Chapter no 57 – The Wardrobe‌

All the Light We Cannot See

Townspeople who violate blackout are fined or rounded up for questioning, though Madame Manec reports that at the Hôtel-Dieu, lamps burn all night long, and German officers go stumbling in and out at every hour, tucking in shirts and adjusting trousers. Marie-Laure keeps herself awake, waiting to hear her uncle stir. Finally she hears the door across the hall tick open and feet brush the boards. She imagines a storybook mouse creeping out from its hole.

She climbs out of bed, trying not to wake her father, and crosses into the hall. “Uncle,” she whispers. “Don’t be afraid.”

“Marie-Laure?” His very smell like that of coming winter, a tomb, the heavy inertia of time.

“Are you well?” “Better.”

They stand on the landing. “There was a notice,” says Marie-Laure. “Madame has left it on your desk.”

“A notice?” “Your radios.”

He descends to the fifth floor. She can hear him sputtering. Fingers traveling across his newly empty shelves. Old friends gone. She prepares for shouts of anger but catches half-hyperventilated nursery rhymes instead: . . . à la salade je suis malade au céleri je suis guéri . . .

She takes his elbow, helps him to the davenport. He is still murmuring, trying to talk himself off some innermost ledge, and she can feel fear pumping off him, virulent, toxic; it reminds her of fumes billowing off the vats of formalin in the Department of Zoology.

Rain taps at the windowpanes. Etienne’s voice comes from a long way off. “All of them?”

“Not the radio in the attic. I did not mention it. Does Madame Manec know about it?”

“We have never spoken of it.”

“Is it hidden, Uncle? Could someone see it if the house were searched?”

“Who would search the house?” A silence follows.

He says, “We could still turn it in. Say we overlooked it?” “The deadline was yesterday at noon.”

“They might understand.”

“Uncle, do you really believe they will understand that you have overlooked a transmitter that can reach England?”

More agitated breaths. The wheeling of the night on its silent trunnions. “Help me,” he says. He finds an automobile jack in a third-floor room, and together they go up to the sixth floor and shut the door of her grandfather’s room and kneel beside the massive wardrobe without risking the light of a single candle. He slides the jack under the wardrobe and cranks up the left side. Under its feet he slips folded rags; then he jacks up the other side and does the same. “Now, Marie-Laure, put your hands here. And push.” With a thrill, she understands: they are going to park the wardrobe in front of the little door leading to the attic.

“All your might, ready? One two three.”

The huge wardrobe slides an inch. The heavy mirrored doors knock lightly as it glides. She feels as if they are pushing a house across ice.

“My father,” says Etienne, panting, “used to say Christ Himself could not have carried this wardrobe up here. That they must have built the house around it. Another now, ready?”

They push, rest, push, rest. Eventually the wardrobe settles in front of the little door, and the entrance to the attic is walled off. Etienne jacks up each foot again, pulls out the rags, and sinks to the floor, breathing hard, and Marie-Laure sits beside him. Before dawn rolls across the city, they are asleep.

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