Chapter no 132 – Hunting (Again)

All the Light We Cannot See

They search day and night. Saint-Malo, Dinard, Saint-Servan, Saint-Vincent. Neumann One coaxes the battered Opel down streets so narrow that the sides of the truck shell scrape against walls. They pass little gray crêperies with their windows smashed and shuttered boulangeries and empty bistros and hillsides full of conscripted Russians pouring cement and heavy-boned prostitutes carrying water from wells and they find no broadcasts of the sort the colonel’s aides described. Werner can receive the BBC from the north and propaganda stations from the south; sometimes he manages to snare random flits of Morse code. But he hears no birth or wedding or death announcements, no numbers, no music.

The room Werner and Bernd are given, on the top floor of a requisitioned hotel in the city within the walls, is like a place that time wants no part of: three-hundred-year-old stucco quatrefoils and palmate capitals and spiraling horns of fruit festoon the ceiling. At night the dead girl from Vienna strides the halls. She does not look at Werner as she passes his open door, but he knows it is he she is hunting.

The hotelkeeper wrings his hands while Volkheimer paces the lobby. Airplanes crawl across the sky, it seems to Werner, incredibly slowly. As if at any moment one will stall and drop into the sea.

“Ours?” asks Neumann One. “Or theirs?” “Too high to tell.”

Werner walks the upstairs corridors. On the top floor, in what is perhaps the hotel’s nicest room, he stands in a hexagonal bathtub and wipes grime off a window with the heel of his palm. A few airborne seeds swirl in the wind, then drop into the chasm of shadow between houses. Above him, in the dimness, a nine-foot-long queen bee, with multiple eyes and golden fuzz on her abdomen, curls across the ceiling.

Dear Jutta,

Sorry I have not written these past months. The fever is mostly gone now and you should not worry. I have been feeling very clearheaded lately and what I want to write about today is the sea. It contains so many colors. Silver at dawn, green at noon, dark blue in the evening. Sometimes it looks almost red. Or it will turn the color of old coins. Right now the shadows of clouds are dragging across it, and patches of sunlight are touching down everywhere. White strings of gulls drag over it like beads.

It is my favorite thing, I think, that I have ever seen. Sometimes I catch myself staring at it and forget my duties. It seems big enough to contain everything anyone could ever feel.

Say hello to Frau Elena and the children who are left.

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