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Dr. Hannibal Lecter was
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Clarice begins to walk slowly towards her daughter again, staring at her as if she had never seen her before. In a way, she has not. For the past eleven years she has been sleeping. Now she is awake.
“Um…um…,” Another shard gives up its particular treasure: the name of this little girl she has borne. “Susana?”
The little girl stops and tilts her head again. Clarice shivers. Seeing Dr. Lecter’s favorite gesture mimicked by a small girl is spooky. What else of his has this girl-child learned from him? For a moment Clarice envisions getting a note from a kindergarten teacher: Dear Mrs. Lecter, unfortunately you will need to keep Susana home for this coming year. She has killed four of her classmates with safety scissors and brought their severed heads to class for Show and Tell.
No, that isn’t a shard of memory; that is a phantasm conjured up by her own mind. At least Clarice hopes so. What else lies captive in the shards? She hasn’t really been married to Hannibal Lecter…has she?
“What, mama?” the little girl asks. With a child’s unconscious greed she glances over at a man in pristine whites pushing an equally white wagon. What she wants is clear enough. “Mama, are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Clarice says, and glances around her. The scenery is pleasant enough: she had been going to the park with her daughter. To play. But she doesn’t remember any of the past decade, except for what fragments of memory have made themselves available to her. It is eerie.
But ice cream will allay the kid’s suspicions. “I’m fine, honey,” Clarice repeats. “C’mon, let’s go get ice cream.” Vaguely it dawns on her that she probably should speak Spanish to the little girl. All the same, Susana seems to understand English perfectly well.
“Okay,” she answers, switching languages without a problem. She waits a bit until Clarice catches up to her and offers her hand. It is small, white, and clean. Clarice might’ve played out in the woods and in the dirt as a girl, but she doesn’t think her daughter does. These are the hands of a little girl who plays indoors, with a dollhouse and a tea set. Her hands are cute and innocent of calluses. Her fingernails are colored in a cute pink shade.
Not only do I have a daughter, but she wears nail polish? Clarice thinks dizzily. Pink nail polish? My daughter wears pink nail polish? I let my daughter wear pink nail polish? Gaaah.
The two proceed through the park to the wagon. Clarice smiles calmly, wondering what the hell she is going to do now. She feels fraudulent. For one thing, she can understand Spanish here in this brave new world, but can she speak it?
She opens her mouth as the ice-cream man turns to look at them. He calmly observes them as he has observed a thousand mothers and daughters over the years of serving ice cream. Clarice smiles nervously and opens her mouth.
What she expects to come out is Southern-tinged American English. What comes out instead is somewhat accented Argentine castellano. She isn’t even sure herself what she asks for, but the ice-cream man smiles, nods, and reaches into the depths of his wagon. Gusts of vapor puff from the open freezer door as he withdraws two paper-wrapped packages. He hands them to Clarice calmly and gives her an expectant look.
Susana takes one of the ice-cream pops and strips the paper wrapping. A bit of the ice cream gets on her hand, and she seems displeased, like a cat sticking its paw in water. Clarice takes her wallet out of her purse and paws out a few bills. The ice-cream man nods, takes them and offers her a few silver coins in change.
I have no idea if that guy just ripped me off or not, Clarice thinks disjointedly. Everything seems normal. Her feeling of disjointedness comes from herself. Everyone else here seems to think she is just another mother in the park, buying her progeny ice cream.
“Let’s sit at the tables,” Susana suggests, pointing at some wooden tables not far away. Clarice smiles again, nervously. The day is bright, the park is warm, and she is having ice cream with her daughter. What more could she ask for?
To not feel like I’m a puzzle piece that just got shoved into the wrong place, she thinks. Everybody thinks I’m some soccer mom here in….
Another shard breaks, another mist of memory swirls back into her consciousness.
