Chapter no 89 – The Frog Cooks‌

All the Light We Cannot See

In the weeks to come, Madame Manec is perfectly cordial; she walks with Marie-Laure to the beach most mornings, takes her to the market. But she seems absent, asking how Marie-Laure and Etienne are doing with perfect courtesy, saying good morning as if they are strangers. Often she disappears for half a day.

Marie-Laure’s afternoons become longer, lonelier. One evening she sits at the kitchen table while her great-uncle reads aloud.

The vitality which the snail’s eggs possess surpasses belief. We have seen certain species frozen in solid blocks of ice, and yet regain their activity when subjected to the influences of warmth.

Etienne pauses. “We should make supper. It doesn’t appear that Madame will be back tonight.” Neither of them moves. He reads another page. They have been kept for years in pill boxes, and yet on subjecting them to moisture, have crawled about appearing as well as ever . . . The shell may be broken, and even portions of it removed, and yet after a certain lapse of time the injured parts will be repaired by a deposition of shelly matter at the fractured parts.

“There’s hope for me yet!” says Etienne, and laughs, and Marie-Laure is reminded that her great-uncle was not always so fearful, that he had a life before this war and before the last one too; that he was once a young man who dwelled in the world and loved it as she does.

Eventually Madame Manec comes through the kitchen door and locks it behind her and Etienne says good evening rather coldly and after a moment Madame Manec says it back. Somewhere in the city, Germans are loading weapons or drinking brandy and history has become some nightmare from which Marie-Laure desperately wishes she could wake.

Madame Manec takes a pot from the hanging rack and fills it with water. Her knife falls through what sounds like potatoes, the blade striking the wooden cutting board beneath.

“Please, Madame,” says Etienne. “Allow me. You are exhausted.”

But he does not get up, and Madame Manec keeps chopping potatoes, and when she is done, Marie-Laure hears her push a load of them into

the water with the back of her knife. The tension in the room makes Marie-Laure feel dizzy, as if she can sense the planet rotating.

“Sink any U-boats today?” murmurs Etienne. “Blow up any German tanks?”

Madame Manec snaps open the door of the icebox. Marie-Laure can hear her rummage through a drawer. A match flares; a cigarette lights. Soon enough a bowl of undercooked potatoes appears before Marie-Laure. She feels around the tabletop for a fork but finds none.

“Do you know what happens, Etienne,” says Madame Manec from the other side of the kitchen, “when you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water?”

“You will tell us, I am sure.”

“It jumps out. But do you know what happens when you put the frog in a pot of cool water and then slowly bring it to a boil? You know what happens then?”

Marie-Laure waits. The potatoes steam. Madame Manec says, “The frog cooks.”

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