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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5. 5

One week later…

Plunging my arms into the soapy sink water, I grimaced slightly at the slick griminess of the crockery as I scrubbed them clean with a wet cloth. Even so, the warmth snaking up my arm hair was a luxury, and I took my time with the chore.

“Don’t be like that, John. You know I have the money but my purse is at home.”

Goosebumps crawled across my skin as the voice carried through the swinging kitchen doors to where I was standing; smattered with suds, my hair ropey with sweat and steam from the pans on the cooker in the corner. Quickly, I wiped my hands on the grubby black apron with the ties wrapped thrice around my slim waist and slipped to the side of the kitchen to the doors, pressing my back against the wall.

“I can’t be giving no special treatment, darlin’,” John replied in his gruff baritone.

“Oh, are you sure about that?” At that point, I was sure. It had to be Eleanor. I threw open the door and saw the powdered white fingers creeping up the sleeve of John’s blazer, crimson painted nails to match the blazing red hair piled in tight curls on top of her head. It wasn’t her. The woman, who was no vision but rather in her mid-fourties and desperately clinging to her youth with excessive use of face powder and rouge, turned and bored down on me with beetle-black eyes.

“Who’s the new girl?” she asked sweetly, while John recoiled from her touch and turned to look at me. I had learned by now that he had many lady friends, none of whom I’d met so far had been Eleanor. All the same, John was amiable and pleasant, his only care in the world seemed to be me.

“Just that, Miss Webber, a new girl. Haven’t you got work to do, Miss Beckett?” he said, raising his thick black eyebrows at me. Of course I had work to do; it was early evening, our busiest time. He was effectively telling me to get back into the kitchen.

“Yes, sir,” I said. John didn’t insist that we said sir, he wanted me to call him John, and his eyes creased in something similar to pity as I backed through the doors. The truth was, I hadn’t yet learned John’s surname, though I wouldn’t admit it, and if I could, I would have called him by that name, like he did with me.

Back in the kitchen, I slumped down on a solitary stool, masked from the chef’s and kitchen hand’s by the mist of cooking food, and rested my head in my hands, wishing that I would stop hoping for Eleanor to come and find me. I stared down at my feet, clad in the only nice shoes I owned in the vain hope that a specific someone would arrive to appreciate them. The green of the satin bows was already fading.

Though my shift was meant to end at five o’clock, I’d never left The Salad House before eight; tonight I signed out at nine, leaving an oily smudge on the black sign out pen as I signed the sheet and exited the restaurant.

“Evening,” came a voice, crisp as the breeze on a winter’s morning, high along with spirits, with no sign of its trepidation. I turned into the shadows; I’d left out of the back door, and the high walled buildings were blocking most of the summer light. I squinted as I tried to make out the source with fear, or hope, of whom it might belong to.

“Good evenin’,” I said, my voice a cutting staccato. I nodded towards the apparently empty darkness and turned around.

“Have you had enough time yet?” Eleanor asked, and I turned to see that a red ballet pump was poking through the jet night air, drumming the cobbles.

“I don’t know.”

A second pump emerged, and the shifting, kaleidoscopic shimmers of her dress danced eerily in the moonlight, her pale arms and face indistinct like an insubstantial ghost. We were silent for a while, considering each other.

“Speak to me, please?”

“What d’you want me to say?”

“Anything.”

I couldn’t understand why wanted me to say anything at all, but as she gradually leaned closer, further into the light, I saw the dark moons encircling her eyes and the way that her hair seemed to fray in an unhealthy, straggly way at the edges. She looked as if she had been taken ill.

“Please?” Her clammy hands clenched and unclenched, her wide eyes flickered here and there with what looked like intense paranoia. “Please?”

“Okay.”

I still couldn’t think of what she expected me to say, but followed her in silence as she spun and faded back into the shadows. After a short time, we were at the park outside the restaurant, shuffling through a small, winding path because Eleanor refused to sit on the bench at the edge. Eventually, we found some far away seats and tables, and I don’t know if it was because of the darkness or the company or something else altogether, but I couldn’t remember ever having felt as lost as I had that evening.

