Chapter no 65 – Number 4 rue Vauborel‌

All the Light We Cannot See

Ashes, ashes: snow in August. The shelling resumed sporadically after breakfast, and now, around six P.M., has ceased. A machine gun fires somewhere, a sound like a chain of beads passing through fingers. Sergeant Major von Rumpel carries a canteen, a half dozen ampules of morphine, and his field pistol. Over the seawall. Over the causeway toward the huge smoldering bulwark of Saint-Malo. Out in the harbor, the jetty has been shattered in multiple places. A half-submerged fishing boat drifts stern up.

Inside the old city, mountains of stone blocks, sacks, shutters, branches, iron grillework, and chimney pots fill the rue de Dinan. Smashed flower boxes and charred window frames and shattered glass. Some buildings still smoke, and though von Rumpel keeps a damp handkerchief pressed over his mouth and nose, he has to stop several times to gather his breath.

Here a dead horse, starting to bloat. Here a chair upholstered in striped green velvet. Here the torn shreds of a canopy proclaim a brasserie. Curtains swing idly from broken windows in the strange, flickering light; they unnerve him. Swallows fly to and fro, looking for lost nests, and someone very far away might be screaming, or it might be the wind. The blasts have stripped many shop signs off their brackets, and the gibbets hang forsaken.

A schnauzer trots after him, whining. No one shouts down from a window to warn him away from mines. Indeed, in four blocks he sees only one soul, a woman outside what was, the day before, the movie-house. Dustpan in one hand, broom nowhere to be seen. She looks up at him, dazed. Through an open door behind her, rows of seats have crumpled beneath great slabs of ceiling. Beyond them, the screen stands unblemished, not even stained by smoke.

“Show’s not till eight,” she says in her Breton French, and he nods as he limps past. On the rue Vauborel, vast quantities of slate tiles have slid off roofs and detonated in the streets. Scraps of burned paper float

overhead. No gulls. Even if the house has caught fire, he thinks, the diamond will be there. He will pluck it from the ashes like a warm egg.

But the tall, slender house remains nearly unscathed. Eleven windows on the facade, most of the glass out. Blue window frames, old granite of grays and tans. Four of its six flower boxes hang on. The mandated list of occupants clings to its front door.

M. Etienne LeBlanc, age 63.

Mlle Marie-Laure LeBlanc, age 16.

All the dangers he is willing to endure. For the Reich. For himself.

No one stops him. No shells come whistling in. Sometimes the eye of a hurricane is the safest place to be.

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