Hannelore

It's 1926, and Hannelore Bauer is an English girl of German descent, who must battle through the prejudice and discrimination from the left over tensions of The Great War to fulfill her dream of becoming a dancer and moving to Paris.
This is a story of forbidden love, loss of the things that matter most, holding on to your dreams with a vice-like grip and overcoming everything to dance.

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14. 14

I didn’t hear my name at first. Crouched into a corner my hands were pressed over my ears, my eyes squeezed tight shut. The crowd may or may not have passed, but I didn’t want to open my eyes, afraid that I’d see a gun pressed to my head or a grenade rolling past my toes like tumbleweed.

Breathe.

It was difficult, breathing purposefully, counting every in and out and in and out.

Breathe.

Something tugged at my sleeve. I snapped my neck up, yelling as I wrenched it away from the man who had touched me. The crowd was still passing, I can’t have been sitting there long, and their noise filled my ears, reverberating about my skull.

“Young lady,” the man said, “your friends are looking for you.”

Staring bemusedly at him, I allowed the man to help me up and guide me through the edge of the crowd towards the jewellery store, where Eleanor was waiting. My hands were shaking as she slammed into me, hugging me with more force than I knew she had.

“Thank you, thank you so much,” Eleanor said to the man behind me before disentangling her limbs from mine and smiling. Her glasses were hung from her collar and her eyes were red rimmed.

“God I thought I’d lost you,” she said, hugging me again, her shaking fingers weaving through my hair to clutch my neck. I laughed once and breathed deeply through my nose, struggling to smile.

“I thought I’d lost you too,” I said, my voice hoarse.

“We were asking everywhere for you.”

We.

“Where’s Frank?” I asked, pulling away and scanning the crowd.

“It’s alright, he said he’d come back every ten minutes if he couldn’t find you, he should be here soon. Then again,” she glanced behind her at the glass door of the jewellers, which was webbed with cracks, “the police might be here first. All we can do is wait though.”

I didn’t reply, but stared into the crowd, my eyes flitting back and forth, trying to pick a particular head of messy black hair out of dozens. Without looking at Eleanor, my hand groped for hers, and when she took it she stood closer to me.

“Are you alright?” she asked, as a man came particularly close and I had to press my back up against the broken door to avoid him.

“I don’t like crowds,” I whispered, not knowing or especially caring if she could hear me. I couldn’t relax, every muscle was tense and the strain of it made sweat bead on my neck and under my arms. I breathed quickly, counting each in and out again in an effort to calm down.

“You were fine at the dance marathon,” Eleanor said calmly, as though trying to convince me that I did like crowds.

“That wasn’t the same.”

A hand appeared above the mass of people and Eleanor shouted, “Frank! Frank! I’ve got her!” I barely had time to register Frank’s face before he embraced me, his arms folding underneath mine.

“My god, Hanna,” he said, laughing a little, “I thought Ellie was the only troublemaker I had to deal with.”

“I’m so sorry,” I mumbled into his shoulder, “it was just like, you were there, and then you weren’t.”

“It’s not your fault,” Frank said, and I could feel his face shifting as he smiled. “It’s-”

“We have to leave,” Eleanor said, grabbing my wrist. Releasing Frank, I looked up to see a line of police officers walking through the crowd in a crude attempt to disperse them. Crude, until the batons plashed in the meagre sunlight and those in close proximity ran before it could come down on their heads.

Eleanor was dragging me through the crowd, her glasses shoved back over her eyes, her hair whipping behind her in a flurry of russet. My hand was locked into Frank’s and we weaved through the crowd like school children, bound in a line in a museum. Well, that or a snake, cutting through the flock of men and women.

“Down here,” Eleanor shouted, and still her voice was almost completely drowned out by the pressing mass. Frank and I were taken down a smaller road, where shop owners were in the process of locking their doors, and husbands and wives whipped their curtains shut with brows creased in worry.

