Chapter no 55 – Mandatory Surrender

All the Light We Cannot See

Marie-Laure has to badger her father three times before he’ll read the notice aloud: Members of the population must relinquish all radio receivers now in their possession. Radio sets are to be delivered to 27 rue de Chartres before tomorrow noon. Anyone failing to carry out this order will be arrested as a saboteur.

No one says anything for a moment, and inside Marie-Laure, an old anxiety lumbers to its feet. “Is he—?”

“In your grandfather’s old room,” says Madame Manec.

Tomorrow noon. Half the house, thinks Marie-Laure, is taken up by wireless receivers and the parts that go into them.

Madame Manec raps on the door to Henri’s room and receives no reply. In the afternoon they box up the equipment in Etienne’s study, Madame and Papa unplugging radios and lowering them into crates, Marie-Laure sitting on the davenport listening to the sets go off one by one: the old Radiola Five; a G.M.R. Titan; a G.M.R. Orphée. A Delco thirty-two-volt farm radio that Etienne had shipped all the way from the United States in 1922.

Her father wraps the largest in cardboard and uses an ancient wheeled dolly to thump it down the stairs. Marie-Laure sits with her fingers going numb in her lap and thinks of the machine in the attic, its cables and switches. A transmitter built to talk to ghosts. Does it qualify as a radio receiver? Should she mention it? Do Papa and Madame Manec know? They seem not to. In the evening, fog moves into the city, trailing a cold, fishy smell, and they eat potatoes and carrots in the kitchen and Madame Manec leaves a dish outside Henri’s door and taps but the door does not open and the food remains untouched.

“What,” asks Marie-Laure, “will they do with the radios?” “Send them to Germany,” says Papa.

“Or pitch them in the sea,” says Madame Manec. “Come, child, drink your tea. It’s not the end of the world. I’ll put an extra blanket on your bed tonight.”

In the morning Etienne remains shut inside his brother’s room. If he knows what is happening in his house, Marie-Laure cannot tell. At ten

A.M. her father starts wheeling loads to the rue de Chartres, one trip, two trips, three, and when he comes back and loads the dolly with the last radio, Etienne still has not appeared. Marie-Laure holds Madame Manec’s hand as she listens to the gate clang shut, to the cart’s axle bounce as her father pushes it down the rue Vauborel, and to the silence that reinstalls itself after he’s gone.

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