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Variations on a Theme

copyright 2001, by LIttle Starling

Disclaimer:    The characters Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Clarice Starling, Jack Crawford, Ardelia Mapp, and Paul Krendler 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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Alas, so all things now do hold their peace, Heaven and earth disturbed in no thing, The beasts, the air, the birds their song doth cease, The nightes chair the stars above doth bring. Calm is the sea, the waves work less and less So am I not, whom love alas doth wring, Bringing before my face the great increase Of my desires, whereat I weep and sing In joy and woe as in a doubtful ease. For my sweet thoughts sometime do pleasure bring, But by and by the cause of my disease Gives me a pang that inwardly doth sting, When that I think what grief it is again To live and lack the thing should rid my pain.

The last time I saw him alive, we had been dancing in the ballroom.

We had returned home from the opera, and it was rather late. Light-hearted after a charmingly romantic comedy, we strolled along the river, clad in our extravagant eveningwear, for close to an hour before calling the car to take us back to the palace.

It seems unlikely, doesn't it? That a mountain child of Montana, USA, specifically by the Christian name Clarice May and surname Starling, should have ascended to such a life. When I look down at where I came from, the heights are overwhelming. It seems unreal. I have wondered many times how I came to be this woman in an evening gown, drinking Chardonnay, staring into the cavernous ballroom of my mansion. For surely, it is not really a palace - that is just how I think of it. Indisputably, however, it is a mansion. And indisputably, now, it is mine.

He brought me into this life, kicking and screaming - rather literally, I am ashamed to admit. The situation was dire; he took what measures were necessary to make me understand, to awaken me to this world of infinite possibility, infinite luxury. Although it is a year to the day since he left me, I remain a regular audience member at several European operas, theatres and orchestral performances. I attend the museums and art galleries with a genuine enthusiasm that would have outraged my former self, who is also long dead.

Sadly - although I myself have little grief - Special Agent Clarice Starling, FBI, quit our world three years ago. She fought until the bitter end, but finally transcended her mediocre existence and became another woman. A better one, at least insomuch as she is liberated. And her liberator? The paradoxical Dr. Hannibal Lecter. A doomed roller pigeon, he taught her to fly - at the crucial second, the dizzying plummet towards cold, unforgiving concrete, he intervened. I owe him my life - both my old life, and my *vita nuova*. Unto death, I will owe him. It is incredible that I should life this live, and moreover, life *for* it. Yet, I confess, I do. I adore my lifestyle, and embrace it with passion - passion redirected, but passion nonetheless.

My passion for him will never die, so long as I hold him in my memory palace. We will be dancing for all time, we will be conversing, we will be making love - above all, we will be together. No longer am I a lover, nor beloved. Still, I sense him sometimes, haunting the grandiose palace of my memory, moving in and out of doors and through walls. Ubiquitous. Omniscient. My every thought is his - I haven't a single memory, I believe, that he has not in some way touched. And in touching, integrated himself into. That is a lot of memories, thirty-six years' worth of living to cover in but two. And I, in turn, have covered many of his, though not nearly as many as I tried to. Until death, Hannibal Lecter remained a mystery beyond my capacity to fathom. Always a little out of reach, even when he was most near. Sometimes I feared him for it. Sometimes I hated him. Throughout it all, though, I never stopped loving him. I still haven't.

The last time I saw him alive, we had been dancing in the ballroom.

He wore a black tuxedo and silver-blue bow tie that shimmered in the dim light of a single, far-reaching chandelier. We do, of course, have electricity, but often choose to forgo it in favour of the natural light, or lack thereof. Darkness envelops us like a silken sheet, smoothing and reducing us to our most beautiful common denominators. We both seek out the darkness, in the world and in each other - which were for a time, practically the same thing. For two years, he was all I saw. He was all I wanted to see. Can you imagine living like that? Nourished by the mere sight of another, living off his grace and infinite tenderness. It was like worship, but that my deity worshipped me back.

We were married in the spring. He believed in starting afresh, and the time of year seemed appropriate for that purpose. After all, I was his new life - his redemption and reward - although I do not understand how. I never understood why he chose me. I was always so ineffably grateful that he did, that I never paused to consider it. I was terrified of losing him, although ultimately, it was inevitable and neither of us chose it.

I think he saw it coming, though. Perhaps that was why he chose me, but I find that difficult to believe. I would rather believe in a timeless love, than one born as Time's defiant captive. And as he is now gone, consumed by the ravenous hunger of Time, it hardly matters why he loved me. All I know is that he did. The truth? There is none but this: I loved a man and now he is dead.

He taught me everything I needed to know in my new life - like a child, at thirty-three, I explored it with inquisitive eyes and reaching arms. Yet it was not just the experiences that enthralled me so. The inquisitive eyes were as often turned towards him as my experiences, seeking him out and drawing him in, while the reaching arms inevitably reached towards his own. He taught me to dance - so many dances! I most enjoyed the ballroom dancing, the exhilaration of being swept swiftly off-balance, spinning elegant circles around a ballroom, anchored by his hand at my waist.

