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Authors: Alli Sinclair

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BOOK: Under the Spanish Stars
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This was the only place the hunger could be fed.

This was the home of her chosen people.

This was where she belonged.

Energy swirled around Katarina and her skin prickled with electricity.

‘Let us begin. Did you practise the
farruca
?'

Katarina nodded, then a guilty conscience made her shake her head.

‘Why do you ask me to teach, if you do not practise? What is the point? You need to live and breathe flamenco, not treat it as some part-time lover.' Julieta balled her fists on her hips, cigarette dangling from her ruby red lips.

‘I'm sorry, but it's been impossible to get time alone to practise.'

‘Well, let's not waste the precious time we do have.'

‘Where's Santiago?' Katarina looked around for the elderly guitarist who was the only calming influence on Julieta when she lost her temper at Katarina.

‘He has the flu. I've found a replacement. He will be here soon.'

‘But this is only between you and me and Santiago. No one else can know.'

‘I am aware of this, but this guitarist is discreet. I promise.' Annoyance travelled out with Julieta's long sigh. ‘It is impossible to connect with flamenco if you don't experience what life has to offer. Passion … demons … love … heartache … anger … How do you expect to do flamenco justice if you do not live life in all its glory? Not telling your family is deceiving yourself. Deceiving flamenco.'

It had been the same with every lesson. Julieta would chastise Katarina, then launch into this diatribe. Katarina could recite it word for word.

‘We will do
palo seco
until the guitarist arrives. Ready?' Julieta started tapping the
compás
, the rhythm, with a long stick on the floorboards.
Katarina made the
llamada
—her unique call for the music to begin— and strutted across the floor, head held high. Julieta sang the
letra
, her raspy voice weaving its tentacles around Katarina and pulling her in an array of directions.

A knock at the door interrupted their practice and Julieta hurried over to let in the guitarist. A tall young man stepped into Café Cantaria and as soon as he moved out of the shadows, a small gasp caught in Katarina's throat and her body flushed with heat.

‘Katarina, meet Raul José Sierra Abano.' Julieta turned to see Katarina holding her hand against her mouth, eyes wide. ‘What is wrong?'

‘I …' How could she fully explain the complicated relationship with this man? ‘We … uh …'

‘She sometimes listens to me play on the streets in Sacromonte,' he interjected, his eyes not meeting hers.

‘Yes, yes. That's it,' she said, wishing she could bolt from the bar, never to return.

‘I will get us some water.' Julieta narrowed her eyes at Katarina, then Raul. Butting her cigarette in the ashtray, the dance instructor walked out to the kitchen at the back of the cave.

Turning to Raul, Katarina whispered harshly, ‘What are you doing here?'

‘What are
you
doing here?' Raul whispered back, his focus on the kitchen door.

‘Señora Julieta is my teacher.' Katarina didn't like her tone sounding so haughty.

‘I knew she had a secret student, but I never expected it to be you.' Taking the guitar out of his case, he said, ‘Listen, about last time—'

‘I don't want to talk about it.'

‘We need to.'

‘We don't, Raul. It's over. It's never going to work between us. You and I come from opposite backgrounds. We're too different.'

‘Not as different as it seems. You knew I played guitar and yet you chose not to tell me about your dancing. You lied by omission.'

Even though she'd justified it in her head about why she hadn't said anything, her heart knew she'd been wrong not to confide in Raul. And now the hurt and disappointment in his eyes made her feel much, much worse. ‘I just … I didn't want the pressure of you asking me to dance. I'm
not that good, even though I love it with all my heart.' Her gaze rested on the kitchen door. Julieta seemed to be taking her sweet time.

‘You should stop being a perfectionist and have faith that the moment will take you where you need to go. Like you did with me.' Sitting on the stool, he rested the guitar on his lap. ‘We had something special, you know.'

‘I know.' She hung her head then looked directly into his mesmerising eyes. ‘I'm sorry, Raul, but it's too hard with my family expecting me to—'

‘When will you stop living to everyone's expectations and do what is right for you?' Raul scowled.

