p.102 〜 p.156
MAKE OF THE BEAST
01 November 1939.
02 A cold wind sends the big dry leaves of plane trees rolling down the gravel lanes of the Jardin des Plantes.
03 Marie-Laure is rereading Twenty Thousand Leagues ― I could make out long ribbons of sea wrack, some globular and others tubular, laurenciae, cladostephae with their slender foliage ― not far from the rue Cuvier gate when a group of children comes tramping through the leaves.
01 A boy’s voice says something; several other boys laugh.
02 Marie-Laure lifts her fingers from her novel.
03 The laughter spins, turns.
04 The first voice is suddenly right beside her ear.
05 “They’re mad for blind girls, you know.”
01 His breath is quick.
02 She extends her arm into the space beside her but contacts nothing.
01 She cannot say how many others are with him.
02 Three or four, perhaps.
03 His is the voice of a twelve- or thirteen-year-old.
04 She stands and hugs her huge book against her chest, and she can hear her cane roll along the edge of the bench and clatter to the ground.
01 Someone else says, “They’ll probably take the blind girls before they take the gimps.”
01 The first boy moans grotesquely.
02 Marie-Laure raises her book as if to shield herself.
01 The second boy says, “Make them do things.”
02 “Nasty things.”
01 An adult’s voice in the distance calls out, “Louis, Peter?”
01 “Who are you?” hisses Marie-Laure.
01 “Bye-bye, blind girl.”
01 Then: quiet.
02 Marie-Laure listens to the trees rustle; her blood swarms.
03 For a long and panicked minute, she crawls among the leaves at the foot of the bench until her fingers find her cane.
01 Stores sell gas masks.
02 Neighbors tape cardboards to their windows.
03 Each week fewer visitors come to the museum.
01 “Papa?” Marie-Laure asks.
02 “If there’s a war, what will happen to us?”
01 “There won’t be a war.”
01 “But what if there is?”
01 His hand on her shoulder, the familiar clanking of keys on his belt.
02 “Then we will be fine, ma cherie.
03 The director has already filed a dispensation to keep me out of the reserves.
04 I’m not going anywhere.”
01 But she hears the way he turns newspaper pages, snapping them with urgency.
02 He lights cigarette after cigarette; he hardly stops working.
01 Weeks pass and the trees go bare and her father doesn’t ask her to walk in the gardens once.
02 If only they had an impregnable submarine like the Nautilus.
01 The smoky voices of office girls swirl past the open window of the key pound.
02 “They creep into apartments at night.
03 They boobytrap kitchen cupboards, toilet bowls, brassieres.
04 Go to open your panty drawer, and you get your fingers blown off.”
01 She has nightmares.
02 Silent Germans row up the Seine in synchrony; their skiffs glide as if through oil.
03 They fly noiselessly beneath the bridge trestles; they have beasts with them on chains; their beasts leap out of the boats and sprint past the massifs of flowers, down the rows of hedges.
04 They sniff the air on the steps to the Grand Gallery.
07 They surge into the museum, scatter into the departments.
08 The windows go black with blood.
01 Dear Professor I dont know if youre getting these letters or if the radio station will forward this or is there even a radio station?
02 We havent heard you in two months at least.
03 Did you stop broadcasting or maybe is the problem ours?
04 Theres a new radio transmitter in Brandenburg called the Deutschlandsender 3 my brother says it is three hundred thirty-something meters tall the second-tallest man-made construction in the world.
05 It pushes basically everything else off the dial.
06 Old Frau Stresemann, shes one of our neighbors, she says she can hear Deutschlandsender broadcasts in her tooth fillings.
07 My brother said its possible if you have an antenna and a rectifier and something to serve as a speaker.
08 He said you can use a section of wire fence to pick up radio signals, so maybe the silver in a tooth can too.
09 I like to think about that.
01 Dont you Professor?
02 Songs in your teeth?
03 Frau Elena says we have to come straight home from school now.
04 She says were not Jews but were poor and thats almost as dangerous.
05 Its a criminal offense now to tune into a foreign broadcast.
06 You can get hard labor for it, things like breaking rocks fifteen hours a day.
07 Or making nylon stockings or going down in the pits.
08 No one will help me mail this letter not even my brother so I will do it myself.
GOOD MORNING. OR HEIL HITLER IF YOU PREFER. …1940…
01 His fourteenth birthday arrives in May.
02 It’s 1940 and no one laughs at Hitler Youth now.
03 Frau Elena prepares a pudding and Jutta wraps a piece of quartz in newspaper and the twins, Hannah and Susanna Gerlitz march around the room impersonating soldiers.
04 A five-year-old ― Rolf Hupfauer ― sits in the corner of the sofa, eyelids slipping heavily over his eyes.
05 A new arrival ― a baby girl ― sits in Jutta’s lap and gums her fingers.
06 Out the window, beyond the curtains, the flame atop the waste stack, high in the distance, flaps and shivers.
01 The children sing and devour the pudding, Frau Elena says, ”Time’s up,” and Werner switches off his receiver.
02 Everyone prays.
03 His whole body feels heavy as he carries the radio up to the dormer.
04 In the alleys, fifteen-year-old boys are making their way toward miner elevators, queuing up with their helmets and lamps outside the gates.
05 He tries to imagine their descent, sporadic and muted lights passing and receding, cables rattling, everyone quiet, sinking down to that permanent darkness where men claw at the earth with a half mile of rock hunched on top of them.
01 One more year.
02 Then they’ll give him a helmet and lamp and stuff him into a cage with the others.
01 It has been months since he last heard the Frenchman on the shortwave.
02 A year since he held that water-stained copy of The Principles of Mechanics.
03 Not so long ago he let himself dream of Berlin and its great scientists: Fritz Haber, inventor of fertilizer; Hermann Staudinger, inventor of plastics.
04 Hertz, who made the invisible visible.
05 All the great men doing things out there.
06 I believe in you, Frau Elena used to say.
07 I think you’ll do something great.
08 Now, in his nightmares, he walks the tunnels of the mines.
09 The ceiling is smooth and black; slabs of it descend over him as he treads.
10 The walls splinter; he stoops, crawls.
11 Soon he cannot raise his head, move his arms.
12 The ceiling weighs ten trillion tons; it gives off a permeating cold; it drives his nose into the floor.
13 Just before he wakes, he feels a splintering at the back of his skull.
01 Rainwater purls from cloud to roof to eave.
02 Werner presses his forehead to the window of the dormer and peers through the drops, the roof below just one among a cluster of wet rooftops, hemmed in by the vast walls of the cokery and smelter and gasworks, the winding tower silhouetted against the sky, mine and mill running on and on, acre after acre, beyond his range of sight, to the villages, the cities, the ever-quickening, ever-expanding machine that is Germany.
