Authors: Ruta Sepetys
I’ve never been happy about sending an Ambassador to Spain, and I am not happy about it now, and unless Franco changes in his treatment of citizens who do not agree with him religiously I’ll be sorely tempted to break off all communication with him in spite of the defense of Europe.
, 33rd president of the United States
August 2, 1951
Memorandum from Truman to Secretary of State Dean Acheson
Acheson Papers—Secretary of State File
Truman Library Archives
They stand in line for blood.
June’s early sun blooms across a string of women waiting patiently at
. Fans snap open and flutter, replying to Madrid’s warmth and the scent of open flesh wafting from the slaughterhouse.
The blood will be used for
, blood sausage. It must be measured with care. Too much blood and the sausage is not firm. Too little and the sausage crumbles like dry earth.
Rafael wipes the blade on his apron, his mind miles from
. He turns slowly from the line of customers and puts his face to the sky.
In his mind it is Sunday. The hands of the clock touch six.
It is time.
The trumpet sounds and the march of the
rolls through the arena.
Rafael steps onto the sand, into the sun.
He is ready to meet Fear.
In the center box of the bullring sits Spain’s dictator, Generalísimo Francisco Franco. They call him
—leader of armies, hero by the grace of God. Franco looks down to the ring. Their eyes meet.
You don’t know me, Generalísimo, but I know you.
I am Rafael Torres Moreno, and today, I am not afraid.
The supervisor swats the back of Rafael’s damp neck. “Are you
blind? There’s a line. Stop daydreaming. The blood, Rafa. Give them their blood.”
Rafa nods, walking toward the patrons. His visions of the bullring quickly disappear.
Give them their blood.
Memories of war tap at his brain. The small, taunting voice returns, choking daydreams into nightmares.
You do remember, don’t you, Rafa?
The silhouette is unmistakable.
Patent-leather men with patent-leather souls.
The Guardia Civil. He secretly calls them the Crows. They are servants of Generalísimo Franco and they have appeared on the street.
“Please. Not here,” whispers Rafael from his hiding spot beneath the trees.
The wail of a toddler echoes above. He looks up and sees Julia at the open window, holding their youngest sister, Ana.
Their father’s voice booms from inside. “Julia, close the window! Lock the door and wait for your mother. Where is Rafa?”
“Here, Papá,” whispers Rafael, his small legs folded in hiding. “I’m right here.”
His father appears at the door. The Crows appear at the curb.
The shot rings out. A flash explodes. Julia screams from above.
Rafa’s body freezes. No breath. No air.
They drag his father’s limp corpse by an arm.
It’s too late. As the cry leaves his throat, Rafa realizes. He’s given himself away.
A pair of eyes dart. “His boy’s behind the tree. Grab him.”
Rafa blinks, blocking the painful memories, hiding his collapsed heart beneath a smile.
Buenos días, señora
. How may I help you?” he asks the customer.
Give them their blood.
For more than twenty years, Spain has given blood. And sometimes Rafa wonders—what is left to give?
It’s a lie.
It has to be.
I know what you’ve done.
Ana Torres Moreno stands two levels belowground, in the second servants’ basement. She rips the small note to pieces, shoves them in her mouth, and swallows.
A voice calls from the hall. “Hurry, Ana. They’re waiting.”
Dashing through the windowless maze of stone walls, Ana wills herself to move faster. Wills herself to smile.
A weak glow from a bare bulb whispers light onto the supply shelf. Ana spots the tiny sewing kit and throws it into her basket. She runs to the stairs and falls in step with Lorenza, who balances an assortment of cigarettes on a tray.
“You look pale,” whispers Lorenza.
“I’m fine,” replies Ana.
Always say you’re fine, especially when you’re not
, she reminds herself.
The mouth of the stairway appears. Light from a crystal chandelier twinkles and beckons from the glittering hall.
Their steps slow, synchronize, and in perfect unison they emerge onto the marble floor of the hotel lobby, faces full of smile. Ana scrolls her mental list. The man from New York will want a newspaper and matches. The woman from Pennsylvania will need more ice.
Americans love ice. Some claim to have trays of cubed ice in their
own kitchens. Maybe it’s possible. Ana sees advertisements for appliances in glossy magazines that hotel guests leave behind.
