Chapter no 160 – Second Can‌

All the Light We Cannot See

The girl sits very still in the corner and wraps her coat around her knees. The way she tucks her ankles up against her bottom. The way her fingers flutter through the space around her. Each a thing he hopes never to forget.

Guns boom to the east: the citadel being bombarded again, the citadel bombarding back.

Exhaustion breaks over him. In French he says, “There will be a—a Waffenruhe. Stopping in the fighting. At noon. So people can get out of the city. I can get you out.”

“And you know this is true?”

“No,” he says. “I do not know it is true.” Quiet now. He examines his trousers, his dusty coat. The uniform makes him an accomplice in everything this girl hates. “There is water,” he says, and crosses to the other sixth-floor room and does not look at von Rumpel’s body in her bed and retrieves the second bucket. Her whole head disappears inside its mouth, and her sticklike arms hug its sides as she gulps.

He says, “You are very brave.”

She lowers the bucket. “What is your name?”

He tells her. She says, “When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?”

He says, “Not in years. But today. Today maybe I did.”

Her glasses are gone, and her pupils look like they are full of milk, but strangely they do not unnerve him. He remembers a phrase of Frau Elena’s: belle laide. Beautiful ugly.

“What day is it?”

He looks around. Scorched curtains and soot fanned across the ceiling and cardboard peeling off the window and the very first pale light of predawn leaking through. “I don’t know. It’s morning.”

A shell screams over the house. He thinks: I only want to sit here with her for a thousand hours. But the shell detonates somewhere and the

house creaks and Werner says, “There was a man who used that transmitter you have. Who broadcast lessons about science. When I was a boy. I used to listen to them with my sister.”

“That was the voice of my grandfather. You heard him?” “Many times. We loved them.”

The window glows. The slow sandy light of dawn permeates the room. Everything transient and aching; everything tentative. To be here, in this room, high in this house, out of the cellar, with her: it is like medicine.

“I could eat bacon,” she says. “What?”

“I could eat a whole pig.”

He smiles. “I could eat a whole cow.”

“The woman who used to live here, the housekeeper, she made the most wonderful omelets in the world.”

“When I was little,” he says, or hopes he says, “we used to pick berries by the Ruhr. My sister and me. We’d find berries as big as our thumbs.”

The girl crawls into the wardrobe and climbs a ladder and comes back down clutching a dented tin can. “Can you see what this is?”

“There’s no label.”

“I didn’t think there was.” “Is it food?”

“Let’s open it and find out.”

With one stroke from the brick, he punctures the can with the tip of the knife. Immediately he can smell it: the perfume is so sweet, so outrageously sweet, that he nearly faints. What is the word? Pêches. Les pêches.

The girl leans forward; the freckles seem to bloom across her cheeks as she inhales. “We will share,” she says. “For what you did.”

He hammers the knife in a second time, saws away at the metal, and bends up the lid. “Careful,” he says, and passes it to her. She dips in two fingers, digs up a wet, soft, slippery thing. Then he does the same. That first peach slithers down his throat like rapture. A sunrise in his mouth.

They eat. They drink the syrup. They run their fingers around the inside of the can.

You'll Also Like