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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Hands gripped my shoulders, shaking me. Nails dug through the thin material of my dress and pinched my skin as my hair flung forward and back, my wilted body tossing like a rag doll. Words slipped from the girl’s tongue with such force that spittle rained down on my face like venom and I cringed, unable to decipher them.

                “Stop it, stop screaming! It’s going to be okay.”

                Oh, I couldn’t hear because I was making too much noise. I clamped my mouth shut, abruptly halting the high pitched wails and blinking, trying to rid my damp eyelashes of tears so that this blurred confusing world might make sense.

                “It’s not going to be okay,” I whispered, “we have to go to the station.” I backed away from the girl, the murderer so aptly garbed in red to mask the splatter of blood that must surely spread across her torso like the lick of flames.

                In my hurry, my foot caught on the loose sole of my tatty shoes and I tripped. My arms wheeled uselessly as the world slipped sideways and my hands, as I tried to break my fall, landed in the slick, ever expanding pool of blood. I stared at them, horrified, biting back the urge to scream again. The girl knelt down in front of me, her features absurdly calm and collected. Why wasn’t she keening? Why wasn’t she screaming with the pain of guilt?

                The girl took my hands in her own, smearing them, staining them with incriminating blood, and pressed them to her chest.

                “I swear on my life, it’s going to be okay. You have to trust me. We can’t prevent what’s already happened but we don’t have to go to jail, we can prevent that.”

                As her wide green eyes gazed into mine, imploring, I felt my resolve wavering, weakening, and tearing like a contract into a hundred little pieces.

                “Do you trust me?” Her voice was so soft, lilting like music, and I found that I did. I nodded, and the girl squeezed my hands a little tighter in thanks, I suppose, as she gently helped me to my feet.

As soon as I was steady, and the shaking of my legs had muted from vicious convulsions to dull quavering, I was embraced. Arms wrapped around my neck like clamps and I was so surprised that I hadn’t the time to respond in kind before she pulled away, holding me at arms-length and smiling that easy, forgivable smile.

“What’s your name?” she asked, and I started, I hated telling people my name.

Hannelore Johanna Bauer.

“Hann- um, Hanna, um, Beckett,” I stammered, then waited, waited for her eyes to sparkle with the realisation of the lie, the falsehood that had tumbled from my lips so deceptively.

But they didn’t, instead, they warmed and she held out a sodden hand for me to shake.

“Hello Hanna, I’m Eleanor Wright. It seems I owe you a lot.”

I took the hand reluctantly, and reeled at the tackiness of our touch, wondering what we were going to do. Leave the dead man in the middle of an empty road, for others to find in the morning?

No, the cogs in Eleanor Wright’s head must have started spinning the moment she spotted the crowbar.

“Okay, now I’m going to run in there,” she jabbed her thumb behind her in the direction of the building I had leant against minutes earlier, “and you are going to run away, do you hear me? Run until you can’t breathe no more.”

I nodded, and I was flashed that irresistible smile again.

“Right, now, don’t jump, just run.” Then, Eleanor opened her mouth, winked, then screamed the bloodcurdling, keening wail that I had expected of her when she’d announced the death of Jonny. I ran, and the screeches seemed to follow me like a curse.

“He’s dead! Jonny’s dead, help me, Jonny’s dead!”

Shouts of men poured out of the door of the Crimson Cabaret, soothing Eleanor’s hitching sobs, and I forced my legs forward until I couldn’t hear them anymore. Covered in blood I stumbled through the night, my breathing so hoarse that I could have been the villain of any fairytale.

Somehow, I managed to reach the house, and carefully covered my hand with my skirt before slowly twisting the door handle, wincing at every whine of the metal and creak of the wooden floorboards as I crept up the stairs to the floor that my parents and I lived on. I pressed my ear against the door, and listened for the quiet breathing of two bodies before entering, and heading straight for the bathroom.

Neither of my parents were in their room, but huddled on the sofa outside the door, sitting as if waiting for me to come home, hands intertwined. At the sight I felt the weighty pang of guilt.

I rushed to wash the blood from my hands, digging beneath every nail and crevice and scraping every inch of my skin until it was raw. I removed all of my clothes and plunged them into the sink, watching as the red billowed out of the fabric like ink and stained the water so dark that I had to drain it three times.

After I had hung my clothes out of the window to dry, I pulled on my night gown, itchy with lice. Even though the night was humid, I shivered as I crawled beneath the thin covers and waited for exhaustion to overpower me.

Perhaps thirty minutes of tossing and turning later, I heard footsteps down the road, loud knocking on every door and voices, questioning voices. I tensed, and waited for them to reach us.

Knock, knock, knock.

Maybe I could pretend to be asleep, it had to be past midnight. Usually I’d be dead at this time, drained from the work of the previous day. I squeezed my eyes tighter and curled up into a smaller ball.

“Is anybody in?” a voice called, so similar to Jonny’s that I jumped and whimpered, pushing my head deeper into the pillow, as if he might come back and get me. To my horror, I heard the rustle of movement in the next room, one of my parents was waking up. The door was knocked again and the whole building seemed to rattle at the speed of my quivering form.

