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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“That wasn’t necessary,” I mumbled, as I exited The Salad House with Eleanor in tow.

“You’re welcome!” she giggled, “I got you a job though, didn’t I?” skipping forward, she stood in front of me with her arms crossed, pouting like a child though her eyes gleamed with mischief. “Didn’t I?”

“Yes,” I admitted, “but I would have found a job one way or another without you.” I was determined to keep as far from Eleanor Wright as possible, but she seemed determined on the opposite. I tried walking past her, but she simply scooted this way and that, refusing to let me by, until we started to attract mildly probing stares.

“What is it, what do you want?” I snapped. Eleanor had me at the end of my tether. I stared at her, and realised that her flawless face was no longer arranged in an expression of happy arrogance, but something akin to confusion. Her thin little eyebrows tied together as if drawn with a thread, and she gazed back at me in silence. “What?” I repeated, slowly, asking a different question.

“We’ve met before,” she said, her voice low. Though the street was steadily becoming more crowded, I read the words as they formed on her lips and was as sure of what she had said as if we had been alone in my bedroom.

“No,” I said, “I would have remembered meeting someone like you.” With that, I brushed past her and she let me, still staring. After a few paces I looked back, and was almost embarrassed to see that she seemed to have stopped completely and not even the twitch of a finger showed that she had any intention of continuing on.

I turned back around and walked on, sighing when I did, eventually, hear the clack of heels against the cobblestone path as Eleanor rushed back up to me. Evidently, she had decided who she thought I was.

“You’re the girl from the factory,” she said. It was blunt, a fact, not a question. It was my turn to stop. My heart picked up its pace and my hands became clammy; I didn’t want to have any kind of relationship with Eleanor past the unfortunate murder of a bad man. I didn’t want her to know me.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, even though I did, as I started forwards again. “You must have the wrong girl.”

We walked together in silence. I wasn’t entirely sure where we were going, we certainly weren’t on our way to my flat; that’s where mum was, and I didn’t want to have to explain anything to her right now.

In the vain hope that Eleanor might have somewhere else that she needed to go, I continued to meander through London, down the emptiest of alleys and the busiest of streets with some notion of perhaps being able to shake her off.

After half an hour of directionless wandering, Eleanor and I were strolling through the alley behind the bakery with the plump, pseudo-jolly woman when she finally broke the silence.

“You’re not going to be able to get rid of me,” she said, then stopped me by grabbing my arm.

“I think you’ll find I will if I just try a bit harder,” I said, and tried to shake her off, but her grasp was firm. Once again I was reminded of the previous night, and my confidence seemed to wither.

“It’s just, there’s something that I wanted to say… since I figured out who you are, and I do know who you are.”

“How?” I asked, I didn’t care what she wanted to say, but a morbid curiosity made me wonder how she knew me instead of getting of this slightly scary situation as soon as possible. Eleanor ignored my question.

“I’m sorry,” she said, and abruptly a kindling fire that had settled in my belly the moment Jonny had died expanded into a throbbing, fiery ball of anger that pressed against my guts.

“You’re sorry? You bloody well should be, seeing as you killed a bloke, and decided that it would be best to drag me down with you then stalk me the next bloody day! So if you’re really, really sorry,” I spat, “then you can leave me alone.”

Eleanor looked stunned, her grip on me dropped and her eyes glistened with tears. Unfortunately for her, those eyes couldn’t act like a blanket to my fire anymore.

“That’s not what I meant,” she whispered.

“Oh, so what is it?” I asked, my voice oozing so much feigned interest that it was painful to the ear, “have you ruined my life in some other spectacular way?”

To my utter surprise, Eleanor nodded meekly.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. I didn’t know her, but if I had never seen her as vulnerable and fragile seeming as she was now, I wouldn’t have supposed that she could physically look like that. I like to think that she was permanently composed, brimming with a cheeky arrogance that made men wait on her hand and foot and women squeal in envy.

My train of thought stopped, like a hoop that’s struck a wall. Of course, girls would squeal in mutual happiness upon seeing a vision of beauty like Eleanor, and they had.

In the Peterson and Co. textiles factory floor.

I hard lump swelled in my throat, as if I’d tried to swallow an egg whole, and I couldn’t physically speak. All I could do was stare at the girl who had cost me so much in the space of one day.

“Did you figure it out yet?” Eleanor said, as a pearly tear rolled down her cheek. I nodded and took a cautionary step back. Eleanor was something of a bad luck charm, not something that I’d want dangling around my neck.

Then, I turned around and walked away, ignoring the outstretched arm reaching towards me, the chain that would tie her to my neck if I decided to take it.

                This time, I refused to cry. Finding myself back at the park outside The Salad House, I once again sat down upon the nearest bench and rested my head in my hands, breathing deeply and trying to think. As it turned out, there wasn’t much to think about.

                I had a job, I had a home to go back to at the end of the day, and if I somehow managed to avoid Eleanor for the rest of my life, then maybe, just maybe everything would be okay.

                Of course, it’s never really that simple.

                It turns out that most of the day had passed by the time I had settled in the park. Glancing through a shop window at a clock once I’d found myself too fidgety to sit still much longer, I saw that I only had little more than two hours before I could be at home without any suspicion of my previous whereabouts.

