Sequence: Alas Falada (part one)
If thy mother knew they fate,
Her heart would break with grief so great.
The Goose Girl
The mission house had been founded to shelter war orphans. The orphans had, many of them by now, grown to adulthood. In ten years’ time, the inmates—one by one—had been going. As to which Rose Durco felt unsentimental.
“Well, they ask for money to pay for things that bear on location. I mean, the chateau being far outside the city…and there’s no reason for it—not any longer. Frankly, they ought to find individual places for the few they have left, although these children may be…”
“Not the brightest buttons.” Oliver supplied the phrase. He passed the photo to Bruner. Rose Durco had asked the maid to bring coffee.
“I’ll ring up Joe,” she told them. “He’s downstairs at the club.”
Bruner traded a glance with Oliver.
To occupy them while they waited, Rose had brought to the table this cigar box, in which she kept snapshots, along with a handful of thank you letters. The letters, copied from an English language form-book, else dictated, said nothing of interest.
The photo showed two mission workers, women wearing the substantial, high-crowned hats of the war years, broad-shouldered overcoats that fell to their ankles. Three adults in a semi-circle; they and the elderly man in clerical cap and soutane, who stood leaning on a spade. Two children watched from the sidelines…representative of the wares, Bruner thought cynically, and in the background, a ruin—its bleached whiteness an effect of the camera lens. The chateau d’Auclaudet, somewhere outside the city of Lille. One of its wings had survived intact; the whole, the orphanage to which Rose mailed a monthly donation, in a constant state of repair.
“What do you like, Mr…I’m sorry.”
He looked up, realizing he’d heard, without really attending, the creak of wheels. A maid had pushed a cart into the room. “Black coffee will do for me, ma’am. I’m Martin Bruner.”
“I’m sorry,” she said again.
Well, me too, he said to himself.
(2016, Stephanie Foster)