01 And a million men ready to set down their lives for it.
01 Good evening, he thinks.
02 Or hile Hitler.
03 Everyone is choosing the latter.
BYE-BYE, BLIND GIRL
01 The war drops its question mark.
02 Memos are distributed.
03 The collections must be protected.
04 A small cadre of couriers has begun moving things to country estates.
05 Locks and keys are in greater demand than ever.
06 Marie-Laure’s father works until midnight, until one.
07 Every crate must be padlocked, every transport manifest kept in a secure place.
08 Armored trucks rumble at the loading docks.
09 There are fossils to be safeguarded, ancient manuscripts; there is jade from the thirteenth century and cavansite from India and rhodochrosite from Colorado; there are pearls, gold nuggets, a sapphire as big as a mouse.
10 There might be, thinks Marie-Laure, the Sea of Flames.
01 From a certain angle, the spring seems so calm: warm, tender, each night redolent and composed.
02 And yet everything radiates tention, as if the city has been built upon the skin of a balloon and someone is inflating it toward the breaking point.
01 Bees work the blooming aisles of the Jardin des Plantes.
02 The plane trees drop their seeds and huge drifts of fluff gather on the walkways.
01 If they attack, why they would attack, they would be crazy to attack.
01 To retreat is to save lives.
01 Deliveries stop.
02 Sandbags appear around the museum gates.
03 A pair of soldiers on the roof of the Gallery of Paleontology peer over the gardens with binoculars.
04 But the huge bowl of the sky remains untracked: no zeppelins, no bombers, no superhuman paratroopers, just the last songbirds returning from their winter homes, and the quicksilver winds of spring transmuting into the heavier, greener breezes of summer.
01 Rumor, light, air.
02 That May seems more beautiful than any Marie-Laure can remember.
03 On the morning of her twelfth birthday, there is no puzzle box in place of the sugar bowl when she wakes; her father is too busy.
04 But there is a book: the second Braille volume of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, as thick as a sofa cushion.
01 A thrill rides all the way into the nails of her fingers.
02 “How ― ?”
01 “You’re welcome, Marie.”
01 The walls of their flat tremble with the dragging of furniture, the packing of trunks, the nailing shut of windows.
02 They walk to the museum, and her father remarks distractedly to the warder who meets them at the door, “They say we are holding the river.”
01 Marie-Laure sits on the floor of the key pound and opens her book.
02 When part one left off, Professor Aronnax had traveled only six thousand leagues.
03 So many left to go.
04 But something strange happens: the words do not connect.
05 She reads, During the entire day, a formidable school of sharks followed the ship, but the logic that is supposed to link each word to the next fails her.
01 Someone says, “Has the director left?”
01 Someone else says, ”Before the end of the week.”
01 Her father’s cloths smell of straw; his fingers reek of oil.
02 Work, more work, then a few hours of exhausted sleep before returning to the museum at dawn.
03 Tracks carry off skeletons and meteorites and octopi in jars and herbarium sheets and Egyptian gold and South African ivory and Permian fossils.
01 On the first of June, airplanes fly over the city, extremely high, crawling through the stratus clouds.
02 When the wind is down and nobody is running an engine nearby, Marie-Laure can stand outside the Gallery of Zoology and hear them: a mile-high purr.
03 The following day, the radio stations begin disappearing.
04 The warders in the guards’ station whack the side of their wireless and tilt it this way and that, but only static comes out of its speaker.
05 As if each relay antenna were a candle frame and a pair of fingers came along and pinched it out.
01 Those last nights in Paris, walking home with her father at midnight, the huge book clasped against her chest, Marie-Laure thinks she can sense a shiver beneath the air, in the pauses between the chirring of the insects, like the spider cracks of ice when too much weight is set upon it.
02 As if all this time the city has been no more than a scale model built by her father and the shadow of a great hand has fallen over it.
01 Didn’t she presume she would live with her father in Paris for the rest of her life?
02 That she would always sit with Dr. Geffard in the afternoons?
03 That every year, on her birthday, her father would present her with another puzzle and another novel, and she would read all of Jules Verne and all of Dumas and maybe even Balzac and Proust?
04 That her father would always hum as he fashioned little buildings in the evenings, and she would always know how many paces from the front door to the bakery (forty) and how many more to the brasserie (thirty-two), and there would always be sugar to spoon into her coffee when she woke?
01 Bonjour, bonjour.
01 Potatoes at six o’clock, Marie.
02 Mushrooms at three.
02 What will happen now?
01 Werner wakes past midnight to find eleven-year-old Jutta kneeing on the floor beside his cot.
02 The shortwave is in her lap and a sheet of drawing paper is on the floor beside her, a many-windowed city of her imagination half articulated on the page.
01 Jutta removes the earpiece and squints.
02 In the twilight, her wild volutions of hair look more radiant than ever: a struck match.
01 “In Young Girls League,” she whispers, “they have us making socks.
02 Why so many socks?”
01 “The Reich must need socks.”
01 “For what?”
01 “For feet, Jutta.
02 For the soldiers.
03 Let me sleep.”
04 As though on cue, a young boy — Siegfried Fischer — cries out downstairs once, then twice more, and Werner and Jutta wait to hear Frau Elena’s feet on the stairs and her gentle ministrations and the house fall quiet once more.
01 “All you want to do are mathematics problems,” Jutta whispers.
01 “Play with radios.
02 Don’t you want to understand what’s happening?”
01 “What are you listening to?”
01 She crosses her arms and puts the earphone back and does not answer.
01 “Are you listening to something you’re not supposed to be listening to?”
01 “What do you care?”
01 “It’s dangerous, is why I care.”
01 She puts her finger in her other ear.
01 “The other girls don’t seem to mind,” he whispers.
02 “Making socks.
03 Collecting newspapers and all that.”
01 “We’re dropping bombs on Paris,” she says.
02 Her voice is loud, and he resists an urge to clap his hand over her mouth.
01 Jutta stares up, defiant.
02 She looks as if she is being raked by some invisible arctic wind.
01 “That’s what I’m listening to, Werner.