“That’s it, I can see the sea!” Eleanor shouted, pushing forward, taking us towards the coast. We jumped the railing when we came to it, thumping onto the sand with a jolt that racked my bones, to crouch behind the short wall. The shouts were dissolved by the rush of the ocean and the sound of heavy breathing. Our hands remained intertwined, one in Frank’s, one in Eleanor’s, and I wasn’t about the let go.

“We have to leave here,” Eleanor gasped, pressing her free hand against her chest, “It’s just not safe.” I stared at her, but she was glaring resolutely at the horizon. I sniffed, the salty air invading my lungs.

“I think you’re right, heck I know you’re right,” Frank said, squeezing my hand. “Anywhere where there are English coppers isn’t safe, we have to leave as soon as possible. El, how much money have we got left?”

Eleanor slipped the envelope out of her pocket and counted the remaining notes, biting down on her lip till the flesh was white.

“Enough,” she said, dropping it back into her pocket just as Frank reached out to count it, to hold it, “enough for all three of us to take the ferry. Not too far, but out of the country.”

“How much, El?” Frank asked, and when Eleanor turned to answer, her eyes didn’t light with teasing scorn, but the real thing. She leaned over and poked his chest.

“That is none of your business. You make me sell my jewellery, fine, but once it’s paid for what we need it to, then the rest is mine to do with what I will, so why does it matter how much is left, hm?”

Frank hadn’t time to answer before the shadow of someone walking past crossed our hiding place, rattling a stick against the railing. We held our breath and waited.

“I think you’re forgetting that I- Hanna and I, saved your skin! Nice if you would remember that once in a while,” he hissed, before slamming his back to the wall and closing his eyes in frustration.

I stared at a ferry in the distance, unable to tell whether it was moving towards us or away from us, and sighed.

“We need to go to the docks,” I said, glancing up, “come on, there’s no one up there.” I jumped up the wall we had been sitting against and squeezed through the railings, “not a soul, everyone’s cleared out. Come on.”

Eleanor and Frank climbed up after me, deliberately refusing to look each other in the eye, and brushed themselves of sand.

“Over there,” Frank said, “I saw a boat come into port yesterday, it must be somewhere along this curve.”

“Come on then.” I lead the small procession down the path that stretched across the coast of Dover, pushing my hair in front of my face each time a stranger ventured near us. There was an uncomfortable number of bobby’s strolling the streets, and we gained more than one vicious glare as we walked past, covering our faces whilst trying to look like we weren’t doing so.

“The place is swarming with them,” Frank said to me, after the fourth officer had passed us by, “and I haven’t got any protection like you have.”

“Protection?” I asked. Frank lifted a lock of my hair so that I could clearly see his face and waved, “oh, right.” I dragged the hair out of his fingers and replaced it in a perfect curtain as I heard the clop of hard soles in front of us.

“Bloody hell,” Frank muttered, skirting to my side and wrapping an arm around my shoulder, he pressed his face into my neck as though he was kissing me.

“Stop it!” I whispered, glancing back at Eleanor, who was walking lessey forward, her only veil being her sunglasses. I pushed Frank away once the officer was out of earshot. “You can’t just do that.”

“Do what, save my own skin for once?” Frank asked, scowling and combing his fringe through his fingers, trying to make it cover his eyes. He had a point.

“You’re right,” I said, bowing my head, “sorry.”

“You’ve nothing to be sorry for, Hanna,” he said, though it was clear that the one who had to be sorry was walking right behind us.

The docks seemed to emerge out of the sea before us as we topped a rise in the path. It was colossal, jutting out of the beach like a talon. Two other tendrils of concrete curved through the sea like skeletal fingers, pointing towards the primary dock. A ferry idled by, the mountainous chimneys devoid of puffing smoke.

We stopped, staring for a while.

“So that’s it,” I said, raising a hand to my eyes as the sun pierced through the clouds. “That’s really it, huh?”

“Sure is,” Frank said, “come on.”

Frank walked forward, but Eleanor and I stayed. Staring.

“When do you think we’ll be leaving?” Eleanor asked.

