فصل 10کتاب: تمام نورهایی که نمیتوانیم ببینیم / فصل 11
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Ten 12 August 1944 Entombed
She is reading again: Who could possibly calculate the minimum time required for us to get out? Might we not be asphyxiated before the Nautilus could surface? Was it destined to perish in this tomb of ice along with all those on board? The situation seemed terrible. But everyone faced it squarely and decided to do their duty to the end . . .
Werner listens. The crew chops through the icebergs that have trapped their submarine; it cruises north along the coast of South America, past the mouth of the Amazon, only to be chased by giant squid in the Atlantic. The propeller cuts out; Captain Nemo emerges from his cabin for the first time in weeks, looking grim.
Werner hauls himself off the floor, carrying the radio in one hand and dragging the battery in the other. He traverses the cellar until he finds Volkheimer in the gold armchair. He sets down the battery and runs his hand up the big man’s arm to his shoulder. Locates his huge head. Clamps the headphones over Volkheimer’s ears.
“Can you hear her?” says Werner. “It’s a strange and beautiful story, I wish you could understand French. A giant squid has lodged its giant beak into the propeller of the submarine, and now the captain has said they must surface and fight the beasts hand to hand.”
Volkheimer draws a slow breath. He does not move.
“She’s using the transmitter we were supposed to find. I found it. Weeks ago. They said it was a network of terrorists, but it was just an old man and a girl.”
Volkheimer says nothing.
“You knew all along, didn’t you? That I knew?”
Volkheimer must not be able to hear Werner through the headphones.
“She keeps saying, ‘Help me.’ She begs her father, her great-uncle. She says, ‘He is here. He will kill me.’?”
A moan shudders through the rubble above them, and in the darkness Werner feels as if he is trapped inside the Nautilus, twenty meters down, while the tentacles of a dozen angry kraken lash its hull. He knows the transmitter must be high in the house. Close to the shelling. He says, “I saved her only to hear her die.”
Volkheimer shows no signs of having understood. Gone or resolved to go: is there much difference? Werner takes back the headphones and sits in the dust beside the battery.
The first mate, she reads, struggled furiously with other monsters which were climbing up the sides of the Nautilus. The crew were flailing away with their axes. Ned, Conseil and I also dug our weapons into their soft bodies. A violent odor of musk filled the air. Fort National
Etienne begged his jailers, the guardian of the fort, dozens of his fellow prisoners. “My niece, my great-niece, she’s blind, she’s alone . . .” He told them he was sixty-three, not sixty, as they claimed, that his papers had been unfairly confiscated, that he was not a terrorist; he wobbled before the Feldwebel in charge and stumbled through the few German phrases he could stitch together—“Sie müssen mich helfen!?” “Meine Nichte ist herein dort!?”—but the Feldwebel shrugged like everybody else and looked back at the city burning across the water as if to say: what can anyone do in the face of that?
Then the stray American shell struck the fort, and the wounded howled down in the munitions cellar, and the dead were buried under rocks just above the tide line, and Etienne stopped talking.
The tide slips away, then climbs back up. Whatever energy Etienne has left goes into quieting the noise in his head. Sometimes he almost convinces himself that he can see through the smoldering skeletons of the seafront mansions at the northwestern corner of the city to the rooftop of his house. He almost convinces himself it stands. But then it disappears again behind a mantle of smoke.
No pillow, no blanket. The latrine is apocalyptic. Food comes irregularly, carried out from the citadel by the guardian’s wife across the quarter mile of rocks at low tide while shells explode in the city behind her. There’s never enough. Etienne diverts himself with fantasies of escape. Slip over a wall, swim several hundred meters, drag himself through the shorebreak. Scamper across the mined beach with no cover to one of the locked gates. Absurd.
Out here the prisoners see the shells smash into the city before they hear them. During the last war, Etienne knew artillerymen who could peer through field glasses and discern their shells’ damage by the colors thrown skyward. Gray was stone. Brown was soil. Pink was flesh.
He shuts his eyes. He remembers lamplit hours in Monsieur Hébrard’s bookshop listening to the first radio he ever heard. He remembers climbing into the choir of the cathedral to listen to Henri’s voice as it rose toward the ceiling. He remembers the cramped restaurants with leaded windows and linenfold paneling where his parents took them to dinner; and the corsairs’ villas with scalloped friezes and Doric columns and gold coins mortared inside the walls; the storefronts of gunsmiths and shipmasters and money changers and hostelers; the graffiti Henri used to scratch into the stones of ramparts, I cannot wait to leave, fuck this place. He remembers the LeBlanc house, his house! Tall and narrow with the staircase spiraling up its center like a spire shell stood on end, where the ghost of his brother occasionally slipped between walls, where Madame Manec lived and died, where not so long ago he could sit on a davenport with Marie-Laure and pretend they flew over the volcanoes of Hawaii, over the cloud forests of Peru, where just a week ago she sat cross-legged on the floor and read to him about a pearl fishery off the coast of Ceylon, Captain Nemo and Aronnax in their diving suits, the impulsive Canadian Ned Land about to hurl his harpoon through the side of a shark . . . All of it is burning. Every memory he ever made.
Above Fort National, the dawn becomes deeply, murderously clear. The Milky Way a fading river. He looks across to the fires. He thinks: The universe is full of fuel. Captain Nemo’s Last Words
By noon on the twelfth of August, Marie-Laure has read seven of the last nine chapters into the microphone. Captain Nemo has freed his ship from the giant squid only to stare into the eye of a hurricane. Pages later, he rammed a warship full of men, passing through its hull, Verne writes, like a sailmaker’s needle through cloth. Now the captain plays a mournful, chilling dirge on his organ as the Nautilus sleeps in the wastelands of the sea. Three pages are left. If Marie-Laure has brought anyone comfort by broadcasting the story, if her great-uncle, crouched in some dank cellar with a hundred men, tuned her in—if some trio of Americans reclined in the nighttime fields as they cleaned their weapons and traveled the dark gangways of the Nautilus with her—she cannot say.
But she is glad to be so near the end.
Downstairs the German has shouted twice in frustration, then fallen silent. Why not, she considers, just slide through the wardrobe and hand the little house to him and find out if he will spare her?
First she will finish. Then she’ll decide.
Again she opens the model house and tips the stone into her palm. What would happen if the goddess took away the curse? Would the fires go out, would the earth heal over, would doves return to the windowsills? Would Papa come back?