“I’m coming, I’m coming!” shouted father, and my ears seemed to stretch in an effort to hear what was happening as the steps beneath his feet groaned.

“What do you want?” my father growled, evidently irritated, and I hoped that the men at our door would cower and leave as soon as they could make an excuse.

“There’s been a… a disturbance of sorts a couple o’ streets down,” a man said, “me and the blokes were just wondrin’ if you’d, ah, ‘eard anythin’ outta sorts Mr- ah,”

“Smith,” father snarled. I could clearly hear the German intonations in his accent, but I hoped to God that the men wouldn’t be able to. It wouldn’t be the first time that my father had been blamed for something he didn’t do. “What kind of disturbance?”

“A disturbance of a criminal nature,” came another voice, the one that sounded so uncannily like Jonny’s, “I’m sergeant Winter, have you heard anything, noticed anything at all?”

“What crime?” father asked, and I could almost hear his heart thumping against his chest. He didn’t know that I was home.

“A- a murder, sir.”

Immediately, the thumping and scraping of feet rushing up the stairs tore against my ears, and I tried to relax my body as the door of my room slammed open. The feet drew closer cautiously, slowly.

“Got sei Dank,” Thank God, father whispered, and bent down to press his lips against my forehead, before returning landing. “I know nothing of this crime, but I’m sure that this house and neighbourhood would appreciate it if you came back in the daytime. Good night, sir’s.”

“Good night,” said the sergeant, and the front door was lightly closed. Father hurried down the stairs and locked the bolts, then I heard the floorboards outside my room moan, and something brush against the door.

“Oh, Hannelore. Where have you been tonight?” father murmured, and I could imagine his tired eyes and slumped shoulders as he dragged himself to bed.

*

I squinted as I opened my eyes; sure that, even though the sun tended to peek its head above the horizon much earlier these days, I had slept much later than usual. The light streaming through my shutters was brutal, casting narrow yellow fingers across the back wall of my room and the posters plastered there.

Along with the blinding light, faded images of men and women dancing with no shame or inhibitions greeted me from the numerous prints and pamphlets that I had collected over the years. The most prominent picture was that of the Eiffel Tower, Tour Eiffel: Monument de Paris, gargantuan above the rest of the city. As I rolled out of bed, I stared, as I did every morning, at the wall.

Moulin Rouge, Le Chat Noir, Folies Bergére…

I sighed, averting my gaze from the tempting, but impossible dreams that my wall presented. I stripped off my night gown and fumbled around my room for a dress that wasn’t drying off after having washed out smudges of blood or, of course, stained with anything else.

In the end I settled with my purple dress with the pretty white collar. It was smattered with flour, but once I’d brushed it down it was presentable. My eye was caught by a sliver of silver, an impulsive buy that I’d found in the local pawn shop. Never worn.

Walking around acting like a rich girl was asking for trouble.

Peeking out of the door, I saw that mother was still asleep, and that father had already left for work, and wondered briefly if he’d checked on me again in the morning, if he knew that I hadn’t gone to the factory.

Stealing a bun from the pantry, I crept across the landing, down the stairs and out into the pleasantly breezy morning. I forced a smile, today I was going to find a job.

My area, The Barn, in the outer city of London, was residential, littered with flats –and people– gone to the dogs. My father had always been determined to see our family out of here, and I haven’t yet lost faith that we will.

After a fifteen minute walk to the inner city, the last morsels of my bun had been devoured, the wind had subsided and my brow was glassy with sweat. My legs were worse, sodden under the layers of skirts. If I’d worn the silver, breezy one stuffed in the back of my wardrobe, I’d be a whole lot comfier. I shook the skirts, offering some well needed ventilation to my legs, but curious stares stopped me after a few seconds and I felt my cheeks flare.

A little while later I arrived at the first retail district, and the air itself seemed to be lighter than that of The Barn, which held a lingering, stagnant aroma. I passed by the places that I knew wouldn’t have me without a second look; boutiques, jewellers and bookshops mostly.

The first that held hope was a small bakery. I paused momentarily outside, owners of establishments like this had a habit of fearing that I would steal their products, but I’d taken special care to clean my face and brush my hair this morning, so I held my head high and strode in as if the scent of freshly baked bread wasn’t making my fingers itch.

“’Ello poppet, what can I get you?” smiled the woman behind the counter, plump and jolly. The words that I had been determined to speak caught in my throat. Whatever I had been expecting, it wasn’t poppet.

“I—” I started, but the woman was staring at me with such friendly, trusting eyes that I became transfixed for a moment, and had to start again. “I’m looking for a job, and was wondrin- ing, if you might have any, um, spaces?”

Vacancies, I swore in my head. There’s always a better word.

“Oh, now that you mention it,” the woman said, and seemed to bounce on the balls of her little feet as she lifted the counter door and inspected me closer, “I do need someone to do a little… let’s say, advertisement for me. Like the boys shoutin’ down the street to sell their little papers. It’d be great if you could do something like that for me.” She stared harder, and I thought that she could probably see every hair up my nose and every speck of dust missed behind my ears.

