Chapter no 151 – Final Sentence‌

All the Light We Cannot See

Volkheimer does not stir. The liquid at the bottom of the paint bucket, however toxic it was, is gone. Werner has heard nothing from the girl on any frequency for how long? An hour? More? She read about the Nautilus getting sucked down into a whirlpool, waves higher than houses, the submarine standing on end, its steel ribs cracking, and then she read what he assumed was the last line of the book: Thus, to that question asked six thousand years ago by Ecclesiastes, “That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?” only two men now have the right to answer: Captain Nemo and myself.

Then the transmitter snapped off and the absolute darkness closed around him. For these past days—how many?—it has felt as though the hunger were a hand inside him, thrusting around in the cavity of his chest, reaching up to his shoulder blades, then down into his pelvis. Scraping at his bones. Today, though—or is it tonight?—the hunger peters out like a flame for which no fuel remains. Emptiness and fullness, in the end, somehow the same.

Werner blinks up to see the Viennese girl in her cape descend through the ceiling as if it is no more than a shadow. She carries a paper sack full of withered greens and seats herself amid the rubble. Around her swirls a cloud of bees.

He can see nothing, but he can see her.

She counts on her fingers. For tripping in line, she says. For working too slowly. For arguing over bread. For loitering too long in the camp toilet. For sobbing. For not organizing her things according to protocol.

It’s surely nonsense, yet something hangs inside it, some truth he does not want to allow himself to apprehend, and as she speaks, she ages, silver hair lays down on her head, her collar frays; she becomes an old woman—his understanding of who hovers at the rim of his consciousness.

For complaining of headaches. For singing.

For speaking at night in her bunk.

For forgetting her birth date during evening muster. For unloading the shipment too slowly.

For not turning in her keys correctly. For failing to inform the guard.

For rising from bed too late.

Frau Schwartzenberger—that’s who she is. The Jewess in Frederick’s elevator.

She runs out of fingers as she counts.

For closing her eyes while being addressed. For hoarding crusts.

For attempting to enter the park. For having inflamed hands.

For asking for a cigarette.

For a failure of imagination and in the darkness, it feels as if Werner has reached bottom, as if he has been whirling deeper all this time, like the Nautilus sucked under the maelstrom, like his father descending into the pits: a one-way dive from Zollverein past Schulpforta, past the horrors of Russia and Ukraine, past the mother and daughter in Vienna, his ambition and shame becoming one and the same, to the nadir in this basement on the rim of the continent where the apparition chants nonsense—Frau Schwartzenberger walks toward him, transforming herself as she approaches from woman to girl—her hair becomes red again, her skin smooths, a seven-year-old girl presses her face up against his, and in the center of her forehead he can see a hole blacker than the blackness around him, at the bottom of which teems a dark city full of souls, ten thousand, five hundred thousand, all these faces staring up from alleys, from windows, from smoldering parks, and he hears thunder.



The girl evaporates.

The ground quakes. The organs inside his body shake. The beams groan. Then the slow trickle of dust and the shallow, defeated breaths of Volkheimer a meter away.

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