Fill your lungs. Beat your heart. She keeps the knife beside her. Fingertips pressed to the lines of the novel. The Canadian harpooner Ned Land has found his window for escape. “The sea’s bad,” he says to Professor Aronnax, “and the wind’s blowing strong . . .”
“I’m with you, Ned.”
“But let me tell you that if we’re caught, I’m going to defend myself, even if I die doing it.”
“We’ll die together, Ned my friend.”
Marie-Laure turns on the transmitter. She thinks of the whelks in Harold Bazin’s kennel, ten thousand of them; how they cling; how they draw themselves up into the spirals of their shells; how, when they’re tucked into that grotto, the gulls cannot come in to carry them up into the sky and drop them on the rocks to break them. Visitor
Von Rumpel drinks from a bottle of skunked wine he has found in the kitchen. Four days in this house, and how many mistakes he has made! The Sea of Flames could have been in the Paris Museum all along—that simpering mineralogist and the assistant director laughing as he slunk away, duped, fooled, inveigled. Or the perfumer could have betrayed him, taking the diamond from the girl after marching her away. Or Levitte might have walked her right out of the city while she carried it in her ratty knapsack; or the old man could have jammed it up his rectum and is just now shitting it out, twenty million francs in a pile of feces.
Or maybe the stone was never real at all. Maybe it was all hoax, all story.
He had been so certain. Certain he had found the hiding spot, solved the puzzle. Certain the stone would save him. The girl didn’t know, the old man was out of the picture—everything was set up perfectly. What is certain now? Only the murderous bloom inside his body, only the corruption it brings to every cell. In his ears comes the voice of his father: You are only being tested.
Someone calls to him in German. “Ist da wer??”
“You in there!”
Von Rumpel listens. Sounds drawing nearer through the smoke. He crawls to the window. Sets his helmet on his head. Thrusts his head over the shattered sill.
A German infantry corporal squints up from the street. “Sir? I didn’t expect . . . Is the house clear, sir?”
“Empty, yes. Where are you headed, Corporal?”
“The fortress at La Cité, sir. We are evacuating. Leaving everything. We still hold the château and the Bastion de la Hollande. All other personnel are to fall back.”
Von Rumpel braces his chin on the sill, feeling as if his head might separate from his neck and go tumbling down to explode on the street.
“The entire town will be inside the bomb line,” the corporal says.
“There will be a cease-fire tomorrow. Noon, they say. To get civilians out. Then they resume the assault.”
Von Rumpel says, “We’re giving up the city?”
A shell detonates not far away, and the echoes of the blast shunt down between the wrecked houses, and the soldier in the street claps a hand over his helmet. Bits of stone skitter across the cobbles.
He calls, “You are with which unit, Sergeant Major?”
“Continue with your work, Corporal. I’m nearly done here.” Final Sentence
Volkheimer does not stir. The liquid at the bottom of the paint bucket, however toxic it was, is gone. Werner has heard nothing from the girl on any frequency for how long? An hour? More? She read about the Nautilus getting sucked down into a whirlpool, waves higher than houses, the submarine standing on end, its steel ribs cracking, and then she read what he assumed was the last line of the book: Thus, to that question asked six thousand years ago by Ecclesiastes, “That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?” only two men now have the right to answer: Captain Nemo and myself.
Then the transmitter snapped off and the absolute darkness closed around him. For these past days—how many?—it has felt as though the hunger were a hand inside him, thrusting around in the cavity of his chest, reaching up to his shoulder blades, then down into his pelvis. Scraping at his bones. Today, though—or is it tonight?—the hunger peters out like a flame for which no fuel remains. Emptiness and fullness, in the end, somehow the same.
Werner blinks up to see the Viennese girl in her cape descend through the ceiling as if it is no more than a shadow. She carries a paper sack full of withered greens and seats herself amid the rubble. Around her swirls a cloud of bees.
He can see nothing, but he can see her.
She counts on her fingers. For tripping in line, she says. For working too slowly. For arguing over bread. For loitering too long in the camp toilet. For sobbing. For not organizing her things according to protocol.
It’s surely nonsense, yet something hangs inside it, some truth he does not want to allow himself to apprehend, and as she speaks, she ages, silver hair lays down on her head, her collar frays; she becomes an old woman—his understanding of who hovers at the rim of his consciousness.
For complaining of headaches.
For speaking at night in her bunk.
For forgetting her birth date during evening muster.
For unloading the shipment too slowly.
For not turning in her keys correctly.
For failing to inform the guard.
For rising from bed too late.
Frau Schwartzenberger—that’s who she is. The Jewess in Frederick’s elevator.
She runs out of fingers as she counts.
For closing her eyes while being addressed.
For hoarding crusts.
For attempting to enter the park.
For having inflamed hands.
For asking for a cigarette.
For a failure of imagination and in the darkness, it feels as if ?Werner has reached bottom, as if he has been whirling deeper all this time, like the Nautilus sucked under the maelstrom, like his father descending into the pits: a one-way dive from Zollverein past Schulpforta, past the horrors of Russia and Ukraine, past the mother and daughter in Vienna, his ambition and shame becoming one and the same, to the nadir in this basement on the rim of the continent where the apparition chants nonsense—Frau Schwartzenberger walks toward him, transforming herself as she approaches from woman to girl—her hair becomes red again, her skin smooths, a seven-year-old girl presses her face up against his, and in the center of her forehead he can see a hole blacker than the blackness around him, at the bottom of which teems a dark city full of souls, ten thousand, five hundred thousand, all these faces staring up from alleys, from windows, from smoldering parks, and he hears thunder.
The girl evaporates.
The ground quakes. The organs inside his body shake. The beams groan. Then the slow trickle of dust and the shallow, defeated breaths of Volkheimer a meter away. Music #1
Sometime after midnight on August 13, after surviving in her great-uncle’s attic for five days, Marie-Laure holds a record with her left hand while she runs the fingers of her right gently through its grooves, reconstructing the whole song in her head. Each rise and fall. Then she slots the record on the spindle of Etienne’s electrophone.
No water for a day and a half. No food for two. The attic smells of heat and dust and confinement and her own urine in the shaving bowl in the corner.
We’ll die together, Ned my friend.
The siege, it seems, will never end. Masonry crashes into the streets; the city falls to pieces; still this one house does not fall.
She takes the unopened can out of her great-uncle’s coat pocket and sets it in the center of the attic floor. For so long she has saved it. Maybe because it offers some last tie to Madame Manec. Maybe because if she opens it and finds it spoiled, the loss will kill her.