‘It's not that easy! If I break away, my family would never forgive—'

‘Instead you'll live your life being someone you aren't. Or maybe you are that person. Perhaps you don't want to give up the luxuries your lifestyle affords.'

‘Raul—'

‘Ah, here we are!' Julieta carried in a tray with a jug of water and three glasses. Her thinly veiled nonchalance did nothing to diffuse the strained atmosphere. ‘Let us not waste time dilly-dallying. Raul, we are practising the
farruca
. With your gift, I am sure you are more than capable of accompanying young Katarina here.'

‘Very well.' He moved the guitar into position, his head bowed so he didn't have to look at Katarina. That wouldn't last long, however, as guitarists had to study the dancer intensely to anticipate their moves. How could they possibly work together with so much tension between them?

Raul played rhythmic chords and Katarina started the slow, travelling sequences, marking her steps, turning, clacking her heels against the wooden floor. She stamped her feet, harder than usual, fuelled by her annoyance with Raul and his words that made her doubt her choices. She had been so fond of him when they'd first met in the park and her deep affection could easily have led to love had she allowed herself to let go. But she couldn't do it, no matter how much she wanted to.

‘Katarina, concentrate!' Julieta yelled as she stabbed the floor with the stick.

Making another
llamada
, Katarina commenced the
escobilla
, the complicated footwork. Despite her shaky relationship with Raul, his playing drew her into the moment, and the difficult training and the
shouting she'd endured from Julieta culminated in Katarina's arms forming perfect movements, her body arching and turning as if driven by an unseen force. A jolt of energy zapped through Katarina as Raul's rhythm grew to a crescendo and she let out a series of
llamadas
, finishing the dance with a flourish. She held her stance, arms high in the air, sweat coating her skin, her heart beating rapidly and her eyes watering from the passion surging through her veins.

Julieta's stick dangled from her hand. ‘You are a fool.'

‘Pardon?' Katarina brought her aching arms down and allowed her body to relax.

‘Beneath your airs and graces burns a fire that cannot be extinguished. I see the flames licking at your soul, the sparks exploding within your darkness. Flamenco has taken hold and the sooner you realise this the better off you will be. All of us will. Your talent is raw, but you have the potential for
duende
, Katarina. Many strive for it but so few possess it. Don't you feel it building inside you?'

Of course she felt it. It had increased every time she mastered a step or movement, but more so with today's dancing. Did Raul's playing have something to do with it? She felt so close to creating
duende
: that moment when the air turns thick with a magical force that overtakes the performer and the audience is taken on a journey, discovering a world that cannot be explained, only felt. Experiencing
duende
at the hands of someone else was one thing, but to be responsible, to have that power and for one's soul to find that connection … that was something she could only dream of. And it scared her.

‘I will not teach you any more.' Julieta placed the stick against a chair then lit a cigarette. Taking a long drag, she let the acrid smoke swirl above her head as she angled a finger at Katarina. ‘You have no respect for flamenco. If you cannot give it your heart, you do not deserve to be in the presence of something so sacred.'

‘But—'

Julieta held up her hand. ‘This is my decision.'

Words refused to form in Katarina's mouth. What was the point of mastering flamenco, yet never sharing it with others? Her family and friends thought flamenco was only for commoners, but they had no idea of the power behind it. The only person in her family who could have the slightest understanding of what Katarina felt would be her father, but her
mother overruled him on everything, including parenting. She couldn't bear to think what her mother would do should she discover Katarina's deception. Anytime someone mentioned flamenco her mother would fall silent and unease would press against everyone present. Sometimes her mother would leave the room and make her way to the garden, her screams about
gitanos
and flamenco muffled by the handkerchief she held against her mouth. Other times her eyes would well with tears and she would retire to her room and not come out for hours. Katarina had lost count of how many glasses and vases had been broken at her mother's hands. For years Katarina had tried to find a way to ask her mother why flamenco brought so much angst but she feared it would set off another strange reaction. Was dancing flamenco really worth the trouble it would cause?

