Dawn Reader

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein: 4

As Halloween neared, I decided on a writing assignment, a short story of some kind, a story that would involve elements from the original Frankenstein—characters, situations, places.  Whatever the kids wanted to do.  They seemed interested—as interested as they were in anything they had to write—and when they handed their stories in on Friday, I was actually looking forward to reading them.
I didn’t begin until Sunday afternoon, but when I did, I was really happy.  The students had done a wonderful job, had come up with some funny and original ideas.  The monster is hot; women everywhere want to marry him.  The monster gets drafted by the NBA—but prefers to play classical piano.  Victor adopts his creature, who later wins the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Sure, there were the bloody stories, too—the monster fights Spider-Man or attacks all the key players during the Super Bowl or comes to my classroom looking for me.  That sort of thing.
But about halfway into the pile of papers I found a composition with the same spidery handwriting that I’d seen on the notes.  The same old-fashioned ink.  I looked at the top of the page for the student’s name.  And there it was, just as I had begun to suspect: Vickie Stone.

Her story was amazing.  I wish I had the space to reprint it.  But if I do that, I won’t ever get to the first packet of The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein, which is what this is all about.
Vickie’s story begins with the idea that Frankenstein (the man, remember, not the creature) does not die in the Arctic, as the novel records.  Instead, he survives.  The explorer Robert Walton lies about Victor’s death in his letters, lies to protect his new friend.  Robert lets the world think that Victor Frankenstein is dead, and this way his friend can be safe, not only from the creature but also from the authorities and from other people who blame him for all the death and destruction the creature has caused.
He takes Victor back to England with him.  There, to protect his identity, Victor changes his last name from Frankenstein to Stone.  He meets “Mrs. Saville,” Robert Walton’s sister, Margaret, a widow whose husband was lost at sea a few years before.  And, wouldn’t you know it, Victor and Margaret eventually fall in love, marry, have children and, eventually, grandchildren—and so on. 
One day—more than a century later—one of the descendants accidentally discovers Victor’s papers, the documents that tell all about the creation of the creature, about all the horror and death the creature caused.  He is so shocked and upset that he takes the material and moves to America, where he believes no one can find him.  He tries to destroy the documents—but he can’t.  Every time he tries it, something makes him stop.  Sometimes it’s a voice—a whispering voice only he can hear.  Sometimes just a feeling that he’d better not do it.
And he always wonders … Whatever happened to the creature?  Did it die in the Arctic?  Can it die?
In the United States he marries a woman (who never learns his secret), and moves to a small town on the Ohio River, where he has one child—a daughter.  He buys a large old house and goes to work as a reporter for the local newspaper.  His daughter’s name is Victoria Stone.  “Vickie,” for short.
There was more to the story, but some of it is in the first installment of her Papers, so I won’t tell you about it here.  I’ll let Vickie speak for herself.
The story was an A—no doubt about it.  By far the best in any of my classes.  I wrote a long comment about it, praising it every way I could.  And at the end, I wrote: And thanks for all the notes you’ve written to me, Vickie.

When I returned the papers the next week, I couldn’t wait to see Vickie’s face as she looked at hers.  I didn’t want to be too obvious about it, so I stood off to the side to watch.
Her reaction was really different.  Most of the other students just looked at the grade on the last page and stuck the paper in their folders.  Some, I could tell, wanted to rip them up.  But I didn’t allow that—not in front of me.
But Vickie read the comment at the top of the first page.  And I saw the slightest smile touch her lips, noticed the smallest blush redden her pale cheeks as she finished.  She never did look at the grade, not in my room, anyway.  Not while I was looking.
Vickie went on to do great work the next couple of months.  I was so impressed with her writing, especially, and I praised it constantly in my written comments, urged her to read aloud.  But she never would.
One day in January, right after Christmas break, she stopped after class to ask if she could talk to me at lunch time.   
 “Sure,” I replied.  “Anything in particular?”
 “Yes.”  But she didn’t elaborate.

She arrived promptly at the time we had set and sat down in one of the student desks.  I moved to one nearby.  She put her heavy book bag on the floor beside her.
 “Well, Vickie,” I began, “what’s on your mind?”
 “Mr. Walton,” she said, “can I trust you?”
 “Sure,” I said, probably too quickly.  I was surprised, really.  It was not a question students often asked me.
 “If I share something with you,” she continued, “you won’t tell anyone else about it?”
 “Well, that depends, Vickie,” I said.  “I mean, there are some things that teachers are required to tell about.  Child abuse, for example.  If we know about any—”
 “Oh, it’s nothing like that,” Vickie assured me.  “I want to give you something to look at, and I just want to make sure that you won’t let anyone else know about it.  Ever.”
I looked at her.  I was feeling a little annoyed.  After all, here was a student asking if she could trust me.  Of course she could trust me!  I was an adult, not some deceitful classmate who would spill his guts to the first kid he saw in the hallway! 
But I didn’t let on that I was annoyed.  “Sure, Vickie, as long as you’re not asking me to do something illegal … or unethical.”
“No, Mr. Walton, I would never ask something like that.”
“Okay, then, what is it?”
She just stared at me for a long, long time.  And I knew why: She was making up her mind.  She was examining my face, evaluating my eyes.  I know now that if she had seen the faintest shimmer of a lie in my eye, I never would have learned a single thing more.
“Okay,” she finally said.  She reached over and hauled her book bag up onto her desktop.  She unzipped it and withdrew what I could tell immediately was a manuscript.   It was bound together with large pieces of red yarn.  She held it in her hands another moment, as if it were an infant she did not want to surrender to the hands of a stranger.  And then she handed it to me.
I looked at the cover: THE PAPERS OF VICTORIA FRANKENSTEIN, it read.
“What’s this?” I asked.  “A story you’ve written?”
“Not exactly,” she smiled.  “Not exactly a story.”
“Then what is it?”
“It’s my autobiography.”
“Autobiography?”  I looked down at the title again, then back at her with growing surprise.
“You mean you’ve written a story in the form of an autobiography?” I asked.  “I remember your Halloween story.”
“No,” she corrected me.  “It’s my real life, the real story of my real life.”
Now it was my turn to smile.  She was playing a game.  Pretending to be an author.
“Well,” I offered mildly, “I thought your name was Stone, not Frankenstein.”
“Do you know German?” she asked me.
I didn’t.
Stein means ‘stone’ in German,” she explained.  “And Franken is the word for ‘Franconia.’  It was a place in Germany.  The original Frankenstein family was from there.”  She paused a moment, then added: “And I used to live in Franconia, Ohio.”
“Franconia?  I don’t know where that is.”
“It’s a small town, down on the Ohio River.”
“I don’t think I’ve heard of it.  What’s it near?”
I’d heard of Marietta.  “And you’re telling me that your real name is Frankenstein?  Victoria Frankenstein?  Not Vickie Stone?”
“That’s right.”
“That’s a famous name … Frankenstein.”
“It is.  Yes.”
I waited.  But she didn’t add anything.
“And this is your life story?”
“That’s right.”
“And you’d like me to read it?”
“That’s right, Mr. Walton.  Very much.”
“Because I trust you,” she said simply.  “And … and … well, there’s no one left to tell.”

No comments:

Post a Comment