Chapter no 158 – The Simultaneity of Instants

All the Light We Cannot See

The brick claps onto the floor. The voices stop. She can hear a scuffle and then the shot comes like a breach of crimson light: the eruption of Krakatoa. The house briefly riven in two.

Marie-Laure half slides, half falls down the ladder and presses her ear against the false back of the wardrobe. Footsteps hurry across the landing and enter Henri’s room. There is a splash and a hiss, and she smells smoke and steam.

Now the footsteps become hesitant; they are different from the sergeant major’s. Lighter. Stepping, stopping. Opening the doors of the wardrobe. Thinking. Figuring it out.

She can hear a light brushing sound as he runs his fingers along the back of the wardrobe. She tightens her grip on the handle of the knife.

Three blocks to the east, Frank Volkheimer blinks as he sits in a devastated apartment on the corner of the rue des Lauriers and the rue Thévenard, eating from a tin of sweet yams with his fingers. Across the river mouth, beneath four feet of concrete, an aide holds open the garrison commander’s jacket as the colonel swings one arm through one sleeve, then the other. At precisely the same moment, a nineteen-year-old American scout climbing the hillside toward the pillboxes stops and turns and reaches an arm down for the soldier behind him; while, with his cheekbone pressed to a granite paver at Fort National, Etienne LeBlanc decides that if he and Marie-Laure live through this, whatever happens, he will let her pick a place on the equator and they will go, book a ticket, ride a ship, fly an airplane, until they stand together in a rain forest surrounded by flowers they’ve never smelled, listening to birds they’ve never heard. Three hundred miles away from Fort National, Reinhold von Rumpel’s wife wakes her daughters to go to Mass and contemplates the good looks of her neighbor who has returned from the war without one of his feet. Not all that far from her, Jutta Pfennig sleeps in the ultramarine shadows of the girls’ dormitory and dreams of light thickening and settling across a field like snow; and not all that far from Jutta, the führer raises a glass of warm (but never boiled) milk to his lips,

a slice of Oldenburg black bread on his plate and a whole apple beside it, his daily breakfast; while in a ravine outside Kiev, two inmates rub their hands in sand because they have become slippery, and then they take up the stretcher again while a sonderkommando stirs the fire below them with a steel pole; a wagtail flits from flagstone to flagstone in a courtyard in Berlin, searching for snails to eat; and at the Napola school at Schulpforta, one hundred and nineteen twelve- and thirteen-year-olds wait in a queue behind a truck to be handed thirty-pound antitank land mines, boys who, in almost exactly one year, marooned amid the Russian advance, the entire school cut off like an island, will be given a box of the Reich’s last bitter chocolate and Wehrmacht helmets salvaged from dead soldiers, and then this final harvest of the nation’s youth will rush out with the chocolate melting in their guts and overlarge helmets bobbing on their shorn heads and sixty Panzerfaust rocket launchers in their hands in a last spasm of futility to defend a bridge that no longer requires defending, while T-34 tanks from the White Russian army come clicking and rumbling toward them to destroy them all, every last child; dawn in Saint-Malo, and there is a twitch on the other side of the wardrobe—Werner hears Marie-Laure inhale, Marie-Laure hears Werner scrape three fingernails across the wood, a sound not unlike the sound of a record coursing beneath the surface of a needle, their faces an arm’s reach apart.

He says, “Es-tu là?

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