02 Our airplanes are bombing Paris.”
01 All across Paris, people pack china into cellars, sew pearls into hems, conceal gold rings inside book bindings.
02 The museum workspaces are stripped of typewriters.
03 The halls become packing yards, their floors strewn with straw and sawdusts and twine.
01 At noon the locksmith is summoned to the director’s office.
02 Marie-Laure sits crosslegged on the floor of the key pound and tries to read her novel.
03 Captain Nemo is about to take Professor Aronnax and his companions on an underwater stroll through oyster beds to hunt pearls, but Aronnax is afraid of the prospect of sharks, and though she longs to know what will happen, the sentences disintegrate across the page.
04 Words devolve into letters, letters into unintelligible bumps.
05 She feels as if big mitts have been drawn over each hand.
01 Down the hall, at the guards’ station, a warder twists the knobs of the wireless back and forth but finds only hiss and crackle.
01 When he shuts it off, quiet closes over the museum.
01 Please let this be a puzzle, an elaborate game Papa has constructed, a riddle she must solve.
02 The first door, a combination lock.
03 The second, a dead bolt.
04 The third will open if she whispers a magic word through its keyhole.
05 Crawl through thirteen doors, and everything will return to normal.
01 Out in the city, church bells strike one.
02 One thirty.
03 Still her father does not return.
04 At some point, several distinct thumps travel into the museum from the gardens or the streets beyond, as if someone is dropping sacks of cement mix out of the clouds.
05 With each impact, the thousand keys in their cabinets quiver on theirs pegs.
01 Nobody moves up or down on the corridor.
02 A second series of concussions arrives ― closer, larger.
03 The keys chime and the floor creaks and she thinks she can smell threads of dusts cascading from the ceiling.
02 No warders, no janitors, no carpenters, no clop-clop-clop of a secretary’s heels crossing the hall.
01 They can march for days without eating.
02 They impregnate every schoolgirl they meet.
02 How quickly her voice is swallowed, how empty the halls sound.
03 It terrifies her.
01 A moment later, there are clanking keys and footfalls and her father’s voice calls her name.
01 Everything happens quickly.
02 He drags open big, low drawers; he jangles dozens of key rings.
01 “Papa, I heard ―”
03 “My book ―”
04 “Better to leave it.
05 It’s too heavy.”
06 “Leave my book?”
01 He pulls her out the door and locks the key pound.
02 Outside, waves of panic seem to be traveling the rows of trees like tremors from an earthquake.
01 Her father says, ”Where is the watchman?”
02 Voices near the curb: soldiers.
01 Marie-Laure’s senses feel scrambled.
02 Is that the rumble of airplanes?
03 Is that the smell of smoke?
04 Is someone speaking German?
01 She can hear her father exchange a few words with a stranger and hand over some keys.
02 Then they are moving past the gate onto the rue Cuvie, brushing through what might be sandbags or silent police officers or something else newly planted in the middle of the sidewalk.
01 Six blocks, thirty-eight storm drains.
02 She counts them all.
03 Because of the sheets of wood veneer her father has tacked over its windows, their apartment is stuffy and hot.
03 “This will just take a moment, Marie-Laure.
04 Then I’ll explain.”
05 Her father shoves things into what might be his canvas rucksack.
06 Food, she thinks, trying to identify everything by its sound.
01 Coffee. Cigarettes. Bread?
01 Something thumps again and the windowpanes tremble.
02 Their dishes rattle in the cupboards.
03 Automobile horns bleat.
04 Marie-Laure goes to the model neighborhood and runs her fingers over the houses.
05 Still there.
06 Still there.
07 Still there.
01 “Go to the toilet, Marie.”
01 “I don’t have to.”
01 “It may be a while until you can go again.”
01 He buttons her into her winter overcoat, though it is the middle of June, and they bustle downstairs.
02 On the rue des Patriarches, she hears a distant stamping as though thousands of people are on the move.
03 She walks beside her father with her cane telescoped in one fist, her other hand on his rucksack, everything disconnected from logic, as in nightmares.
01 Right, left.
02 Between turns run long stretches of paving stones.
03 Soon they are walking streets, she is sure, that she has never been on, streets beyond the boundaries of her father’s model.
04 Marie-Laure has long since lost count of her strides when they reach a crowd dense enough that she can feel heat spilling off of it.
01 “It will be cooler on the train, Marie.
02 The director has arranged tickets for us.”
01 “Can we go in?”
01 “The gates are locked.”
01 The crowd gives off a nauseating tention.
01 “I’m scared, Papa.”
01 “Keep hold of me.”
01 He leads her in a new direction.
02 They cross a seething thoroughfare, then go up an alley that smells like a muddy ditch.
03 Always there is the muted rattling of her father’s tools inside his rucksack and the distant and incessant honking of automobile horns.
01 In a minute they find themselves amid another throng.
02 Voices echo off a high wall; the smell of wet garments crowds her.
03 Somewhere someone shouts names through a bullhorn.
01 “Where are we, Papa?”
01 “Gare Saint-Lazare.”
02 A baby cries.
03 She smells urin.
01 “Are there Germans, Papa?”
01 “No, ma cherie.”
01 “But soon?”
01 “So they say.”
01 “What will we do when they get here?”
01 “We will be on a train by then.”
01 In the space to her right, a child screeches.
02 A man with panic in his voice demands the crowd make way.
03 A woman nearby moans, “Sebastien? Sebastien?” over and over.
01 “Is it night yet?”
01 “It’s only now getting dark.
02 Let’s rest a moment.
03 Save our breath.”
01 Someone says, ”The Second Army mauled, the Ninth cut off.
02 France’s best fleets wasted.”
01 Someone says, ”We will be overrun.”
01 Trunks slide across tiles and a little dog yaps and a conductor’s whistle blows and some kind of big machinery coughs to a start and then dies.
02 Marie-Laure tries to calm her stomach.
01 “But we have tickets, for God’s sake!” shouts someone behind her.
01 There is a scuffle.
02 Hysteria ripples through the crowd.
01 “What does it look like, Papa?”
01 “What, Marie?”
01 “The station
02 The night.”
01 She hears the sparking of his lighter, the suck and flare of tobacco as his cigarette ignites.
01 “Let’s see.
02 The whole city is dark.
03 No streetlights, no lights in windows.
04 There are projector lights moving through the sky now and then.
05 Looking for airplanes.
06 There’s a woman in a gown.
07 And another carrying a stack of dishes.”
01 “And the armies?”
01 “There are no armies, Marie.”
02 His hand finds hers.
03 Her fear settles slightly.
04 Rain trickles through a downspout.
01 “What are we doing now, Papa?”
01 “Hoping for a train.”
01 “What is everybody else doing?”
01 “They’re hoping too.”