She places the can and brick beneath the piano bench, where she knows she can find them again. Then she double-checks the record on the spindle. Lowers the arm, places the needle at the outside edge. Finds the microphone switch with her left hand, the transmitter switch with her right.
She is going to turn it up as loud as it will go. If the German is in the house, he will hear. He’ll hear piano music draining down through the upper stories and cock his head, and then he’ll rove the sixth floor like a slavering demon. Eventually he’ll set his ear to the doors of the wardrobe, where it will be louder still.
What mazes there are in this world. The branches of trees, the filigree of roots, the matrix of crystals, the streets her father re-created in his models. Mazes in the nodules on murex shells and in the textures of sycamore bark and inside the hollow bones of eagles. None more complicated than the human brain, Etienne would say, what may be the most complex object in existence; one wet kilogram within which spin universes.
She places the microphone into the bell-shaped speaker of the electrophone, switches on the record player, and the plate begins to spin. The attic crackles. In her mind she walks a path in the Jardin des Plantes, the air golden, the wind green, the long fingers of willows drifting across her shoulders. Ahead is her father; he extends a hand, waiting.
The piano starts to play.
Marie-Laure reaches beneath the bench and locates the knife. She crawls along the floor to the top of the seven-rung ladder and sits with her feet dangling and the diamond inside the house in her pocket and the knife in her fist.
She says, “Come and get me.” Music #2
Beneath the stars over the city, everything sleeps. Gunners sleep, nuns in a crypt beneath the cathedral sleep, children in old corsairs’ cellars sleep in the laps of sleeping mothers. The doctor in the basement of the Hôtel-Dieu sleeps. Wounded Germans in the tunnels below the fort of La Cité sleep. Behind the walls of Fort National, Etienne sleeps. Everything sleeps save the snails climbing the rocks and the rats scurrying among the piles.
In a hole beneath the ruins of the Hotel of Bees, Werner sleeps too. Only Volkheimer is awake. He sits with the big radio in his lap where Werner has set it and the dying battery between his feet and static whispering in both ears not because he believes he will hear anything but because this is where Werner has left the headphones. Because he does not have the will to push them off. Because he convinced himself hours ago that the plaster heads on the other side of the cellar will kill him if he moves.
Impossibly, the static coalesces into music.
Volkheimer’s eyes open as wide as they can. Straining the blackness for every stray photon. A single piano runs up scales. Then back down. He listens to the notes and the silences between them, and then finds himself leading horses through a forest at dawn, trudging through snow behind his great-grandfather, who walks with a saw draped over his huge shoulders, the snow squeaking beneath boots and hooves, all the trees above them whispering and creaking. They reach the edge of a frozen pond, where a pine grows as tall as a cathedral. His great-grandfather goes to his knees like a penitent, fits the saw into a groove in the bark, and begins to cut.
Volkheimer stands. Finds Werner’s leg in the darkness, puts the headphones on Werner’s ears. “Listen,” he says, “listen, listen . . .”
Werner comes awake. Chords float past in transparent riffles. “Clair de Lune.” Claire: a girl so clear you can see right through her.
Volkheimer says, “Hook the light to the battery.”
Even before the song has stopped playing, Werner disconnects the radio from the battery, unscrews the bezel and bulb from the dead field light, touches it to the leads, and gives them a sphere of light. At the back corner of the cellar, Volkheimer drags blocks of masonry and pieces of timber and shattered sections of wall out of the rubble, stopping now and then only to lean over his knees and catch his breath. He stacks them into a barrier. Then he pulls Werner behind this makeshift bunker, unscrews the base of a grenade and yanks the pull cord to ignite the five-second fuse. Werner sets one hand over his helmet, and Volkheimer throws the grenade at the place where the stairwell used to be. Music #3
Von Rumpel’s daughters were fat, roiling little babies, weren’t they? Both of them always dropping their rattles or rubber pacifiers and tangling themselves in blankets, why so tortured, little angels? But they grew! Despite all his absences. And they could sing, especially Veronika. Maybe they weren’t going to be famous, but they could sing well enough to please a father. They’d wear their big felt boots and those awful shapeless dresses their mother made for them, primroses and daisies embroidered along the collars, and fold their hands behind their backs, and belt out lyrics they were too young to understand.
Men cluster to me
like moths around a flame,
and if their wings burn,
I know I’m not to blame.
In what might be a memory or a dream, von Rumpel watches Veronika, the early riser, kneel on the floor of Marie-Laure’s room in the predawn darkness and march a doll in a white gown alongside another in a gray suit down the streets of the model city. They turn left, then right, until they reach the steps of the cathedral, where a third doll waits, dressed in black, one arm raised. Wedding or sacrifice, he cannot say. Then Veronika sings so softly that he cannot hear the words, only the melody, less like the sounds made by a human voice and more like the notes made by a piano, and the dolls dance, swaying from foot to foot.
The music stops, and Veronika vanishes. He sits up. The model at the foot of the bed bleeds away and is a long time restoring itself. Somewhere above him, the voice of a young man starts speaking in French about coal. Out
For a split second, the space around Werner tears in half, as though the last molecules of oxygen have been ripped out of it. Then shards of stone and wood and metal streak past, ringing against his helmet, sizzling into the wall behind them, and Volkheimer’s barricade collapses, and everywhere in the darkness, things scuttle and slide, and he cannot find any air to breathe. But the detonation creates some tectonic shift in the building’s rubble, and there is a snap followed by multiple cascades in the darkness. When Werner stops coughing and pushes the debris off his chest, he finds Volkheimer staring up at a single sheared hole of purple light.
Sky. Night sky.
A shaft of starlight slices through the dust and drops along the edge of a mound of rubble to the floor. For a moment Werner inhales it. Then Volkheimer urges him back and climbs halfway up the ruined staircase and begins whaling away at the edges of the hole with a piece of rebar. The iron clangs and his hands lacerate and his six-day beard glows white with dust, but Werner can see that Volkheimer makes quick progress: the sliver of light becomes a violet wedge, wider across than two of Werner’s hands.
With one more blow, Volkheimer manages to pulverize a big slab of debris, much of it crashing onto his helmet and shoulders, and then it is simply a matter of scrabbling and climbing. He squeezes his upper body through the hole, his shoulders scraping on the edges, his jacket tearing, hips twisting, and then he’s through. He reaches down for Werner, his canvas duffel, and the rifle, and pulls them all up.
