Chapter no 91 – Pneumonia‌

All the Light We Cannot See

Breton spring, and a great onslaught of damp invades the coast. Fog on the sea, fog in the streets, fog in the mind. Madame Manec gets sick. When Marie-Laure holds her hand over Madame’s chest, heat seems to steam up out of her sternum as though she cooks from the inside. Her breathing devolves into trains of oceanic coughs.

“I watch the sardines,” murmurs Madame, “and the termites, and the crows . . .”

Etienne summons a doctor who prescribes rest, aspirin, and aromatic violet comfits. Marie-Laure sits with Madame through the worst of it, strange hours when the old woman’s hands go very cold and she talks about being in charge of the world. She is in charge of everything, but no one knows. It is a tremendous burden, she says, to be responsible for every little thing, every infant born, every leaf falling from every tree, every wave that breaks onto the beach, every ant on its journey.

Deep in Madame’s voice, Marie-Laure hears water: atolls and archipelagoes and lagoons and fjords.

Etienne proves to be a tender nurse. Washcloths, broth, now and then a page from Pasteur or Rousseau. His manner forgiving her all transgressions past and present. He wraps Madame in quilts, but eventually she shivers so deeply, so profoundly, that he takes the big heavy rag rug off the floor and lays it on top of her.

Dearest Marie-Laure—

Your parcels arrived, two of them, dated months apart. Joy is not a strong enough word. They let me keep the toothbrush and comb though not the paper they were wrapped in. Nor the soap. How I wish they would let us have soap! They said our next reposting would be to a chocolate factory but it was cardboard. All day we manufacture cardboard. What do they do with so much?

All my life, Marie-Laure, I have been the one carrying the keys. Now I hear them jangling in the mornings when they come for us, and every time I reach in my own pocket, only to find it empty.

When I dream, I dream I am in the museum.

Remember your birthdays? How there were always two things on the table when you woke? I’m sorry it turned out like this. If you ever wish to understand, look inside Etienne’s house, inside the house. I know you will do the right thing. Though I wish the gift were better.

My angel is leaving, so if I can get this to you, I will. I do not worry about you because I know you are very smart and keeping yourself safe. I am safe too so you should not worry. Thank Etienne for reading this to you. Thank in your heart the brave soul who carries this letter away from me and on its way to you.

Your Papa

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