Frigidaire! Rustproof aluminum shelving, controlled butter-ready
Whatever that means. Beyond Spain, all is a mystery.
Ana hears every word, but guests would never know it. She scurries, filling requests quickly so visitors have no time to glance out of their world and into hers.
Julia, the matriarch of their fractured family, issues constant reminders. “You trust too easily, Ana. You reveal too much. Stay silent.”
Ana is tired of silence, tired of unanswered questions, and tired of secrets. A girl of patched pieces, she dreams of new beginnings. She dreams of leaving Spain. But her sister is right. Her dreams have proven dangerous.
I know what you’ve done.
“For once, follow the rules instead of your heart,” pleads her sister.
Follow the rules. To be invisible in plain view and paid handsomely for it—five
per hour—this is the plan. Her older brother, Rafael, works at both the slaughterhouse and the cemetery. Between two jobs he makes only twelve
, twenty cents according to the hotel’s exchange desk, for an entire day’s work.
Ana hands the sewing kit to the concierge and heads quickly for the staff elevator. The morning is gone, but her task list is growing. Summer season has officially arrived at the hotel, pouring thousands of new visitors into Spain. The elevator doors open to the seventh floor. Ana shifts the basket to her hip and hurries down the long corridor.
“Towels for 760,” whispers a supervisor who shuttles past.
“Towels for 760,” she confirms.
Four years old, but to Ana, the American hotel smells new. Tucked into her basket is a stack of hotel brochures featuring a handsome bullfighter, a matador, holding a red cape. In fancy script across the cape is written:
Castellana Hilton Madrid. Your Castle in Spain
Castles. She saw old postcards as a child. The haunting newsreel rolls behind her eyes:
The tree-lined avenue of Paseo de la Castellana—home to Spanish royalty and grand palaces. And then, the bright images fade. 1936. Civil war erupts in Spain. War drains color from the cheeks of Madrid. The grand palaces become gray ghosts. Gardens and fountains disappear. So do Ana’s parents. Hunger and isolation cast a filter of darkness over the country. Spain is curtained off from the world.
And now, after twenty years of nationwide atrophy, Generalísimo Franco is finally allowing tourists into Spain. Banks and hotels wrap new exteriors over old palace interiors. The tourists don’t know the difference. What lies beneath is now hidden, like the note disintegrating in her stomach.
Ana reads the newspapers and magazines that guests discard. She memorizes the brochure to recite on cue.
Formerly a palace, Castellana is the first Hilton property in Europe. Over three hundred rooms, each with a three-channel radio, and even a telephone.
“If you are assigned to a guest in a suite, you will see to their every request,” lectures her supervisor. “Remember, Americans are less formal than Spaniards. They’re accustomed to conversation. You will be warm, helpful, and conversational.”
, I’m always warm and conversational,” Lorenza whispers with a wink.
Ana wants to be conversational, but her sister’s call for silence contradicts hotel instruction. The constant tug in opposite directions makes her feel like a rag doll, destined to lose an arm.
A man in a crisp white shirt emerges from a door into the hallway.
Ana stops and gives a small bob.
“Buenos días, señor.”
Doll. Dame. Kitten. Baby
. American men have many terms for women. Just when Ana thinks she has learned them all, a new one appears. In her English class at the hotel, these words are called terms of endearment.
After what happened last year, Ana knows better.
American diplomats, actors, and musicians arrive amidst the swirling dust of Barajas Airport. They socialize and mingle into the pale hours of morning. Ana secretly notes their preferences. Starlets have favorite suites. Politicians have favorite starlets. Many are unaware of what transpired in Spain decades earlier. They sip cava, romanticizing Hemingway and flamenco. On rare occasion someone asks Ana about Spain’s war. She politely changes the subject. It’s not only hotel policy, but also the promise she made.
She will look to the future. The past must be forgotten.
Her father executed. Her mother imprisoned. Their crime was not an action, but an ambition—teachers who hoped to develop a Montessori school with methods based on child development rather than religion. But Generalísimo Franco commands that all schools in Spain shall be controlled by the Catholic Church. Republican sympathizers must be eradicated.
Her parents’ offense has left Ana rowing dark waters of dead secrets. Born into a long shadow of shame, she must never speak publicly of her parents. She must live in silence. But sometimes, from the hidden corners of her heart, calls the haunting question:
What can be built through silence?