                It was still warm, but I didn’t want to risk walking the streets again until it was completely necessary, so I strolled laps of the park, mumbling the tunes of various cabaret songs and twitching my hands and feet to the beats that rolled from my tongue.

                In no time I was back home and settling into bed with a growling stomach and crinkling my pretty purple dress beneath my own weight.

                The next day was Sunday.

                I woke up early, having fallen asleep around six o’clock, with my eyes bound together with gammy sleep. Knowing that it couldn’t be past six in the morning, I rubbed my eyes and curled up in the sheets, staring blankly at the wall.

Moulin Rouge, Le Chat Noir, Folies Bergére…

I sighed wistfully, folding up on myself tighter like a foetus in the womb. The morning was not yet humid, and the breeze coiling through the slats of my windows lifted the edges of the paper in such a tranquil way that I closed my eyes and tried to fall back to sleep.

I woke up half an hour later at the slamming of the front door; my eyes snapping open, instantly alert. I stumbled out of my room half-awake in my crinkled dress.

“You have a couple of letters on the table, dear,” mother said, slipping on her black sandals. Today, mother was to make the same journey that I had yesterday, to find a new job.

After seven months of working at a small pawn shop, business had dipped for a week and it had been blamed on my mother, who was let go within eight days of the first customer-less Monday morning.

Mother kissed my cheek lightly before heading down the stairs; her pale, skinny hands clamped around a stack of papers; each a hand-written documentation of every achievement and job she’d ever had, with not a single reference. Mother’s accent was as thick as syrup. Lying about her name would only inhibit her when it came to job seeking.

Yawning, I peeled open the first letter. It was a short note written in thin, slanting cursive from John at the restaurant.

        Miss Beckett,

            I expect you at The Salad House promptly at seven o’clock tomorrow morning. Pay will be fourty shillings a week, shift ends at five o’clock.

Kind Regards,

                     John Granger.

I stared at the slim piece of paper sceptically, before grinning broadly, a rare eye-reaching smile. Fourty Shillings a week.

In my eagerness, I tore the other envelope open.

Hanna,

           I realise that I could never explain in words the depth of my guilt and regret for yesterday. My only hope is that you will let me show you.

Please come to the Crimson Cabaret at nine o’clock in the evening.

Please.

             E. Wright. x

I spent the rest of the day drumming my chipped nails against surfaces, biting my lip and tapping my toes, trying to decide whether or not I should turn up to the cabaret. The rosy glow that had lapped my hand yesterday evening was enticing me back. I wanted to feel it wash over my arms and face, I wanted to bathe in the light of a real cabaret.

Mother came home at seven in the evening, her bony hands devoid of papers and her watery blue eyes, so similar to mine, looking even more sunken. Unable to bear the way that she leaned against the bannister of the stairs in defeat or the way that sweat smattered her nose like glistening freckles or how her chest seemed to rise and fall heavier than usual with each passing breath, I strode to the landing and wrapped my arms around her, burying my face in the crook of her shoulder.

Until then I don’t think I’d fully realised how much my mother sacrificed for me, not just in work but her everyday needs. She’d been giving me half of the food on her plate for years, and a mumbled but sincere thank you no longer seemed to make up for the way that I could trace every ridge of her spine through her dress and coat with the tips of my fingers.

“Did you find a job?” I whispered, pulling away and finding it somewhat difficult to look directly into my mothers’ sallow face. Usually her sprightliness countered her deteriorating visage, but today her soul seemed just as decrepit as her form.

“No,” she said, moving into the kitchen. I followed, and found her tearing into a bread roll. It looked to me like an act of savagery, the way that her teeth pierced the skin of the bread then ripped through the flesh.

“What happened?”

“I went to a few shops, factories. After lunch I lost my papers.”

I thought of my mother painstakingly handwriting them for days, “lost them?” I asked sceptically.

“Lost,” she sighed, though I knew it wasn’t true. Someone had probably thrown them into the wind right in front of her, but I let the matter drop. “I’ve had a long day, Schatzilein,” treasure, “I think I need a rest.”

Mothers’ lips brushed my forehead and then she drifted out of the room, like she was already a ghost.

After that, I needed cheering up. I went back into my room, where I threw open the shutters to let in some of the balmy evening air. The sky was purpling and as I leant on the sill and stared at the pinking edges of the clouds, I remembered my invitation.

The entirety of my wardrobe was already splayed across my bed, every garment but one. The silver dress shimmered in the corner, bright against the dark wood. I stared at it for a while, thinking what if.

What if moments don’t tend to last very long with me, I decided not to wear the dress. I decided to never wear the dress, I’d sell it off to the pawn shop first thing tomorrow morning before work and spend the earnings on food from the market. I threw the crinkled purple dress on the floor and once again began sifting through my clothes.

I felt the rare gold thread of a simple black dress between my finger and thumb. The strand snaked around the collar and the hem of the skirt, twisted at the hips and danced at the cuffs, shimmering if I held it at the right angle against the light of the setting sun. I pulled it over my head. Occasionally I enjoyed treating myself with clothes, and though I had few I liked to think that the ones I had were perfectly fine.

