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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Later, when I was leaning against the cool rough brick of my family’s flat, waiting for the trot of Eleanor’s pumps to fade into the next road, I tried not to consider what I might have gotten myself into, but couldn’t quite shake the image of Eleanor’s worn face. Broken by fatigue and weariness, even after she had danced it didn’t seem that the shards had been pieced back together, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I had irreparably fragmented her.

Surely not. I repeated it to myself like a mantra, surely not, surely not, surely not. One person can’t do that to another in one fell swoop; the time between last week and today.

In my room I opened the wardrobe and stared a little at that barely visible silver snake, hidden behind the black rags I’d worn the day I’d been fired, and the night of the murder. Impulsively, I threw my arm forward and snatched the gleaming fabric, hugging it close to me as if someone might catch me with it and steal it away. Then, I allowed the fabric to spill between my fingertips and splay across my arms. It felt like silk, though I’d never be able to tell, and the beads glided effortlessly across my skin. I pressed it against my face, inhaling the musty air. To tell the truth, it smelled like the back of my wardrobe, but in that moment it smelled like Paris and I could taste the adventure trickling into my mouth as if I’d bitten into a particularly juicy berry.

In no time, the dress had slipped through my fingers and landed in a pool on the floor as I reached for the shoulders of my blue shirt and lifted it from my body, hopping about the hard wood floors as I did so in anticipation. The navy skirt was thrown roughly into the corner where it folded and slumped into near invisibility. I ran towards the window and slammed the shutters closed, just in case, before perching on the edge of my bed and picking the silver gown back up, lightly brushing off the last remnants of dust.

I clasped it close to my bare torso and breathed a while, trying to appreciate the changes that had thrown me this way and that, which had led to this infinite moment wherein I squeezed the garment that at the time of its purchase had symbolised a life of courage and spirit, decadence even, that I now dared to live.

I pulled the dress over my head, slipped my arms through the holes and stood to let it tumble in waves, like liquid down my body, and brush against my shins. I shivered, then crossed the room to a small desk in the corner where I found a couple of hair pins before tiptoeing out of my room and into the bathroom.

Standing close to the mirror, so that I couldn’t see my dress, I pinned up my hair in an attempt to replicate the curls that spun so effortlessly atop the heads of so many of the girls of London. It wasn’t quite the same, I bit my lip, but it was good enough. Next, I pinched my pale cheeks until they blushed with a natural, rosy pink that mother tried to convince me that no expensive rouge could replicate.

Then, I stood back and brought my hand to my mouth as my body filled the mirror. Somehow, I was not only speechless, but thoughtless, never could I ever have imagined being able to see myself like this, like the girls in the pamphlets, let alone after a hard day of grubby kitchen work. My mouth curved into a smile that made my eyes twinkle in the way that hinted at a kind countenance, rather than Eleanor’s, which had appeared wild.

After briefly noting the places where the dress needed taking in or repairs, I went back into my bedroom, closing the door gently behind me, and rummaged in the bottom of my drawers to find a sewing kit in a small copper tin that used to contain Oxo stock cubes.

“Hannelore?”

I stiffened at the sound of my mother’s voice and rushed to the alcove behind the wardrobe before tugging at the shoulders of my dress again. Perhaps if I was quiet, she’d think me asleep and go back to bed.

“Hannelore, I know you’re in there. You missed dinner.”

I squealed momentarily, before slamming my palm against my lips, “just- just coming mother, one tick, please,” I stuttered. Somehow I couldn’t bring myself to show my mother the dress that I’d wasted some of our bread money on. As I pulled it off, the collar caught on one of the pins in my hair, and there were several knocks on the door as I stumbled about in a state of utter confusion and tried to wrench it off.

“Hannelore, are you okay?”

I tried to shout, “Yes!” but the layers of fabric smothered my mouth and left the message virtually indecipherable. The dress didn’t seem to want to dislodge itself from the pin and the tangle of hair that it was so tightly wrapped about. Concentrating on the mess at the nape of my neck, I wasn’t quite thinking about my feet when I stumbled head first into my wardrobe, the force of my weight causing it to tip a little and the doors to slam down onto my knees

“I’m coming in!”

There was nothing for it but to moan incoherently. My arms were stuck tightly above my head and there was no budging the dress. As the door clicked open I tried desperately to regain my footing but the mass of material that was today’s shirt only made my feet slip and slither backwards.

“Gott im Himmel!” Mother exclaimed, and I heard her gasp in horror- or humour, “what have you done?”

“I was just—” I deliberately let the rest of the sentence slide into disjointed unintelligibility as her hands wrapped under my arms and she hauled me out of the wardrobe.