01 A knock after curfew.
02 Werner and Jutta are doing schoolwork with a half-dozen other children at the long wooden table.
03 Frau Elena pins her party insignia through her lapel before opening the door.
01 A lance corporal with a pistol on his belt and a swastika band on his left arm steps in from the rain.
02 Beneath the low ceiling of the room, the man looks absurdly tall.
03 Werner thinks of the shortwave radio tucked into the old wooden first-aid cabinet beneath his cot.
04 He thinks: They know.
01 The lance corporal looks around the room ― the coal stove, the hanging laundry, the undersize children ― with equal measures of condescension and hostility.
02 His handgun is black; it seems to draw all the light in the room toward it.
01 Werner risks a single glance at his sister.
02 Her attention stays fixed on the visitor.
03 The corporal picks up a book from the parlor table ― a children’s book about a talking train ― and turns every one of its pages before dropping it.
01 Then he says something that Werner can’t hear.
01 Frau Elena folds her hands over her apron, and Werner can see she has done so to keep them from shaking.
02 “Werner,” she calls in a slow, dreamlike voice without taking her eyes from the corporal.
03 “This man says he has a wireless in need of ― ”
01 “Bring your tools,” the man says.
01 On the way out, Werner looks back only once: Jutta’s forehead and palms are pressed against the glass of the living room window.
02 She is backlit and too far away and he cannot read her expression.
03 Then the rain obscures her.
01 Werner is half the corporal’s height and has to take two strides for every one of the man’s.
02 He follows past company houses and the sentry at the bottom of the hill to where the
mining officials reside.
03 Rain falls slant through the lights.
04 The few people they pass give the corporal a wide berth.
01 Werner risks no questions.
02 With every heartbeat comes a sharp longing to run.
01 They approach the gate of the largest house in the colony, a house he has seen a thousand times but never so close.
02 A large crimson flag, heavy with rainwater, hangs from the sill of an upstairs window.
01 The corporal raps on a rear door.
02 A maid in a high-waisted dress takes their coats, expertly flips off the water, and hangs them on a brass-footed rack.
03 The kitchen smells of cake.
01 The corporal steers Werner into a dining room where a narrow-faced woman with three fresh daisies stuck through her hair sits in a chair turning the pages of a magazine.
02 “Two wet ducks,” she says, and looks back at her magazine.
03 She does not ask them to sit.
01 A thick red carpet sucks at the soles of Werner’s brogues; electric bulbs burn in a chandelier above the table; roses twine across the wallpaper.
02 A fire smolders in the fireplace.
03 On all four walls hang framed tintypes of glowering ancestors.
04 Is this where they arrest boys whose sisters listen to foreign radio stations?
05 The woman turns pages of her magazine, one after another.
06 Her fingernails are bright pink.
01 A man comes down the stairs wearing an extremely white shirt.
02 “Christ, he is little, isn’t he?” he says to the lance corporal.
03 “You’re the famous radio repairman?”
04 The man’s thick black hair looks lacquered to his skull.
05 “Rudolf Siedler,” he says.
06 He dismisses the corporal with a slight wag of his chin.
01 Werner tries to exhale.
02 Herr Siedler buttons his cuffs and examines himself in a smoky mirror.
03 His eyes are profoundly blue.
05 Not a long-winded boy, are you?
06 There’s the offending device.”
07 He points to a massive American Philco in the adjacent room.
01 “Two fellows have looked at it already.
02 Then we heard about you.
03 Worth a try, right?
04 She” ― he nods at the woman ― “is desperate to hear her programs.
05 News bulletins too, of course.”
01 He says this in such a way that Werner understands the woman does not really wish to listen to news bulletins.
02 She does not look up.
03 Herr Siedler smiles as if to say: You and I, son, we know history takes a longer course, don’t we?
04 His teeth are very small.
05 “Take your time with it.”
01 Werner squats in front of the set and tries to calm his nerves.
02 He switches it on, waits for the tubes to warm, then runs the dial carefully down the band, right to left.
03 He runs the knob back toward the right.
01 It is the finest radio he has ever laid hands on: an inclined control panel, magnetic turning, big as an icebox.
02 Ten-tube, all-wave, superheterodyne, with fancy gadrooned moldings and a two-tone walnut cabinet.
03 It has shortwave, wide frequencies, a big attenuator ― this radio costs more than everything at Children’s House put together.
04 Herr Siedler could probably hear Africa if he wanted to.
01 Green and red spines of books line the walls.
02 The lance corporal is gone.
03 In the next room, Herr Siedler stands in a pool of lamp light, talking into a black telephone.
01 They are not arresting him.
00 They merely want him to fix this radio.
01 Werner unscrews the backing and peers inside.
02 The tubes are all intact, and nothing looks amiss.
03 “All right,” he mumbles to himself.
05 He sits cross-legged; he examines the circuitry.
06 The man and the woman and the books and the rain recede until there is only the radio and its tangle of wires.
07 He tries to envision the bouncing pathways of electrons, the signal chain like a path through a crowded city, RF signal coming in here, passing through a grid of amplifiers, then to variable condensers, then to transformer coils . . .
01 He sees it.
02 There are two breaks in one of the resistance wires.
03 Werner peers over the top of the set: to his left, the woman reads her magazine; to his right, Herr Siedler speaks into the telephone.
04 Every so often Herr Siedler runs his thumb and finger along the crease in his pin-striped trousers, sharpening it.
01 Could two men have missed something so simple?
02 It feels like a gift.
03 So easy!
04 Werner rewinds the resistance track and splices the wires and plugs in the radio.
05 When he turns it on, he half expects fire to leap out of the machine.
06 Instead: the smoky murmur of a saxophone.
01 At the table the woman puts down her magazine and sets all ten fingers on her cheeks.
02 Werner climbs out from behind the radio.
01 For a moment his mind is clear of all feeling save triumph.
01 “He fixed it just by thinking!” the woman exclaims.
02 Herr Siedler covers the mouthpiece of the telephone receiver and looks over.
03 “He sat there like a little mouse and thought, and in half a minute it was fixed!”
04 She flourishes her brilliant fingernails and breaks into a childlike laughter.
01 Herr Siedler hangs up the phone.
02 The woman crosses into the sitting room and kneels in front of the radio ― she is barefoot, and her smooth white calves show beneath the hem of her skirt.
03 She rotates the knob.
04 There is a sputter, then a torrent of bright music.
05 The radio produces a vivid, full sound: Werner has never heard another like it.
01 “Oh!” Again she laughs.
01 Werner gathers his tools.
02 Herr Siedler stands in front of the radio and seems about to pat him on the head.
03 “Outstanding,” he says.