“I don’t know, might be today, might be next week. Who knows when the next ferry to France is.”

France?” Eleanor said, bewildered. “Who said anything about France?”

“No one, but, I mean, it makes sense, right? We can’t stay in the country, and France is closest,” I stammered, trying hard not to let on that I had been waiting for this moment, and though it hadn’t arrived tied up with a neat little bow, I was going to take it anyway.

“Yeah,” Eleanor said, obviously not paying much attention as she slowly started to walk away, “makes sense.”

So I was the last one on that rise, staring down into the distance, where my future lay, clothed in thick sheets of metal and maintained by captains and stewards and boiler men. I took a deep breath and prepared to take that first step forward, but my foot didn’t lift. My hands made fists in my hair as I tried to breathe again, feeling almost as trapped as I had in that doorway.

I want to go, I thought, I really, honestly do want to go

But I didn’t, I didn’t want to leave my job or my family or Sams. I didn’t want to leave London or Dover or England. I didn’t want to leave phone boxes and hackney carriages.

Eleanor caught up to Frank and I could just hear the whisper of their voices as they caught the wind and floated towards me. Making up, mending bonds. Again.

It was Eleanor, she was difficult and happy and mischievous and lonely all at the same time, and if I turned around right now, not only would I be leaving my dreams behind, but I’d be leaving her.

Frank and Eleanor were bathed in the light of a setting sun as his arm wound through hers and I thought, time waits for no one. The sun wasn’t going to set back its bedtime till I made my decision and either walked forwards with the sun on my face or turned around without a word to say goodbye- the sun on my back.

I lifted my foot, and withdrew my fingers from my hair, spreading them out at arm’s length and bending them slowly, tinted with evening sunlight.

I placed the foot back down, a step in front of me. Eleanor turned around and darkness ghosted her features as she waved

“Come on, Hanna!” she called, and that was it for me. I almost tripped myself running down the hill to meet them, wrapping my arms around Eleanor, and promising myself to make my dreams come true. Eleanor whispered in my ear.

“Let’s do something fun, bizarre, outlandish, exciting.

*

“A cargo ship?” Frank asked, as though he had heard wrong, “a cargo ship?” He turned to Eleanor, “I thought you said we had enough money for a ferry?”

“We do,” she said, “if you’d let me finish! The next ferry to France isn’t for two weeks if it gets here on time, but they have a cargo. What do you think?”

“Price?”

“Cargo’s a hundred times cheaper,” Eleanor said and I realised that she must be anxious to get away from this place. She wouldn’t have considered touching a cargo ship a week ago.

“A hundred times?” Frank asked, stunned.

“Well, no. I’m exaggerating obviously but it’s far cheaper-”

“I don’t get it,” Frank said, pressing his palm to his forehead, “I read the timetable, it said that there are ferries from Dover to Calais every day.”

“There was a problem with one of the fleet, so now they have to check all of them before sending them off on any journeys. The guy at the desk said two weeks minimum.”

“Two weeks? Oh my god,” Frank said, reiterating his annoyance.

“That’s what I said.”

“And what did he say back?”

“It’s a ship,” Eleanor said in a thick, dumb imitation of the man she had spoken to, “they’re big.”

“Well, that’s the thing,” I said cheerily, trying to keep spirits up, “it’s a ship, that’s all we need, right? Would we have, you know, rooms?”

“I assume so,” Eleanor said, wringing her hands, “I kind of lost it after he said they’re big and didn’t ask him any more questions, I just stood there and fumed.” She put her hands on her face, bowing her head, “Ugh, I’m the worst.”

“Not the worst,” Frank said, squeezing her shoulder as he walked past to talk to the man himself. Eleanor had insisted on going alone to enquire about the ferry, perhaps she wanted to show us that she didn’t need us holding her hand for everything, but I don’t know, maybe she has a thing for the guy behind the desk.

It was a joke to myself, but even so the back of my neck pricked with heat.