As much as she wanted to blame her silly friend Valery Blanco Alves for Katarina's obsession with flamenco, she couldn't. Valery came from one of the most influential families in Granada—even more than Katarina's—and Valery had the ability to charm anyone into doing anything, including daring Katarina to take a flamenco lesson in Sacromonte, a neighbourhood their families had banned them from visiting. Not one to back down from a challenge, Katarina had gone to the lesson as a lark, priding herself on undertaking something as off limits as flamenco. What she hadn't counted on was the way flamenco ignited an insatiable desire within. After the first lesson she'd fought the urge to return but her dreams were only of flamenco. She wanted …
needed
… to feel the lyrics wrap around her, to move her body as the music took hold, to stretch, to arch, to pound her feet against the floorboards …

Flamenco connected her to a lifeline she hadn't realised she needed until now.

‘You're asking the impossible, Julieta,' Katarina said.

Julieta shrugged. ‘The impossible can be possible. Look at young Raul, for example. He never thought he'd be travelling to Seville to play for one of our country's greatest flamenco dancers, but he is.'

‘He's what?' Katarina's heart skipped a beat.

‘I leave for Seville this evening.' Raul concentrated on packing away his guitar.

‘That's …' Katarina swallowed the lump in her throat.
‘Congratulations.'

‘Thank you.' Raul looked in her direction, but his eyes didn't connect with hers. Was he consumed, like Katarina, by the horrible, sinking feeling of having let something precious slip away?

Julieta butted the cigarette, lit another, then tapped the stick on the floor. ‘Time for you to go, Katarina.'

Julieta's refusal to continue teaching cut deep. There was no point in fighting her mentor because once her mind was made up it was impossible to change. Plus, Julieta was right. To have only one toe in flamenco waters did not honour the sanctity of flamenco—it was offensive to Julieta and others whose passion was deep and abiding.

Katarina shifted from foot to foot, biting her lip and holding back tears that threatened to come out in great, gulping bursts. She'd already lost her chance with Raul because she chose to honour her role within her family. Yet here she was, having to make another decision that hinged on loyalty to the family or loyalty to herself. Either way she turned, disappointment would crash in on her.

* * *

1944—Eight years later

Katarina leant closer to the mirror, trying to get a better view under the one dingy light hanging from the ceiling. The room didn't allow much space to manoeuvre, but she didn't mind. Club Alegría still held a rustic charm as it desperately clung to the days when
café cantantes
were still popular and
opera flamenca
never existed.

Using feather-like strokes, she guided the red liner across her lips, trying to keep the tears at bay. The anniversary of her father's death didn't get any easier, in fact, this year seemed harder than others. Perhaps it was because memories of her father had started to fray around the edges and if it was like this after seven years, what would happen in another five, ten, fifteen?

She glanced at the painting and her heart sank. The fiery colours had once inspired her and the woman leaping over the flames had reminded Katarina she was capable of great things if she let herself soar. But that had been when her father was alive. Without any knowledge of her foray into flamenco, he'd given her the painting in secret not long after she'd chosen
to stop dancing. She'd tried to tell him about her experience, but found it impossible. His relationship with her mother was tenuous at the best of times and he already had one secret from his wife—the painting—so Katarina didn't need to burden him with more. Not that it mattered anyway, as she'd abandoned any hopes of pursuing flamenco after Julieta kicked her out.

Now the artwork only served as a reminder that her father's life had been cruelly cut short and with his death, the story behind the painting would never be revealed. Although the artwork made her sad, she couldn't part with it because, like it or not, it had become her talisman.

After her banishment from Julieta's flamenco bar and Raul's departure for Seville, Katarina had lost faith in the dance that had brought her so much joy. A ball of misery without flamenco, she'd suffered the torment of not feeding her soul, and she suffered alone until the death of her father had urged her to publicly declare her love for flamenco. As she'd predicted, her mother, grandfather and younger brothers didn't support her dreams. They'd pushed her out the door of the family house, penniless and still grieving for her father. Even if Katarina wanted to make amends with her family, she no longer had any idea how to contact them. She'd heard they fled Granada as soon as World War II began, and that they were now settled in the safe haven of the Spanish Protectorate of Morocco. No one really knew for sure and Katarina didn't care enough, or have the funds, to investigate.

BOOK: Under the Spanish Stars
10.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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