Author's note: Here's an idea that had been percolating in the back of my head for about a year. Reviews are gratefully appreciated.
Someday a cup will come together. Or somewhere Starling may hear a crossbow string and come to some unwilled awakening, if indeed she even sleeps.
December to those in the northern lands blows blustery and cold. Visions of snow, ice, breath pluming visibly in the air like cigarette smoke, snowmen smiling immobile from lawns – these are the images of December.
December in the south is far different. For those in southern climes, December is far milder, leading to sunny, warm days. Go far enough south, past the equator, and December is a time of summer, as hot and muggy as June is to those in the northern hemisphere.
And December the 10th is a bright and sunshiny day here in this park in Buenos Aires. The northern half of the world is cold and wintry, turned away from the sun. The asylum in which Hannibal Lecter spent eight years locked in a tiny cell without even so much as a view lies knee-deep in snow. The Shenandoah River, where Clarice Starling used to run, is a huge vodka on the rocks, chunks of ice bobbing in its length as they rush along mindlessly on their journey to sea.
But not here. Here the sun shines bright and the park and the sky are the bright living green and blue of a child's box of crayons. Here families laugh and the air carries back the shriek of excited children playing on the playground. Occasionally the smell of criollo cooking on a grill may tickle one's nostrils, if one gets close enough. A group of archers are setting up for target practice. Of course, they have the permission of the park rangers to do such a thing, and of course they ensure that no one inadvertently wanders behind the bales of hay they have set up. They just wish to shoot some targets. Here on this beautiful summer day no one really wants anyone else to get skewered, do they?
Skewered? Well, no. But these archers will transfix a woman's life very shortly with their arrows. One of them is excited to have purchased a new crossbow, and he shows his friends his new toy with glee.
"Try it out," one of them urges.
The crossbowman lifts his crossbow to his eye and cocks it. Through the scope his world is reduced to the sight of the target, bright rings of color inviting the bolt nocked within the crossbow. He means no harm to the woman walking fifty feet to his left. In fact, he doesn't even see her. He simply aims his crossbow at the target and fires.
Hmmmmm. The string vibrates at about a D below middle C. The vibration teases the air, forcing the air to dance to its tune, much like another eleven years ago and thousands of miles north. Although the bolt does not strike the center of the target, the firing of the crossbow most definitely hits its mark.
The woman stops for a moment, her blue eyes wide. Her throat works, as if something inside has jammed it up. After eleven years of sleeping, Clarice Starling is finally awake.
What the hell, Clarice Starling thinks. Mason's goons fucking shot me. Last thing I remember is…what?
The last thing she can remember clearly is the darts, stinging like mosquitoes. Everything after that is a series of reflections in broken mirror shards. Dr. Lecter leaning over her. Her own voice, droning. Then…
There is so damn much of it. Spanish, she knows that. Her college French and Italian is much stronger than it ever was before. An endless hall of memories, all kept in the shards of broken mirrors, and Special Agent Clarice M. Starling can only walk down it, glass gritting under her feet, looking into each shard to see what thought or memory it may reflect.
The sound of this stringed instrument…your peace and self-sufficiency…Dr. Lecter's voice, smooth and deadly as a knife blade. Clarice shivers. Krendler's voice, loud and boisterous and as clueless as it ever was. How is it?…Smells great!
How long does this hall littered with shards last? The memories, thoughts, and feelings of a decade lie before her in ruins, and she cannot put any of it into some kind of coherent order. Where the hell is 'Delia? Where is she? How did she come to leave Mason Verger's farm and end up here, in this sunny park?
Glancing down at herself reveals odder things. She is wearing a sundress and high-heeled sandals. A touch of her hair tells her it is longer than before. With trepidation she pulls a strand to her eyes. It is blonde. Blonde.
When the hell did she become Miss Froufrou? She'd never dressed like this before; battered BDU pants and boots had been her preferred dress. The purse swinging from her side is made by Prada. Clarice opens it and paws through her wallet. She recognizes the picture on her driver's license but not the name or the language it is written in. Provincia de Buenos Aires. Licencia de conducir. It makes no sense. All she can do is stare at it in befuddlement.