They kneel atop what was once an alley. Starlight hangs over everything. No moon Werner can see. Volkheimer turns his bleeding palms up as though to catch the air, to let it seep into his skin like rainwater.
Only two walls of the hotel stand, joined at the corner, bits of plaster attached to the inner wall. Beyond it, houses display their interiors to the night. The rampart behind the hotel remains, though many of its embrasures along the top have been shattered. The sea presents a barely audible wash on the other side. Everything else is rubble and silence. Starlight rains onto every crenellation. How many men decompose in the piles of stone before them? Nine. Maybe more.
They make for the lee of the ramparts, both of them staggering like drunks. When they reach the wall, Volkheimer blinks down at Werner. Then out at the night. His face so dusted white he looks like a colossus made of powder.
Five blocks to the south, is the girl still playing her recording?
Volkheimer says, “Take the rifle. Go.”
Werner rubs his eyes against the glory of the starlight. He feels no hunger, as if he has rid himself forever of the nuisance of eating. “But will we—?”
“Go,” says Volkheimer again. Werner looks at him a last time: his torn jacket and shovel jaw. The tenderness of his big hands. What you could be.
Did he know? All along?
Werner moves from cover to cover. Canvas bag in his left hand, rifle in his right. Five rounds left. In his mind he hears the girl whisper: He is here. He will kill me. West down a canyon of rubble, scrambling over bricks and wires and pieces of roof slates, many of them still hot, the streets apparently abandoned, though what eyes might track him from behind shattered windows, German or French or American or British, he cannot say. Possibly the crosshairs of a sniper center on him this very second.
Here a single platform shoe. Here a fretwork wooden chef on his back, holding a board on which remains chalked today’s soup. Here great tangled coils of barbed wire. Everywhere the reek of corpses.
Crouching in the lee of what was a tourist gift shop—a few souvenir plates in their racks, each with a different name painted on the rim and arranged alphabetically—Werner locates himself in the city. Coiffeur Dames across the street. A bank with no windows. A dead horse, attached to its cart. Here and there an intact building stands without its window glass, the filigreed trails of smoke grown up from its windows like the shadows of ivy that have been ripped away.
What light shines at night! He never knew. Day will blind him.
Werner turns right on what he believes is the rue d’Estrées. Number 4 on the rue Vauborel still stands. Every window on its facade has been broken but the walls are hardly scorched; two of its wooden flower boxes hang on.
He is right below me.
They said what he needed was certainty. Purpose. Clarity. That pigeon-chested commandant Bastian with his grandmother’s walk; he said they would strip the hesitation out of him.
We are a volley of bullets, we are cannonballs. We are the tip of the sword.
Who is the weakest? Wardrobe
Von Rumpel wobbles before the mighty cabinet. Peers into the old clothes inside. Waistcoats, striped trousers, moth-chewed chambray shirts with tall collars and comically long sleeves. Boys’ clothes, decades old.
What is this room? The big mirrors on the wardrobe doors are spotted black with age, and old leather boots stand beneath a little desk, and a whisk broom hangs from a peg. On the desk stands a photograph of a boy in breeches on a beach at dusk.
Beyond the broken window hangs a windless night. Ashes swirling in starlight. The voice filtering through the ceiling repeats itself . . . The brain is locked in total darkness, of course, children . . . And yet the world it constructs . . . lowering in pitch and warping as the batteries die, the lesson slowing as though the young man is exhausted, and then it stops.
Heart galloping, head failing, candle in one hand, pistol in the other, von Rumpel turns again to the wardrobe. Big enough to climb inside. How did such a monstrous thing ever get up to the sixth floor?
He brings the candle closer and sees, in the shadows of the hanging shirts, what he missed on previous inspections: trails through the dust. Made by fingers or knees or both. With the barrel of his pistol, he nudges the clothes. How deep does it go?
He leans all the way inside, and as he does, he hears a chime, twin bells tinkling both above and below. The sound makes him jerk backward, and he knocks his head on the top of the wardrobe, and the candle falls, and von Rumpel lands on his back.
He watches the candle roll, its flame pointing up. Why? What curious principle demands that a candle flame taper always toward the sky?
Five days in this house and no diamond, the last German-controlled port in Brittany nearly lost, the Atlantic Wall with it. Already he has lived beyond the deadline the doctor predicted. And now the tolling of two tiny bells? This is how death comes?
The candle rolls gently. Toward the window. Toward the curtains.
Downstairs the door of the house creaks open. Someone steps inside. Comrades
Shattered crockery litters the foyer—impossible to be noiseless as he enters. A kitchen full of debris waits down a corridor. Hallway deep with drifts of ash. Chair overturned. Staircase ahead. Unless she has moved in the past few minutes, she will be high in the house, close to the transmitter.
Rifle in both hands, bag over his shoulder, Werner starts up. At each landing a rushing blackness throws off his vision. Spots open and close at his feet. Books have been thrown down the stairwell, along with papers, cords, bottles, and what might be pieces of antique dollhouses. Second floor third fourth fifth: all in the same state. He has no sense of how much noise he makes or whether it matters.
On the sixth floor, the stairs appear to end. Three half-open doors frame the landing: one to the left, one ahead, one to the right. He goes to his right, rifle up; he expects the flash of gun barrels, the jaws of a demon swinging open. Instead, a broken window illuminates a swaybacked bed. A girl’s dress hangs in an armoire. Hundreds of tiny things—pebbles?—line the baseboards. Two buckets stand in a corner, half full of what might be water.
Is he too late? He props Volkheimer’s rifle against the bed and raises a bucket and drinks once, twice. Out the window, far beyond the neighboring block, beyond the ramparts, the single light of a boat appears and disappears as it rises and falls on distant swells.
A voice behind him says, “Ah.”
Werner turns. In front of him totters a German officer in field dress. The five bars and three diamonds of a sergeant major. Pale and bruised, lean to the point of infirmity, he shambles toward the bed. The right side of his throat spills weirdly above the tightness of his collar. “I do not recommend,” he says, “mixing morphine with Beaujolais.” A vein on the side of the man’s forehead throbs lightly.
“I saw you,” says Werner. “In front of the bakery. With a newspaper.”
“And you, little Private. I saw you.” In his smile Werner recognizes an assumption that they are kindred, comrades. Accomplices. That each has come to this house seeking the same thing.
