Chapter no 113 – Gray‌

All the Light We Cannot See

December 1943. Ravines of cold sink between the houses. The only wood left to burn is green and the whole city smells of wood smoke. Walking to the bakery, fifteen-year-old Marie-Laure is as chilled as she has ever been. Indoors, it is little better. Stray snowflakes seem to drift through the rooms, blown through gaps in the walls.

She listens to her great-uncle’s footfalls across the ceiling, and his voice—310 1467 507 2222 576881—and then her grandfather’s song, “Clair de Lune,” strains over her like a blue mist.

Airplanes make low, lazy passes over the city. Sometimes they sound so close that Marie-Laure fears they might graze the rooftops, knock over chimneys with their bellies. But no planes crash, no houses explode. Nothing seems to change at all except Marie-Laure grows: she can no longer wear any of the clothes her father carried here in his rucksack three years before. And her shoes pinch; she takes to wearing three pairs of socks and a pair of Etienne’s old tasseled loafers.

The rumors are that only essential personnel and those with medical reasons will be allowed to stay in Saint-Malo. “We’re not leaving,” says Etienne. “Not when we might finally be doing some good. If the doctor won’t give us notes, we’ll pay for them some other way.”

For portions of every day, she manages to lose herself in realms of memory: the faint impressions of the visual world before she was six, when Paris was like a vast kitchen, pyramids of cabbages and carrots everywhere; bakers’ stalls overflowing with pastries; fish stacked like cordwood in the fishmongers’ booths, the runnels awash in silver scales, alabaster gulls swooping down to carry off entrails. Every corner she turned billowed with color: the greens of leeks, the deep purple glaze of eggplants.

Now her world has turned gray. Gray faces and gray quiet and a gray nervous terror hanging over the queue at the bakery and the only color in the world briefly kindled when Etienne climbs the stairs to the attic, knees cracking, to read one more string of numbers into the ether, to send another of Madame Ruelle’s messages, to play a song. That little attic

bursting with magenta and aquamarine and gold for five minutes, and then the radio switches off, and the gray rushes back in, and her uncle stumps back down the stairs.

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