The Fountains of Silence

The familiar pang of sadness thuds within Ana’s heart. Three hundred American dollars? That’s eighteen thousand pesetas. Eighteen thousand pesetas is more than the average Spaniard earns in five years. The cost of Daniel’s camera could move her entire family of five from their leaky hut in Vallecas to a decent apartment in Lavapiés, closer to the city center. The cost of the camera could eliminate the debts and threats that strangle her life. She thinks of the note she swallowed in the hotel basement. A shiver trills up her spine.

“Yeah, it’s probably too nice for me,” says Daniel. “It was a gift for my graduation. But really, my old camera was swell.” He removes a portfolio from his bag. “I took these with my old camera.”

Miguel slowly turns the pages of the album. “?Ave María Purísima!” He points to a picture.

“Sí,” says Daniel. “There was a tornado in Dallas last April. It obliterated sixteen miles and hundreds of homes.”

Ana stares at the massive, twisting tornado. It’s positively demonic, unholy. And he was in front of it. “Weren’t you terrified?” she breathes.

“I didn’t have time to think about it. I really wanted the shot,” says Daniel.

Miguel continues to page through. He stops on a photo of dozens of men in cowboy hats. They stand in the dark, one light overhead, hands raised in the air. Fatigue and sunburn line their weathered faces.

Ana peers at the photograph. “Who are they?”

“Braceros,” says Daniel, “manual laborers from Mexico working in Texas. At the end of the day they’re inspected and searched, to make sure they haven’t stolen anything.”

Miguel pauses, absorbing the image in front of him. “Qué duro,” he says quietly. Daniel nods in agreement. Rough.

“This is Texas?” asks Ana.

“Not all of it. Just part of it.” Daniel flips the portfolio forward several pages. “This is also Texas.”

Ana stares at the black-and-white photos. A parched landscape dotted with oil rigs, bathed in a sunset of fire. The photo is so evocative she can imagine the colors. He turns the page. A lavish garden party. Carpets of thick grass surround a swimming pool that sparkles like a suit of lights. Groups of glamorous people cocktail and make merry against the backdrop of a massive estate.

Miguel points to a young woman lying by the pool in a bikini. “She would be reprimanded in Spain.”

“My mother claims some should be reprimanded for wearing them in America,” says Daniel, laughing.

Ana eyes the picture. The woman looks beautiful, relaxed. There is nothing offensive about a bikini, but of course she could never say that aloud.

Miguel picks up the rolls of film that Daniel has set on the counter. “What’s your name, Americano?”

“Daniel Matheson.”

Miguel reaches over the counter to shake hands. “I’m Miguel Mendoza. You have a clear eye, Daniel. You see many angles.”

“Gracias, se?or. I had a great teacher at school. Those photos were part of a contest I entered. So maybe it’s not fair. I’m showing my best work.”

“Who knows,” says Miguel, holding up the two rolls of film. “Maybe this is your best work. They’ll be ready in a day or two.”

Their words are muffled noise to Ana. She stares at the photo of the Texas garden party, absorbing every detail. Tables of endless food. Cardigan sweaters, strings of pearls, the nice teeth, glowing faces, the vibrancy of freedom. Young girls and boys stand around a phonograph, holding record albums. Women are smoking. Dozens of carefree people—happy instead of lonely—oblivious to the camera. And then she sees it. In the corner of the frame, a beautiful girl with beckoning eyes stares straight into the lens. She looks like a movie star. She’s blowing a kiss to the photographer.

“I should return to the hotel,” says Ana. “I have to mend your mother’s blouse.”

“Sure,” says Daniel, sliding the portfolio into his bag. They bid goodbye to Miguel.

Ana rushes through the street, back to the Metro station. Daniel jogs to catch up. “Sorry about that,” he says. “I’m taking too much of your time. I’m sure you have a lot of work to do.”

Ana shakes her head. “My work is helping your family, se?or. The hotel has assigned me to you. And besides, I really like your pictures.” Ana’s steps slow. She turns on the sidewalk, looking up at Daniel. “May I ask you a favor, se?or?” She pauses, gathering strength. “The picture you took this morning in the elevator. Please don’t give my picture to anyone.”