Behind the sergeant major, across the hall, impossibly: flames. A curtain in the room directly across the landing has caught fire. Already flames are licking the ceiling. The sergeant major loops one finger under his collar and pulls against its tightness. His face gaunt and his teeth maniacal. He sits on the bed. Starlight winks off the barrel of his pistol.
At the foot of the bed, Werner can just make out a low table upon which scaled-down wooden houses crowd together to form a city. Is it Saint-Malo? His eyes flash from the model to the flames across the hall to Volkheimer’s rifle leaning against the bed. The officer bends forward and looms over the miniature city like some tormented gargoyle.
Tendrils of black smoke have begun to snake into the hall. “The curtain, sir. It’s on fire.”
“The cease-fire is scheduled for noon, or so they say,” von Rumpel says in an empty voice. “No need to rush. Plenty of time.” He jogs the fingers of one hand down a miniature street. “We want the same thing, you and I, Private. But only one of us can have it. And only I know where it is. Which presents a problem for you. Is it here or here or here or here?” He rubs his hands together, then lies back on the bed. He points his pistol at the ceiling. “Is it up there?”
In the room beyond the landing, the burning curtain sloughs off its rod. Maybe it will go out, thinks Werner. Maybe it will go out on its own.
Werner thinks about the men in the sunflowers and a hundred others: each lay dead in his hut or truck or bunker, wearing the look of someone who had caught the tune of a familiar song. A crease between the eyes, a slackness to the mouth. A look that said: So soon? But doesn’t it play for everybody too soon?
Firelight plays across the hall. Still on his back, the sergeant major takes the pistol in both hands and opens and closes the breech. “Drink some more,” he says, and gestures toward the bucket in Werner’s hands. “I can see how thirsty you are. I didn’t pee in it, I promise.”
Werner sets down the bucket. The sergeant major sits up and tilts his head back and forth as though working out kinks in his neck. Then he aims his gun at Werner’s chest. From down the hall, in the direction of the burning curtain, comes a muted clattering, something bouncing down a ladder and striking the floor, and the sergeant major’s attention swings toward the noise, and the barrel of his pistol dips.
Werner lunges for Volkheimer’s rifle. All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready? The Simultaneity of ?Instants
The brick claps onto the floor. The voices stop. She can hear a scuffle and then the shot comes like a breach of crimson light: the eruption of Krakatoa. The house briefly riven in two.
Marie-Laure half slides, half falls down the ladder and presses her ear against the false back of the wardrobe. Footsteps hurry across the landing and enter Henri’s room. There is a splash and a hiss, and she smells smoke and steam.
Now the footsteps become hesitant; they are different from the sergeant major’s. Lighter. Stepping, stopping. Opening the doors of the wardrobe. Thinking. Figuring it out.
She can hear a light brushing sound as he runs his fingers along the back of the wardrobe. She tightens her grip on the handle of the knife.
Three blocks to the east, Frank Volkheimer blinks as he sits in a devastated apartment on the corner of the rue des Lauriers and the rue Thévenard, eating from a tin of sweet yams with his fingers. Across the river mouth, beneath four feet of concrete, an aide holds open the garrison commander’s jacket as the colonel swings one arm through one sleeve, then the other. At precisely the same moment, a nineteen-year-old American scout climbing the hillside toward the pillboxes stops and turns and reaches an arm down for the soldier behind him; while, with his cheekbone pressed to a granite paver at Fort National, Etienne LeBlanc decides that if he and Marie-Laure live through this, whatever happens, he will let her pick a place on the equator and they will go, book a ticket, ride a ship, fly an airplane, until they stand together in a rain forest surrounded by flowers they’ve never smelled, listening to birds they’ve never heard. Three hundred miles away from Fort National, Reinhold von Rumpel’s wife wakes her daughters to go to Mass and contemplates the good looks of her neighbor who has returned from the war without one of his feet. Not all that far from her, Jutta Pfennig sleeps in the ultramarine shadows of the girls’ dormitory and dreams of light thickening and settling across a field like snow; and not all that far from Jutta, the führer raises a glass of warm (but never boiled) milk to his lips, a slice of Oldenburg black bread on his plate and a whole apple beside it, his daily breakfast; while in a ravine outside Kiev, two inmates rub their hands in sand because they have become slippery, and then they take up the stretcher again while a sonderkommando stirs the fire below them with a steel pole; a wagtail flits from flagstone to flagstone in a courtyard in Berlin, searching for snails to eat; and at the Napola school at Schulpforta, one hundred and nineteen twelve- and thirteen-year-olds wait in a queue behind a truck to be handed thirty-pound antitank land mines, boys who, in almost exactly one year, marooned amid the Russian advance, the entire school cut off like an island, will be given a box of the Reich’s last bitter chocolate and Wehrmacht helmets salvaged from dead soldiers, and then this final harvest of the nation’s youth will rush out with the chocolate melting in their guts and overlarge helmets bobbing on their shorn heads and sixty Panzerfaust rocket launchers in their hands in a last spasm of futility to defend a bridge that no longer requires defending, while T-34 tanks from the White Russian army come clicking and rumbling toward them to destroy them all, every last child; dawn in Saint-Malo, and there is a twitch on the other side of the wardrobe—Werner hears Marie-Laure inhale, Marie-Laure hears Werner scrape three fingernails across the wood, a sound not unlike the sound of a record coursing beneath the surface of a needle, their faces an arm’s reach apart.
He says, “Es-tu là??” Are You There?
He is a ghost. He is from some other world. He is Papa, Madame Manec, Etienne; he is everyone who has left her finally coming back. Through the panel he calls, “I am not killing you. I am hearing you. On radio. Is why I come.” He pauses, fumbling to translate. “The song, light of the moon?” She almost smiles.
We all come into existence as a single cell, smaller than a speck of dust. Much smaller. Divide. Multiply. Add and subtract. Matter changes hands, atoms flow in and out, molecules pivot, proteins stitch together, mitochondria send out their oxidative dictates; we begin as a microscopic electrical swarm. The lungs the brain the heart. Forty weeks later, six trillion cells get crushed in the vise of our mother’s birth canal and we howl. Then the world starts in on us.
Marie-Laure slides open the wardrobe. Werner takes her hand and helps her out. Her feet find the floor of her grandfather’s room.
“Mes souliers,” she says. “I have not been able to find my shoes.” Second Can
The girl sits very still in the corner and wraps her coat around her knees. The way she tucks her ankles up against her bottom. The way her fingers flutter through the space around her. Each a thing he hopes never to forget.
