Chapter no 78 – Old Ladies’ Resistance Club‌

All the Light We Cannot See

Madame Ruelle, the baker’s wife—a pretty-voiced woman who smells mostly of yeast but also sometimes of face powder or the sweet perfume of sliced apples—straps a stepladder to the roof of her husband’s car and drives the Route de Carentan at dusk with Madame Guiboux and rearranges road signs with a ratchet set. They return drunk and laughing to the kitchen of Number 4 rue Vauborel.

“Dinan is now twenty kilometers to the north,” says Madame Ruelle. “Right in the middle of the sea!”

Three days later, Madame Fontineau overhears that the German garrison commander is allergic to goldenrod. Madame Carré, the florist, tucks great fistfuls of it into an arrangement headed for the château.

The women funnel a shipment of rayon to the wrong destination. They intentionally misprint a train timetable. Madame Hébrard, the postmistress, slides an important-looking letter from Berlin into her underpants, takes it home, and starts her evening fire with it.

They come spilling into Etienne’s kitchen with gleeful reports that someone has heard the garrison commander sneezing, or that the dog shit placed on a brothel doorstep reached the target of a German’s shoe bottom perfectly. Madame Manec pours sherry or cider or Muscadet; someone sits stationed by the door to serve as sentry. Small and stooped Madame Fontineau boasts that she tied up the switchboard at the château for an hour; dowdy and strapping Madame Guiboux says she helped her grandsons paint a stray dog the colors of the French flag and sent it running through the Place Chateaubriand.

The women cackle, thrilled. “What can I do?” asks the ancient widow Madame Blanchard. “I want to do something.”

Madame Manec asks everyone to give Madame Blanchard their money. “You’ll get it back,” she says, “don’t worry. Now, Madame Blanchard, you’ve had beautiful handwriting all your life. Take this fountain pen of Master Etienne’s. On every five-franc note, I want you to write, Free France Now. No one can afford to destroy money, right?

Once everyone has spent their bills, our little message will go out all over Brittany.”

The women clap. Madame Blanchard squeezes Madame Manec’s hand and wheezes and blinks her glossy eyes in pleasure.

Sometimes Etienne comes down grumbling, one shoe on, and the whole kitchen goes quiet while Madame Manec fixes his tea and sets it on a tray and Etienne carries it back upstairs. Then the women start up again, scheming, gabbling. Madame Manec brushes Marie-Laure’s hair in long absentminded strokes. “Seventy-six years old,” she whispers, “and I can still feel like this? Like a little girl with stars in my eyes?”

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