04 He ushers Werner to the dining table and calls for the maid to bring cake.
05 Immediately it appears: four wedges on a plain white plate.
06 Each is dusted with confectioners’ sugar and topped by a dollop of whipped cream.
07 Werner gapes.
08 Herr Siedler laughs.
09 “Cream is forbidden. I know. But” ― he puts a forefinger to his lips ― “there are ways around such things.
10 Go on.”
01 Werner takes a piece.
02 Powdered sugar cascades down his chin.
03 In the other room the woman twists the dial, and voices sermonize from the speaker.
01 She listens awhile, then applauds, kneeling there in her bare feet.
02 The stern faces in the tintypes stare down.
01 Werner eats one piece of cake, then another, then a third.
02 Herr Siedler watches with his head slightly cocked, amused, considering something.
03 “You do have a look, don’t you?
04 And that hair.
05 Like you’ve had a terrible shock.
06 Who is your father?
01 Werner shakes his head.
02 Children’s House.
03 Silly me.
04 Have another.
05 Get some more cream on it, now.”
01 The woman claps again.
02 Werner’s stomach gives a creaking sound.
03 He can feel the man’s eyes on him.
01 “People say it must not be a great posting, here at the mines,” says Herr Siedler.
02 “They say:
03 ‘Wouldn’t you rather be in Berlin?
04 Or France?
05 Wouldn’t you rather be a captain at the front, watching the lines advance, away from all this’” ― he waves his hand at the window ― “‘soot?’
06 But I tell them I live at the center of it all.
07 I tell them this is where the fuel is coming from, the steel too.
08 This is the furnace of the country.”
01 Werner clears his throat.
02 “We act in the interest of peace.”
03 It is, verbatim, a sentence he and Jutta heard on Deutschlandsender radio three days before.
04 “In the interest of the world.”
01 Herr Siedler laughs.
02 Again Werner is impressed with how numerous and tiny his teeth are.
01 “You know the greatest lesson of history?
02 It’s that history is whatever the victors say it is.
03 That’s the lesson.
04 Whoever wins, that’s who decides the history.
05 We act in our own self-interest.
06 Of course we do.
07 Name me a person or a nation who does not.
08 The trick is figuring out where your interests are.”
01 A single slice of cake remainds.
02 The radio purrs and the woman laughs and Herr Siedler looks almost nothing, Werner decides, like his neighbors, their guarded, anxious faces ― faces of people accustomed to watching loved ones disappear every morning into pits.
03 His face is clean and committed; he is a man supremely confident in his privileges.
04 And five yards away kneels this woman with varnished fingernails and hairless calves ― a woman so entirely removed from Werner’s previous experience that it is as if she is from a different planet.
05 As if she has stepped out of the big Philco itself.
01 “Good with tools,” Herr Siedler is saying.
02 “Smart beyond your years.
03 There are places for a boy like you.
04 General Heissmeyer’s schools.
05 Best of the best.
06 Teach the mechanical sciences too.
07 Code breaking, rocket propulsion, all the latest.
01 Werner does not know where to set his gaze.
02 “We do not have money.”
01 “That’s the genius of these institutions.”
01 They want the working classes, laborers.
02 Boys who aren’t stamped by ― Herr Siedler frowns ― “middle-class garbage.
03 The cinemas and so forth.
04 They want industrious boys.
05 Exceptional boys.”
01 “Yes, sir.”
01 “Exceptional,” he repeats, nodding, talking as if only to himself.
02 He gives a whistle and the lance corporal returns, helmet in hand.
03 The soldier’s eyes flit to the remaining piece of cake and then away.
04 “There’s a recruiting board in Essen,” Herr Siedler is saying.
05 “I’ll write you a letter.
06 And take this.”
07 He hands Werner seventy-five marks, and Werner tucks the bills into his pocket as quickly as he can.
01 The corporal laughs.
02 “Looks like it burned his fingers.”
01 Herr Siedler’s attention is somewhere else.
02 “I will send Heissmeyer a letter,” he repeats.
03 “Good for us, good for you.
04 We act in the interest of the world, eh?”
05 He winks.
06 Then the corporal gives Werner a curfew pass and shows them out.
01 Werner walks home oblivious to the rain, trying to absorb the immensity of what has happened.
02 Nine herons stand like flowers in the canal beside the coking plant.
03 A barge sounds its outcast horn and coal cars trundle to and fro and the regular thudding of the hauling machine reverberates through the gloom.
01 At Children’s house, everyone has been put to bed.
01 Frau Elena sits just inside the entryway with the mountain of laundered stockings in her lap and the bottle of kitchen sherry between her feet.
02 Behind her, at the table, Jutta watches Werner with the electric intensity.
01 Frau Elena says, “What did he want?”
02 “He only wanted me to fix a radio.”
03 “Nothing more?”
05 “Did they have questions?
06 About you?
07 Or the children?”
08 “No, Frau Elena.”
01 Frau Elena lets out a huge breath, as if she has not exhaled these past two hours.
02 “Dieu merci.”
03 She rubs her temples with both hands.
04 “You can go to bed now, Jutta,” she says.
01 Jutta hesitates.
01 “I fixed it,” says Werner.
01 “That’s a good boy, Werner.”
02 Frau Elena takes a long pull of sherry and her eyes close and her head rocks back.
03 “We saved you some supper.”
04 Jutta walks to the stairs, uncertainty in her eyes.
01 In the kitchen, everything looks coal-stained and cramped.
02 Frau Elena brings a plate; on it sits a single boiled potato cut in two.
01 “Thank you,” says Werner.
02 The taste of the cake is still in his mouth.
03 The pendulum swings on and on in the old grandfather clock.
01 The cake, the whipped cream, the thick carpet, the pink fingernails and long calves of Fraulein Siedler ― these sensations whirl through Werner’s head as if on a carousel.
02 He remembers towing Jutta to Pit Nine, where their father disappeared, evening after evening, as if their father might come shuffling out of the elevators.
01 Light, electricity, ether, Space, time, mass.
02 Heinrich Hertz’s Principles of Mechanics.
03 Heissmeyer’s famous schools.
04 Code breaking, rocket propulsion, all the latest.
01 Open your eyes, the Frenchman on the radio used to say, and see what you can with them before they close forever.
02 “Yes, Frau?”
03 “Aren’t you hungry?”
01 Frau Elena: as close to a mother as he will ever have.
02 Werner eats, though he is not hungry.
03 Then he gives her the seventy-five marks, and she blinks at the amount and gives fifty back.
01 Upstairs, after he has heard Frau Elena go to the toilet and climb into her own bed and the house has become utterly quiet, Werner counts to one hundred.
