Her back is a mass of puckered purple from where the shattered glass pierced her. She sits in her wheelchair for hours, arms twisted behind her back, her fingers running up and down her spine, her palms pressed against the scars on her shoulder blades as she contemplates how they got there. When she’d fallen—been pushed—out of the window, she’d landed on the broken glass. She hadn’t even felt it, not in comparison to the shattering of her pelvis, but it’s where the majority of her scars come from. The only remaining marks from the true damage of the fall are the two small surgical scars on her hipbones and the limp she will walk with for the rest of her life. Her doctorate sits in the back of her head and whispers about mental scars, about the rotting feeling in her stomach and the downwards tilt of her lips, but she ignores it.
She doesn’t dream much in the hospital, but when she does, she dreams of Abigail, teary-eyed and terrified. She usually dreams of grabbing her by the wrists and pulling her close and telling her that she’s safe, that she won’t let Hannibal hurt her anymore. In those dreams, they climb down the gutter to the ground, and when the gutter breaks and Abigail falls, Alana catches her. With Abigail in her arms, shaking but alive, she feels victorious. The doctors tell her she smiles in her sleep, and that they’re proud of her for still having good dreams after all that had happened.
She throws out all of her old clothes when she’s released from the hospital. She’s still in her wheelchair, which hinders the process significantly, but her house is a modest little one-story thing, and so she wheels herself back and forth between her bedroom and her dumpster with bags full of garish patterns and cheap, stretchy fabric. It takes hours.
Alana decides that she should no longer be providing talk therapy. She tells nobody, instead electing to claim that she is ‘taking time for recovery.’ She knows better. She knows the difference between damage and metamorphosis. She knows which one you recover from. Her decision to leave-alter-her profession brings her some degree of comfort. She is no longer the type of person who ought to muddy their hands in the delicate grey matter of innocents, and the fact that she knows that, the fact that she’s willing to step aside before she causes any damage, proves that the foundation of whatever she was before is still there. She is still Alana Bloom. She has forgotten what warmth feels like; all she can remember is the cold of the rain and the numbness of her legs, but she is still good.
When all her bags are piled up by the dumpster, she calls up one of her neighbors, a soft-eyed forty-something divorcee named Mrs. Kelsen. She’d cooked for Mrs. Kelsen once or twice, after her husband moved out, and the woman had nearly cried at the sight of Alana standing in her doorway with a tuna casserole and a six-pack of (Hannibal’s homemade) beer. Mrs. Kelsen picks up on the second ring and tells Alana she’ll be right over with beer before Alana can get a word in edgewise. There’s something precious about that, being reminded that the world sometimes repays kindness.
She invests in a cane. It’s a harsh, distinctly masculine thing, thick and black with a silver head. There’s a certain understated elegance to it. She’s never been either of those things, but there’s something about the weight of it in her hand that makes one corner of her lip pull up. She buys it a month before her physical therapist says she can begin walking. It’s a motivator, she tells herself. A reason to get on her feet a little faster.
Mrs. Kelsen drinks most of the beer she brings to Alana’s, since Alana’s still on painkillers. Somehow, it comes back to therapy. It’s a safe place for Alana, a good fallback. She can keep her mouth shut and listen, nod in the right places, and ask a few probing questions. Alana is good at therapy. She’s sympathetic while maintaining enough emotional distance to remain rational. She tries, in her kitchen, holding a full bottle of light beer, to listen to Mrs. Kelsen the way she listened over the tuna casserole. She’s talking about the fact that she still goes by “Mrs.” and Alana’s nodding along. “It’s what everyone calls me” whispers Mrs. Kelsen “It’s who I am. It’s who I am, and it’s not even my name. Damned if I’ll let it ruin me though.” Alana grasps desperately for pity, but all she can find is the resentful monster in her chest laughing at the idea of ruin being something that’s ‘allowed.’ Forest fires don’t provide campers with friendly little half-hour warnings. Ruin, true ruin, simply is.
Sometimes she dreams of grabbing Abigail by the wrists and hurling her out the window instead. She hates herself afterwards, but in the dream, she watches Abigail’s face contort in pain as her bones splinter and feels a steely sense of victory settle on her shoulders like armor. The doctors never mention her doing anything but smile in her sleep, and, while she tells herself that they didn’t want to talk about nightmares, something sick in her gut tells her she smiled through these dreams too.
After Mrs. Kelsen leaves, Alana contemplates starting a dumpster fire, as if she were back in college helping her roommate Becky rid their dorm room of Becky’s old boyfriend’s stuff. It’s melodramatic, and it’s childish, and besides, she can’t reach inside the dumpster anyway.
When Mason makes his offer, she’s glad she never announced her plans to move away from her old career. She smiles and accepts, telling him that she’s sure that she can help him through the devastation of discovering the truth about his old psychiatrist. His face is barely mobile, and it makes her want to vomit, but something in his piggy eyes says he has a plan.
She watches the garbage truck leave with her old clothes. It’s surprisingly painless. She expects to feel as if an elastic band were stretched between her heart and the clothes. She expects to feel something snap from the tension as the garbage truck rounds the bend. She feels nothing, except for the dull realization that she’ll need to go shopping soon.
