Chapter no 85 – No Out‌

All the Light We Cannot See

In January 1942, Werner goes to Dr. Hauptmann in his glowing, firelit office, twice as warm as the rest of the castle, and asks to be sent home. The little doctor is sitting behind his big desk with an anemic-looking roasted bird on a dish in front of him. Quail or dove or grouse. Rolls of schematics on his right. His hounds splay on the rug before the fire.

Werner stands with his cap in his hands. Hauptmann shuts his eyes and runs a fingertip across one eyebrow. Werner says, “I will work to pay the train fare, sir.”

The blue fretwork of veins in Hauptmann’s forehead pulsates. He opens his eyes. “You?” The dogs look up as one, a three-headed hydra. “You who gets everything? Who comes here and listens to concerts and nibbles chocolates and warms yourself by the fire?”

A shred of roasted bird dances on Hauptmann’s cheek. Perhaps for the first time, Werner sees in his teacher’s thinning blond hair, in his black nostrils, in his small, almost elfin ears, something pitiless and inhuman, something determined only to survive.

“Perhaps you believe you are somebody now? Somebody of importance?”

Werner clenches his cap behind his back to keep his shoulders from quaking. “No, sir.”

Hauptmann folds his napkin. “You are an orphan, Pfennig, with no allies. I can make you whatever I want to make you. A troublemaker, a criminal, an adult. I can send you to the front and make sure you are crouched in a trench in the ice until the Russians cut off your hands and feed them to you.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You will be given your orders when the school is ready to give you your orders. No sooner. We serve the Reich, Pfennig. It does not serve us.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You will come to the lab tonight. As usual.” “Yes, sir.”

“No more chocolates. No more special treatment.”

In the hall with the door shut behind him, Werner presses his forehead against the wall, and a vision of his father’s last moments comes to him, the crushing press of the tunnels, the ceiling lowering. Jaw pinned against the floor. Skull splintering. I cannot go home, he thinks. And I cannot stay.

You'll Also Like