Chapter no 125 – Water‌

All the Light We Cannot See

Marie-Laure hears the springs of her bed groan. Hears the German limp out of her room and go down the stairs. Is he leaving? Giving up?

It starts to rain. Thousands of tiny drops thrum onto the roof. Marie-Laure stands on her tiptoes and presses her ear to the roofing beneath the slates. Listens to the drops trickle down. What was the prayer? The one Madame Manec muttered to herself on Bastille Day as the fireworks went up?

Lord Our God Your Grace is a purifying fire.

She has to marshal her mind. Use perception and logic. As her father would, as Jules Verne’s great marine biologist Professor Pierre Aronnax would. The German does not know about the attic. She has the stone in her pocket; she has one can of food. These are advantages.

The rain is good too: it will stifle the fires. Could she capture some of it to drink? Punch a hole in the slates? Use it in some other way? Maybe to cover her noise?

She knows exactly where the two galvanized buckets are: just inside the door of her room. She can get to them, maybe even carry one back up.

No, carrying it up would be impossible. Too heavy, too noisy, all that water sloshing everywhere. But she could go to one and lower her face into it. She could fill the empty can of beans.

The very thought of her lips against water—the tip of her nose touching its surface—summons up a biological craving beyond anything she has experienced. In her mind she falls into a lake; water fills her ears and mouth; her throat opens. One sip and she could think more clearly. She waits for her father’s voice in her head to raise an objection, but none comes.

The distance through the front of the wardrobe, across Henri’s room, across the landing, and to her doorway runs twenty-one paces, give or take. She takes the knife and the empty can from the floor and tucks them in her pocket. She creeps down the seven ladder rungs and stays fixed for a long time against the back of the wardrobe. Listening

listening listening. The little wooden house is a bump against her ribs as she crouches. Inside its tiny attic, does some tiny likeness of Marie-Laure wait, listening? Does that tiny version of her feel this same thirst?

The only sound is the patter of the rain turning Saint-Malo into mud.

It could be a trick. Maybe he heard her open the can of beans, went noisily downstairs, and climbed quietly back up; maybe he stands outside the big wardrobe with his pistol drawn.

Lord Our God Your Grace is a purifying fire.

She flattens her hands against the back of the wardrobe and slides open the panel. The shirts drag across her face as she crawls through. She sets her hands against the inside of the wardrobe doors and nudges one open.

No gunshot. Nothing. Out the now glassless window, the sound of rain falling on the burning houses is the sound of pebbles being stirred by waves. Marie-Laure steps onto the floor of her grandfather’s old bedroom and summons him: a curious boy with lustrous hair who smells of the sea. He’s playful, quick-witted, charged with energy; he takes one of her hands, while Etienne finds the other; the house becomes as it was fifty years ago: the boys’ well-dressed parents laugh downstairs; a cook shucks oysters in the kitchen; Madame Manec, a young maid, fresh from the countryside, sings on a stepladder as she dusts the chandelier . . .

Papa, you had the keys to everything.

The boys lead her into the hall. She passes the bathroom.

Traces of the German’s smell hang in her bedroom: an odor like vanilla. Beneath it something putrid. She cannot hear anything beyond the rain outside and her own pulse discharging in her temples. She kneels as soundlessly as she can and runs her hands along the grooves of the floor. The sound of her fingertips striking the bucket’s side seems louder than the gong of a cathedral bell.

Rain hums against the roof and walls. Drips past the glassless window. All around her wait her pebbles and seashells. Her father’s model. Her quilt. Somewhere in here must be her shoes.

She lowers her face and touches her lips to the water’s surface. Each swallow seems as loud as a shell burst. One three five; she gulps breathes gulps breathes. Her entire head inside the bucket.

Breathing. Dying. Dreaming.

Does he stir? Is he downstairs? Is he coming back up?

Nine eleven thirteen, she is full. Her whole gut stretches, sloshes; she has had too much. She slips the can into the bucket and lets it fill. Now to retreat without making a sound. Without bumping a wall, the door. Without tripping, without spilling. She turns and begins to crawl, the full can of water in her left hand.

Marie-Laure makes the doorway of her room before she hears him. He is three or four stories below, ransacking one of the rooms; she hears what sounds like a crate of ball bearings get dumped onto the floor. They bounce, clatter, and roll.

She reaches out her right hand, and here, just inside of the doorway, she discovers something big and rectangular and hard, covered with cloth. Her book! The novel! Sitting right here as though her father has placed it for her. The German must have tossed it off her bed. She lifts it as quietly as she can and holds it against the front of her uncle’s coat.

Can she make it downstairs?

Can she slip past him and into the street?

But already the water is filling her capillaries, improving the flow of her blood; already she thinks more keenly. She does not want to die; already she has risked too much. Even if she could miraculously slip past the German, there is no promise that the streets will be safer than the house.

She makes it to the landing. Makes it to the threshold of her grandfather’s bedroom. Feels her way to the wardrobe, climbs through the open doors, closes them gently behind her.

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