Her father calls her, after a while. They haven’t spoken in a while, but he’s a good father, and good fathers call their good daughters after aforementioned daughters get out of the hospital. He is, however, a stoic father, and so he waits a few weeks to call her, just to make sure the raw emotion has faded. He calls her three times, but she’s on the phone with Mason, so she sends him straight to voicemail. She calls him back after, though, and explains that she was on a work related call. He tells her he’s just glad she’s working.
Becky’s aunt has a collection of wrap dresses, vast and tawdry, and also a brain tumor, which kills her in the middle of Alana and Becky’s junior year. The dresses are left to Becky, which makes it clear that Becky’s aunt hadn’t interacted with Becky in years, as Becky is a girl of substantial girth, and the dresses are a size 2. Becky does not give them to Alana straightaway. In fact, Alana doesn’t even glance at the dresses until she has to interview for an internship, at which point she figures the dresses are nicer than anything she could afford on her own budget. She steals one, orange with red and white butterflies, and pairs it with a pair of nice, if scuffed, riding boots. It’s offbeat, but passably professional. It also teeters on the edge of abrasiveness, with a dash of kitsch thrown in to make it clear that the dress originally belonged to someone much older than herself. She looks in the mirror and holds her spine stiff in the way that allows models to pull off anything. She pulls off the wrap dress, and, when she lands the internship, Becky lets her keep the entire collection.
She’s not entirely sure what she plans to do for her new wardrobe, now that the wrap dresses are gone. She’s always been a penny-pincher, which has served her well, but there’s something about the thought of heading back to TJ Maxx that seems futile, somehow. There’s something about the racks polyester and spandex that feel like a vain attempt to turn back time. They’re all soft and non-threatening and playful. They’re hot cocoa with ginger cookies and smiles that reach the eyes. They’re the reason people instinctively call her by her first name within seconds of meeting her. They’re harmless. Alana doesn’t want to be harmless. Alana emails a personal shopper.
When her dad calls, she answers every inquiry into her wellbeing with an inquiry of her own, and soon he’s telling her all about his neighbor’s obnoxious kid and his obsession with street hockey, and ranting about his boss and his medical bills and the pain in his lower back that just won’t go away. She lets him carry on like that for as long as he needs, and then asks him if he’s read the tattlecrime article about her yet. He doesn’t answer, just tells her he loves her and that he has to hang up now. She tells him she loves him too, and the line goes dead.
Alana starts walking around her house two weeks before the physical therapist gives her the all-clear. She can hardly call it walking, as it’s closer to dragging herself along with the cane. It’s incredibly inelegant. She wonders how soon she’ll be able to do it in heels.
Mason calls her twice a week, not for therapy, but to demand an in-person meeting. His caution is reassuring, but she will not meet him until she can walk. He’s wheelchair-bound as well, she hears, and she supposes they could bond over that, but there’s something in the manic drag of his syllables that warns her against any sort of closeness. She could go to TJ Maxx, and buy a wrap dress, and wheel herself over to his mansion and be Alana Bloom again, but that’s not what she wants. If they have the same intentions in mind, Alana Bloom is the last person he’ll be looking to partner with. Alana Bloom does not have a taste for blood unless it’s been mixed with her beer. Mason, at the moment, refers to her as Doctor Bloom, and she’d very much like to keep it that way.
Her personal shopper sends her a box containing an orange-red coat, a grey pencil dress, and a pair of black louboutin platforms. Putting them on is less of a struggle than it would’ve been a few weeks ago. She takes the shoes off, grabs her cane, and heads to her bathroom. Once there, she slides her feet back into the shoes and stands in front of the mirror. For a moment, she doesn’t recognize herself. Her legs are wobbling slightly due to the unfamiliar angle of her feet, and she hasn’t shaved since her release from the hospital. The vibrancy of the coat washes her out, and the dress is ever so slightly too loose in the hips. She stands the way she sees models stand. Her legs still. She leans all of her weight on her cane and squares her jaw. It still doesn’t quite work. She thinks about Machiavelli. She thinks about being loved. She thinks about being respected. She thinks about being feared. She thinks about Doctor Lecter, and the way he carried himself, and how people would shrink back from him, yield to him, without ever knowing they were doing it. She draws her shoulders up. Her hips even out. Her stance widens. She stares herself in the eyes, and she doesn’t recognize the person in the mirror.
Alana smiles at the stranger in the mirror and thinks about Hannibal’s warmth, undercut by the sharpness of his teeth. She assesses herself one more time. She turns around and opens her medicine cabinet, rummaging around for her long-forgotten makeup bag. She finds it and empties its contents into the sink. She owns two lipsticks, one a sheer pink worn down to a nub, and one an unused violent red she received in a yankee swap. She reaches for the latter, and swipes it over her lips. Her hands are shaking. She looks in the mirror again, and this time, when she smiles, there’s a bite to the curve of her lips to rival Hannibal’s.
Doctor Bloom cuts the tags off the shoes and the coat, and sets the lipstick on her dresser. The dress she returns to its box. She sends her personal shopper an inquiry on the subject of suits.