Chapter no 64 – Two Cans‌

All the Light We Cannot See

When Marie-Laure wakes, the little model house is pinned beneath her chest, and she is sweating through her great-uncle’s coat.

Is it dawn? She climbs the ladder and presses her ear to the trapdoor. No more sirens. Maybe the house burned to the ground while she slept. Or else she slept through the last hours of the war and the city has been liberated. There could be people in the streets: volunteers, gendarmes, fire brigades. Even Americans. She should go up through the trapdoor and walk out the front door onto the rue Vauborel.

But what if Germany has held the city? What if Germans are right now marching from house to house, shooting whomever they please?

She will wait. At any moment Etienne could be making his way toward her, fighting with his last breath to reach her.

Or he is crouched somewhere, cradling his head. Seeing demons. Or he is dead.

She tells herself to save the bread, but she is famished and the loaf is getting stale, and before she knows it, she has finished it.

If only she had brought her novel down with her.

Marie-Laure roves the cellar in her stocking feet. Here’s a rolled rug, its hollow filled with what smell like wood shavings: mice. Here’s a crate that contains old papers. Antique lamp. Madame Manec’s canning supplies. And here, at the back of a shelf near the ceiling, two small miracles. Full cans! Hardly any food remains in the entire kitchen—only cornmeal and a sheaf of lavender and two or three bottles of skunked Beaujolais—but down here in the cellar, two heavy cans.

Peas? Beans? Corn kernels, maybe. Not oil, she prays; aren’t oil cans smaller? When she shakes them, they offer no clues. Marie-Laure tries to calculate the chances that one might contain Madame Manec’s peaches, the white peaches from Languedoc that she’d buy by the crate and peel and quarter and boil with sugar. The whole kitchen would fill with their smell and color, Marie-Laure’s fingers sticky with them, a kind of rapture.

Two cans Etienne missed.

But to raise one’s hopes is to risk their falling further. Peas. Or beans. These would be more than welcome. She deposits one can in each pocket of her uncle’s coat, and checks again for the little house in the pocket of her dress, and sits on a trunk and clasps her cane in both hands and tries not to think about her bladder.

Once, when she was eight or nine, her father took her to the Panthéon in Paris to describe Foucault’s pendulum. Its bob, he said, was a golden sphere shaped like a child’s top. It swung from a wire that was sixty-seven meters long; because its trajectory changed over time, he explained, it proved beyond all doubt that the earth rotated. But what Marie-Laure remembered, standing at the rail as it whistled past, was her father saying that Foucault’s pendulum would never stop. It would keep swinging, she understood, after she and her father left the Panthéon, after she had fallen asleep that night. After she had forgotten about it, and lived her entire life, and died.

Now it is as if she can hear the pendulum in the air in front of her: that huge golden bob, as wide across as a barrel, swinging on and on, never stopping. Grooving and regrooving its inhuman truth into the floor.

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