Authors: Ruta Sepetys
Daniel reluctantly takes a chair in his parents’ suite. How could he be so stupid? Why didn’t he tell the guards he was staying at the Ritz? They could have followed him there and no one would have known. The guards must have better things to do than chaperone a kid with a camera. It’s not a big deal.
But if it’s not a big deal, why is he still sweating? The images flash constantly through his mind.
The gray baby. The nun’s face snapping toward the lens. Her look of shock as she scurried away. The sudden appearance of the guards.
Daniel stares at the camera in his lap. Thankfully, they didn’t notice the roll in his pocket. Will the image of the infant appear on film as it remains fixed in his mind?
Bringing the camera to his eye, he frames his broad-shouldered father against the small hotel desk. His dad looks up and shakes his head. The disappointment presses Daniel’s well-worn guilt button. Why can’t he find passion in oil drilling like his father? It would be so much easier.
His mother evaluates her dresses and clears the annoyance from her throat.
“It was an accident, Martin. Daniel didn’t know.”
“I’m getting tired of these ‘accidents,’ María. Two days before our trip he got into a fight at the movie theater.”
“I didn’t pick a fight, Dad. I was defending a friend,” says Daniel. He
defending a friend—while enjoying the opportunity to slug a longtime neighborhood bully.
“You’re mighty lucky the Dallas police let you off with a warning. You’re eighteen. You can be tried as an adult. And this?” His father opens his arms in query. “We’ve been in Madrid barely twenty-four hours, and the lobby manager tells me you were escorted back by the Guardia Civil?”
“I wish the valets wouldn’t have seen,” says his mother.
“I wish you hadn’t bought him that camera,” snaps his father.
“I wish you’d stop arguing,” says Daniel.
“We’re not arguing.” His mother sighs and turns to Daniel. “Your father and I, we have weeks of engagements and trips,
. I thought it would be exciting for you to explore on your own. But maybe it’s not safe. I no longer have family in Spain if something happens while we’re away. And now you’re so far from Laura Beth.”
He still hasn’t told his parents about the breakup. They’ll ask all sorts of questions. Daniel examines his camera, dodging the topic of Laura Beth and wishing he had photographed the pretty girl in his hotel room. “I’m sorry. It was a dumb mistake. I’m completely fine on my own. Really.”
He gives his mom an apologetic shrug. Recently, his mother’s tone has developed a tired edge. She’s the one who begged to return to Spain, but since arriving, she seems nervous. Daniel recognizes his mother’s reaction—it’s her fear of not fitting in.
María Alonso Moya Matheson was born in the Galicia region of Spain but raised as a Spanish American in Texas. In public, his mother is the wife of an oil magnate and appears completely American. She baked fund-raiser cakes for the Eisenhower campaign. She supports the Hockaday School and the Junior League, and is accepted by the socialites of Preston Hollow and Dallas at large. At home, his mom speaks to him only in Spanish. He is
, darling, or
, treasure. Many of their servants have Spanish heritage. His mother makes certain that Spanish food and customs are fixtures in his life.
“It’s difficult navigating two cultures,” she once told him. “I feel like a bookmark wedged between chapters. I live in America, but I am not born of it. I’m Spanish.”
His mom is thrilled that oil business has brought them to Spain. She wants to expose them to the country her late parents so adored. Pure Spain. Noble Spain. This is her plan.
His father snaps open his briefcase.
“I’m not here to bail you out of trouble, Dan. This isn’t a vacation for me. Franco will only grant drilling rights to a few American companies. I’ll tour the sites and close a deal before summer’s end.
the plan,” says his father. “Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” replies Daniel.
Daniel is freshly graduated from St. Mark’s School of Texas. In the fall he’ll enter Texas A&M University and following graduation he’ll join the family oil operation—his college tuition is contingent upon it.
Daniel’s thoughts return to the image of the dead baby; the photograph could anchor his portfolio submission. The cash award from the Magnum prize could easily pay for a year of journalism school instead of Texas A&M.
“We’re invited to a dinner reception at the Van Dorns’,” says his father. “They have a son your age and he’s back from boarding school in Switzerland.”
“The Van Dorns. Diplomats from Oyster Bay, the Long Island set,” says his mother. “Several of these prestigious families have posts in the U.S. Embassy. Daniel,
, please wear slacks and a tie. I wish you wouldn’t wear those denims all the time. You look like a ranch hand.” She grimaces. “Is your sleeve torn?”
Daniel quickly examines his shirt. “Oh, must have caught it on something.”
The guards took his film
tore his sleeve? If that’s how they treat tourists, how do they treat locals? He heads toward the door.
His mother gently takes his arm. “I saw they have postcards in the lobby. Make sure to mail a card to Laura Beth each day. Her family will expect that.”
He exits the room with his camera, unwilling to cause a scene.
No need to worry his mother with the truth about Laura Beth.
Puerta del Sol. The heartbeat of Madrid.
Evening gathers tourists and locals who linger near the fountains and stairs to the Metro. The words
glow green from the
sign atop a building, throwing an eerie radiance into the paling sky.
Ana walks down the narrow cobblestone street. The swallowed note is gone, but a taste remains.
