Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein: 1

As I wrote yesterday, I'm going to start serializing this story on M-W-F each week.  We'll see how it goes ... here's the first installment (I'll try to keep them all about this length--i.e., readable).

The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein
Edited by Her 8th Grade English Teacher,
Mr. Bob Walton
Packet I: I Discover Who I Am (1983–1995)

a novel by
Daniel Dyer

Copyright © 2013 by Daniel Dyer

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

DEDICATION: For those Harmon School eighth-graders in the 1990s who, in my class, watched Frankenstein and The Munsters, listened to “Monster Mash,” ate those Frankenberries, and wrote those amazing stories …

It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn ….
— Victor Frankenstein, in Frankenstein;or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley, 1818 (1831 edition)


I hesitate to publish this.  I could be making a serious mistake.  A very serious mistake.  And as you probably know, teachers don’t like to be wrong—about anything.
It’s possible that everything you’re going to read in this book is a lie—well, not everything.  The part I’m writing is true.  At least, I believe it is.  Then again, maybe I’m just crazy.  The older I get, the less sure I am about who’s sane and who isn’t.  About what’s real … and what isn’t.
So anyway, if I’m not insane, you can believe what I’ve written.  But the rest of the book?  The part supposedly written by the girl who calls herself Victoria Frankenstein?  Can you believe her?  Well, can you trust any eighth grader to tell the truth?  Ever?

I’ve got to go back a little and explain myself.  My name is Mr. Walton.  Mr. Bob Walton.  I’m an eighth grade English teacher.  I should say, I was an eighth grade English teacher in a suburban school near Cleveland, Ohio.  I’m retired now, but I still think of myself as a teacher. I’m like an old hunting dog—lame and blind, lying in the sun—who can still imagine himself sprinting across a field, chasing—and catching!—rabbits.  In your own mind, you’re never old.  In your dreams, you’re forever young.
I live alone now.  My wife of more than thirty years has passed away.  I will probably write about her—about her loss—one of these days.  But this is not the time or place.  Something else is very much on my mind at the moment.
Years ago, in the fall of 1997,  I was in the waning months of my teaching career.  I had already turned sixty and was no longer the teacher I had been years before, when I’d started—full of energy and ideas.  Those long-ago days when I loved kids, loved my job, loved my future.  And could not imagine myself doing anything else.
Now I could imagine lots of things.  Lots.  I still loved my students (well, most of them), still enjoyed going to work (usually).  But I’d grown weary of the routine, the grading, the meetings … I was ready to retire.  Very, very ready.
Just before the start of that 1996–1997 school year—when all this began, my final year of teaching—the chairman of the English department called me into her office on warm August day, one of those days when teachers start preparing their rooms—and themselves—for classes.
 “Mr. Walton,” she began, looking across her desk at me closely.  “I’ve got an idea for you.”  She always had ideas for me.  But from what her students said, she didn’t have too many ideas for herself.  But that’s another story.
I looked at her.  Like the rest of us, she had dressed casually for the day.  She wore jeans and a white peasant blouse.  But her hair—silver now, like mine—formed a tight clump on the top of her head—like a shiny petrified hamburger bun.  And her glasses, rhinestones glittering from the temples, dangled from a chain around her neck.    Her eyes were dim and dull, like grapes gone bad.
I’d known her for twenty years.  We didn’t care much for each other, so we still addressed each other with Mr. and Mrs.—no Ms. for her: She hated it.
 “An idea for me?” I replied with false enthusiasm.  “That’s very thoughtful of you, Mrs. Clairmont.  I’m fond of good ideas.”  I hoped I sounded sincere.  Because I wasn’t.  Because the last thing I wanted were some of her ideas.  I just wanted to finish the year and disappear into retirement.
 “I was thinking that the eighth graders ought to read more classics this year.”
 “More classics?”
 “Yes.  I mean, it’s all well and good that they read these . . . popular . . . books”—she spoke the word popular as if it were something filthy, as if she were expelling from her mouth some ugly bug that had flown in. “But we’re really not doing our jobs if we don’t teach more classic works of literature.”
Now, I was no dummy.  I knew that when she said “we,” she meant “you”—she wanted me to teach more classics.  She already taught plenty of them, proved by the loud sounds of snoring coming from her classroom.
 “What classics did you have in mind?” I asked, trying not to sigh.
 “How about something exciting?” she said as she leaned forward in her chair.   “Shakespeare … Dickens … Austen.  Maybe even something like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.”
I couldn’t believe my ears!  She was giving me permission to teach Frankenstein!  A book about a monster!  My students would eat it up.  Of course, I’d never read the book myself, but how much of a problem would that be?  I’d get to it in the next few days.
 “Frankenstein!  That’s a great idea, Mrs. Clairmont,” I said with enthusiasm.  “And I think I’ll teach it around Halloween, too.”
 “Why would you want to do it then?” she asked.
I looked to see if she was joking.  She wasn’t.  Mrs. Clairmont’s stairway did not reach the top floor.


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