Chapter no 69 – He Is Not Coming Back‌

All the Light We Cannot See

Marie-Laure wakes and thinks she hears the shuffle of Papa’s shoes, the clink of his key ring. Fourth floor fifth floor sixth. His fingers brush the doorknob. His body radiates a faint but palpable heat in the chair beside her. His little tools rasp across wood. He smells of glue and sandpaper and Gauloises bleues.

But it is only the house groaning. The sea throwing foam against rocks. Deceits of the mind.

On the twentieth morning without any word from her father, Marie-Laure does not get out of bed. She no longer cares that her great-uncle put on an ancient necktie and stood by the front door on two separate occasions and whispered weird rhymes to himself—à la pomme de terre, je suis par terre; au haricot, je suis dans l’eau—trying and failing to summon the courage to go out. She no longer begs Madame Manec to take her to the train station, to write another letter, to spend another futile afternoon at the prefecture trying to petition occupation authorities to locate her father. She becomes unreachable, sullen. She does not bathe, does not warm herself by the kitchen fire, ceases to ask if she can go outdoors. She hardly eats. “The museum says they’re searching, child,” whispers Madame Manec, but when she tries to press her lips to Marie-Laure’s forehead, the girl jerks backward as if burned.

The museum replies to Etienne’s appeals; they report that Marie-Laure’s father never arrived.

“Never arrived?” says Etienne aloud.

This becomes the question that drags its teeth through Marie-Laure’s mind. Why didn’t he make it to Paris? If he couldn’t, why didn’t he return to Saint-Malo?

I will never leave you, not in a million years.

She wants only to go home, to stand in their four-room flat and hear the chestnut tree rustle outside her window; hear the cheese seller raise his awning; feel her father’s fingers close around hers.

If only she had begged him to stay.

Now everything in the house scares her: the creaking stairs, shuttered windows, empty rooms. The clutter and silence. Etienne tries performing silly experiments to cheer her: a vinegar volcano, a tornado in a bottle. “Can you hear it, Marie? Spinning in there?” She does not feign interest. Madame Manec brings her omelets, cassoulet, brochettes of fish, fabricating miracles out of ration tickets and the dregs of her cupboards, but Marie-Laure refuses to eat.

“Like a snail,” she overhears Etienne say outside her door. “Curled up so tight in there.”

But she is angry. At Etienne for doing so little, at Madame Manec for doing so much, at her father for not being here to help her understand his absence. At her eyes for failing her. At everything and everyone. Who knew love could kill you? She spends hours kneeling by herself on the sixth floor with the window open and the sea hurling arctic air into the room, her fingers on the model of Saint-Malo slowly going numb. South to the Gate of Dinan. West to the Plage du Môle. Back to the rue Vauborel. Every second Etienne’s house grows colder; every second it feels as if her father slips farther away.

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