If it's one thing you're truly good at, it's convincing yourself what's happening isn't really happening. For as long as you can remember, your existence has been split between your grandmother's world, the world of flames and divination, and your world, the one you've chosen for yourself.
Given the choice, why would you ever choose a world concocted by someone who abused you for most of your childhood when there's this? This world. The one in which you're a champion? From a tiny village near the Alborz mountain to the English National Ballet. Wow. That's what they all say, wow. At the end of each night they applaud and applaud and applaud, several minutes at a time. And in the dressing room backstage, everyone besides the truly bitter, have nothing but love and admiration for you. This is your world. This. The one in which Frans Dahl is a man, a boy, a recent graduate, a brother. Alive. In every sense of the word.
When you get out of the shower the next day, in the safety of your own flat, and find two missed calls (two) from your grandmother, you pretend that that—along with being sucked into Frans's death—never happened. You throw yourself into a routine of Rehearsal 1, Rehearsal 2, Rehearsal 3, 4, 5, Extra Rehearsal, Performance Rehearsal, Performance. Eating. Sleeping. Waking up to repeat it all again. The season ends without you ever looking up from your calendar. Summer turns into winter before you've set an alarm for the next day.
You're self-appointed manager, Tom, is begging you to leave the ballet as soon as your nine-month contract ends. It feels like you're never fully rested. If you're not guesting for the ballet (they're really milking you for all your worth, six performances a week), you're in the studio posing for one brand sponsorship or another.
Spring draws closer with a yawning mouth, but you're wilting amongst its greenery, and it's not something a weekend trip to see your nephews and sister in Malmö for Nowruz will fix. You feel disconnected and strange as you bow for the last time on some stage in Manchester you can't remember the name of. The night whizzes past in snapshots of debauchery; sloppily removed make-up in nightclub mirrors, overflowing champagne bottles in the back of taxis, the aftertaste of anchovies and the cloying sweetness of Matilda's perfume as she clings to you. You won't be able to explain it, but you'll want to get swallowed up. To get swallowed up and disappear truly and fully into the night.
Your anchor out of depression will come in the shape of a red door. Some hole-in-the-wall tapas bar, a block from the nearby flamenco school in the Spanish Quarter. The bar itself is called Grotto de Granada and you watch your first performance there from the staircase. To your surprise, the space, no bigger than your east London flat, is crammed. It'll do something to you. The atmosphere, the rhythm, the clapping, the hungry faces of the students. That same night you'll book a flight back to Seville.
Everything changes in continental Europe. You jump between dance studios, at first craving a bularía. Any bularía. Any flamenco rhythm. But after drifting for some weeks, you find yourself in your old neighbourhood in Madrid. Friends that you've neglected to the point of losing all their manners around you, harass you into their studio and then into a charity performance at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. From there, you're making plans with the creative director of that same company for a rendezvous in London. Your plans of returning are as fickle as a paper plane on a rainy day but he's handsome and charming and before you know it he's pinned you down for a day at the beginning of August.
From then until August you're recycling the same ten kilograms of clothes in your carry-on as you spread yourself thin across Europe. Your hitch back to London in a private plane from Greece that lands in Gatwick Airport, all provided for by Tara's new beau. Crete's been treating her good and she's flying out to wrap up her second studio album with a hotshot producer who apparently lives as a recluse in nowhere-Suffolk. In and out of London, that's all your visit is supposed to be, but Tom, and the creative director Marco, and Tara all have different plans.
There's something about the late-summer breeze that evening that takes you back to a particularly awkward car ride back from Wilderness. If you were the type that believed in coincidences, any plausible reason would suffice to dismiss the icky feeling that settles in your stomach as soon as you approach the affluent west London neighbourhood. But you don't, and so you can't help but think that something dreadful is waiting behind that anonymous door.
You don't like the look of the place. It's the sort of walled-off house that you know from experience conceals the nefarious deeds of the upper-class, and you can't imagine why Tara would want to spend her last remaining hours in London there.
"Thirty minutes, in, out." You grab her by the sleeve of her jacket as she puts out her cigarette on the stone bannister. She shrugs off your pointed look with a roll of her eyes.
"Set an alarm."
"I will, and when it's up? Can you promise me you won't linger?"
"I swear, I don't even know the guy like that."
"You say that every time," you mumble as she rings the doorbell. "What are we even doing here? Your flight leaves in hours. Hours."
"I told you, this guy's like a literal genius. I just need to—" she doesn't get any further, cut off by the door opening and the previously contained sounds tumbling out in full volume along with a whiff of weed so potent it makes you wince involuntarily. "Heeey," Tara greets the woman.
"Hi babes, you friends of Freddy or Gregor?" she asks, holding out the uncorked bottle of wine in her hand like a microphone. You have no idea what she's talking about when Tara replies, "Gregor."
"Good, just checking."
"Sorry, who's Freddy?" Tara asks.
"Don't know, I was just asked to ask. Door duties and that, you know?" She doesn't seem all that sober, and you feel your stomach sinking as she laughs her way inside. You follow her down a hallway that opens to a spacious living area.
"This place is disgusting," you say as you press into Tara on the small landing so that she can hear you over the music. "I can't believe you preferred this over a cosy tapas bar."
"You're forgetting that you've already taken me there and it's the deadest place I've ever been to."
"Can't help it if you don't have taste. So, what does your friend look like?"
"See that guy over there?" She nods to one of the sofas that's slightly angled away from you. You can't tell who her eyes are trained on; the guy smoking the hookah, the one on his phone, or the one sitting on the armrest. To be honest, they all look the same. Same short trim, same style of clothing, same bored look.
"I'm setting the alarm now," you warn. "I'll go see if I can find something to drink. I'll come find you." She nods, but her mind is already halfway across the room. You watch her drift into the crowd, eyes trailing her until you confirm which one of the men it is before you head off in the opposite direction.