02 Then he rises from his cot and takes the little shortwave radio out of the first-aid box — six years old and bristling with his modifications, replacement wires, a new solenoid, Jutta’s notations orbiting the tuning coil — and carries it into the alley behind the house and crushes it with a brick.
01 Parisians continue to press through the gates.
02 By 1 A.M., the gendarmes have lost control, and no trains have arrived or departed in over four hours.
03 Marie-Laure sleeps on her father’s shoulder.
04 The locksmith hears no whistles, no rattling couplings, no trains.
05 At dawn he decides it will be better to go on foot.
01 They walk all morning.
02 Paris thins steadily into low houses and stand-alone shops broken by long strands of trees.
03 Noon finds them picking their way through deadlocked traffic on a new motorway near Vaucresson, a full ten miles west of their apartment, as far from home as Marie-Laure has ever been.
01 At the crest of a low hill, her father looks over his shoulder: vehicles are backed up as far as he can see, carryalls and vans, a sleek new cloth-top wraparound V-12 wedged between two mule carts, some carts with wooden axles, some run out of gasoline, some with households of furniture strapped to the roof, a few with entire bristling farmyards crammed onto trailers, chickens and pigs in cages, cows clomping alongside, dogs panting against windshields.
01 The entire procession slogs past at little more than walking speed.
02 Both lanes are clogged ― everyone staggers west, away.
03 A woman bicycles wearing dozens of costume necklaces.
04 A man tows a leather armchair on a handcart, a black kitten cleaning itself on the center cushion.
05 Women push baby carriages crammed with china, birdcages, crystalware.
06 A man in a tuxedo walks along calling, “For the love of God, let me through,” though no one steps aside, and he moves no more quickly than anybody else.
01 Marie-Laure stays at her father’s hip with her cane in her fist.
02 With each step, another disembodied question spins around her:
03 How far to Saint-Germain?
04 Is there food, Antie?
05 Who has fuel?
06 She hears husbands yelling at wives; she hears that a child has been run over by a truck on the road ahead.
07 In the afternoon a trio of airplanes race past, loud and fast and low, and people crouch where they walk and some scream and others clamber into the ditch and put their faces in the weeds.
01 By dusk they are west of Versailles.
02 Marie-Laure’s heels are bleeding and her stockings are torn and every hundred steps she stumbles.
03 When she declares that she can walk no farther, her father carries her off the road, traveling uphill through mustard flowers until they reach a field a few hundred yards from a small farmhouse.
04 The field has been mowed only halfway, the cut hay left unraked and unbaled.
05 As though the farmer has fled in the middle of his work.
01 From his rucksack the locksmith produces a loaf of bread and some links of white sausage and they eat these quietly and then he lifts her feet into his lap.
02 In the gloaming to the east, he can make out a gray line of traffic herded between the edges of the road.
03 The thin and stupefied bleating of automobile horns.
04 Someone calls as if to a missing child and the wind carries the sound away.
01 “Is something on fire, Papa?”
01 “Nothing is on fire.”
01 “I smell smoke.”
01 He pulls off her stockings to inspect her heels.
02 In his hands, her feet are as light as birds.
01 “What is that noise?”
01 “Is it dark?”
01 “Getting there now.”
01 “Where will we sleep?”
01 “Are there beds?”
01 “No, ma cherie.”
01 “Where are we going, Papa?”
01 “The director has given me the address of someone who will help us.”
02 “A town called Evreux.
03 We are going to see a man named Monsieur Giannot.
04 He is a friend of the museum’s.”
01 “How far is Evreux?”
01 “It will take us two years of walking to get there.”
01 She seizes his forearm.
01 “I am teasing, Marie.
02 Evreux is not so far.
03 If we find transportation, we will be there tomorrow.
04 You will see.”
01 She manages to stay quiet for a dozen heart beats.
02 Then she says, “But for now?”
01 “For now we will sleep.”
01 “With no beds?”
01 “With the grass as our beds.
02 You might like it.”
01 “In Evreux we will have beds, Papa?”
01 “I expect so.”
01 “What if he does not want us to stay there?”
01 “He will want us.”
01 “What if he does not?”
01 “Then we will go visit my uncle.
02 Your great uncle.
03 In Saint-Malo.”
01 “Uncle Etienne?
02 You said he was crazy.”
01 “He is partially crazy, yes.
02 He is maybe seventy-six percent crazy.”
01 She does not laugh.
02 “How far is Saint-Malo?”
01 “Enough questions, Marie.
02 Monsieur Giannot will want us to stay in Evreux.
03 In big, soft beds.”
01 “How much food do we have, Papa?”
02 Are you still hungry?”
01 “I’m not hungry.
02 I want to save the food.”
02 Let’s save the food.
03 Let’s be quiet now and rest.”
01 She lies back.
02 He lights another cigarette.
03 Six to go.
04 Bats dive and swoop through clouds of gnats, and the insects scatter and re-form once more.
05 We are mice, he thinks, and the sky swirls with hawks.
01 “You are very brave, Marie-Laure.”
01 The girl has already fallen asleep.
02 The night darkens.
03 When his cigarette is gone, he eases Marie-Laure’s feet to the ground and covers her with her coat and opens the rucksack.
04 By touch, he finds his case filled with woodworking tools.
05 Tiny saws, tacks, gouges, carving chisels, fine-gritted sandpapers.
06 Many of these tools were his grandfather’s.
07 From beneath the lining of the case, he withdraws a small bag made of heavy linen and cinched with a drawstring.
08 All day he has restrained himself from checking on it.
09 Now he opens the bag and upends its contents onto his palm.
01 In his hand, the stone is about the size of a chestnut.
02 Even at this late hour, in the quarter-light, it glows a majestic blue.
03 Strangely cold.
01 The director said there would be three decoys.
02 Added to the real diamond, that makes four.
03 One would stay behind at the museum.
01 Three others would be sent in three different directions.
02 One south with a young geologist.
03 Another north with the chief of security.
04 And one is here, in a field west of Versailles, inside the tool case of Daniel Le Blanc, principal locksmith for the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle.
01 Three fakes.
02 One real.
03 It is best, the director said, that no man knows whether he carries the real diamond or a reproduction.
04 And everyone, he said, giving them each a grave look, should behave as if he carries the real thing.
01 The locksmith tells himself that the diamond he carries is not real.
02 There is no way the director would knowingly give a tradesman a one-hundred-and-thirsty-three-carat diamond and let him walk out of Paris with it.