Frank came back less than a minute later, grinning widely, he wrapped an arm around me, “looks like we’ve got a tour of the ship, it docks later this evening.

“What time?” I asked.

“Nine-ish, that was the time he told us to be here anyhow, whaddya think, El?”

“Sounds alright,” Eleanor said, her shoulders slumping a bit as the tension released. I guess she was just programmed to rely on other people, she seemed much more confident doing so. Frank, on the other hand, seemed to want to make the first call on everything, to kick down the obstacles while Eleanor trod daintily over the tumbled ruins of them. Me; I guess I was in the middle of that somewhere, I was more comfortable letting another person take the reins most of the time, but when it comes down to it and I feel like I’m losing control, I tend to make rash decisions to get it back.

Exhibit one: Eleanor Wright.

“So, we’ve got a couple of hours,” Frank continued, fishing out a pocket watch, “want to go back to the bed and breakfast or sit on the beach a while longer?”

It was agreed that we would go back to the bed and breakfast, even the beach was risky on a day like this.

We hadn’t realised until the decision was made that we weren’t sure of the way back, and it took us almost an hour to walk what otherwise would have been a mere fifteen minute journey. We pushed open the thick oak door of the cottage tired and windswept, but content.

The small, red haired girl was standing in the lobby, her hair tumbling in thick, knotted vines around her face, and her skin shiny with sweat.

“You made it back!” she cried, rushing up to me and taking my hands. I had told Eleanor and Frank about the girl whilst we walked back, and Frank’s eyes looked a stormy grey in the shadows that he stood in, but Eleanor was positively shuddering with fury. She took one long stride towards the girl, and as soon as the girl turned her head her cheek was met with Eleanor’s hand, splitting the air with a sharp crack.

“How dare you lead us into that!” Eleanor cried, “How dare you!”

The stranger was stunned into silence, clutching her face while tears rolled around her hands.

“Answer me you self-righteous rube, you!”

One of Eleanor’s sharp nails was poking the girl’s chest, and it shook.

After a moment of useless stillness on Frank’s behalf, he rushed forward and pinned down Eleanor’s arms, swinging her around to face him.

“What?” she shouted, spit spraying from her mouth. The red haired girl ran away, rushing up the stairs without the sound of feet to tell of her departure, but with heavy, fearful breaths.

“You can’t just do that, El,” he said, smoothing down her hair.

“Why?” she asked, trying to push herself out of Frank’s grasp, wrenching one arm free, she drove her hand into my pocket and pulled out the piece of paper, unfolding awkwardly in front of his eyes. She read it out:

“Demonstration for the unemployed. We will no longer starve in silence. We have earned our right to work, and we will take it.”

“She wasn’t to know,” Frank said hesitantly, taking the piece of paper, “I doubt she even brought a gun.”

“How could you possibly know that?”

“Look, El, you don’t need any more enemies, okay? We need to lie low. Anyhow, you can’t exactly be furious at the girl for what she did when you-”

Eleanor interrupted him, her voice now deathly quiet, “I never gave you a fucking invitation, Frank,” she whispered in his ear, as a lover would, before finally pushing out of his weakened grasp and slowly walking up the stairs, following the red haired girl, though not for the purpose of finding her, I was sure.

“Eleanor,” Frank said to the empty space before him. He clenched clumps of hair in his fists and pressed his forehead against the wall, “what’s wrong with me, Hanna?” he asked. “I do so much for her, then I go around, like it means nothing, like I don’t care a damn about her when I do.” He turned around to face me, his face pale, “She’s troublesome Hanna, but she’s family to me, and here I am, calling her a hypocrite to her face.”

“You never said that.”

“Oh but I was going to! No secrets there, Hanna.”

“There’s nothing wrong with you.”

We stood in silence, then Frank strode up to me and touched my cheek with the very tips of his fingers, smiling only a little, “thank you,” he breathed, then pressed his lips against my forehead, curling his fingers around my neck.

Then he ascended the stairs, without another word, leaving me red cheeked and heavy hearted.

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