Guns boom to the east: the citadel being bombarded again, the citadel bombarding back.
Exhaustion breaks over him. In French he says, “There will be a—a Waffenruhe. Stopping in the fighting. At noon. So people can get out of the city. I can get you out.”
“And you know this is true?”
“No,” he says. “I do not know it is true.” Quiet now. He examines his trousers, his dusty coat. The uniform makes him an accomplice in everything this girl hates. “There is water,” he says, and crosses to the other sixth-floor room and does not look at von Rumpel’s body in her bed and retrieves the second bucket. Her whole head disappears inside its mouth, and her sticklike arms hug its sides as she gulps.
He says, “You are very brave.”
She lowers the bucket. “What is your name?”
He tells her. She says, “When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?”
He says, “Not in years. But today. Today maybe I did.”
Her glasses are gone, and her pupils look like they are full of milk, but strangely they do not unnerve him. He remembers a phrase of Frau Elena’s: belle laide. Beautiful ugly.
“What day is it?”
He looks around. Scorched curtains and soot fanned across the ceiling and cardboard peeling off the window and the very first pale light of predawn leaking through. “I don’t know. It’s morning.”
A shell screams over the house. He thinks: I only want to sit here with her for a thousand hours. But the shell detonates somewhere and the house creaks and Werner says, “There was a man who used that transmitter you have. Who broadcast lessons about science. When I was a boy. I used to listen to them with my sister.”
“That was the voice of my grandfather. You heard him?”
“Many times. We loved them.”
The window glows. The slow sandy light of dawn permeates the room. Everything transient and aching; everything tentative. To be here, in this room, high in this house, out of the cellar, with her: it is like medicine.
“I could eat bacon,” she says.
“I could eat a whole pig.”
He smiles. “I could eat a whole cow.”
“The woman who used to live here, the housekeeper, she made the most wonderful omelets in the world.”
“When I was little,” he says, or hopes he says, “we used to pick berries by the Ruhr. My sister and me. We’d find berries as big as our thumbs.”
The girl crawls into the wardrobe and climbs a ladder and comes back down clutching a dented tin can. “Can you see what this is?”
“There’s no label.”
“I didn’t think there was.”
“Is it food?”
“Let’s open it and find out.”
With one stroke from the brick, he punctures the can with the tip of the knife. Immediately he can smell it: the perfume is so sweet, so outrageously sweet, that he nearly faints. What is the word? Pêches. Les pêches.
The girl leans forward; the freckles seem to bloom across her cheeks as she inhales. “We will share,” she says. “For what you did.”
He hammers the knife in a second time, saws away at the metal, and bends up the lid. “Careful,” he says, and passes it to her. She dips in two fingers, digs up a wet, soft, slippery thing. Then he does the same. That first peach slithers down his throat like rapture. A sunrise in his mouth.
They eat. They drink the syrup. They run their fingers around the inside of the can. Birds of America
What wonders in this house! She shows him the transmitter in the attic: its double battery, its old-fashioned electrophone, the hand-machined antenna that can be raised and lowered along the chimney by an ingenious system of levers. Even a phonograph record that she says contains her grandfather’s voice, lessons in science for children. And the books! The lower floors are blanketed with them—Becquerel, Lavoisier, Fischer—a lifetime of reading. What it would be like to spend ten years in this tall narrow house, shuttered from the world, studying its secrets and reading its volumes and looking at this girl.
“Do you think,” he asks, “that Captain Nemo survived the whirlpool?”
Marie-Laure sits on the fifth-floor landing in her oversize coat as though waiting for a train. “No,” she says. “Yes. I don’t know. I suppose that is the point, no? To make us wonder?” She cocks her head. “He was a madman. And yet I didn’t want him to die.”
In the corner of her great-uncle’s study, amid a tumult of books, he finds a copy of Birds of America. A reprint, not nearly as large as the one he saw in Frederick’s living room, but dazzling nonetheless: four hundred and thirty-five engravings. He carries it out to the landing. “Has your uncle shown you this?”
“What is it?”
“Birds. Bird after bird after bird.”
Outside, shells fly back and forth. “We must get lower in the house,” she says. But for a moment they do not move.
Werner can still see Frederick kneeling at his window, nose to the glass. Little gray bird hopping about in the boughs. Doesn’t look like much, does it?
“Could I keep a page from this?”
“Why not. We will leave soon, no? When it is safe?”
“How will we know it is time?”
“When they stop shooting.”
Airplanes come. Dozens and dozens of them. Werner shivers uncontrollably. Marie-Laure leads him to the first floor, where ash and soot lie a half inch deep over everything, and he pushes capsized furniture out of the way and hauls open the cellar door and they climb down. Somewhere above, thirty bombers let fly their payloads and Werner and Marie-Laure feel the bedrock shake, hear the detonations across the river.
Could he, by some miracle, keep this going? Could they hide here until the war ends? Until the armies finish marching back and forth above their heads, until all they have to do is push open the door and shift some stones aside and the house has become a ruin beside the sea? Until he can hold her fingers in his palms and lead her out into the sunshine? He would walk anywhere to make it happen, bear anything; in a year or three years or ten, France and Germany would not mean what they meant now; they could leave the house and walk to a tourists’ restaurant and order a simple meal together and eat it in silence, the comfortable kind of silence lovers are supposed to share.
“Do you know,” Marie-Laure asks in a gentle voice, “why he was here? That man upstairs?”
“Because of the radio?” Even as he says it, he wonders.
“Maybe,” she says. “Maybe that’s why.”
In another minute they’re asleep. Cease-fire
Gritty summer light spills through the open trapdoor into the cellar. It might already be afternoon. No guns firing. For a few heartbeats, Werner watches her sleep.
Then they hurry. He cannot find the shoes she asks for, but he finds a pair of men’s loafers in a closet and helps her put them on. Over his uniform he pulls on some of Etienne’s tweed trousers, along with a shirt whose sleeves are too long. If they run into Germans, he will speak only French, say he is helping her leave the city. If they run into Americans, he will say he is deserting.
“There will be a collection point,” he says, “somewhere they’re gathering refugees,” though he’s not sure he says it correctly. He finds a white pillowcase in an upturned cabinet and folds it into her coat pocket. “When it comes time, hold this as high as you can.”
“I will try. And my cane?”
