Depending on your sense of aesthetics, the Theatro Amazonia is either one of the most beautiful buildings in Brazil, or one of the ugliest. Stone flowers compete with, demons, false columns, and cherubs for space on the facade. Not an inch of its surface is without embellishment. Built by the rich plantation owners of Manaus, for generations the Theatro housed the cultural heart of Europe in the midst of the Amazon wilderness. Apart from the omnipresent architecture, it is the place where anyone who is anyone goes to be seen. The ballet, the opera, the theater, all the glitter, all the wealth comes to the Theatro.
The poverty of the city is ignored beneath its Baroque facade. The ragged peasants with the temerity to come into the light of the Theatro’s immaculate entry square are efficiently hustled away. The beating they receive to remind them not to bother their betters, does not go into the public record. People of privilege seldom stray from the theater’s illumination. They have their own mythology about what goes on in the city in places beyond their privileged experience.
The opera had just ended, and the city’s patrons of the arts stream into the lobby. Jewels glittered in the soft light of crystal chandeliers. Small groups of the elegantly garbed gather to begin the customary performance critique. Their colognes and perfumes mingled in an extravagant cacophony of scent.
“Darling, should we give it all up and go live in a garret? You can write poetry, and I’ll become a seamstress. We will live on love. It will be so romantic.” Marie turned into the cradle of Rico’s arms.
“That’s the last time you get three glasses of champagne at intermission.” He kissed her gently. “Be careful what you wish for my love, don’t you remember the last act? Infidelity and death; ‘La Boehme,’is not my ideal pattern for a new artistic life style.”
“But the passion?” She touched his cheek and looked intently into his eyes.
He swung her into an entwined dancing embrace. They tangoed through the crowded lobby. In the vestibule, he dipped her low. The nearby groups of theatergoers mirrored Marie’s smile. The young couple was a sight to warm any Latin heart. Coming out of their mutual trance, the two realized they had an audience.
“We’re newly wed,” explained Rico, ducking his head to hide his blush from the crowd. The two of them slipped out the heavy bronze door.
“Meo amour, the night is so beautiful. Let’s walk out and find the car ourselves,” Marie said with a toss of her head.
He grinned at her, “As you wish my lady.”
Arm-in-arm they left the brilliantly lit plaza. A couple of the lounging chauffeurs nudged each other as the couple walked by. The scent of Frangipani perfumed the humid air. Fireflies sparkled among the trees. Frogs sang a peeping opera full of atonal adagios. A gentle breeze stirred a wisp of Marie’s hair. Moonlight glittered off the sequins of her dress. Of Rico, only his tuxedo shirt and brilliant smile reflected the light. The manicured automobiles stood sentry in silent rows. Deep shadows hid the trashcans and other detritus of the theater.
A soft sound caught Marie’s attention. “Rico, I think there’s a cat in that trash can. Caro, please let it out. I’ll worry all night thinking of it trapped there.”
He struck a pose, “Your starving poet to the rescue. I hope you realize this is because I want your undivided attention the rest of the evening.” He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Her laughter followed him into the darkness. The rattle of the can lid nearly drowned his gasp of amazement.
“Dios meo, Marie come here!”
She ran to him tottering on her high heels. In the trash can lay a baby boy covered in the slimy fluids of his birth. They looked at each other in horror. The baby fussed weakly and made a small mewling sound.
“Get him out of there!” Marie cried.
The chauffeurs coming for their charges stared at the couple as they dashed to their car. Marie’s legs flashed as she awkwardly held the baby bundled in the voluminous skirt of her gown. Rico drove expertly at great speed, weaving around the potholes and trash, dodging the ragged people walking along the roadside. The infant, quieted by the warmth of Marie’s body lay still. His tiny hand clutched the ruby cocktail ring on her little finger. His mouth made weak sucking sounds as his tiny lips pursed and drew.
At the hospital, forlorn people crowded the sour smelling waiting room, some moaning, others pacing. All made way for the elegant young couple as they dashed in. The weary nurse at the desk hurried to their aid.
Marie and Rico waited anxiously as the nurse expertly separated the child from the refuse of his birth.
“How could any mother leave their child like that?” Marie wept, “In the trash, in the filth.”
“It happens more often than you would imagine.” The nurse replied, “We get a couple like this each month. There are probably more than we see. Most people will leave them where they find them.”
“But how could anyone leave a child.” Rico’s horror echoed his wife’s. Nothing in their experience could allow either of them to understand a circumstance that would make such a thing possible.
The nurse shook her head. These privileged children had probably never missed a meal in their lives. “A mother with no money and too many mouths to feed…” she shrugged. “…maybe it is better to let them die quickly when they are first born than to let them starve slowly.” She put the child in a basket, and set him on the floor behind the counter.
“Aren’t you going to feed him?” Marie asked. “We don’t know how long he was left there.”
“Oh, it’ll be all right. The next shift is coming on soon. They’ll send it up to the nursery,” the nurse replied shortly. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of paperwork to finish.”
“But . . . ” Marie started.
Rico could see the signs that she was getting ready to do something very unladylike. He put his hand on her arm. She looked at him.
“What will happen to him?” Rico asked, looking into Marie’s eyes.
“It’ll go to the orphanage,” the nurse replied.
“Will he be adopted?” asked Marie, never taking her eyes off her husband.
“I seriously doubt it, there are so many. At least it will be fed regularly.” The nurse didn’t even look up from her papers. The influential couple would leave soon. She had already been here fourteen hours, and still had a three-mile walk home.
“What if we just took him home now?” Marie asked, her eyes questioning Rico.
He smiled at her, nodding his head.
The nurse’s head snapped up. “You don’t have any responsibility for this child. Why do you care?”
“We just want to save you the paperwork,” Rico replied.
“Well, that’s fine with me.” The nurse handed Marie the basket with the baby swaddled inside. “You take it nobody else is going to want it.”
As they walked to the car, Rico was thinking of all the things they would need to get for their new son. He looked at Marie. Her gown covered in grime, hair falling from its stylish chignon. Clutching the worn basket, she smiled down at the baby. She had never been so beautiful. It occurred to him that he was seeing her for the first time. Raising her eyes to his, she said, “Remember Il Travatore. What was the name of the child thought to have been thrown in the fire?”
Rico smiled, reading her mind. “Manrico will be a wonderful name for our son.”
While they drove home along the darkened streets, Marie cooed to the baby. Rico looked out at the people in the shacks along the road, settling themselves for the night. They were hunched shapes in rags and tatters. Defeat and despair was evident in the faces that turned to his car lights. This was the first he had noticed how many of the faces were children.
Skeeter Enright has a short story fiction publication in InfectiveINK magazine. In addition to writing, Skeeter is a high school science teacher and a former scientific researcher who has developed a website at http://skeeterenright.weebly.com/index.html.
© 2013, Skeeter Enright