Okay. Buenos Aires. A puzzle piece: that makes more sense now that she thinks about it. If a jigsaw puzzle is complicated enough and large enough, there will be two pieces that are the same shape. The pieces next to it will think the piece fits correctly; it lays cheek by jowl next to its mates, but it is still the wrong piece. And there is no puzzle as large and complicated as life itself. But Clarice Starling cannot help but think that she has been put in quite the wrong place.
The ice cream is cold and sweet, chocolate flavoring sweet on her taste buds. A child’s pleasure, but one Clarice finds pleasant. Her daughter eats her own ice cream contentedly.
“Papa doesn’t like ice cream,” she says casually, as if her father is an ordinary man.
Clarice blinks and tries to think back to the file. Quail, wine that costs as much as a car, that sort of thing. Ice cream from the Good Humor man? No, that wasn’t his style. Well, here it was probably the Bueno Humor man.
How could this young girl not realize what Dr. Lecter is? Does she think he is like any other father? Surely some aspect of his particular cold and sharp brand of sociopathy must be visible.
Then Clarice realizes that the very existence of this little girl indicates that he must have been better at hiding it than she thought. For a moment she is torn between fear and anger. Fear of what the future holds. Her anger is for the past. Dr. Lecter has stolen eleven years from her as easily as a master pickpocket might slip her wallet from her purse. From 1998 to 2009, in one fell swoop. What has happened to her over those three thousand days? What might she have experienced? As she calmly eats her ice cream, she wants those years back.
What the hell do I do now? Clarice Starling thinks.
“Papa…,” God, even referring to him by a child’s name for her father is weird. Dr. Lecter is not like other men. He has not occupied the same space as other men. He is different, the other. In a word, he is evil.
But to this girl swinging her legs casually, he is not. Her facial features are Clarice’s, but those eyes staring out at her are Hannibal Lecter’s in miniature. As they touch Clarice’s calmly, the glob of chocolate ice cream in Clarice’s throat turns into a gummy lump. It takes an unexpected effort to swallow it.
Well, no, honey. Papa doesn’t like ice cream. Papa prefers brains of Justice Department stooges.
She blinks. Where has that come from? The vision of Paul Krendler in the stout oak armchair enters her mind unbidden, and she shudders at the sight of his naked brain, wet and gooey, reflecting Dr. Lecter’s candlelight.
Then she hears her own voice: See if I sound like Oliver Twist when I ask for MORE. A blast of horror strikes here, and suddenly she doesn’t want the Popsicle anymore. She has to force herself to take another bite.
“Papa…,” she begins anew. God, even thinking of Hannibal Lecter as a father is weird. What had he done with this little girl? Had he brought her oranges and SNO BALLS? Did he tuck her in at night and check on her while she was sleeping?
Even though she knew in her head that Dr. Lecter was completely indifferent to children, she still found the idea of Hannibal Lecter smiling pleasantly down at a sleeping child to be nothing short of terrifying. He’d enjoyed playing with her mind. A child’s mind – the chance to stamp his particular malicious fun on a growing mind – would be an irresistible plaything for him.
“He…he has his own tastes,” Clarice says, grinning in a rictus that is meant to be a motherly smile.
Susana nods seriously. Clarice does not think that she has any idea what Clarice is referring to. “He only eats ice cream if it’s expensive. And made of pure ingredients.”
That hasn’t changed, Clarice thinks. She smiles conspiratorially at her daughter. Her daughter. The shock is beginning to fade now. The idea still strikes her as odd, but no longer inconceivable. This young girl with her is her daughter.
As her daughter eats her ice cream with nary a care in the world, Clarice finds herself wondering more than angry. What sort of life has she led? Has Dr. Lecter killed again? Has she been an accomplice? She shudders at the thought.
A few more broken reflections in the shards: Susana at eighteen months old, her hand bandaged, her face drawn down in pain and incomprehension. Tears on her cheeks. Clarice remembers holding her, trying to comfort her, cut to the very core in the way any parent whose child is in pain can be.