“The pin,” I said, pointing in the rough area of the perpetrator, “the pin.”

Mother chuckled as she deftly removed the metal slide from my hair and for a second all I could hear was the roar of the fabric grazing my ears. Once the dress was back on and no longer stifling me, I took a deep breath of fragrant summer air, a feeling that might be akin to breaking the surface of the ocean.

“Oh my, Hannelore, what is that?” mother asked, her thin lips forming an imperfect ‘O’ shape as her eyes raked over my form.

“Um—”

“It’s beautiful, where did you get it from? Spin for me, Hannelore, I want to see it all the way around,” she said, as she smiled and turned my shoulders for me.

“I got it from the pawn shop,” I said quickly, to avoid any suspicion of it having been bought in a boutique, “quite cheap.”

“Oh my,” mother repeated, “you know I used to have something like this, when I was your age,” she whispered as she continued to stare appraisingly, “but it was longer and I wasn’t nearly as beautiful as you, schatzilein.”

“Yes you were,” I said, and truly meant it, “I’ve seen the pictures; you were a princess.”

Mother wrapped her arms around my waist and I buried my head in the crook of her shoulder.

“Why were you trying to hide this from me?”

I shrugged, my reasoning seemed so weak now, seeing the healthy glow that burned beneath mother’s sallow features, “I’m sorry.”

Mother pulled away and held me at arm’s length, smiling. “I hope you mean for missing dinner, it’s all cold now and I can’t start the cooker again.”

“Of course, I’m sorry… for that as well.”

Mother couldn’t seem to shake the smile, she embraced me once more. “Forgiven, my dear. Now go to sleep, you seem to be out much later these past evenings.”

“Work,” I said, as she walked towards the door, “they’ve been keepin’ me awfully late.”

Mother paused and nodded at the door as I realised I’d made a mistake, she didn’t have a job, and any complaints would make me seem spoilt.

“Goodnight, Hannelore.”

The door clicked shut as I leaned my forehead against the wardrobe and, slower this time, pulled the silver dress over my head and carefully hung it on the rail. Sleep came easily, and I could not remember any dreams.

Next morning, I was awoken by the sun rising ever earlier outside the window, and after regarding my makeshift wallpaper with an unfamiliar smugness, I pulled on my purple dress and wondered onto the landing.

“Letter for you,” father said, as he tore through a fist-sized roll of bread and kissed my forehead before rushing down the stairs. “Try to be home for tea, eh? Your mother and I appreciate your company now and then.”

I peered over the bannister just in time to catch the wink and watch as he exited the house into the breezy morning. Smiling, I opened the letter on the small table by the stairs.

Hannelore,

Come to the TopMan Cabaret at eight o’clock this evening. If I am not there, tell the man that your name is Hanna Beckett (I’m so sorry, but it’s not for me, it’s for you) and wait in the adjoining room, the one with the sofas and the roses in the middle, till I arrive, the man who welcomes you should show you the way.

Appreciated with every ounce of my body,

Eleanor x

*

                By the Tower Clock in the centre of The Square, it was five minutes to seven. Five minutes to find this bloody untraceable building. The wind had whipped up into an unusually forceful gale, and my eyes grew gritty and dry as I drove through it, keeping them peeled for any signs that might aid my way. Eleanor’s note was gripped in my hand, crumpled and soft, like felt, from the many times that I had furled and unfurled it.

                The help of a stranger had led me to a small court near the centre of London, and I cursed both him and Eleanor for refusing me further directions. The man had seemed nice enough, though his face was obscured by the shadow of a large hooded trench coat, and I couldn’t be sure of his reliability, especially since when I did ask him to elaborate, he simply raised his eyebrows and smiled as though wise with age.

                “To get to the TopMan, or any similar place, little miss, you have to already know where it is.”

                By that logic, no one should know where it was. I wrapped my arms around my waist and huffed with irritation. The later I was, the later I’d be home, and I couldn’t miss tea again.

                “Excuse me, sir!” I called, to a nearby man who had just passed through the arch of the Clock Tower, “could you please show me to the TopMan?”

                The man turned and walked towards me, and I faltered as I saw the gleaming badge and the cap perched atop his head. Striding towards me with purpose, I could think of no excuse to run without seeming guilty of something or another. My parents had warned me against the police, how oftentimes they could become my foe, rather than my friend, and that their kindness could slip like a mask at the mention of but two words.

                Hannelore Bauer.

                “Wus’yer name ther, miss?” he asked, as his face was lit by a buttery pool of lamplight.

                “Hanna Beckett, sir.” So easy now, came the lie.