Eleanor leaned towards me after we had perched on a small metal table, her eyes unnaturally wide, as if she was trying to reflect as much starlight as possible.

“Do you forgive me?” she whispered, without a waver in her tone.

“Yes.” The answer slipped from my mouth immediately as though preprogramed. My thoughts had had a lot of time to stew without Eleanor around to mix them up and confuse me, and I had come to the conclusion that really, none of this was Eleanor’s fault.

She had arrived at the factory floor, I had seen her, and I had slipped. She was being crushed under the fist of a monster, I had seen her, and I had acted of my own volition to save her. I couldn’t blame her; not one bit.

Eleanor’s entire frame slumped and she breathed a heavy sigh of relief, blinking, reassuringly, away the film of tears that glazed her eyes. She then closed her eyes and reached across the table to grasp my hands in hers, bowing her head in thanks, though it looked like submission.

“Thank you,” she said, a whisper, perhaps some stronger than her previous utterance. She squeezed my hands and I returned the gesture, my heart clenching as I stared at this somewhat hollow version of Eleanor Wright.

I couldn’t think of a reply, not something so honest and graceful as to add something to the moment that we shared, so I stayed silent, and cherished it.

“I dance, you know,” she said, smiling at me and unlocking my hands to fold them around her bare arms. “I’ve danced in cabarets, theatres- once even in the mansion of Henry Alcott.”

“Henry Alcott?” I said, a high exclamation of surprise. Mr Alcott was by far the wealthiest man in the city that I knew of, and his stately home and its surrounding land dominated most of the western outskirts of London. Cars continuously rolled into and out of his house like the tides, and he was known to keep guests without even showing his face, though I’d heard that often piano music drifted through the halls, so what the guests couldn’t see in body, they could hear in soul.

“Mmhm,” Eleanor said, nodding heavily, “he said, ‘that girl there, she’s a charmer, and boy can she dance!’, then he shook my hand and said he couldn’t wait to see me in the theatre.”

“That’s incredible!” I said, quite unable to comprehend the magnificent compliment, “How many times’ he been to see you since?”

Eleanor bit her lip and shook her head sagely, “not once, and that was three years ago. I’ve since stopped telling the girls at the Vic that he’s just a busy man. I don’t think they believe it really happened.” Eleanor shrugged, but it was obvious that the weight of it still pressed against her shoulders. Yet again, I had no words, and allowed comfortable quiet to envelop us once more.

“I haven’t danced since- you know,” Eleanor said, and I stiffened. I didn’t want to hear about Jonny. “Not properly anyway. You see, Jonny was my partner, my dance partner. You can’t dance without a partner, Hanna.”

I told her that I didn’t see why not. Half of the photographs crowding my wall were of a single woman, one foot thrown backwards into the air, arms up, smiling down at me saying; you could do this, Hannelore; this could be you.

I didn’t tell Eleanor this, but she still shook her head again, infuriatingly.

“Well why not?” I asked, scowling. Eleanor, who had let a tiny giggle escape her lips, seemed to realise that I was being serious and clamped them shut, staring at the table.

“It just doesn’t happen. Feet, hands, eyes, ears, they all come in pairs; and so do dancers. What I’m trying to say is: I need one, Hanna. Dancing is all I have and without any hands to my clock I just can’t do it. Do you see, do you see what I’m trying to say?”

She was staring at me with mad, fervent eyes, boring down as the sun slipped past the horizon and they appeared to gleam brighter with every passing second.

“I’m sorry, I ‘aven’t got anyone for you to dance with. The only blokes I know work in the restaurant, and I couldn’t ask them.”

“That’s not what I’m asking,” she said slowly, calculating as if weighing pros and cons.

“Well, I wish you’d stop messing around and tell me!” I said, laughing a little forcedly and drumming my fingertips against the frigid metal surface, Eleanor took a deep, steadying breath.

“Will you be my partner- my dance partner?”

The drumming stopped, and a sporadic burst of laughter thrummed from the back of my throat.

“So, you think that dancing alone is bad, but dancing with a girl isn’t?” I asked, laughing again in disbelief, “and one who can’t dance, too?”

