Chapter no 99 – Making the Radio‌

All the Light We Cannot See

One end of wire Werner crimps around a shorn pipe standing diagonally up from the floor. With spit, he wipes clean the length of the wire and coils it a hundred times around the base of the pipe, making a new tuning coil. The other end he slings through a bent strut wedged into the congestion of timber, stone, and plaster that has become their ceiling.

Volkheimer watches from the shadows. A mortar shell explodes somewhere in the city, and a flurry of dust sifts down.

The diode goes between free ends of the two wires and meets the leads of the battery to complete the circuit. Werner runs the beam of Volkheimer’s light over the entire operation. Ground, antenna, battery. Finally he braces the flashlight between his teeth and raises the twin leads of the earphone in front of his eyes and strips them against the threads of a screw and touches the naked ends to the diode. Invisibly, electrons bumble down the wires.

The hotel above them—what is left of it—makes a series of unearthly groans. Timber splinters, as though the rubble teeters on some final fulcrum. As though a single dragonfly could alight on it and trigger an avalanche that will bury them for good.

Werner presses the bud of the earphone into his right ear. It does not work.

He turns over the dented radio case, peers into it. Raps Volkheimer’s fading light back to life. Settle the mind. Envision the distribution of current. He rechecks the fuses, valves, plug pins; he toggles the receive/send switch, blows dust off the meter selector. Replaces the leads to the battery. Tries the earphone again.

And there it is, as if he is eight years old again, crouched beside his sister on the floor of Children’s House: static. Rich and steady. In his memory, Jutta says his name, and on its tail comes a second, less expected image: twin ropes strung from the front of Herr Siedler’s house, the great smooth crimson banner hanging from them, unsoiled, deeply red.

Werner scans frequencies by feel. No squelch, no snap of Morse code, no voices. Static static static static static. In his functioning ear, in the radio, in the air. Volkheimer’s eyes stay on him. Dust floats through the feeble beam of the flashlight: ten thousand particles, turning softly, twinkling.

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