In the foyer, they hesitate. Neither sure what waits on the other side of the door. He remembers the overheated dance hall from the entrance exams four years before: ladder bolted to the wall, crimson flag with its white circle and black cross below. You step forward; you jump.
Outside, mountains of rubble hunker everywhere. Chimneys stand with their bricks raw to the light. Smoke troweled across the sky. He knows that the shells have been coming from the east, that six days ago the Americans were almost to Paramé, so he moves Marie-Laure in that direction.
Any moment they will be seen, by either Americans or his own army, and made to do something. Work, join, confess, die. From somewhere comes the sound of fire: the sound of dried roses being crumbled in a fist. No other sounds; no motors, no airplanes, no distant pop of gunfire or howling of wounded men or yapping of dogs. He takes her hand to help her over the piles. No shells fall and no rifles crack and the light is soft and shot through with ash.
Jutta, he thinks, I finally listened.
For two blocks they see nobody. Maybe Volkheimer is eating—this is what Werner would like to imagine, gigantic Volkheimer eating by himself at a little table with a view of the sea.
“It’s so quiet.”
Her voice like a bright, clear window of sky. Her face a field of freckles. He thinks: I don’t want to let you go.
“Are they watching us?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
A block ahead, he sees movement: three women carrying bundles. Marie-Laure pulls at his sleeve. “What is this cross street?”
“The rue des Lauriers.”
“Come,” she says, and walks with her cane tapping back and forth in her right hand. They turn right and left, past a walnut tree like a giant charred toothpick jammed into the ground, past two crows picking at something unidentifiable, until they reach the base of the ramparts. Airborne creepers of ivy hang from an archway over a narrow alley. Far to his right, Werner can see a woman in blue taffeta drag a great overstuffed suitcase over a curbstone. A boy in pants meant for a younger child follows, beret thrown back on his head, some kind of shiny jacket on.
“There are civilians leaving, mademoiselle. Shall I call to them?”
“I need only a moment.” She leads him deeper down the alley. Sweet, unfettered ocean air pours through a gap in the wall he cannot see: the air throbs with it.
At the end of the alley they reach a narrow gate. She reaches inside her coat and produces a key. “Is the tide high?”
He can just see through the gate into a low space, bounded by a grate on the far side. “There is water down there. We have to hurry.”
But she is already passing through the gate and descending into the grotto in her big shoes, moving with confidence, running her fingers along the walls as though they are old friends she thought she might never meet again. The tide pushes a low riffle through the pool, and it washes over her shins and dampens the hem of her dress. From her coat, she takes some small wooden thing and sets it in the water. She speaks lightly, her voice echoing: “You need to tell me, is it in the ocean? It must be in the ocean.”
“It is in. We must go, mademoiselle.”
“Are you certain it’s in the water?”
She climbs out, breathless. Pushes him back through the gate and locks it behind them. He hands her the cane. Then they head back down the alley, her shoes squelching as she goes. Out through the hanging ivy. Turn left. Straight ahead a ragged stream of people crosses an intersection: a woman, a child, two men carrying a third on a stretcher, all three with cigarettes in their mouths.
The darkness returns to Werner’s eyes, and he feels faint. Soon his legs will give out. A cat sits in the road licking a paw and smoothing it over its ears and watching him. He thinks of the old broken miners he’d see in Zollverein, sitting in chairs or on crates, not moving for hours, waiting to die. To men like that, time was a surfeit, a barrel they watched slowly drain. When really, he thinks, it’s a glowing puddle you carry in your hands; you should spend all your energy protecting it. Fighting for it. Working so hard not to spill one single drop.
“Now,” he says in the clearest French he can muster, “here’s the pillowcase. You run your hand along that wall. Can you feel it? You’ll reach an intersection, keep going straight. The street looks mostly clear. Keep the pillowcase high. Right out in front like this, do you understand?”
She turns to him and chews her bottom lip. “They will shoot.”
“Not with that white flag. Not a girl. There are others ahead. Follow this wall.” He sets her hand against it a second time. “Hurry. Remember the pillowcase.”
“I will go in the other direction.”
She turns her face toward his, and though she cannot see him, he feels he cannot bear her gaze. “Won’t you come with me?”
“It will be better for you if no one sees you with me.”
“But how will I find you again?”
“I don’t know.”
She reaches for his hand, sets something in his palm, and squeezes his hand into a fist. “Goodbye, Werner.”
Then she goes. Every few paces, the tip of her cane strikes a broken stone in the street, and it takes a while to pick her way around it. Step step pause. Step step again. Her cane testing, the wet hem of her dress swinging, the white pillowcase held aloft. He does not look away until she is through the intersection, down the next block, and out of sight.
He waits to hear voices. Guns.
They will help her. They must.
When he opens his hand, there is a little iron key in his palm. Chocolate
Madame Ruelle finds Marie-Laure that evening in a requisitioned school. She grips her hand and does not let go. The civil affairs people have stacks of confiscated German chocolate in rectangular cartons, and Marie-Laure and Madame Ruelle eat too many to count.
In the morning, the Americans take the château and the last anti-air battery and free the prisoners held at Fort National. Madame Ruelle pulls Etienne out of the processing queue, and he wraps Marie-Laure in his arms. The colonel in his underground fortress across the river holds out for three more days, until an American airplane called a Lightning drops a tank of napalm through an air vent, one shot in a million, and five minutes later, a white sheet comes up on a pole and the siege of Saint-Malo is over. Sweep platoons remove all the incendiary devices they can find, and army photographers go in with their tripods, and a handful of citizens return from farms and fields and cellars to drift through the ruined streets. On August 25, Madame Ruelle is allowed back into the city to check on the condition of the bakery, but Etienne and Marie-Laure travel in the other direction, toward Rennes, where they book a room at a hotel called the Universe with a functioning boiler and each takes a two-hour bath. In the window glass as night falls, he watches her reflection feel its way toward the bed. Her hands press against her face, then fall away.
“We’ll go to Paris,” he says. “I’ve never been. You can show it to me.” Light
Werner is captured a mile south of Saint-Malo by three French resistance fighters in streetclothes roving the streets in a lorry. First they believe they have rescued a little white-haired old man. Then they hear his accent, notice the German tunic beneath the antique shirt, and decide they have a spy, a fabulous catch. Then they realize Werner’s youth. They hand him off to an American clerk in a requisitioned hotel transformed into a disarmament center. At first Werner worries they’re taking him downstairs—please, not another pit—but he is brought to the third floor, where an exhausted interpreter who has been booking German prisoners for a month notes his name and rank, then asks a few rote questions while the clerk rifles through Werner’s canvas duffel and hands it back.
