The Fountains of Silence

Please hold her. She likes to be held.

Baby will not eat. Cries constantly.

God forgive me.

* * *

In addition to the children with and without data, there are new mothers at the Inclusa. The orphanage provides shelter for destitute mothers and their newborns. The women serve as wet nurses for the other infants.

Sister Hortensia says a priest from San Sebastián is coming for Clover. He will deliver her to adoptive parents. She will live along the glistening shores of the bay under the beautiful new statue of Jesus looking down from Mount Urgull. A lucky girl indeed.

Puri walks through the rows of ruffled bassinets. Dozens of babies, all under a year old. This is her favorite part of the job. Auxilio Social, Spain’s social aid program, provides humanitarian relief—giving special attention to widows, orphans, and the poor. It is the duty of every good Spaniard to help those in need.

Puri longs to be a good Spaniard, to support the noble country El Caudillo fought so hard to build. Her work at the Inclusa will prepare her for her ultimate destiny of motherhood. She loves the babies and they return her love. The doctors at the Inclusa advise that infants without physical bond or affection seem to progress more slowly. Puri’s job is to interact with the babies. To rescue innocent children and give them a future—yes, she will be a good Spaniard.

Beyond the window, the sky darkens. Puri has stayed too long with the babies today. She hangs her pinafore apron on the hook and makes her way to the receiving office to collect her purse.

Puri’s eyes land on the square opening in the wall near the door.

The box, it’s called el torno.

Outside, on the busy street, is a private, walled entry to the Inclusa so visitors may access the torno without being seen. The door to the square hatch in the wall is opened and the infant placed on a large plate wheel. When the wheel is turned, the child spins from the outside wall to the inside of the receiving office. When the door to the torno closes, the child becomes an orphan.

This is the standard process Puri is familiar with, unless a nun or doctor brings an infant in through the back door. Like Clover.

Puri once asked about the backdoor arrivals, but was reprimanded. “Being nosy is a sin. Don’t ask so many questions.” She wasn’t being nosy, just curious. There’s a difference. But her mother also says curiosity is a sin.

Puri exits the building. She still has plenty of time. The portales, the large cast-iron gates of the apartment buildings, aren’t locked in Madrid until ten thirty. After ten thirty, you must give three quick claps of the hands, calling into the darkness for el sereno, the night watchman.

Puri has never called for el sereno. She is never out late. She stays in, reading about her bullfighters in the newspaper clippings.

“?Espere!” A woman on the sidewalk rushes to Puri. “Please, please tell me.” She clutches Puri’s sleeve.

“Se?ora, what is the matter?”

“My baby,” the woman whispers. “They sent my baby for baptism. That was two days ago. I’m still waiting. Have you seen him?”

The woman’s grip tightens on Puri’s arm. Puri tries to pull away.

“Where is my baby? Is he inside?” pleads the woman.

“Of course not,” replies Puri. “This is an orphanage.”

Sister Hortensia appears in the front window.

“Come, why don’t you speak to Sister,” suggests Puri.

The woman quickly recoils and flees down the dark sidewalk.

Poor thing, thinks Puri. She’s gone mad.


The table stretches the length of the entire dining room. As each course passes, the volume level grows. Twenty faces, illuminated by candles, shift and sway as they talk, creating patterns of light on the plaster ceiling. Summer homes, college alma maters, and who knows whom—each guest chatting, loading their side of the scale.

Ben Stahl, seated next to Daniel, sips his scotch and watches the guests intently. He leans in, his cigarette dangerously close to Daniel’s sleeve.

“All right, newsboy. Give me one word. What do you see here?”

Daniel hesitates, pulling at the noose of his tie.

“Quick, what do you see?”

“Competition,” says Daniel.

“Exactly!” Ben waves in agreement and, in the process, flings ash onto his plate. “A long, dark hallway of fragile egos. Come on, another word.”

Daniel scans the guests. “Wealth?”

“Yeah, wealth, but that’s not exactly on the nose. For accurate reporting you have to find the perfect word. The perfect word captures every subtlety. The perfect word shows true comprehension.”

