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What is Essential?

copyright 2001, by Thana Dizan

Disclaimer:    The characters Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling were created by Thomas Harris.  They are used herein without permission, but in the spirit of admiration and respect.  No infringement of copyright is intended, and no profit, of any kind, is made by the creator, maintainer or contributors to this site.

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What is the essential?

Ask of each thing – what is it, in itself

What would you reach for, instinctively, to rescue, if you woke up in a burning house?

What do you carry with you, even when your hands are empty?

I’ve improved my shoes.

Look deep into Your Self, Agent Starling…

…into storage, into the locked down cast offs, into a ‘fledgling killer’s first attempt at transformation.’

Do you remember the person you saw in the mirror, how splendid she was? 

Clarice Starling looked into the mirror, yet even here the familiar proved elusive to her.  Her hair framed her face with unnatural starkness in  its new cut and colour; the clothes she wore had been bought that morning. Her lips were bee-stung and still numb from injections of collagen.  These changes did not frighten her – they were all the manifestations of practical measures.  Taking the necessary steps to achieve an objective was something she understood. But, unaccustomed to questioning her own image, she did not feel any reassurance from looking into her own eyes in the mirror; she did not look as she felt, look as she thought.  In the end it was the spot of gunpowder, lodged subcutaneously in her cheek, that she focused on, and it was that more than any natural feature which reassured her – it was a mark of her past decisions, her intuition, proof that her judgment of a situation was survivable.

Her intuition, her decision: She had walked into Jame Gumb’s house, knowing-not-knowing that the Calumet City address Crawford and the SWAT team were closing on was wrong, but more importantly, she now understood, hoping that it was – she had wanted to rescue Catherine Martin, and she had wanted to stop Buffalo Bill.

Best thing for him, really – his therapy was going nowhere

…stop the unstoppable, the incurable process of plight.  

“Get me out of here you bitch GETMEOUT –“  Catherine’s plight, Catherine screaming, Catherine’s mother making her, Clarice, open the envelope of intimate photographs she’d found in Catherine’s bedroom while Paul Krendler watched.  Catherine’s closet, her wardrobe of expensive clothes and shoes,  her apartment that gave away casual clues to her privileged life -

How do we begin to covet?

Catherine’s mother on national television, making a calculated appeal: “Now is the time for you to show that you can be compassionate as well as strong. Her name is Catherine.” Her name is Clarice. That’s so smart – if he sees her as a person, it’s harder for him to cut her up. Her name is Clarice.  

She wondered if there had been some element of coveting, of jealousy, even then –had  she misidentified the growlings of appetite for contempt, as a child will put out their tongue and grimace at a rich and unfamiliar taste?

You look like a rube; a well-scrubbed hustling rube with a little taste

But not anymore – if it had been Dr. Lecter who had identified her hungers and resentments for her during their conversations in the Baltimore hospital, she had, in the time intervening, begun to define those hungers for herself. In the mirror she watched her skin move against the fabric of the jacket she wore: linen, double-breasted, the neckline deep but not indiscreetly so when worn over nothing save skin newly tanned on a sun bed and a necklace of heavy platinum links, offsetting her new darkness and the streaks in her hair.

Love your suit ~ 

Resentments – of privilege, of mediocrity, of desire and contempt mixed…she could not feel her own lips tighten, but saw her eyes narrow in her reflection.  Paul Krendler’s face and the feeling of a burning knot of anger in her throat – swallowed in a remembrance of the taste of caper berries. She hummed a note to herself, feeling as well as hearing the low note tremble then reverberate in her larynx.

that note, should you ever hear it again in any context, it will mean only your total and complete freedom 

When Dr. Lecter returned, it was already dark, the windows reflecting the quiet lights of the hotel suite, rather than the view beyond them.  He set down the  packages he carried and listened. During the past days of preparation for travel, he had often left her alone – and did not admit to himself that he re-entered the suite each time with some trepidation that she would have left it.  But she would not – the target of her tenacity might alter, but the mechanism of it was still one of the strongest features in her character. Admirable adaptivity; he sensed in her the potential for  wonderful accommodation: her aptitude  now applied to his context, their unexpectedly co-joined trajectories. 