“I don’t care if you can dance or not!” Eleanor trilled, “Anyone can learn to dance, but you can’t learn passion, Hanna.”

“How’d you know I have passion?” I thought back to my room and its walls, feeling the hotness creep up my cheeks at the idea of Eleanor being there, in my room, and examining my possessions.

“All girls have a passion to dance. Any-who, I’ve seen the way that you walk, like the floor is sponge, and how you move as if in constant amazement of your own limbs,” she was leaning forwards again, gazing at me in wondering curiosity, “You flick and shift your hands and feet as if you’re in a box, a tiny box, and if someone were to open the door you would spring out and dance. You would be an amazing dancer.”

And I stared at the girl, the girl who knew me so well and so little all at once. Her dishevelled hair, curled lips and tired countenance still gave her the appearance of madness, but her words were enticing me, pulling me towards the entrance of her world, a place that poor German-English girls weren’t often offered the key to.

“Dance with me, Hanna Beckett, please?”

It was the pseudonym that stalled me from saying a resounding yes. Because Eleanor didn’t really know me at all, and the only thing held me in my seat, stopped me from leaving and once again trying to rid my life of her presence, was the memory of her face not ten minutes before. Eleanor needed my appreciation and acceptance rid her life of the pain of guilt that had tormented her this past week. I knew that my mere acceptance of an apology would not suffice.

Eleanor’s world was crumbling around her as well, it was she who had killed a man and was forced to bear the weight of his death. She had to start building her life again from the ground up, and a single person can’t build a house.

“Hanna?” Eleanor said, clicking her fingers in front of my face. The fingers then unfolded; a hand to take. Wordlessly, I took it and let Eleanor guide me to a small patio, pushing away chairs with our feet to clear a space.

“Sit down,” she said, pushing me down by my shoulders into the nearest seat before skittering backwards and spreading her arms wide. “Okay, now imagine- a stage! A small one, in a cosy, hidden cabaret just off Brick Lane. The walls are washed red and the tables closely packed. The stage is empty, the people waiting, then the first notes of some song start –clap for me, Hanna- and it doesn’t matter which song because then you’re on the stage.”

Laughing cheerily, I tapped my toes and clapped my hands to the tune of a song that had been playing all evening at The Salad House, my tongue rolling to form the notes like the song of a Mockingbird. Eleanor, meanwhile, danced with a glow in her cheeks that I don’t think I’d ever seen on anyone. The sequins on her dress shimmered and reflected miniscule, shivering orbs of silver onto her skin. Her body flowed smoothly and quickly, like water, into the next movement; like fire, she shone ferociously, thrusting her whole being into it, as if her life depended it.

All too soon it was over, and Eleanor’s flushed cheeks were swelling in a smile as she trotted back over to me with eyes that begged a burning question.

“Okay,” I whispered. A momentous moment, a single word that would alter the course of my existence and take me into a world of love and danger and adventures. “Okay,” I repeated, just to be sure. Eleanor squealed pounced on me as I, all too slowly, rose from my chair, and we stumbled backwards.

“Are you positive?” she asked, drawing back and raising a questioning pitch eyebrow, “Absolutely, I mean?”

I hesitated as if to say no, to tease her a little longer, then laughed and cried, “Yes! Of course!”

“Oh gosh, Hanna, you don’t know how much this means—”

“My name isn’t Hanna. Well, I guess it is, it could be, I mean.” This wasn’t a spur of the moment thing, I knew I had to say it as soon as she invited me to dance, but I stumbled over my words as my feet would on a rocky terrain.

“What do you mean?”

“My name’s Hannelore. Last name’s Bauer, not Beckett, two B’s though. Beckett-Bauer, ha.”

“Bauer?” she whispered, perhaps stunned out of an accusatory tone, since I couldn’t detect one.

“Bauer, yes, German. I was born here though, so you know.” I was breathing a bit too quickly, and far too shallow.

“Hann- Hannelore...” Eleanor said, smiling sweetly, a twinkle in her chocolate eyes. “I wouldn’t care if you were born on the moon.”

 

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