Ben’s hand punches syllables when he says “perfect word,” launching ash confetti to the tablecloth. Daniel stares at the glowing embers as they burn through the expensive fabric. He desperately wants to capture it on film.

“Are you listening, Matheson?”

“Yes, sorry. The perfect word.”

“Correct. The word here isn’t ‘wealth,’ Matheson. The word is ‘fortune.’ Think on that as you’re taking pictures in Spain.” Ben pushes his chair back. “I need to find a litter box.”

Ben is right. The perfect word is like the perfect camera angle; it expresses the true nature of the situation. Change the camera position slightly and the picture tells tales. Daniel thinks of the photo he took of the nun and the baby. Maybe he should mention it to Ben.

Across the table, Daniel’s mother is seated next to Mrs. Van Dorn. Their faces are animated, but they speak in whispers. His mother suddenly looks into her lap. She inhales deeply.

Daniel recognizes his mother’s wearied look, her bookmark between chapters. She’s trying to hide it from Nick’s mom. He turns to Nick and searches for conversation.

“Do you have any siblings?”

“A sister. She’s in New York. My mom leaves tomorrow to visit her.”

“And your school in Switzerland. What’s that like?”

“Le Rosey? It’s better than a tired boarding school in the States. We spend weekends traveling. Lots to take pictures of. Plenty of visits to Madame Claude off the Champs, you know?”

“No, who’s that?”

Nick laughs. “Do you have a girl back in Dallas?”

“I did,” he says, eyeing his mother to make certain she can’t hear them. “It ended just before graduation.”

“Well, that’s lucky. Now you’re single in Madrid for the summer. Tell your dad you need to rent a car from the hotel. My family’s car is a diplomatic vehicle, so we can’t use that. But with our own car and your connections,” a sly grin spreads across Nick’s face, “we’ll have a big time.”

“My connections?”

“Of course. It’s all about connections, cowboy. Your father’s an oil tycoon, negotiating drilling in Spain. Who do you think is authorizing that deal?”

Daniel nods just slightly.

“That’s right. Franco. Sounds like your father’s an influential fat cat. My dad said the embassy is processing your family’s paperwork for the orphanage deal.”

Daniel looks at Nick.

“Wait, you knew, right?” says Nick.

Daniel nods slowly. “Yeah. Of course.”


Midday noise floats up from the street and through the balcony door of Daniel’s room. Bands of sunshine wash over the chair where he sits with a book.


“You’re the only child, Dan. The family business needs you,” his uncle had told him. But if their only child has no interest in the family business, they wouldn’t adopt another, would they? Daniel laughs. No, that’s ridiculous. Nick misunderstood. How would he know anything, anyway? But it pecks at him. It’s an oil deal, not an orphanage deal. Isn’t it?

A light tapping sounds at the entry to his suite. Daniel leaves his chair and pulls open the door. It’s the girl from the housekeeping staff who was in his room yesterday.

“Buenos días, se?or.” She smiles sweetly. “Your mother has sent for you.”

The blink of gold on her tooth matches the buttons on her sleeves. She is energetic yet graceful, with spirals of pretty, dark hair. He tucks the book under his arm and follows her down the hall.

“What’s your name?” he asks.

“Ana,” she says, glancing over her shoulder.

Her eyes are pretty too. He thinks of his camera.

“Something good?” Ana points to the book.

Daniel holds it up and nods. Robert Capa. Slightly Out of Focus.

Daniel’s mother sits at the desk, compiling a list on a hotel notepad. “Your father’s meeting has been changed, cari?o. We’re leaving tonight for Valencia. Would you rather stay here?” Without pausing for an answer, she points to a blouse on the bed and addresses Ana.

“A button fell off. Is there a chance you could mend it?”

“Of course, Se?ora Matheson.” Ana moves to inspect the blouse.

“Remind me of your name, dear?”

“It’s Ana,” says Daniel.

“I’m expecting a telegram. Can you see that I’m contacted as soon as it arrives, Ana?”

“Of course, se?ora.”

“Also, I’d like to take a gift to our dinner hosts in Valencia. Is there something lovely I could bring?”

Ana hesitates, thinking. “Perhaps candies from La Violeta? They are quite adored.”

previous 1.. 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 ..68 next