

The old woman laughs: a laugh Marie-Laure warms to immediately. In an instant a fork is fitted into her hand.

The eggs taste like clouds. Like spun gold. Madame Manec says, “I think she likes it,” and laughs again.

A second omelet soon appears. Now it is her father who eats quickly. “How about peaches, dear?” murmurs Madame Manec, and Marie-Laure can hear a can opening, juice slopping into a bowl. Seconds later, she’s eating wedges of wet sunlight.
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