03 And yet as he stares at it, he cannot keep his thoughts from the question: Could it be?
01 He scans the field.
02 Trees, sky, hay.
03 Darkness falling like velvet.
04 Already a few pale stars.
05 Marie-Laure breathes the measured breath of sleep.
06 Everyone should behave as he carries the real thing.
06 The locksmith reties the stone inside the bag and slips it back into the rucksack.
07 He can feel its tiny weight there, as though he has slipped it inside his own mind: a knot.
01 Hours later, he wakes to see the silhouette of an airplane blot stars as it hurtles east.
01 It makes a soft tearing sound as it passes overhead.
02 Then it disappears.
03 The ground concusses a moment later.
01 A corner of the night sky, beyond a wall of trees, blooms red.
02 In the lurid, flickering light, he sees that the airplane was not alone, that the sky teems with them, a dozen swooping back and forth, racing in all directions, and in a moment of disorientation, he feels that he’s looking not up but down, as though a spotlight has been shined into a wedge of bloodshot water, and the sky has become the sea, and the airplanes are hungry fish, harrying their prey in the dark.
8 AUGUST 1944
01 Doors soar away from their frames.
02 Bricks transmute into powder.
03 Great distending clouds of chalk and earth and granite spout into the sky.
04 All twelve bombers have already turned and climbed and realigned high above the Channel before roof slates blown into the air finish falling into the streets.
01 Flames scamper up walls.
02 Parked automobiles catch fire, as do curtains and lampshades and sofas and mattresses and most of the twenty thousand volumes in the public library.
03 The fires pool and strut; they flow up the sides of the ramparts like tides; they splash into alleys, over rooftops, through a carpark.
04 Smoke chases dust; ash chases smoke.
05 A newsstand floats, burning.
01 From cellars and crypts throughout the city, Malouins send up oaths: Load God safeguard this town its people don’t overlook us in your name please amen.
02 Old men clutch hurricane lamps; children shriek; dogs yowl.
03 In an instant, four-hundred-year-old beams in row houses are ablaze.
01 One section of the old city, tucked against the western walls, becomes a firestorm in which the spires of flames, at their highest, reach three hundred feet.
02 The appetite for oxygen is such that objects heavier than housecats are dragged into the flames.
03 Shop signs swing toward the heat from their brackets; a potted hedge comes sliding across the rubble and capsizes.
04 Swifts, flushed from chimneys, catch fire and swoop like blown sparks out over the ramparts and extinguish themselves in the sea.
01 On the rue de la Crosse, the Hotel of Bees becomes almost weightless for a moment, lifted in a spiral of flame, before it begins to rain in pieces back to the earth.
NUMBER 4 RUE VAUBOREL … 8 AUGUST 1944
01 Marie-Laure curls into a ball beneath her bed with the stone in her left fist and the little house in her right.
02 Nails in the timbers shriek and sigh.
03 Bits of plaster and brick and glass cascade onto the floor, onto the model city on the table, and onto the mattress above her head.
01 “Papa Papa Papa Papa,” Marie-Laure is saying, but her body seems to have detached itself from her voice, and her words make a faraway, desolate cadence.
02 The notion occurs to her that the ground beneath Saint-Malo has been knitted together all along by the root structure of an immense tree, located at the center of the city, in a square no one ever walked her too, and the massive tree has been uprooted by the hand of God and the granite is coming with it, heaps and clumps and clods of stones pulling away as the trunk comes up, followed by the fat tendrils of roots ― the root structure like another tree turned upside down and shoved into the soil, isn’t that how Dr. Gefard might have described it? ― the ramparts crumbling, streets leaking away, block-long mansions falling like toys.
01 Slowly, gratefully, the world settles.
02 From outside comes a light tinkling, fragments of glass, perhaps, falling into the streets.
03 It sounds both beautiful and strange, as though gemstones were raining from the sky.
01 Wherever her great-uncle is, could he have survived this?
01 Could anyone?
01 Has she?
01 The house creaks, drips, groans.
02 Then comes a sound like wind in tall grass, only hungrier.
03 It pulls at the curtains, at the delicate parts inside her ears.
01 She smells smoke and knows.
03 The glass has shattered out of her bedroom window, and what she hears is the sound of something burning beyond the shutters.
04 Something huge.
05 The neighborhood.
06 The entire town.
01 The wall, floor, and underside of her bed remain cool.
02 The house is not yet in flames.
03 But for how long?
01 Calm yourself, she thinks.
02 Concentrate on filling your lungs, draining them.
03 Filling them again.
04 She stays under her bed.
05 She says, “Ce n’est pas la realite.”
HOTEL OF BEES … 8 AUGUST 1944
01 What does he remember?
02 He saw the engineer Bernt close the cellar door and sit on the stairs.
03 He saw gigantic Frank Volkheimer, in the golden armchair, pick at something on his trousers.
04 Then the ceiling bulb blinked out and Volkheimer switched on his field light and a roar leaped down upon them, a sound so loud it was like a weapon itself, consuming everything, quaking the very crust of the earth, and for an instance all Werner could see was Volkheimer’s light go skittering away like a frightened beetle.
01 They were thrown.
02 For an instant or an hour or a day ― who could guess how long? ― Werner was back in Zollverein, standing above a grave a miner had dug for two mules at the edge of a field, and it was winter and Werner was no older than five, and the skin of the mules had grown nearly translucent, so that their borns were hazily visible inside, and little clods of dirt were stuck to their open eyes, and he was hungry enough to wonder if there was anything left on them worth eating.
01 He heard the blade of a shovel strike pebbles.
01 He heard his sister inhale.
01 Then, as though some retaining cord had reached its limit, something yanked him back into the cellar beneath the Hotel of Bees.
01 The floor has stopped shaking, but the sound has not diminished.
02 He clamps his palm to his right ear.
03 The roar remains, the buzzing of a thousand bees, very close.
01 “Is there noise?” he asks, but cannot hear himself ask it.
02 The left side of his face is wet.
03 The headphones he was wearing are gone.
04 Where is the workbench, where is the radio, what are these weights of top of him?
01 From his shoulders, chest, and hair, he plucks hot pieces of stones and wood.
02 Find the field of light, check on the others, check on the radio.
03 Check on the exit.
04 Figure out what has gone wrong with his hearing.
05 These are the rational steps.
06 He tries to sit up, but the ceiling has become lower, and he strikes his head.
02 Getting hotter.
03 He thinks: We are locked inside a box, and the box has been pitched into the mouth of a volcano.
01 Seconds pass.
02 Maybe they are minutes.
03 Werner stays on his knees.
05 Then the others.
06 Then the exit.
07 Then his hearing.
08 Probably the Luftwaffe men upstairs are already scrabbling through wreckage to help.
01 But he cannot find his field light.
02 He cannot even stand up.
01 In the absolute blackness, his vision is webbed with a thousand traveling wisps of red and blue.
04 They lick along the floor, then rise to the ceiling, glowing strangely, serenely.
05 “Are we dead?” he shouts into the dark.
