Periodically I post my short fiction on my blog. The following short memoir could have been titled “Interview with a Monster” but I opted for “The Days of my Youth” because it was written in response to the question: what happens before or after a famous fictional event? So I chose Thomas Harris’ famous fictional creation, and wondered what sort of a childhood could produce such a complex, monstrous character? The character is being interviewed by a brave journalist:
I’m hoping to set the record straight, by agreeing to this interview about my earliest childhood experiences. Everyone seems to think that people like me emerge from the womb dripping with wickedness, right from the start. It’s not so – nothing could be further from the truth. I had a perfectly normal childhood. Normal – whatever that is. It’s all relative isn’t it? But perhaps you don’t agree.
My earliest memory? Mmm, let’s see. I remember Mother pushing me up and down the garden path in my pram, humming quietly under her breath, trying to get me to drop off to sleep no doubt. Father didn’t like to be disturbed, he made it very clear he would not tolerate a screaming baby, and once he was in his workroom he definitely didn’t want to be disturbed. I remember being allowed to visit his workroom, I might have been four or five, maybe? I was allowed in, on condition I sat on the stool and didn’t touch anything. I remember the smell of the formaldehyde, and being enchanted by the box containing the glass eyes – I was longing to touch them, and play with them, but I sat on my hands, and looked around at the animal heads mounted on the walls, the glass fronted display case containing the most delicate examples of Father’s craft, the birds, seemingly caught in mid-flight. No, no, I don’t think Father’s taxidermy had anything to do with my interests in later life.
Oh – one of my fondest memories from my early years, was Spot. My dog – I loved him dearly. He had black spotty patches on his white coat, and so lively, as only fox terriers can be! And I’d like to emphasize that I did not spend my boyhood doing unspeakable things to small animals! Really, you have no idea, no idea at all, of the dreadful letters I receive on this subject – I often wonder whether the authorities have locked up the right person when I read those letters. Trust me, some of those letter-writers ought to be in here, if what they write is to be believed. I’m sorry, but I feel strongly about this and again it takes me back to my first question : what is normal?
You think my name might have been an influencing factor? Well – I must admit it is an unusual name – Mother was obsessed with the ancient world and she chose my name. Of course, once I went to school, I was teased mercilessly about my name. And then, later, the newspapers had a field day inventing that silly rhyming couplet to describe me. So juvenile, don’t you agree?
My first love? Oh, that’s an easy question to answer: she was the prettiest little girl (I have a soft spot for pretty women – but perhaps you’ve heard). Anyway, she sat in the desk in front of me in Primary School. She had long brown ringlets, and her name was Clare. It’s a name that keeps recurring in my life, quite strange really. Very recently a young woman came to interview me and her name was Clarice. But not a pretty girl, I have to say, rather thin mousy hair and a pale, strained face.
Another vivid childhood memory? Well, let’s see. I know! it was Uncle Gregor’s visit. I must have been about seven at the time. I found him very exotic, with his thick accent and funny foreign clothes. But what I remember most clearly is the night he took us out to dine, in a restaurant, what an occasion! The starched tablecloth, the smart waiters, the bright lights, the odours of food, wine, cigars, the buzz of voices – so different from our usual quiet life at home. What? What did I eat? Do you know, I can’t remember, but I do remember what Uncle Gregor ordered. I’d never seen or heard of it before – hardly surprising, Steak Tartare was not a feature of our modest suburban cuisine. I remember being fascinated by the deep redness of the raw steak, and the intoxicating rich, sharp bloody smell of the meat – somehow it struck a deep note in the depth of my being. Hmmm. Now that I look back, perhaps a seminal moment.
What? Sorry, I was wool-gathering. More about my school days? Well, I don’t know – nothing really springs to mind. My favourite lesson? Oh – biology I suppose, especially when I reached Senior School, and we started dissecting specimens. I was quite handy with a scalpel, Father’s tuition paid off there, and it was always so intriguing to slice through the muscle tissue and come to those perfect little organs, those tiny little mouse-hearts glistening with the blood … Are you alright? You’ve turned quite pale. Maybe you should call the guard and get some water? Or should we stop now, perhaps it’s enough for one day.
But I must say I’ve enjoyed re-living my childhood memories with you, it’s not often that anybody shows any interest in Hannibal Lecter’s youth, no, they always want to hear about my later career. Oh well, that’s the way of the world, I suppose.