Chapter no 95 – Relapse‌

All the Light We Cannot See

In late June 1942, for the first time since her fever, Madame Manec is not in the kitchen when Marie-Laure wakes. Could she already be at the market? Marie-Laure taps on her door, waits a hundred heartbeats. She opens the rear door and calls into the alley. Glorious warm June dawn. Pigeons and cats. Screech of laughter from a neighboring window.


Her heart accelerates. She taps again on Madame Manec’s door. “Madame?”

When she lets herself in, she hears the rattle first. As though a weary tide stirs stones in the old woman’s lungs. Sour odors of sweat and urine rise from the bed. Her hands find Madame’s face, and the old woman’s cheek is so hot that Marie-Laure’s fingers recoil as though scalded. She scrambles upstairs, stumbling, shouting, “Uncle! Uncle!” the whole house turning scarlet in her mind, roof turning to smoke, flames chewing through walls.

Etienne crouches on his popping knees beside Madame, then scurries to the telephone and speaks a few words. He returns to Madame Manec’s bedside at a trot. Over the next hour the kitchen fills with women, Madame Ruelle, Madame Fontineau, Madame Hébrard. The first floor becomes too crowded; Marie-Laure paces the staircase, up and down, up and down, as though working her way up and down the spire of an enormous seashell. The doctor comes and goes, the occasional woman closes her bony hand around Marie-Laure’s shoulder, and at exactly two o’clock by the bonging of the cathedral bells, the doctor returns with a man who says nothing beyond good afternoon, who smells of dirt and clover, who lifts Madame Manec and carries her out into the street and sets her on a horse cart as though she is a bag of milled oats and the horse’s shoes clop away and the doctor strips the bedsheets and Marie-Laure finds Etienne in the corner of the kitchen whispering: Madame is dead, Madame is dead.

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