Chapter no 139 – Nothing

All the Light We Cannot See

Marie-Laure tries to remember everything she knows about the lock and latch on the gate, everything she has felt with her fingers, everything her father would have told her. Iron rod threaded through three rusted loops, old mortise lock with a rusty cam. Would a gunshot break it? The man calls out now and then as he runs the edge of his newspaper over the bars of the gate. “Arrived in June, not arrested until January. What was he doing all that time? Why was he measuring buildings?”

She crouches against the wall of the grotto, knapsack in her lap. The water surges to her knees: cold, even in July. Can he see her? Carefully Marie-Laure opens her knapsack, breaks open the loaf hidden inside, and fishes with her fingers for the coil of paper. There. She counts to three and slips the piece of paper into her mouth.

“Just tell me,” the German calls, “if your father left anything with you or spoke about carrying something for the museum where he used to work. Then I will walk away. I won’t tell anyone about this place. God’s truth.”

The paper disintegrates into mush between her teeth. At her feet, the snails go about their work: chewing, scavenging, sleeping. Their mouths, Etienne has taught her, contain something like thirty teeth per row, eighty rows of teeth, two and a half thousand teeth per snail, grazing, scratching, rasping. High above the ramparts, gulls course through an open sky. God’s truth? How long do these intolerable moments last for God? A trillionth of a second? The very life of any creature is a quick-fading spark in fathomless darkness. That’s God’s truth.

“They have me doing all this busywork,” says the German. “A Jean Jouvenet in Saint-Brieuc, six Monets in the area, a Fabergé egg in a manor house near Rennes. I get so tired. Don’t you know how long I’ve searched?”

Why couldn’t Papa have stayed? Wasn’t she the most important thing? She swallows the pulped shreds of the paper. Then she rocks forward on her heels. “He left me nothing.” She is surprised to hear how angry she is. “Nothing! Just a dumb model of this town and a broken

promise. Just Madame, who is dead. Just my great-uncle, who is frightened of an ant.”

Outside the gate, the German falls quiet. Considering her reply, perhaps. Something in her exasperation convincing him.

“Now,” she calls, “you keep your word and go away.”

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