Hannibal discovers, on his first bouncy trip down Will Graham’s driveway after driving the man himself to the airport for a rendezvous with a dead nuclear family in Connecticut, that there is a special pleasure to home invasion when you have been invited to do it.
Not a greater pleasure, by any means– just a different flavour. Will had asked diffidently, offhandedly, trying to give him an out, citing probably entirely imaginary other animal-watchers that he could ask. “My pack, uh,” he said, “catches some people off guard.”
“I’m not uncomfortable with dogs,” Hannibal answered him mildly.
“They’re not dogs,” Will said.
Now Hannibal stops the car beside the front porch, and notes the wire fence that makes a small sub-yard out of the expansive grounds in front of the house. The grass here is well-tended, but not in the way suburban or tony urban lawns are; instead, a riot of greens and purples grows, clover and alfalfa and unidentifiable shoots that would probably be called weeds in Hannibal’s neighbourhood, and reported to the homeowner’s association for immediate action. Here, they are allowed to exist as they are– even encouraged. He feels a small pang of warmth inside him, and recognizes it as the blooming hope that he may be able to do the same with Will.
He had stopped at the farmers’ market on his way out. He prefers to bring a high-quality gift, even if he’s not used to preparing food for recipients of these particular inclinations. He grabs the bag and makes his way up the front porch.
When he swings the door open, there is no visible reaction. Instead, there is a palpable stopping of reaction; the sense of movement that had been going on a moment before all suddenly halted. Seven pairs of eyes stare up at him in vague hostility. At least, he knows theoretically there are seven; he doesn’t see them all immediately.
“Hello,” says Hannibal.
The first one to move reminds him strongly of the time that a bunch of nurses at Johns Hopkins had more or less kidnapped him for an evening after learning that he had never heard of a TV program called Star Trek before. He had gamely provided refreshment and sat through an instructive hour of American cultural product, in which diverse members of a benign military hierarchy received remedial instruction about exponential growth via small cooing balls of fur.
The bravest, or perhaps just stupidest, rabbit stops just shy of his foot. He stands up on its hind legs, revealing an almost obscenely fluffy white belly underneath the shaggy brown and red of its fur, his ears flopping down seemingly out of his control. In fact Hannibal is not at all certain that the creature is male, but the word is masculine in his first two languages, triùšis, krolik, and the animal doesn’t seem in a position to object to being incorrectly sexed.
There is something almost disturbingly domesticated about him. Nobody could mistake this creature for a wild animal; he is too silky, his nose flat like a pug’s in a way that appears helpless instead of threatening– no digging in the underbrush for this one, he is made to eat from a bowl.
Having seemingly taken the first one’s movement as permission, a second rabbit comes to investigate. This one is marginally more believable as a creature descended from wild animals; an uneven black-and-white pattern, the white extending up the nose like a diamond. Hannibal pulls out the bag he had brought, and suddenly the room is alive with activity; whether they can smell greens, or see them, or just know that good things usually come from bags, all hesitation has been forgotten. All seven rabbits swarm around his feet– he can just barely get a grip on counting them, adding two small black ones, a ball of fluff that might be Angora, a ponderous grey monster twice the size of any of the others, and a white one with red eyes that almost seem to glow as he unashamedly places paws on Hannibal’s pants as if to climb up his leg.
Hannibal had regretted, when he’d agreed to feed the animals, that he wouldn’t be able to feed them anything of his own making. While some wild rabbits will eat anything– some, even, their own young– the sausage that he’d set aside back when he’d assumed Will’s pack referred to a more conventional pack animal would likely be fatal to these things. Still, their enthusiasm for the spinach, parsley and cilantro that he’d brought instead is enthusiastic enough to almost make up for it.
He places it on a large serving platter clearly on the ground for that purpose, and watches them eat for a moment. They attack the greens with a violence he wouldn’t have expected such small scraps of prey to be capable of, a feeding frenzy of impardonable gluttony that Hannibal has to respect. He begins to see why Will likes them. Or rather, he begins to like them himself, and hopes that Will has the same reasons.
While they eat– some irrational part of him wants to think while they’re not watching him— Hannibal looks around Will’s house. Along the side of the room, underneath the bookshelves, runs a long platform made of close-meshed wire, underneath which is a pan full of litter; on top, wooden boxes of hay. Rabbits apparently enjoy eating and excreting at the same time. Hannibal has never tried it, and it crosses his mind that he should. It’s important to keep in mind that what goes in one side of the body must come out the other, that neither process is more or less human than the other, that neither is farther away from the animal self. He fills the hay boxes back up from the large box that sits on top of the piano, refills the water bowls on the sides of the platform.
The piano, he hadn’t expected. Will has never mentioned anything about playing music. The situation having somehow reminded him of prehistoric sacrifice, he plays the opening few notes of the Rite of Spring; then, when the rabbits give no reaction at all, tries a few Bach chorales just to get the full sense of how horribly the chords clash. Again, the animals show no alarm; so Will must play the thing occasionally, at least, even if he doesn’t particularly care about its tuning. Or perhaps he prefers it this way, an instrument tuned in the fashion of the pianos kept in the back of bars and basement of churches.
He snoops through drawers, taking note of the stack of neat white undershirts and rifling through Will’s underwear– after glancing behind him to make sure the rabbits are still occupied, he lifts a few pairs to his nose, but smells nothing but the faux-floral scent of cheap detergent.
Finally, he comes to the desk. A magnifying glass stands in front of a fly-in-progress, and this is what he had come for, the next stage of his plan for Will. Carefully, using the glass, he adds in the materials he had brought for that purpose.
When he turns around, the same floppy brown rabbit who had first greeted him at the door has abandoned the remains of the meal and is sitting, staring at him. From head on, the width of the fluff on his back compared to his front paws placed beside each other in front of him give him an almost aggressive, wrestler-like look. He stares at Hannibal, as if to say and just what do you think you’re doing, buster?
Hannibal stares back. He wishes he could have fed them his sausage; had they been dogs, he could have given them something they had never eaten before. Something that would make them love him, remember him, trust him. Something compromising. Will’s rabbits remain stubbornly uncompromised, suspicious, self-contained. It gives him pause, for the first time, when he thinks of Will.
But no. Will is not prey, no matter how much he enjoys keeping company with them. He can take what is coming, and more, and he will. Hannibal slips out and locks the door, and tries not to imagine the seven pairs of large, curved ears listening to him retreat down the driveway.