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Authors: Alli Sinclair

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BOOK: Under the Spanish Stars
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Disappointment in her inability to embrace her art tormented her. Abuela could nag all she liked, but Charlotte was not going back to painting. It caused too many problems with her father and she couldn't
paint under that kind of pressure. She was destined to live a life in business and maybe, one day, when she retired, she'd return to painting her seascapes around Port Philip Bay and along the Great Ocean Road. Or … not. The desire was there, but the ability had disappeared. She wondered if her muse had gone on a holiday and forgotten to come back. Not that she was ready to send out a search party …

The singer and percussionists got lost in the song, their intensity mesmerising Charlotte and drawing her out of her doldrums. Her body moved with the music, a feeling of freedom taking hold. Was this what Abuela felt when she experienced flamenco? Was she easily drawn to the raw energy, the passion? Why would Abuela have given up something as captivating as flamenco?

Leila nudged Charlotte and handed over a cup of liquid. ‘Wine.'

‘
Gracias.
' Charlotte took a large swig. The alcohol burned all the way down and she gasped. ‘Wine or one hundred proof spirits?'

Leila laughed. ‘Home-made wine. It is good, no?'

Charlotte nodded, letting the alcohol buzz through her system. Leila topped up Charlotte's cup from an unlabelled bottle and they sipped while the musicians played and the singer and dancers enchanted the onlookers. Every so often Mateo would glance at her and smile.

‘He likes you,' Leila said, her tone relaying nothing other than an observation.

‘I guess he likes me enough to help.'

Leila arched her eyebrows. ‘Ah, yes, I heard a rumour about a painting. Maybe he is just helping, but …' She shrugged. ‘It is not my business. Here, drink more.'

For the next while Leila and Charlotte shared the bottle of potent wine as the Giménez clan immersed themselves in festivities. It didn't take long for people to acknowledge her by way of a smile or a glass held in the air in a toasting fashion. Charlotte toasted back, taking small sips to ensure she got a small buzz rather than roaring drunk. The music finished and the dancers and musicians took a moment to quench their thirst before taking their places again. Mateo nodded at Leila.

‘Come.' Leila grabbed Charlotte's arm, hoisting her up. ‘We dance.'

‘Oh no.' She shook her head then realised declining the invitation was likely to offend. ‘Thank you, but I—'

‘We dance.' Leila pulled her to where the other dancers were and she
placed her hand on Charlotte's heart. ‘Just listen to what is in here.'

‘But—'

‘You are our guest. You dance. Now follow me.' Leila stomped her right foot against the boards and clapped out a complicated rhythm. Charlotte stood like an idiot, feeling the strain of everyone's eyes on her. She had no idea if they were waiting for her to bolt or stand her ground, but determination kicked in and she joined Leila, trying to keep up with the clapping. She had horrible timing, but when she relaxed her shoulders and surrendered to the flow, the rhythm came. Leila and Mateo offered encouraging smiles, spurring her to continue. Charlotte didn't dare look at Cristina, who stood off to the side, no doubt devising how to slip poison in Charlotte's drink.

Leila twisted her hands out to the side, creating circular motions. Charlotte copied the moves, even though the twisting action caused pain in her wrists. She pushed on, keen to give this her best shot. Had Abuela felt the same way when she first danced flamenco?

Leila tapped her feet and Charlotte's body tensed. Straightening her back and holding her head high, Charlotte gained control of her rhythm. She swayed her hips, stretched her arms and legs, and immersed herself in the beauty of the music. Her body and mind felt as if the worries about her family and the shackles that tied her to her current life had been hacked free, launching her into a more liberated world.

When the music finished, she stopped, breathless, a thin film of sweat on her forehead. Charlotte took in the sea of unfamiliar faces who stared back, eyes wide, drinks paused just in front of their mouths.

‘
¡Olé!
' yelled the short bald man, as he waved his arms in the air. The crowd joined in and rushed forward, pulling Charlotte in different directions as they hugged and kissed her. About to drown under the weight of so many, her knees gave way, but she was yanked to the side before she hit the ground.