Most of all, I loved glancing up into his face while we danced, to see the expression of absolute rapture as he absorbed the music. He rarely belied expression, even the most intense, yet I knew with such certainty what he was feeling. He was hardly aware of the room, of the hour, of the century - it was just the two of us, soaring. We were an island, Hannibal and I. Sovereign. Unsinkable.

My last memory of him was that of dancing in the grand ballroom, after the opera. I had worn a certain black dress, long and clinging like a lover in ecstasy. With sleek arms, it reached over my breasts and around my neck, the hands there joining to leave my back entirely bare - except, of course, for his hand. As delicate as a moth, it hovered above my skin, sometimes dipping to caress, other times, content to hover. Barely felt, it still caused me to shiver in the mild night air. I wore the dress that evening, because he told me he had missed it. Missed it! I suppose there were many memories in that dress, with its unabashed sensuality, unholy and dark. He never looked at me quite the same way when I wore anything else; it was as though the memories overpowered his capacity for higher thought - a nearly impossible task, I should think, yet I could swear that dress achieved it. For that reason, the sacred memories, I buried it with him when he died. It lay folded, supporting his head like a pillow or my lap. The thought comforts me sometimes.

Were it not with him, I would be wearing it right now. The memories are overwhelming tonight - as though the gates of my memory palace have been flooded open. I can hardly breathe for the grief in me - unlike him, I never learnt to repress it entirely. A palace of memories is one thing, inside my head, but around my body, too? No, I cannot help but grieve him. Even within me now, he does not fill me like he used to.

The last time I saw him alive, we had been making love in the ballroom. Bach's Goldberg Variations rose triumphantly from the walls, surrounding us as we danced. At times delicate and soft, at other times furious and loud, it swept us around the room as though we danced on the music itself. Around, and around, and around - the music wafts around me as I remember, recalled from the orchestras of memory. I remember the instability, my body pressed against his as we raced gallantly around the room, my forehead against the warm flesh of his neck, our hands clasped tight and close to our bodies. Like I said, we were a single, self-contained unit - an island. And when the music slowed, we did likewise, gasping for breath against each other, our bodies slick with sweat and desire. Then slowly, with such phenomenal restraint, he would pull me around the room, my own legs trembling, my body weak. And my arm would slide from his shoulder to his neck, stroking it in light, concentric circles. He would exhale hotly against my neck, sending another wave of arousal crashing through my blood, pooling in my groin, and I would pull him closer.

Eventually, the music would pick up again, and revived, restless, we would match pace. Each rotation, however, brought us closer to the pinnacle of frustration. Every breath was thick with desire, every movement, deliberate. It was a slow, suffering seduction, beautiful and torturously intense. When he nuzzled my cheek, kissing my face - my forehead, my eyes, my nose, my mouth - the music changed, and we could stand it no longer. As it launched lustily into the new stanza, we fell against the wall, grabbing feverishly at each other's clothes, pushing and tugging, pulling and tearing, until we were barely dressed and barely conscious. He kissed me - everywhere - trailing searing kissed over every inch of exposed skin, tasting me like a rare and exotic fruit. When he moved too threateningly low, I pulled him back up to my lips. We made love that night, then and there, against the wall of the grand old ballroom. Sometimes I blush to think about it, but the memory is so rare - preserved with that of his subsequent death, I both cherish and shun it. I cannot bear the pain.

Pushing and pulling, that was us. Constantly in motion, in an ancient dance of stateliness and seduction, creating our own music, discordant yet synchronized. That was us, a year ago to this very hour. That was our love.

Around me, the ballroom looms, huge and disapproving, as though it too remembers what delicious mischief was had in it that night. The darkness conceals me, however, as I stand between the two wings of the door. I peer into the unfathomable darkness, and see us, standing on the far side of the room, staring into one another's eyes. Staring as though we'll never see each other again. Sometime shortly after that, I see him collapse like a sinner in front of Christ, falling to his knees before me. I see myself start to laugh, a fledgling laugh which is cut short by a gasp of horror, as I realise that his distress is sincere. He clutches at his heart, and I fall to my knees beside him, holding him up by the shoulders, sobbing hysterically. He struggles to breath, and tries to say my name. The fit lasts but a few long moments, then he falls heavily against me and I, backwards under him. In that moment, we suddenly came closer to each other than ever before, closer than any two living souls could possibly be - I took him into me, accepting him as a part of myself. And since that moment, we have been one.

I close my eyes, letting my vision vanish before my eyes. My own screams, which a moment ago filled my head, are replaced by an inconsolable silence. It is this emptiness with which I have lived for a year. No threat, no promise. Just the memories, of lives I have lived, and lives I have not. They are all the same to me now. They are all within me now.

We are one - and we are alive.


copyright 2001, by Little Starling

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