Chapter no 97 – The Death of Walter Bernd‌

All the Light We Cannot See

For an hour Bernd murmured gibberish. Then he went silent and Volkheimer said, “God, have mercy on your servant.” But now Bernd sits up and calls for light. They feed him the last of the water in the first canteen. A single thread of it runs down through his whiskers and Werner watches it go.

Bernd sits in the glimmer of the field light and looks from Volkheimer to Werner. “On leave last year,” he says, “I visited my father. He was old; he was old all my life. But now he seemed especially old. It took him forever just to cross his kitchen. He had a package of cookies, little almond cookies. He put them out on a plate, just the package lying crosswise. Neither of us ate any. He said, ‘You don’t have to stay. I’d like you to stay, but you don’t have to. You probably have things to do. You can go off with your friends if you want to.’ He kept saying that.”

Volkheimer switches off the light, and Werner apprehends something excruciating held at bay there in the darkness.

“I left,” says Bernd. “I went down the stairs and into the street. I had nowhere to go. Nobody to see. I didn’t have any friends in that town. I had ridden trains all goddamn day to see him. But I left, just like that.”

Then he’s quiet. Volkheimer repositions him on the floor with Werner’s blanket over him, and not long afterward, Bernd dies.

Werner works on the radio. Maybe he does it for Jutta, as Volkheimer suggested, or maybe he does it so he does not have to think about Volkheimer carrying Bernd into a corner and piling bricks onto his hands, his chest, his face. Werner holds the field light in his mouth and gathers what he can: a small hammer, three jars of screws, eighteen-gauge line cord from a shattered desk lamp. Inside a warped cabinet drawer, miraculously, he discovers a zinc-carbon eleven-volt battery with a black cat printed on the side. An American battery, its slogan offering nine lives. Werner spotlights it in the flickering orange glow, amazed. He checks its terminals. Still plenty of charge. When the field light battery dies, he thinks, we’ll have this.

He rights the capsized table. Sets the crushed transceiver on top. Werner does not yet believe there is much promise in it, but maybe it’s enough to give the mind something to do, a problem to solve. He adjusts Volkheimer’s light in his teeth. Tries not to think about hunger or thirst, the stoppered void in his left ear, Bernd in the corner, the Austrians upstairs, Frederick, Frau Elena, Jutta, any of it.

Antenna. Tuner. Capacitor. His mind, while he works, is almost quiet, almost calm. This is an act of memory.

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