“A girl,” Werner says in French, “did you see—?” but the interpreter only smirks and says something to the clerk in English, as though every German soldier he has interviewed has asked about a girl.
He’s ushered into a courtyard encircled with razor wire, where eight or nine other Germans sit in their high boots holding battered canteens, one dressed in women’s clothes in which he apparently tried to desert. Two NCOs and three privates and no Volkheimer.
At night they serve soup in a cauldron, and he gulps down four helpings from a tin cup. Five minutes later, he is sick in the corner. The soup won’t stay down in the morning either. Shoals of clouds swim through the sky. His left ear admits no sound. He lingers over images of Marie-Laure—her hands, her hair—even as he worries that to concentrate on them too long is to risk wearing them out. A day after his arrest, he is marched east in a group of twenty to join a larger group where they are penned in a warehouse. Through the open doors, he cannot see Saint-Malo, but he hears the airplanes, hundreds of them, and a great pall of smoke hangs over the horizon day and night. Twice medics try giving Werner bowls of gruel, but it will not stay down. He’s been able to keep nothing in his stomach since the peaches.
Maybe his fever is returning; maybe the sludge they drank in the hotel cellar has poisoned him. Maybe his body is giving up. If he does not eat, he understands, he will die. But when he does eat, he feels as if he will die.
From the warehouse, they are marched to Dinan. Most of the prisoners are boys or middle-aged men, the shattered remains of companies. They carry ponchos, duffels, crates; a few tote brightly colored suitcases claimed from who knows where. Among them walk pairs of men who fought side by side, but most are strangers to one another, and all have seen things they wish to forget. Always there is the sense of a tide behind them, rising, gathering mass, carrying with it a slow and vindictive rage.
He walks in the tweed trousers of Marie-Laure’s great-uncle; over his shoulder, he carries his duffel. Eighteen years old. All his life his schoolmasters, his radio, his leaders talked to him about the future. And yet what future remains? The road ahead is blank, and the lines of his thoughts all incline inward: he sees Marie-Laure disappear down the street with her cane like ash blown out of a fire, and a feeling of longing crashes against the underside of his ribs.
On the first of September, Werner cannot get to his feet when he wakes. Two of his fellow prisoners help him to the bathroom and back, then lay him in the grass. A young Canadian in a medic’s helmet shines a penlight into Werner’s eyes and loads him into a truck, and he is driven some distance and set in a tent full of dying men. A nurse puts fluid into his arm. Spoons a solution into his mouth.
For a week he lives in the strange greenish light beneath the canvas of that huge tent, his duffel clutched in one hand and the hard corners of the little wooden house clamped in the other. When he has the strength, he fiddles with it. Twist the chimney, slide off the three panels of the roof, look inside. Built so cleverly.
Every day, on his right and left, another soul escapes toward the sky, and it sounds to him as if he can hear faraway music, as if a door has been shut on a grand old radio and he can listen only by putting his good ear against the material of his cot, although the music is soft, and there are moments when he is not certain it is there at all.
There is something to be angry at, Werner is sure, but he cannot say what it is.
“Won’t eat,” says a nurse in English.
Armband of a medic. “Fever?”
There are more words. Then numbers. In a dream, he sees a bright crystalline night with the canals all frozen and the lanterns of the miners’ houses burning and the farmers skating between the fields. He sees a submarine asleep in the lightless depths of the Atlantic; Jutta presses her face to a porthole and breathes on the glass. He half expects to see Volkheimer’s huge hand appear, help him up, and clap him into the Opel.
And Marie-Laure? Can she still feel the pressure of his hand against the webbing between her fingers as he can feel hers?
One night he sits up. In cots around him are a few dozen sick or wounded. A warm September wind pours across the countryside and sets the walls of the tent rippling.
Werner’s head swivels lightly on his neck. The wind is strong and gusting stronger, and the corners of the tent strain against their guy ropes, and where the flaps at the two ends come up, he can see trees buck and sway. Everything rustles. Werner zips his old notebook and the little house into his duffel and the man beside him murmurs questions to himself and the rest of the ruined company sleeps. Even Werner’s thirst has faded. He feels only the raw, impassive surge of the moonlight as it strikes the tent above him and scatters. Out there, through the open flaps of the tent, clouds hurtle above treetops. Toward Germany, toward home.
Silver and blue, blue and silver.
Sheets of paper tumble down the rows of cots, and in Werner’s chest comes a quickening. He sees Frau Elena kneel beside the coal stove and bank up the fire. Children in their beds. Baby Jutta sleeps in her cradle. His father lights a lamp, steps into an elevator, and disappears.
The voice of Volkheimer: What you could be.
Werner’s body seems to have gone weightless under his blanket, and beyond the flapping tent doors, the trees dance and the clouds keep up their huge billowing march, and he swings first one leg and then the other off the edge of the bed.
“Ernst,” says the man beside him. “Ernst.” But there is no Ernst; the men in the cots do not reply; the American soldier at the door of the tent sleeps. Werner walks past him into the grass.
The wind moves through his undershirt. He is a kite, a balloon.
Once, he and Jutta built a little sailboat from scraps of wood and carried it to the river. Jutta painted the vessel in ecstatic purples and greens, and she set it on the water with great formality. But the boat sagged as soon as the current got hold of it. It floated downstream, out of reach, and the flat black water swallowed it. Jutta blinked at Werner with wet eyes, pulling at the battered loops of yarn in her sweater.
“It’s all right,” he told her. “Things hardly ever work on the first try. We’ll make another, a better one.”
Did they? He hopes they did. He seems to remember a little boat—a more seaworthy one—gliding down a river. It sailed around a bend and left them behind. Didn’t it?
The moonlight shines and billows; the broken clouds scud above the trees. Leaves fly everywhere. But the moonlight stays unmoved by the wind, passing through clouds, through air, in what seems to Werner like impossibly slow, imperturbable rays. They hang across the buckling grass.
Why doesn’t the wind move the light?
Across the field, an American watches a boy leave the sick tent and move against the background of the trees. He sits up. He raises his hand.
“Stop,” he calls.
“Halt,” he calls.
But Werner has crossed the edge of the field, where he steps on a trigger land mine set there by his own army three months before, and disappears in a fountain of earth.
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