His eyes are upon her as the hot breeze lifts her thick hair. “No, I would never share your photo without your permission. I’ll give it to you.”

Ana exhales relief. They resume their steps toward the Metro. After several yards, Daniel volleys back. “Ana, can I ask you a favor?”

“Of course, se?or. What is it?”

“Don’t call me ‘se?or.’ Call me Daniel.”

She pauses, waiting on the reluctant words as they rise to the surface. “I’m sorry, that’s impossible, se?or.”

Ana looks away, confident that concealing her face will conceal her truths.


Puri sits on the grass, wearing her black pinafore apron embroidered with a cluster of arrows. A little girl points. “Look, the arrows on your apron match the arrows on the building.”

“Very good!” Puri looks up to the familiar emblem etched into the exterior of the Inclusa.

The Inclusa spans three large stone buildings, positioned in a U-shape, with a plaza garden in the middle. Puri likes to mentally remove the exterior walls and imagine the Inclusa like a dollhouse. The lower floors house dining areas, administration offices, a medical wing, and learning rooms. The upper floors are divided into sections with the capacity to house five hundred children and a hundred mothers.

Puri looks to the basement windows at ground level. In the farthest corner of the basement is a private file library. The file room is locked, accessible only to the nuns and doctors. She can’t help but wonder—why is it always locked?

“?Toro!” yells a boy, racing by Puri.

Most children delight in being outdoors, anxious to run and jump. On sunny days, Puri and the mothers bring the children outside in shifts. The doctors advise that without adequate sun exposure the orphans may develop rickets, skeletal deformities that cause bones to soften and bow. Fortunately, medical care is rigorous at the Inclusa. But Puri hears some physicians lament that mortality rates of newborns in Spain are particularly high. Cases of polio increase each year.

“Other countries have a new vaccine for polio. Why aren’t we using it in Spain?” asked one of the young mothers.

“Maybe other countries need a vaccine. They don’t have the faith to pray it away,” replied Sister Hortensia. “The Holy Spirit will see to polio.”

Will it?

Puri wonders. She wonders so many things but is reprimanded for her questions.

When the radio broadcasts announce, “Spain is the chosen country of God,” does that mean that God has abandoned other countries? And if foreigners are indecent, why is Spain catering to them as tourists?

“Why must you question everything?” scolds her mother. “Have you no faith?”

She most certainly has faith, but she also has questions. Can’t she have both? Puri turns to watch a group of six-year-olds sitting under the silvery leaves of an olive tree. She worries about the older children. Newborn babies are the most desirable for adoption. It is more difficult to find homes for the older orphans. If the child’s parents or grandparents were known to be Spanish Republicans, those who opposed Franco during the war, then the child must be rehabilitated and reeducated as a rational human being. Puri heard one couple tell Sister Hortensia that they didn’t want a child who had been “circling the drain.” They said they wanted an infant—“a bright, fresh canvas.”

It made no sense to Puri. Shouldn’t the most vulnerable children be rescued first? When she asked her mother, even she agreed.

Puri knows all of the six-year-olds by name. Soon they will be gone. If a child reaches seven and is not adopted, they are taken out of the Inclusa and sent to separate boarding schools for boys and girls. The orphan girls receive more assistance. Puri hears that at the age of fourteen, a matchmaking process secures husbands for the girls.

“Isn’t fourteen young?” she once asked.

“Enough questions. One is never too young to honor their country,” replied Sister Hortensia.

Thankfully, the children ask as many questions as she does.

“Are the arrows on the building a scar? I have a scar,” says a boy, pointing to his arm.

“No, chico, that’s an etching on the building. Your scar is special. It’s warrior skin, very strong,” Puri assures the boy, rubbing his thin arm and wishing she could remove all of their scars.

To Puri, the children’s beauty certainly eclipses her own. Her frame is so much wider than her mother’s. Her brown hair is not shiny like other girls’, not nearly as pretty as her cousin Ana’s. It seems unfair that Ana and Julia received all of the family beauty. But she would not trade places with either of them. Their parents were Spanish Republicans. In school, Puri learned that Spanish Republicans killed many priests during the war. How could someone kill a priest or a nun?

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