Chapter no 96 – Someone in the House

All the Light We Cannot See

8 August 1944

presence, an inhalation. Marie-Laure trains all of her senses on the entryway three flights below. The outer gate sighs shut, then the front door closes.

In her head, her father reasons: The gate closed before the door, not after. Which means, whoever it is, he closed the gate first, then shut the door. He’s inside.

All the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.

Etienne knows he would have triggered the bell, Marie. Etienne would be calling for you already.

Boots in the foyer. Fragments of dishes crunching underfoot.

It is not Etienne.

The distress is so acute, it is almost unbearable. She tries to settle her mind, tries to focus on an image of a candle flame burning at the center of her rib cage, a snail drawn up into the coils of its shell, but her heart bangs in her chest and pulses of fear cycle up her spine, and she is suddenly uncertain whether a sighted person in the foyer can look up the curves of the stairwell and see all the way to the third floor. She remembers her great-uncle said that they would need to watch out for looters, and the air stirs with phantom blurs and rustles, and Marie-Laure imagines charging past the bathroom into the cobwebbed sewing room here on the third floor and hurling herself out the window.

Boots in the hall. The slide of a dish across the floor as it is kicked. A fireman, a neighbor, some German soldier hunting food?

A rescuer would be calling for survivors, ma chérie. You have to move. You have to hide.

The footfalls travel toward Madame Manec’s room. They go slowly; maybe it’s dark. Could it already be night?

Four or five or six or a million heartbeats roll by. She has her cane, Etienne’s coat, the two cans, the knife, the brick. Model house in her dress pocket. The stone inside that. Water in the tub at the end of the hall.

Move. Go.

A pot or pan, presumably knocked off its hook in the bombing, wobbles on the kitchen tiles. He exits the kitchen. Returns to the foyer.

Stand, ma chérie. Stand up now.

She stands. With her right hand, she finds the railing. He is at the base of the stairs. She almost cries out. But then she recognizes—just as he sets his foot on the first stair—that his stride is out of rhythm. One-pause-two one-pause-two. It is a walk she has heard before. The limp of a German sergeant major with a dead voice.


Marie-Laure takes each step as deliberately as she can. Grateful now that she does not have her shoes. Her heart knocks so furiously against the cage of her chest that she feels certain the man below will hear it.

Up to the fourth floor. Each step a whisper. The fifth. On the sixth-floor landing, she pauses beneath the chandelier and tries to listen. She hears the German climb three or four more stairs and take a brief asthmatic pause. Then on again. A wooden step complains beneath his weight; it sounds to her like a small animal being crushed.

He stops on what she believes is the third-floor landing. Where she was just sitting. Her warmth still there on the wood floor beside the telephone table. Her dissipated breath.

Where does she have left to run?


To her left waits her grandfather’s old room. To her right waits her little bedroom, the window glass blown out. Straight ahead is the toilet. Still the faint reek of smoke everywhere.

His footfalls cross the landing. One-pause-two one-pause-two.

Wheezing. Climbing again.

If he touches me, she thinks, I will tear out his eyes.

She opens the door to her grandfather’s bedroom and stops. Below her, the man pauses again. Has he heard her? Is he climbing more quietly? Out in the world waits a multitude of sanctuaries—gardens full of bright green wind; kingdoms of hedges; deep pools of forest shade through which butterflies float thinking only of nectar. She can get to none of them.

She finds the huge wardrobe at the far end of Henri’s room and opens the two mirrored doors and parts the old shirts hanging inside and slides open the false door Etienne has built into its back. She squeezes into the

tiny space where the ladder rises to the garret. Then she reaches back through the wardrobe, finds its doors, and closes them.

Protect me now, stone, if you are a protector.

Silently, says the voice of her father. Make no noise. With one hand, she finds the handle Etienne has rigged onto the false panel on the back of the wardrobe. She glides it shut, one centimeter at a time, until she hears it click into place, then takes a breath and holds it for as long as she can.

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