“What’s your name, honey?” she asked, her eyes twinkling in the sunlight.

“Hannelore Bauer, miss.”

I’d said it before I had time to jam my tongue between my teeth, and blood welled in my mouth as I watched the woman’s sprightly countenance darken.

It is in trust, where blunders lie.

The woman straightened, no longer bending slightly to look into my face. She seemed to tower above me, lips pursed, arms crossed. The personification of a fortress whose battlements had just been raised. And I, stranded in the middle of the moat, unable to swim.

“I think you’d better leave.”

“Miss—” I started, desperate to prove myself worthy and reliable.

“If- if you don’t leave now, I’ll call Mister Davies, he’s right above our ‘eads,” she cried, and I stared upwards at the pristine blue ceiling, hearing what sounded like someone shifting their weight on the floor above. “Don’t you test me,” she spat, pointing her finger between my eyes.

“Of- of course, sorry to disturb you.”

As soon as I left, the open sign was flipped to closed, and the woman leant against the counter, clutching her heart as if she’d just stared death in the face.

Stay positive, stay positive.

It had taken a month of trawling the streets for work to finally get a job at Peterson and Co. How could I expect this to be much easier?

As I ventured further into the heart of the city, I came across clusters of both cleanly and destitute shops. I ventured into all those that I thought might take me, though none did, and not once did I tell anyone my real name. From the moment I saw the bakery owner clutching her heart in fear, I became Hanna Beckett.

Walking down Nairdwood lane, I was set on passing by the old apothecary that mother had warned me against without a glance into its windows until I noticed the figure. I turned slowly, catching glimpses of the shrouded woman between the hustle and bustle of the summer morning as she lifted her hand and beckoned me closer with her little finger. I took a step towards her then paused, I was not that desperate.

Disconcerted, I spun back around and slammed into the chest of a giant. He smelled sweet, like he had been baking cakes.

“Sorry,” I muttered, before stepping around him and slipping back into the crowd. For some reason, I expected him to stop me, but I continued on unhindered until I reached a small park, where I found a bench to sit and think.

Across the road was a restaurant. It looked quite high end, but at this point I figured that I had nothing to lose. I must have been in at least two dozen different establishments already, so why not shake it up and venture into a shop where grot didn’t cloud the windows?

The inside of the shop was dim and somewhat musky, heavy with the scent of the flowers that littered the tables and the window sill. As it was early, there were only a few people here and there, chatting, eating breakfast. I approached the counter wearily, compulsively wiping my damp hands against the side of my dress.

“Hello,” a man said, garbed in a suit and tie, as he approached me from behind the bar, “are you lost?”

“No, no I’m not,” I said, determined not to stutter, “I was wondering if I could speak with your manager.”

I smiled sweetly and inwardly congratulated myself, my speech had been clear and eloquent, if she could, mother would have me talk like that all of the time.

“I’ll just get him for you…” the man said, frowning at me as he laid down the glass and cloth he had been polishing it with and disappeared through a back door. As soon as he was gone and I was left with nothing to preoccupy me, I felt naked, standing in this posh restaurant cum café like a dormouse in the den of rats. Fighting the urge to run, I tapped my fingernails against the dark mahogany of the counter and waited.

After a minute or two a large man bustled through the door, followed by the comparatively weedy man that I had spoken to before. The large man beamed at me and leant across the counter as he spoke, his sweet fragrance wafting over me.

“’Ello young lady, what can I do you for?” he asked.

“I was wondering if you had any, um, vacancies?” I asked, my eye caught by the gold glint of a pocket watch chain dangling from his waistcoat.

“Vacancies?” he asked, furrowing his brow, “like a job?”

“Mmhm. I mean, yes, like a job.” I could feel the sweat prickling my face, but if I wiped it away, he couldn’t not notice it. The bell attached to the door chimed.

“Oh darlin’, I haven’t employed a woman in years, and though she was as charming as you, I still regret the day I hired her,” he said, looking sorry for me but also sad for something else that I couldn’t place.

“Don’t be like that, John,” came a voice, and I stiffened as Eleanor Wright brushed past me and faintly dragged her red stained nails down John’s arm. An image of her clawing at Jonny’s back flashed before my eyes and I winced. “I’ve never met a more trustworthy girl than Miss Hanna Beckett, she’s nothing like that Edith, Edie? I don’t know- now you hire her, d’you hear me?” she smirked, and quickly winked at me as John turned around to trade glances with the man behind him.

“You sure about that, Miss Wright?” he asked, biting his lower lip, “who knows what it’d do to business.”

“Oh, if anything it’ll improve!” exclaimed Eleanor, beaming. “If it don’t then I’ll get you free passes to the theatre for the month.”

“You know I can get into the theatre any time I fancy,” John said, while I stared at Eleanor, notes and now this? Exactly how wealthy was Eleanor Wright?

Premium,” was all Eleanor said, before turning to the man behind him, “I’ll have a tall apple, please.”

John looked back towards me, this time appraisingly as he stared me up and down. “Well, Miss, Beckett, was it?”

I nodded.

“Welcome to The Salad House.”

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