I crept through to the bathroom (ironically devoid of bath) and stared into the small, ruddy mirror above the sink, pressing myself back against the wall in an attempt to fit as much of my body into the reflection as possible. There were small tears in the seams, but it would do.

Back in my room, I tied my hair up into a neat bun, took it down, tied it up into a messy bun then took it down again. It was hard to know what to do with such long hair when ladies tended to crop it above the shoulders, but I couldn’t face cutting my own. To me it was like snipping off a limb.

In the end, I tied rags into my hair to curl it, and left them in for an hour before removing them pinning it up to give the illusion of short hair. Gazing into the mirror, I studied my handiwork and reckoned that I’d done quite a good job of it.

On the landing I pulled on my mother’s old coat, leaving the bag since I had nothing to put in it, and slipped the letter into my pocket. I had perhaps twenty minutes until nine o’clock. At the foot of the staircase, I was startled when my father wrenched the door open.

“Where are you going?” he asked. Father was an imposing man, somehow having retained his muscle mass even though he suffered malnourishment like mother and I. You had to know him to realise that his gruff voice and magnificent stature didn’t accurately represent his personality. All the same, I was nervous.

“I’ve been invited out,” I said.

“With who?”

“Shannon, we’re going for a stroll around the park then for soup at hers’.” I winced a little at my own lie, but knew that father would never let me go to a cabaret. Luckily, it being summer the streets were still light, so he wouldn’t be escorting me anywhere. Father sighed, as if I’d done something to disappoint him.

“Be home before dark, I worry about you enough as it is, my dear,” he said, then passed me in one easy stride, leaving me feeling incredibly guilty.

Ten minutes later, I was walking down the main road that I had run down last night to escape the disaster that I was now willingly walking towards. I piece of paper stuck to my shoe, and as I reached down to peel it off, I recognised the familiar handwriting, and my heart wrenched.

Looking around me, I noticed for the first time that the street was littered with paper, all scrawled with my mothers’ handwriting, shifting in the breeze. I stared around me, horrified, imagining how mother must have ran to collect them before giving up and turning away in shame, onto the next shop.

I felt my cheeks flush red.

Jazz guided me out of my awful reverie, lilting out of a nearby building like a lullaby that calmed me down; The Crimson Cabaret. A man was standing outside, leaning against the doorframe, and as I approached, he tipped his hat towards me then slunk through the door. The music stopped soon after.

The inside wasn’t as I had expected, there were no lights on and no people. A hand pointed diagonally down, and I saw that a rickety staircase lead to the basement. A pink glow emanated from below, and each step creaked a different note that raised goose bumps on my skin.

At the foot of the stairs, I slowly turned the corner. This room was empty of people too, but lit with lamps smothered with red scarves and blankets. I briefly wondered where the man in the hat was before the first trumpet sounded.

I jumped perhaps a foot off the ground as a man garbed in a blank suit sprung from behind one of the tables, playing a jolly tune on his trumpet and swaying from side to side. Gradually, more and more men jumped from hiding places that I never could have anticipated and my initial fear subsided into such surprise that I laughed out loud. Trumpets and saxophones played their glorious tunes and even a grand piano rolled onto the stage, adorned by a girl in a silk blue dress.

Eleanor Wright, beaming, impassioned by the intoxicating tunes that flowed, easy as breathing, from the instruments. She hopped from the piano and flung her arms wide, as if embracing the whole room. Here, she was in her element, not the streets of London.

                “I don’t know why, I made you cry
                I’m sorry sweetheart and yet
                Though you shouldn’t be lenient with me
                I hope you’ll forgive and forget”

It wasn’t a song that I’d ever heard before, and though I paid close attention to every lyric, knowing that they were important, I swayed with the trumpeters and saxophonists as if I’d known it all my life. Eleanor took my hand and spun me round, knowing full well that this once, she’d done the right thing.

                “What can I say, dear, after I say I’m sorry?
                What can I do, to prove it to you I’m sorry?
                I didn’t mean to ever be mean to you
                If I didn’t care I wouldn’t feel like I do”

I couldn’t help but smile as Eleanor implored forgiveness through song and danced me around the length and breadth of the cabaret. The song ended in a fanfare of notes that had my heart expanding to twice the size it always was and my lungs in need of far more oxygen than usual.

“My father’s friend Walter sent me the music over from America,” Eleanor said, leaning in close to whisper in my ear as if it was a secret. She then took a step back and grinned proudly. “So,” she puffed, her face shining red under the light of a chandelier, “do you accept my apology?”

“Of course,” I said, without hesitation. Though that didn’t mean that I wanted to see her. Eleanor was charming and kind, even with an attraction to trouble, but I couldn’t face seeing her without remembering the man with the caved in skull, whose funeral probably hadn’t even occurred yet.

“Just give me time,” I pleaded, “just a bit more time.”

Eleanor’s face fell, and she nodded dolefully, “I shouldn’t have expected anything more.”

 

A/N: If you'd like to listen to Eleanor's song, i attached the Youtube video for you :)

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