Chapter no 127 – The Transmitter‌

All the Light We Cannot See

It waits on the table tucked against the chimney. The twin marine batteries below it. A strange machine, built years before, to talk to a ghost. As carefully as she can, Marie-Laure crawls to the piano bench and eases herself up. Someone must have a radio—the fire brigade, if one remains, or the resistance, or the Americans hurling missiles at the city. The Germans in their underground forts. Maybe Etienne himself. She tries to imagine him hunched somewhere, his fingers twisting the dials of a phantom radio. Maybe he assumes she is dead. Maybe he needs only to hear a flicker of hope.

She runs her fingers along the stones of the chimney until she finds the lever her uncle installed there. She presses her whole weight on it, and the antenna makes a faint grating noise above the roof as it telescopes upward.

Too loud.

She waits. Counts to one hundred. No sound from downstairs. Beneath the table, her fingers find switches: one for the microphone,

the other for the transmitter, she cannot remember which is which. Switch on one, then the other. Inside the big transmitter, vacuum tubes thrum.

Is it too loud, Papa?

No louder than the breeze. The undertone of the fires.

She traces the lines of the cables until she is sure she has the microphone in her hand.

To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air. Marie-Laure can sit in an attic high above the street and hear lilies rustling in marshes two miles away. She hears Americans scurry across farm fields, directing their huge cannons at the smoke of Saint-Malo; she hears families sniffling around hurricane lamps in cellars, crows hopping from pile to pile, flies landing on corpses in ditches; she hears the tamarinds shiver and the jays shriek and the dune

grass burn; she feels the great granite fist, sunk deep into the earth’s crust, on which Saint-Malo sits, and the ocean teething at it from all four sides, and the outer islands holding steady against the swirling tides; she hears cows drink from stone troughs and dolphins rise through the green water of the Channel; she hears the bones of dead whales stir five leagues below, their marrow offering a century of food for cities of creatures who will live their whole lives and never once see a photon sent from the sun. She hears her snails in the grotto drag their bodies over the rocks.

Rather than my reading it to you, maybe you could read it to me?

With her free hand, she opens the novel in her lap. Finds the lines with her fingers. Brings the microphone to her lips.

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