06 “Have we died?”
DOWN SIX FLIGHTS … 8 AUGUST 1944
01 The roar of the bombers has hardly faded when an artillery shell whistles over the house and makes a dull crash as it explodes not far away.
02 Objects patter onto the roof ― shell fragments? cinders? ― and Marie-Laure says aloud, “You are too high in the house,” and forces herself out from beneath her bed.
03 Already she has lingered too long.
04 She returns the stone inside the model house and restores the wooden panels that make up its roof and twists the chimney back into place and puts the house into the pocket of her dress.
01 Where are her shoes?
02 She crawls around the floor, but her fingers feel only bits of wood and what might be shards of window glass.
03 She finds her cane and goes in her stocking feet out the door and down the hall.
04 The smell of smoke is stronger out here.
05 The floor still cool, walls still cool.
06 She relieves herself in the sixth-floor toilet and checks her instinct to flash, knowing the toilet will not refill, and double-checks the air to make sure it does not feel warm before continuing.
01 Six paces to the stairwell.
02 A second shell screeches overhead, and Marie-Laure shrieks, and the chandelier above her head chimes as the shell detonates somewhere deeper in the city.
01 Rain of bricks, rain of pebbles, slower rain of soot.
02 Eight curving stairs to the bottom; the second and fifth steps creak.
03 Pivot around the newel, eight more stairs.
04 Fourth floor.
06 Here she checks the trap wire her great-uncle built beneath the telephone table on the landing.
07 The bell is suspended and the wire remains taut, running vertically through the hole he has drilled in the wall.
07 No one has come or gone.
01 Eight paces down the hall into the third floor bathroom.
02 The bathtub is full.
03 Things float in it, flakes of ceiling plaster, maybe, and there’s grit on the floor beneath her knees, but she puts her lips to its surface and drinks her fill.
04 As much as she can.
01 Back to the stairwell and down to the second floor.
02 Then the first: grapevines carved into the banister.
03 The coatrack has toppled over.
04 Fragments of something sharp are in the hall ― crockery, she decides, from the hutch in the dining room ― and she steps as lightly as she can.
01 Down here, some of the windows must have blown out as well: she smells more smoke.
02 Her great-uncle’s wool coat hangs from the hook in the foyer; she puts it on.
01 No sign of her shoes here either ― what has she done with them?
02 The kitchen is a welter of fallen shelves and pots.
03 A cookbook lies facedown in her path like a shotgunned bird.
04 In the cupboard, she finds a half-loaf of bread, what’s left from the day before.
01 Here, in the center of the floor, the cellar door with its metal ring.
02 She slides aside the small dining table and heaves open the hatch.
01 Home of mice and damp and the stink of stranded shellfish, as if a huge tide swept in decades ago and took its time draining away.
02 Marie-Laure hesitates over the open door, smelling the fires from outside and the clammy, almost opposite smell washing up from the bottom.
03 Smoke: her great-uncle says it is a suspension of particles, billions of drifting carbon molecules.
04 Bits of living rooms, cafes, trees.
01 The third artillery shell screams toward the city from the east.
02 Again Marie-Laure feels for the model house in the pocket of her dress.
03 Then she takes the bread and her cane and starts down the ladder and pulls the trapdoor shut.
TRAPPED … 8 AUGUST 1944
01 A light emerges, a light not kindled, Werner prays, by his own imagination: an amber beam wandering the dust.
02 It shuttles across debris, illuminates a fallen hunk of wall, lights up a twisted piece of shelving.
03 It roves over a pair of metal cabinets that have been warped and mauled as if a giant hand has reached down and torn each in half.
04 It shines on spilled toolboxes and broken pegboards and a dozen unbroken jars full of screws and nails.
02 He has his field light and is swinging its beam repeatedly over a welter of compacted wreckage in the far corner ― stones and cement and splintered wood.
03 It takes Werner a moment to realize that this is the stairwell.
01 What is left of the stairwell?
01 The whole corner of the cellar is gone.
02 The light hovers there another moment, as if allowing Werner to absorb their situation, then veers to the right and wobbles toward something nearby, and in the reflected light, through skeins of dust, Werner can see the huge silhouette of Volkhaimer ducking and stumbling as he moves between hanging rebar and pipes.
03 Finally the light settles.
04 With the flashlight in his mouth, in those granular, high-slung shadows, Volkheimer lifts pieces of brick and mortar and plaster, chunk after chunk, shredded boards and slabs of stucco ― there is something beneath all of this, Werner sees, buried under these heavy things, a form coming into shape.
01 The engineer.
01 Bernd’s face is white with dust, but his eyes are two voids and his mouth is maroon hole.
02 Though Bernd is screaming, through the serrated roar lodged in his ears, Werner cannot hear him.
03 Volkheimer lifts the engineer ― the older man like a child in the staff sergeant’s arms, the field light gripped in Volkheimer’s teeth ― and crosses the ruined space with him, ducking again to avoid the hanging ceiling, and sets him in the golden armchair still upright in the corner, now powdered white.
01 Volkheimer puts his big hand on Bernd’s jaw and gently closes the man’s mouth.
02 Werner, only a few feet away, hears no change in the air.
01 The structure around them gives off another tremor, and hot dust cascades everywhere.
01 Soon Volkheimer’s light is making a circuit of what is left of the roof.
01 Three huge wooden beams have cracked, but none has given way entirely.
02 Between them the stucco is spiderwebbed, and pipes poke through in two places.
03 The light veers behind him and illuminates the capsized workbench, the crushed case of their radio.
04 Finally it finds Werner.
05 He raises a palm to block it.
01 Volkheimer approaches; his big solicitous face presses close.
02 Broad, familiar, deep-sunk eyes beneath the helmet.
03 High cheekbones and long nose, flared at the tip like the knobs at the bottom of a femur.
04 Chin like a continent.
05 With slow care, Volkheimer touches Werner’s cheek.
06 His fingertip comes away red.
01 Werner says, “We have to get out.
02 We have to find another way out.”
01 Out? say Volkheimer’s lips.
02 He shakes his head.
03 There is no other way out.