Mateo wrapped her in his arms, steadying her. The crowd fell away and he guided her the edge of the community. ‘You have your grandmother's flamenco gene, I see.'

‘I … I've no idea what came over me.'

‘I have never seen a beginner with so much potential.'

‘The dancing … it just happened … it just …' Just what? Never in her
life had she experienced such freedom. Such connection with music. Such connection with herself.

‘You, Charlotte Kavanagh, are a flamenco dancer in the making.'

CHAPTER
7

1944—Katarina

Katarina straightened her dress and fluffed out the ruffles as she stood at the side of the stage watching the other performers complete their sets to perfection. Tonight she would step out in public for the first time to perform
opera flamenca
, something she once swore she'd never do. Doubt had taken over and she now doubted her ability to fit in with the expectations of her audience and this new world of flamenco.

Katarina studied the red polish that hid the chips and splits on her nails. Her hands had worked hard these past few weeks, alternating between rehearsals and restoring the Teatro del Arte to a shadow of its former self. When Federico had first made the offer for her and Salvador to join the dance company, he didn't mention part of the deal was to help with restoring the theatre. She'd questioned him about not hiring handymen, but he'd scooted around the subject and handed her a paintbrush, mumbling something about money not growing on trees and dancers needing to get their hands dirty and stop being divas. She should have walked out then and there, not because she was a diva but because this was only the beginning of Federico's inconsistent and strange behaviour. The Lobo Brothers had yet to make an appearance, apparently happy to give Federico full reign over the company and theatre. The connection to these men still concerned her but, unfortunately, she'd already burned her bridges at the Café Alegria and with the lack of opportunities for her to dance flamenco her way, Katarina had to shut her mouth and be thankful she had a paying job when so many had nothing.

‘It will be a wonderful opening night.' Raul placed his hand on her shoulder, bringing her back into the present. ‘You have nothing to worry
about.'

‘I can't help it.' She laughed nervously, wishing she could quell the rising panic.

‘You will be fine.'

‘I don't feel fine.'

‘We are a good team. Look at how well rehearsals have gone.' He gave her shoulder an affectionate squeeze which threw her mind and heart into turmoil once more.

She shrugged off his hand. ‘Please don't, Raul.'

‘Don't what?' The genuine puzzlement in his eyes made her question if she'd imagined this hot and cold game of his since they'd met at the theatre that first day.

‘You say you don't want to be involved with me outside flamenco yet you insist on showing affection and saying kind things and …' She didn't want to finish the sentence, her resolve to finally get this out in the open fleeing like a flock of gulls. Why wouldn't words come as easily as dance steps?

‘I'm sorry if I make your life complicated. I just … I have much to figure out.'

Not wanting to continue this conversation right now, she reached for the curtain and pulled it back just enough so she could peek at the audience. Their faces remained solemn, barely interested in the performers onstage.

Raul wrapped his warm fingers around hers. A shot of electricity zapped up her arm and warmed her entire body. Why did this have to be so confusing?

She moved her hand out of his as he leant in and whispered, ‘One thing I do know for sure is that we will find a way to create magic for them tonight.'

‘
Duende
?' Her lips were dry, her voice raspy.

‘We can't force it. All we can do is be open to the possibility.'

‘We had
duende
once, though, remember? What if it never happens again? What if we disappoint, and everyone wished they'd stayed at home, staring at the walls?' Voicing the thoughts she'd struggled with over these past few weeks didn't alleviate her angst.

‘You are a spectacular dancer because you use this.' He placed his hand over his heart. Then he pointed to his head. ‘But you think too much with
this. Relax. Enjoy.
Duende
will come again if you allow it.'

‘I—'

‘It's in you, Katarina, but you can't wish for it, can't pray for it, can't expect it.'

She swallowed hard, the lump in her throat growing larger as the confusion grew with it. She craved Raul's affection yet at the same time it tortured her.

‘You deserve much success, Katarina, and I will do what I can to help.'

‘Why?' Apart from Salvador, no one had looked out for her in years.