The stuff in the purse puzzles her too. Makeup accoutrements. Tubes and brushes and a compact. A mascara brush. Good brands, too. A cell phone she doesn't recognize at first glance and then does. Glancing at the date makes her goggle for a moment. She puts it away. This is a tiny, tiny phone and must be expensive. These are things she has never owned before
Well no, that isn't exactly right. She has, but secretly. Just as the couture publications lay at the bottom of her underwear drawer, hidden away like shameful pornography, Clarice has used makeup. But only in her duplex bathroom, far away from where anyone might see it. She would no more walk around with this sort of stuff than she would walk into work with a kilo of cocaine in the pocket of her BDU pants.
A few feet ahead of her, a little girl turns to look at her curiously. She is about five years old, Clarice thinks. She wears a cute little dress and frilly ankle socks. Clarice grins the way everyone grins at a cute little girl. A second glance wipes that from her.
The little girl's resemblance to her is clear as day. Her background is clearly more moneyed than Clarice Starling's shirttail upbringing in rural West Virginia. Those shoes and dress cost somebody plenty. Still, the face that looks at her is much like a young version of her own, and the little girl's light brown hair is the same color that Clarice's was when she was a little girl. For a moment Clarice thinks of her younger sister, back in the ramshackle house in West Virginia.
More memories spring to life from their shards. The feel of an elastic belt wrapped around her middle. The feel of her own belly swollen high above what it once was. A doctor, smiling professionally: Señora Alvarez, you're almost four millimeters dilated.
Jesus Christ on a pogostick, something is seriously, seriously screwed up here, Clarice Starling thinks.
"Mama, can we get ice cream?" the little girl asks, her eyes on Clarice.
Clarice stares at the little girl. Her tongue grows fat between her teeth. Don't ask me, kid, ask your mom, is what she means to say. But the shards of memory remind her that the little girl is doing just that. Impossible as it may seem, Clarice remembers enough bits and pieces to tell her the impossible truth. She remembers a baby in a white blanket, wrapped up tight and put in her arms. She's in perfect health, her Apgars were nine and nine.
Mama, can we get ice cream? No, that isn't what the little girl has said. It was more something like Mama, podriamos conseguir helado? Some mystical ability has translated the meaning of her words for Clarice. It is almost as if Clarice can speak Spanish.
How the hell could I possibly have a kid and not remember it? Clarice thinks. She feels sweat begin to break out on the back of her neck and her shoulders. For a moment the world spins and she is dizzy. This…this just can't be. She is a thirty-three-year-old unmarried woman, and a suspended agent of the FBI….isn't she?
Clarice stops and glances around the park in utter confusion. Has she gone to sleep and awakened as someone else? Has some evil dwarf cast a spell and switched her mind into another person's body? For a moment her mind seizes on that stupid 70's movie Freaky Friday. There is no explanation at hand. The little girl wants ice cream, sure, but Clarice doesn't think she'll have much input into why she seems to think that Special Agent Clarice M. Starling is her mom.
Or, for that matter, why Clarice can remember bits and pieces of a child's birth that she somehow knows are connected with the girl in front of her. Or why Clarice is wearing a dress and heels. Or why the cell phone in Clarice's purse reads 10 Diciembre 2009.
This…this can't be happening, Clarice Starling thinks.
"Mama, are you all right?" The little girl eyes her curiously. She stops and stares at Clarice with some concern.
Clarice smiles and feels the burn of cold sweat. Everything her eyes tell her is real…but it can't be. It just can't. Something is severely screwed up here. The last thing Clarice Starling can remember that isn't broken up into shards is the fall of 1998, saving Dr. Lecter from Mason Verger and his goons. Eleven years seem to have impossibly slipped by, like a long afternoon nap.
How has this happened? How has she become Clarice Van Winkle? How did she come to be in this park, with this little girl, in these clothes? Why is there a Mercedes key on her key fob?
The little girl can offer her no answers, but she gives Clarice part of the puzzle. Her head tilts like that of a parrot and she studies Clarice bloodlessly, with far more gravitas than makes sense for a five-year-old girl.
"If you're sick, you should talk to papa," she observes. "He's a doctor. He knows all about sick people." Clarice's breath catches in her throat for a moment. The memory of a man behind a stout nylon net crosses her mind. This image is not broken into shards; it is a long saved and held memory, like a keepsake photograph given pride of place in an album.
The little girl's face is derived from hers. She is of Starling blood. That is something Clarice's stunned eyes cannot deny. Even despite the impossibility of the situation, she knows her own kin, and the little girl is her own kin. But her eyes…Clarice swallows, looks away, and looks back. The little girl's eyes do tell her a lot about how she may have come to be here and why she cannot remember more than a decade.
Set in that small version of Clarice Starling's face is a pair of glowing maroon eyes.