I know what you’ve done.
She looks over her shoulder before slipping through the unmarked door. At the bottom of the darkened stairway, a soft light pulses beneath the entry. She pauses to listen, then pushes through the door.
A rainbow of color bursts with greeting. Glistening bolts of silk and satin climb from the floor to the ceiling. Shimmering fabrics in sea blue, deep amethyst, and gleaming gold cascade across worn countertops. Sketches and patterns are pinned across the walls. Three women sit at tables while two others work heavy material through machines.
Ana bends to retrieve a small pearl from the floor. In this snug space, ceremony is created. The beautiful fabrics and jewels are not for party dresses or wedding gowns. They are created and used for one person only.
. The matador.
Traje de luces
. Suit of lights. Named because the gemstones and beads sewn onto the fabric reflect and sparkle as if operated by a hidden
switch. One suit is composed of countless pieces, taking months to construct, each detail completed by a different person. One woman specializes in pants, another in capes, and yet others in complicated threadwork. Her sister’s specialty—beading and gemstones.
Like her brother, Rafa, Ana’s cousin Puri loves the bullfighters. But Ana loves the bulls. She detests bullfights. Divided family loyalties are common, yet unspoken.
The workshop, generally full of chatter, is now devoid of voices. This means that Luis, the master tailor and owner of the shop, fits a matador in the next room.
Ana’s sister, Julia, sits on a wooden chair in the corner. A lamp rings a halo of quiet light into her lap. She pushes a needle through the rigid seven-layer fabric, sewing one of hundreds of sapphire gemstones onto a cropped jacket.
Julia’s fingers are silent narrators, embroidered with scars. Ana pulls an empty chair to her sister’s side. She retrieves a small pair of pliers from a nearby table and sets a hand on her shoulder.
“Finish with these,” whispers Ana. “Your hands, they’ll bleed soon.”
Julia nods gratefully, accepting the pliers to grip the needle.
Ana motions with her head toward the fitting room. Which bullfighter stands behind the door?
“Ordóñez,” Julia whispers.
Ana looks to her sister. Julia’s face, thirsty of color, needs rest and sun. Julia has a new baby girl, just four months old. The baby is not yet strong. Neither is Julia. She clings desperately to the child, and together they cry through the nights.
Fascist doctrine states that a woman’s ultimate destiny is marriage, motherhood, and domesticity. For poor families, like theirs, hunger turns a blind eye to mandates. Many women from impoverished families take positions of manual labor.
But Julia is special. Her talent as a seamstress affords her the opportunity to work in a shop. Luis needs Julia’s skills to please his matadors. Julia needs the wages to feed her family and pay their debts.
“We must pool our earnings,” reminds Julia’s husband, Antonio. “All wages and coins shall be deposited into this old cigar box.”
To move from impoverished Vallecas to a small flat in Lavapiés—this is the plan. Julia rations and counts everything, pinching every last
. For now, four adults and a newborn baby share a dark, single room. But they are together. Which is what their mother wanted.
Ana has no memory of the war, but she remembers the tears of separation after her parents disappeared. She remembers crying desperately the day she left Zaragoza to be raised by her aunt and uncle in Madrid. Though her aunt and uncle have a daughter of their own, her cousin Puri is different. Obedient. Puri is free of heartache and shame. Free of secrets. Ana envies her.
“How was your palace today?” Julia asks.
Lies and threats. But don’t worry, I swallowed them
“The same. Ice and more ice,” says Ana with a laugh. She tries to redirect the conversation. “I’ll be on the seventh floor for the summer. I’m assigned to a very wealthy family, staying through August. They have a son about my age.”
“He’s from Texas,” says Ana. “He has American magazines.”
Julia’s expression shifts from fatigue to fear. “That hotel is not real life, Ana. Not for people like us.”
“Julia, it seems unbelievable to us, but for them it’s real life!” says Ana. “American women drive their own cars and fly around the world on airplanes. It’s not considered sinful. They don’t need
. They can seek employment, open a bank account, and travel without their husband’s permission.”
Julia glances over her shoulder before whispering, “Ana, please
stop picking through trash in the hotel rooms. Stop reading those books and magazines! You know very well that the content is banned in Spain. This is not America.”
Julia is right. In Spain, women must adhere to strict subordinate roles in the domestic arts. Ana remembers the teachings of the
: “Do not pretend to be equal to men.” They also teach that purity is absolute. Women’s bathing suits must reach the knees. If a girl is discovered in a movie theater with a boy but no chaperone, her family is sent a yellow card of prostitution.
Julia’s brow buckles as she reaches for Ana’s hand. Even her whisper is unsteady. “The world at the hotel is a fairy tale. I’m sorry, Ana, but that is not our world. Please remember that. Be careful who you speak to.”
“It’s my job to be conversational,” says Ana.
“And that’s fine, as long as it’s a one-way conversation. You may ask questions but try not to answer any.”
That might work. Guests enjoy talking about themselves. As long as she reveals little about her own life, there’s no need for concern. Her stomach turns, digesting the note.
“Ana, is something wrong?” asks Julia.
“No.” She smiles. “Nothing at all.”