She took a moment to compose herself. She drew a deep steadying breath, which she made no attempt to disguise. "I could show you on the map," she conceded. "But I shouldnt leave the office. I have someone coming in."
He didnt believe her. "Theyre still killing people, arent they?"
She hesitated. "ETA?"
He hated the anonymity of the initials, that uppercase shield. "Yes, the Basques," he said impatiently, "ETA."
"ETA only represents a tiny minority of the Basque people."
"Those who want Basque independence."
"Yes, but not even a majority of those."
"Only the most violent."
"Yes, only the most violent. The fact is, the Basques are prosperous, and most prefer to remain part of the Spanish state."
"Yet they permit the presence of ETA on their soil," he reminded her. "They dont get rid of it."
In her forbearing half-whisper, Madeline Pratt said, "Because they are afraid."
He was vigilant. He would not join her in her forbearance. "Are you afraid?"
"Of ETA?" Again she hesitated. She tried to assume a professional bearing. She was going to yield to him. A director of an American study abroad program was going to yield to a distraught parent. Somewhere it was written: parents who feel their children are lost to them, lost on foreign soil, should be treated with the utmost consideration, babied if thats what it takes.
She nodded. "If you live in Spain for any length of time, you get used to the threat of ETA. You learn not to think about it and to go on with your life."
She bit back a tiny grimace. You go on with your life if youre still alive. She should not have put it like that.
Suddenly it became clear to him what she was going through. He would be willing to bet that she had never lost a student under her supervision before, under any circumstances. Surely that was a directors worst nightmare, and at that nightmares darkest depth, to have lost a student as his daughter had been lost . . .
His heart went out to her.
He couldnt afford any more excursions of the heart.
Reaching across the desk, he turned her photograph to him. She sat back from him, erect, soldiering through this bad moment, perhaps a little appalled. The photograph was of a teenaged girl, her husk-colored hair cut short, her face reddened by the sun, her chin, her nose, her hazel eyes, the green muddied with brown. He didnt know whether he was looking at her at a daughters age or at a daughter destined to become the woman he saw sitting here.
He turned the picture back around. He sat back. He put it to her squarely. "Take me there. Show me the spot. I wont ask any more of you, and I wont be back."
She shook her head. "It wont mean anything. There are dozens of parks like that one in Madrid."
"All with a Civil Guard headquarters?"
She chose not to answer him and, stepping to her office door, spoke to her assistant instead. Her name was Concha. Madeline Pratt spoke in Spanish, but he understood that she was telling her assistant what to do in case a certain argumentative woman who housed their students showed up before she could return. Concha smiled at him as they left the room; in return, he thanked her, although she would never know for what. He was thanking her for her Spanish eyes, the eyes of the song that when he was a boy he had sat beside his mother and sung. They had sung through stacks of sheet music, the whole romantic songbook. To her credit, when she had closed the piano lid, his mother had trapped the romance inside, where it took on the mustiness of the old ivories, the old felt hammers and pads. Ben thanked Concha for showing him her eyes. They were real. They had nothing to do with the world.
From House of the Deaf by Lamar Herrin, the complete text of chapter 1, pages 1-15. Copyright 2005 Lamar Herrin. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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