Clarice glances down at her daughter’s left hand. It is small and perfect. In it she holds the paper wrapper to her Popsicle, tweezed between her finger and thumb as if distasteful. At least she doesn’t litter, Clarice thinks ruefully.
Between the middle and ring fingers of the child’s hand is a thin red line. It has the look of an old, faded scar. An echo of Dr. Lecter’s scar from the loss of his extra finger. Fortunately, Susana’s is much less obvious. Another memory drifts to life: Dr. Lecter’s voice, and the image of a syringe drawing clear fluid from a vial. Let me give her this…hold her hand, please. Her own voice, stressed and harried: What is that? His voice calm and collected, unaffected by his daughter’s pain: Lidocaine. It will numb the hand. We’ll start with a small dose and raise it if need be.
“Papa sometimes takes me to the gelato shop on the Avenida Alvear,” Susana adds, unaware of Clarice’s reverie in shards. “He likes their ice cream.”
Clarice smiles. “Does he?”
The shock is fading, and she can try to think again. She is in Buenos Aires, Argentina. What she has to do is get the hell out of here before the monster can suck her back into the dark vortex she has spent eleven years in. She’ll have to take Susana. Leaving her here in the monster’s grasp is unthinkable. Even if Susana does not know what the monster is.
Oh man, what is Crawford gonna think of this? She thinks. For a moment she sees herself at Quantico, smiling brightly in the fluorescent gloom. Hi, Jack! I’m back and I’ve got a little surprise with me!
Even as she thinks it she knows it is wrong. Jack Crawford is dead. She isn’t sure how she knows that, but she knows it is true. The man she had looked up to for so long is as dead. Just as the little girl the monster spawned on her is alive.
For a few minutes she lets Susana finish her ice cream. It takes an act of effort for her to finish her own. It gives her time to think, though, and that is what she needs. Her wallet has plenty of money and a few gold credit cards.
Having something constructive to think about helps. She will need a passport for herself and one for her daughter. She doesn’t look forward to explaining this situation to the consular officers. Maybe she ought to get the hell out of town first. Where else can she go?
Uruguay. She doesn’t know where that comes from, but it works. If she can wheedle her way across the border into Uruguay, she will be safer. Are the borders open? She isn’t sure. If worst comes to worst she can find a way to sneak across. Then she’ll have to get some help. Ardelia will help her. The American consulate will help her, too.
Shit, for that matter, she can drive to the US if she has to. She smiles calmly at her daughter. Susana, honey, today is the first day of the rest of your life.
“Well,” she says, “now let’s get going.” Whether it is to the American consulate or Uruguay or whether she’s just going to drive north until she hits the US-Mexican border she doesn’t know. Her keys jangle as she pulls them from her purse and stands.
Susana does not rise. She looks at her mother curiously. “Where are you going?” she asks, her voice clear and cute and puzzled.
“We’re going…home,” Clarice says after a moment. “So let’s go to the car, and--,”
The little girl’s brow wrinkles and her eyebrows rise. Clarice is reminded of herself whenever Ardelia said something that she found hard to believe. It is her own don’t bullshit me look, reflected in miniature.
“But, mama,” Susana says slowly. “We didn’t take a car to get here. Papa dropped us off.” Her head turns to look at a gleaming black Jaguar. The car drifts out of traffic and pulls up to the sidewalk nearby. It cruises elegantly to a stop. Behind its dark windows, a shadow is visible behind the wheel.
An icy ball of fear begins to grow in Clarice’s belly. She turns and stares at the Jag. Her palms grow wet with sweat as she sees the figure behind the wheel turn and look at her expectantly from behind the dark glass. Then the door slowly opens and the figure begins to unfold itself from behind the wheel. A pair of finely crafted wing tips strike the pavement.
“Oh, look,” Susana says, and her face brightens. “There’s papa now.”
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