Chapter no 93 – Heaven‌

All the Light We Cannot See

For a few weeks, Madame Manec gets better. She promises Etienne she will remember her age, not try to be everything to everyone, not fight the war by herself. One day in early June, almost exactly two years after the invasion of France, she and Marie-Laure walk through a field of Queen Anne’s lace east of Saint-Malo. Madame Manec told Etienne that they were going to see if strawberries were available at the Saint-Servan market, but Marie-Laure is certain that when they stopped to greet a woman on the way here, Madame dropped off one envelope and picked up another.

At Madame’s suggestion, they lie down in the weeds, and Marie-Laure listens to honeybees mine the flowers and tries to imagine their journeys as Etienne described them: each worker following a rivulet of odor, looking for ultraviolet patterns in the flowers, filling baskets on her hind legs with pollen grains, then navigating, drunk and heavy, all the way home.

How do they know what parts to play, those little bees?

Madame Manec takes off her shoes and lights a cigarette and lets out a contented groan. Insects drone: wasps, hoverflies, a passing dragonfly

—Etienne has taught Marie-Laure to distinguish each by its sound. “What’s a roneo machine, Madame?”

“Something to help make pamphlets.”

“What does it have to do with that woman we met?” “Nothing to trouble yourself over, dear.”

Horses nicker, and the wind comes off the sea gentle and cool and full of smells.

“Madame? What do I look like?”

“You have many thousands of freckles.”

“Papa used to say they were like stars in heaven. Like apples in a tree.”

“They are little brown dots, child. Thousands of little brown dots.” “That sounds ugly.”

“On you, they are beautiful.”

“Do you think, Madame, that in heaven we will really get to see God face-to-face?”

“We might.”

“What if you’re blind?”

“I’d expect that if God wants us to see something, we’ll see it.” “Uncle Etienne says heaven is like a blanket babies cling to. He says

people have flown airplanes ten kilometers above the earth and found no kingdoms there. No gates, no angels.”

Madame Manec cracks off a ragged chain of coughs that sends tremors of fear through Marie-Laure. “You are thinking of your father,” she finally says. “You have to believe your father will return.”

“Don’t you ever get tired of believing, Madame? Don’t you ever want proof?”

Madame Manec rests a hand on Marie-Laure’s forehead. The thick hand that first reminded her of a gardener’s or a geologist’s. “You must never stop believing. That’s the most important thing.”

The Queen Anne’s lace sways on its taproots, and the bees do their steady work. If only life were like a Jules Verne novel, thinks Marie-Laure, and you could page ahead when you most needed to, and learn what would happen. “Madame?”

“Yes, Marie.”

“What do you think they eat in heaven?” “I’m not so sure they need to eat in heaven.”

“Not eat! You would not like that, would you?”

But Madame Manec does not laugh the way Marie-Laure expects her to. She doesn’t say anything at all. Her breath clatters in and out.

“Did I offend you, Madame?” “No, child.”

“Are we in danger?”

“No more than any other day.”

The grasses toss and shimmy. The horses nicker. Madame Manec says, almost whispering, “Now that I think about it, child, I expect heaven is a lot like this.”

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