|Four stern faces watch me enter the room.
I feel myself hanging back, crushing a little against the warmth of my mother.
She gives me a little nudge. “Go on Issy,” she whispers. “Show them, how good you are.”
There are three women, and one man, sat in a row, at a long table. None of them are smiling. But the man at least, is looking at me with interest, as we enter.
The other three women, have already made their judgements on my mother. I can see it in their faces. They think we’re time wasters.
I feel a surge of shame rise up, and I squash it back down. I refuse to be embarrassed, because my mother is different.
Mami’s heavy jewellery and colourful clothing have always marked her out in England. And in this silent audition room, I get the impression, that her bohemian appearance is not well received.
The judge nearest to me, has the neatest blonde bun I have ever seen. Like a ballerina, without a hair out of place. I can almost see the corners of her mouth, pulling down in disgust, as we approach.
The second judge, I recognise, because she was a soap opera actress for a time. She has dark hair and soft features. And of all the panel, she looks the kindest.
The man is frowning at us now, and the final woman in the row has an expression of boredom. As though she’s rejected people like us, many times before. She is older, with silver-white hair, and I’m guessing her to be the most senior.
Behind the judges, the wall is one huge mirror. And as we approach, I see my own frightened face, in the glass.
My eyes look huge and wary. Like some kind of trapped animal.
Papers are shuffled, and the judges look up expectantly, waiting for a name from us.
“Isabella Green,” says my mother. At the sound of her Spanish accent, the blonde woman raises her eyebrows.
She consults her list, crosses something out, and fixes me with a false smile. “So, Isabella,” she says, with forced brightness. “What will you be performing for us?”
I had been mistaken about the silver-haired lady, then. The blonde bun is the most senior. My heart sinks.
“She will be dancing…” starts my mother, but the blonde woman raises a hand, and cuts her off.
“Let the child speak please.”
I look at my mother, terrified, and she nods that I should speak.
“I..,” my voice falters, and I clear my throat. “I’ll be dancing for you.” I say, uncertain as to why I need to repeat my mother.
The blonde woman raises her eyebrows.
“Dance,” she says crisply. “I’ll be completely honest with you, Isabella, we don’t get many applicants who join us through dancing. We are a drama school.”
She addresses this last remark to my mother, as though this were an obvious failing, on her part.
“What will you be dancing for us?” the blonde woman asks, with the same false ‘I’m-speaking-to-a-child’ tone.
For someone who runs a drama school, I think to myself, she is a terrible actress.
The thought brightens me a little, and I notice the dark-haired woman catches me with a smile. Maybe she dislikes the fake blonde lady as much as I’m starting to.
“I’ll be dancing flamenco.” I say.
If I had a chance to win over the room, I see instantly, I’ve lost it now. The blonde lady all but rolls her eyes. Even the kindly dark haired women looks disappointed.
Only the silver-haired lady, looks as though she might be interested, to see what I mean.
“Flamenco?” asks the man. “Like the dancing they do in Spanish restaurants?”
I feel a sudden pride flare through me.
“Flamenco needs better rhythm, than any other kind of dance,” I say, “it is about playing a part. Acting a moment. It is only restaurant entertainment in ignorant places.”
I am repeating my mother’s view of flamenco. But my outburst still seems to have surprised the judges. A few exchange glances.
“Well then,” says the blonde, after a moment. “I suppose you’d better show us, your dance.”
I nod, and begin to lever off my shoes. I’ve not worn my traditional flamenco dress, because I judged it too showy, for this audition. So instead I have a close-fitted leotard, with a flowing knee-length skirt.
“Wait,” says the blonde suddenly. She’s looking at my mother. “She can’t perform with no shoes on. It’s in the rules you were sent.”
My mother looks stricken. “It is how she dances,” she whispers. “Otherwise, it is hard for her, to feel the music, through the floor.”
The judges look confused.
“The beat,” my mother clarifies. “It is very important.”
There is a horrible silence. And just when I think I’ll be refused the opportunity, the silver-haired lady speaks.
“I don’t see a big difference,” she says mildly, “between bare feet, and those light little shoes that ballerinas wear. And we’ve auditioned two of those already.”
There is a moment of uncertainty, and then the blonde judge nods her head.
“You have music?” she asks my mother.
My mother nods rapidly, and pulls out a cassette tape, her bangles jangling.
“Over there,” says the blonde woman, gesturing to a stereo.
I wait for my mother to insert the tape, and press play. And for a few seconds I stand, waiting for the music to start.
As the first strains begin, I set my body rigid, like stone, my hands turned upwards.
Then the first beat begins, and I strike my foot, hard towards the floor.
Sadness floods into my features, as I slip into the desolation of the flamenco. And as I whirl with the music, I see the judge’s faces are shocked. This doesn’t seem to be what they were expecting.
But caught in the beat, I am far, far away from caring about their judgement. My hands swirl, and twist, making rivers of the air, and drawing pain down into the core of my body.
I twist my face up, yearning, imploring, and as my feet follow every letter of the beat, I feel the desperate sadness cloud me utterly.
I swoop down, folding completely at the hip, so the tips of my fingers brush the floor with my skirt. And then I wheel upwards, proud and courageous, and the final strains of the music make their dramatic rhythm.
As the last beat plays, I am rigid again. Strong like stone. And my face is wet with tears.
My eyes are back on the judges now. And they’re no longer looking shocked. I think I can detect something like admiration, on the face of the silver-haired lady.
There is a long silence. And the blonde lady is the first to speak. She addresses my mother.
“She can cry, like that, on demand?” she says. There is something acquisitive, and grasping about the way she asks. As though she wants to shore up my emotion for her own purposes.
My mother steps forward, and takes my shoulders.
“Yes,” she says, her voice slightly confused. “She can cry, whenever you ask her to. She has… sadness,” she adds.
The blonde lady turns to me. Her fake smile has something else in it now.
“Well, Isabella,” she says. “It’s very hard, to find a child actress, who can cry on request. They’re very much in demand.”
I stare back at her, not knowing what to say. I’m still breathing hard from my dance.
I feel my mother, pulling me a little closer into her. As though she also, is seeing some unnatural grasping quality, in this conversation.
“I think I speak for all the judges,” adds the blonde lady, “when I say, we would be delighted to have Isabella.”
She smiles at me again.
“Well done, Isabella,” she concludes. “You’ve earned a place with us.”
A secret scene from the bestselling Spotlight Series.
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