                “And why might you be wantin’ fer a place sushas that, Miss Beckatt?” he asked, before sniffing mightily and lifting his hefty belly as if to position it more comfortably.

                The paper dampened and crushed into a tighter ball inside my fist, “my mother’s worried, sir, says he might be found there and to collect him right away.”

                I almost smiled after that, so effortlessly it had come, but clasped my lips shut right before the officer, who had been peering at the sky in thought, looked back towards me, his brow furrowed slightly, and his heavy moustache shifting as he explored the cavity between his lips and gum with his tongue and smacked his lips.

                “North frem the Tower, till yeh git to the Post ‘fice, then turn right ter the alleyway ‘tween it and some clothes store. There you gert some steps, right?”

                “Right.”

                “Yer take those steps down a floor, and you gert the TopMan right there. Basement cabaret, scum o’ the Earth. Get yer brother back real quick if yer would, Miss Booker.”

                “Beckett—”

                “Course, don’ mind me, I dealt with a Booker this past morn’. On yer way now, love, on yer way.”

                Needing no further instruction, I quickly thanked the officer, whose breath had the fiery stench of alcohol, and turned towards the Post Office, which I must have walked past half a dozen times by now.

The alleyway was grimy, the walls cooked with soot and the floor a tacky mess that caused an awful sticking of my soles when I walked. Five yards in, perhaps, there was a tall metal gate, bound tight to a black fence that stood imposingly beside it. The gate was fixed with a padlock which, upon inspection, proved to be loose, ancient and badly made. A few strained tugs later and the lock was clattering to the ground to be quickly kicked aside. The chains proceeded to fall off like an uncoiling, rattling snake. I caught it between my arms just before it smacked into the pavement, not wanting to create too much of a racket and draw any attention to myself.

The stairs below were cloaked in darkness, as though the sun had no intentions of stretching its light to such a place. This cabaret didn’t seem washed with life and laughter like The Crimson, and as far as I could tell looked like a place where women danced for men, not for themselves, and not for fun.

The gate eased open on well-oiled hinges, and I squinted to make out each of the steep, narrow steps that brought me ever closer to the TopMan. With no banister, my fingers traced the filthy brick of the walls, ready to push and steady myself if I were to fall. Trying in vain to ignore the state of my fingertips, I persisted until I bumped unwittingly into a wooden door at the base of the stairs. Somewhere to my right, they headed even further down, but this was my stop.

The handle twisted silently under my light twist, and opened with barely a creak to furrow my brow and sweat my lip. Not entirely sure why I was becoming so nervous at the thought of entering the building, I hesitated, took a great, heavy gulp of breath, and threw open the door- fast, so as not to lose my nerve.

The light inside was a dull, inviting blue, and the floral walls were lined with vases brimming with roses and violets, far more feminine than I had anticipated, what with the cabaret being called TopMan.

The crack of my shoes against hardwood floors echoed loudly against the walls as I felt the corners into my mouth pull into a smile, so it was no surprise that I soon heard someone hurrying through the halls, and that a dapper man in a three piece suit came around a corner to greet me.

“Bonsoir, mademoiselle, ‘ow may I ‘elp you?”

My jaw dropped, my eyes clouded and my hands flew to my mouth.

“Eez there a problem, mademoiselle?”

“You’re French!” I cried, taking a few quick steps forward until I was standing directly in front of the man, studying him like a new specimen.

“I am,” the man chuckled, “Pleased to meet you, I am ‘Enry. I ‘ave ‘eard from Mademoiselle Wright today already, yet she ‘as not arrived, may I show you to ze waiting room?”

“Of course!” I said, nodding as though my neck was on a hinge as he guided me through a mahogany door.

“And your coat, mademoiselle?”

“No thank you,” I said. It wasn’t quite time to take of my coat, “It’s a bit chilly in here.”

“No problem, I will turn on the ‘ouse stove for you,” he said, before smiling politely and backing out of the room, his white-gloved hand taking the handle and closing the door behind him. Once he was, as far as I could assume, a safe distance away, I dropped onto the nearest sofa and squealed, releasing every pent up desire that I had longed for all my days into this one brilliant moment. Not once if my life had I met a real Frenchman, and now I had one waiting at my feet! The words wouldn’t come, and so I squealed and danced to a soft tune emanating from behind a grate in a very excitable, unladylike manner until I couldn’t squeal and dance anymore.

After twenty or so more minutes of wandering around the bluish room and smelling each and every one of the beautiful flowers, I heard the click of a door and the shuffling of feet.

“Awfully sorry I’m late!” called Eleanor, “I’ve had a disastrous evening!”

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