‘Because I care about you! Can't you see this?'

Raul's words ricocheted within and each one hit her right where it mattered—the heart.

‘I do see this—at times, Raul. I just don't understand why we can't be together.'

‘It's time.' Federico strode past.

Katarina concentrated on the closed curtains, unable to meet Raul's eyes. She felt his sincerity, but since they were together eight years ago the world had changed. No one remained untouched by the atrocities of war and no one escaped without a past. What had happened to Raul in those years they were apart? Why wouldn't he talk about it?

Federico crossed his arms and scowled at the dancers and musicians who streamed off the stage to half-hearted applause.

‘Katarina,
mucha mierda
,' Salvador winked as he joined her and Raul.

‘
Mucha mierda
, Salvador.' It didn't matter how many times she'd wished
mucha mierda
to performers before they took to the stage, the good luck phrase still made her smile.
Mucha mierda
—much shit—have an excellent performance.

Katarina glanced at Raul, anticipating the moment when his guitar playing would release the shackles and transport her into a world she longed for. Although they had trouble discovering what their connection was offstage, onstage their chemistry worked beautifully.

Federico nodded towards the trio, adjusted his suit, then stepped between the curtains. Somehow Federico had managed to sell out the very first night, even though the economy didn't normally support such luxuries as shows. But people needed to forget, needed to escape the hardships, if only for a moment in time, and flamenco offered that
opportunity.

The troupe took their place on the stage while Katarina waited off to the side. They'd decided on opening with one of her favourite
guajíras
, a
palo
created by Spaniards who travelled to eastern Cuba to work on farms and who later returned to their homeland. Its languorous, tropical rhythm captured her heart and she adored using the
abanico pericón
, a large fan, to accentuate her moves.

Taking a deep breath, Katarina adjusted the fan in her hand. Raul opened the
guajíras
with a
falseta
and she slowly walked onto the stage, using the
llamada
to signal Salvador to commence singing. His words reverberated through her body and she imagined the yellow fan was a flickering light in the darkness. Raul's guitar notes wove around her, the flame of her own soul connecting with his. Raul and Salvador worked in perfect unison, and Katarina tuned into their strength, closing her eyes, staying in the moment. The breeze the fan created swept over her body, cooling the rising heat, leaving exposed skin tingling. One more
llamada
signalled her readiness for the
salida
, the exit, and the men took their cue while she travelled across the stage, turning and stamping, creating complicated patterns with the fan. With a quick flick of the
abanico pericón
, she left the stage, hiding behind a curtain and leaning against a nearby wall, her breathing ragged.

‘Very nice work.' Federico stepped out of the shadows and shoved a small notebook and pen in his pocket.

Jolted out of her reverie, she said, ‘Thank you.'

Salvador and Raul finished to the half-hearted applause of the audience.

‘They hated it.' Katarina turned to Federico who looked gaunt in the dim lighting.

‘I don't understand …'

The curtain closed and Salvador and Raul rushed off the stage.

‘It was a disaster.' Salvador ran his hand through his hair.

‘But it was perfection,' said Raul.

The next group of dancers and musicians hurried onto the stage, turning to look at Federico with worried expressions. He waved them on, his brows drawn together in a way that signified they shouldn't argue. Would this group suffer the same lack of interest from the audience? The curtain opened and the other troupe commenced
alegrías
. Katarina, Raul, Salvador and Federico huddled close and kept their eyes trained on the
performers on stage.

‘What happened?' Salvador asked.

Katarina and Federico shrugged. Raul said, ‘I have no idea.'

‘It was my fault.' Katarina used the fan to cool her perspiring skin.

‘How could it be? That's some of the best dancing you've ever done,' said Salvador.

‘Perhaps we underestimated their ability to appreciate what we do and we're not pandering to all the stupid expectations of
opera flamenca
,' she said.

‘We need
tangos gitanos
,' Federico said as he looked at the performers struggling. The audience seemed immune to appreciating the rich talent before them.

BOOK: Under the Spanish Stars
11.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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