“Good evening, Clarice.”  His smile was softened by the candlelight, which now lit the spacious bathroom, his shadow looming violet against the wall above where she lay in the bath. The water was deep and richly opaque with milky bath lotion, holding her skin as smoothly and expensively as the linen suit she had worn earlier, and covering her with a similar degree of  seductive decorum.  The warm air in the room smelt of almonds, of the sharper note from the wine which gleamed palely in a glass beside the bath, and of Clarice herself: the scent of her preening relaxation, of an experimental content.  

For a moment her expression was caught, a bird fluttering for flight, and then self-possession animated and restored her features, and she smiled.

“Dr. Lecter.” 

His expression did not change, but he registered the awkwardness and the ironic tease of her greeting. In truth, while the idea of transitions interested him, the effortful details of the process often did not. Intelligence and self-control endowed his actions with a patience that his nature would otherwise have not. Anticipation provided a sharpening of eventual pleasure, but preparation was often merely just that – a necessary prerequisite for what would follow. 

Their conversations in his house, in the days following their flight from the Verger farm, had been preparation. The elaborate dinner he had staged for Clarice…preparations which in the end had taken flight from the course he had set, winging over time and space in unexpected paths.  Backwards to flashing lights of water and glass in the greenhouse where Mischa bathed. Forwards to the gleam and flow of Clarice bathing here, now, in this new setting, a new city, preparations for a new flight of identity. 

“When you’re ready to come out, I’ve brought some things for a light supper.”

“Thank you.” Her  eyes met his , and their expression had a strange new gladness. He suspected that, in her determined competence,  she had never experienced having her daily needs so thoroughly anticipated by another person.  It was as much the act of trust that aroused her as the potential of living with him; and the act of trust that felt as dangerous as her knowledge of  his lethality.  

He turned,  leaving the room before she moved  to rise from the warm scented water. His courtesy towards her remained, was perhaps even emphasized, by their unexpected and continuing intimacy.  But he smiled as he busied himself with  opening the parcels he had brought, for  the mirror over the side table at which he stood showed him  the reversed glowing cave of the bathroom, where Clarice stood, considering her own reflection in the second mirror over the bath. Dark ivory skin, smooth and savoury as she dried herself unhurriedly with the thick cream coloured towel. He thought he saw her smile as she tipped her head to one side, saw her image multiplied and remultiplied as if in a warm-lit corridor between the mirrors, but due to the angle could only see her react as their eyes met in the glass, knowing that what she saw was his image, behind and above her, similarly stretching to infinity.

“Clarice.  Come here, please.”

under no account are you to approach the glass

She came forward, pulling the towel around her, her alertness both wary and expectant.

His hand brushed her cheek, the dark spot that marked it,  and then the back of her hand, holding the towel.  Smiling, he grasped the towel and pulled it from her. He felt the heat of her body, saw her willing herself to stillness as he drew the towel away.

Starling jumped when the food carrier rolled out of Lecter’s cell. There was a clean, folded towel in the tray. She hadn’t heard him move. She looked at it, and with a sense of falling, took it and toweled her hair. “Thanks.” She said. 

He took it and toweled her hair, squeezing the dampness from it, grasping the thick mass and pulling her head back. The line of elongated tension in her throat was quite beautiful. 

“I…” she began

“Shh.” His fingers bumped her lips, tapping the newly full mouth into gentle silence. Clarice inhaled sharply, breathing the scent of his fingers, tasting the skin as they lingered, caressing her mouth.  As he bent to kiss her he stood close enough so that the lapels of his jacket brushed her breasts; her knees shivered against the cloth of his trousers.  Her toes grasped at the carpet as he held her as if suspended, his hand twined in her hair, his mouth tasting the wine she’d opened, kissing her in quick, deep sips of her essence, mingling their breath. When he pulled back from her, her eyes remained closed. Her hands had stayed at her sides. Dr. Lecter smiled. He leaned over her again, this time bringing an object from the plate beside him close to her lips. She opened them at his touch, and he laughed softly in pleasure.


She did, expecting his lips, feeling his breathing still warming her face as the bittersweet taste of the bitten fig filled her mouth. She gasped. Opened her eyes. 

“Too bad.”  He popped the rest of the fig into his own mouth, and returned to his preparations.


copyright 2001, by Thana Dizan

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