Read The Fountains of Silence Online

Authors: Ruta Sepetys

The Fountains of Silence (6 page)

BOOK: The Fountains of Silence

The life of every woman, despite what she may pretend, is nothing but a continuous desire to find somebody to whom she can succumb.

, 1944

Throughout her life, a woman’s mission is to serve others. When God made the first man, he thought: It is not good for man to be alone. And he made the woman, to help him and keep him company, and to be used as a mother. God’s first idea was “man.” He thought about the woman later, as a necessary complement, that is, as something useful.

(textbook), 1962


Daniel stands in the elegant parlor of the Madrid villa. Tall glass doors ornamented with flowering wrought iron stand open to the terrace and gardens below. The hands on the marbled clock approach nine. Dinner has yet to be served. Daniel looks through the viewfinder of his camera. His eyes scan the intricate inlay of the wood floor, the nineteenth-century furniture, and the exquisite handwoven carpets. His lens lands on Nicholas Van Dorn, the diplomat’s son who greeted them upon arrival.

Through the crosshairs of the viewfinder, Daniel sees his parents were right; they’re close in age. Nick Van Dorn has a suntan, slick blond hair, and quick brown eyes. He wears a blazer, pressed slacks, and expensive new loafers. His socks have the diamond pattern his mother loves. She says they’re “argyle.” His dad calls them “sissy socks.” The viewfinder stops on Nick’s hand holding a glass. Scabbed knuckles. A brawl? Interesting. The grated knuckles seem to contradict the rest of his appearance. Daniel snaps a picture.

“My friend hates being a diplomat’s kid. I enjoy it. I get bored being in one place too long.” Nick’s gaze lands on the lens. “Hey, Dan, I’ll show you a good spot for photos.”

Nicholas leads Daniel away from the guests onto the tiled back terrace of his parents’ villa. He gestures to Daniel’s camera and then to the landscape. Illuminated fan palms cast fingered shadows that creep toward a glistening fountain. But manicured trees don’t interest Daniel. People do. They are living, breathing landscapes. When captured at the right moment, truth reveals itself to the camera.

“Your father works for the embassy?”

Nick nods. “He’s the U.S. public affairs officer. Madrid’s a good post. There’s a lot to do here. Great nightlife and wine is cheaper than water.” Nick sips from his glass.

A servant with white gloves is suddenly at hand, passing a tray of olives cured in garlic. He disappears in the manner he appeared. Silently.

“And outside Madrid?” Daniel asks.

“Still pretty impoverished. That’s why so many have poured into the city. It was brutal after the civil war. But things are looking up now. Spain allowed the Americans to build military bases here. But you probably know that. Your mom’s Spanish, yeah?”

“Born here, but she’s spent her life in the States.”

Their conversation is interrupted by the appearance of Nick’s father. White linen summer suit, pale blue tie, clean shave. He looks as if he’s stepped out of a men’s clothing catalog. “And you must be Daniel Matheson,” he says, releasing a rehearsed smile full of warmth. Balancing a cigarette and cocktail in one hand, he extends the other for a handshake. “Shep Van Dorn. Welcome to Madrid.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Shep inhales deeply on his cigarette, looking at Daniel. Daniel notes the subtle appraisal, the perfect smile, the glow of a politician.

“That’s a serious camera you have there, Dan. Is that the new Nikon? You must take some interesting shots. Your father tells me you’ve already had a run-in with the authorities.”

As public affairs officer, Shephard Van Dorn works with the press. He is familiar with every camera, every news cycle, every reporter. He speaks the language Daniel is so desperate to learn. Why did his father have to say anything?

“I had a badge on my camera from our local paper. It caught the guards’ eye,” says Daniel, withholding the detail of surrendering his film. “The camera was my graduation present. I’m hoping to capture some good images in Madrid over the summer.”

Van Dorn nods slowly, swirling the liquid in his glass. “There are a lot of stories here. Important ones. Just keep in mind that the geography itself holds a story. The differences between a Catalonian, a madrileño, and someone from Basque Country are more pronounced than the difference between a New Yorker and a Texan. Be sensitive to that.”

“I will, sir.”

Van Dorn steps to the door, calling out to a man in the parlor. The guest sits alone, smoking, while wreaths of sweat bleed through the armpits of his dress shirt. His dark hair, frosty at the temples, is parted on the side and tamed with Brylcreem. From the shoulders up, the gentleman is “photo ready.” But the middle of the man seems to have collapsed like a gusty exhale. His dress shirt flaps, untucked over his bulbous waistline. His slacks are wrinkled, as if they live in a ball, not on a hanger. Daniel sees two different portraits.

“Stahl, come join us,” says Nick’s father. The man picks up his drink and steps out to the terrace.

Mr. Van Dorn puts his hand on Daniel’s shoulder. “Ben, this is Martin’s son, Daniel Matheson. I’ve just learned that he’s an aspiring newsman, in search of a story.”

“Photojournalist,” corrects Daniel.

“Ah, photojournalist, my apologies. This is Benjamin Stahl. Ben’s in the Madrid Bureau of the
New York Herald Tribune

“Nice to meet you, sir,” says Daniel.

“And, Ben, of course you know my son, Nick.”

Ben adjusts his tie, bull’s-eyed with a cigarette burn. “Oh yeah, Nick and I are pals,” he says, grinning. Ben Stahl speaks as if he’s chewing his words. He turns to Daniel. “I appreciate the civility, kid. I probably do look like an old bastard, but you don’t have to call me ‘sir.’ I know ‘sir’ is mandatory in states like Texas, but you can save the tuxedo language for your oil parties.”

Ben doesn’t appear old to Daniel. Certainly less polished than
Shep Van Dorn, Ben looks offbeat, like a stout philosophy professor who sleeps in his clothes.

“So, the spiffy son of an oil baron with an expensive camera and dreams of a Pulitzer, no doubt. Why should I care?” says Ben.

Nick laughs.

Silence hangs until Daniel accepts the challenge. “The rich kid with expensive toys. Yeah, I’ve heard that. Actually, I hate tuxedos and fancy parties. I’m a finalist for the Magnum prize.”

“Whoa, Dallas has a side of pride,” says Nick. “I like this guy.”

Ben Stahl whistles through his teeth. “Finalist for the Magnum at your age? That must have been some entry.”

Daniel smiles, grateful.

“Well, I’ll leave you newsmen to it,” says Shep. “Ben, do his father and me a favor. Teach him about the press game in Spain so he doesn’t get tossed in jail. And, Daniel, while you’re here in Madrid, teach my son some of your Texas manners.” He laughs and looks at Nick. “‘Yes, sir. No, ma’am.’ Maybe going to Dallas would do you some good.”

Nick’s eyes narrow. “Dallas? What, Switzerland isn’t far enough for you, Shep?”

Van Dorn ignores the pinch and enters the villa.

Nick paces the terrace.

Ben leans on the corner railing, framed by shadows of three towering palm trees. “He’s your father, Nicky. Let it go,” says Ben.

Nick’s fingers slowly tighten around the glass. “Let it go. Just let it go, Nick. I’m so tired of hearing that.” He drains his glass and hurls it off the terrace. Daniel stares, listening for a crash that never comes.

Ben laughs and points to Daniel. “And there’s the title for your next photo-essay.

“The silent scream in Spain.”

The [military] base agreement had been negotiated in 1952 and I was helping implement it. Spain’s objectives, unexpressed so far as I know, included some assistance from the U.S. in its political rehabilitation. Spain was run by Franco and was a bit of a pariah state. The U.S. in partial exchange for the base rights was willing, in effect, to help burnish Franco’s image. This was a tough sell, because many in the U.S. simply were so anti-Franco that they blocked any opening to Spain.

K. H
, special assistant to U.S. Ambassador, Madrid (1956–1960)

Oral History Interview Excerpt, July 1998

Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection

Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training

Arlington, VA


The baby finally sleeps. Puri watches her breathe, her tiny fingers pinching the thin blanket. Just a few months old, 20 116 is smaller than most. Puri has a special affection for the infant. Her disposition is always calm and sweet. 20 116 is
sin datos
—she has no data. Upon arrival at the orphanage, no information was included. After baptism at the Inclusa, she is now María, as are many of the baby girls with no data. But Puri has her own secret name for her. She calls this special girl Clover. She will be one of the lucky ones.

Arrivals to the orphanage take several forms. There are children, like Clover, who have no information. There are children who do have information, notes pinned to a blanket:

He has been baptized Manuel.

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

Outside, on the busy street, is a private, walled entry to the Inclusa so visitors may access the
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
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
, 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.

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

, 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.

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