Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
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Friday, January 18, 2013

The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein: 5

I’ll admit it: I was flattered.  I always feel that way when a student trusts me with something.  Kids take a chance when they confide in an adult, and it’s an honor, really, when anyone of any age trusts you enough to share something from the heart.
But I didn’t know what to think, how to respond to this, well, incredible turn of events.  I didn’t want to insult Vickie by—once again—accusing her of making up the whole thing.  And she worried me a little, too.  And there’s no one left to tell, she’d said.  What did that mean?
And how could I accept that her name was Frankenstein!  A name from a story, a  name that Mary Shelley had simply made up!  (Didn’t she?[i])
So I just sat there with her manuscript in my hand, and she just sat there, and we looked at each other for a while.
Finally, I broke the quiet.  “And after I’ve read it,” I asked, “what would you like me to do?”
“Just write some comments,” she said.  “Don’t grade it or anything.  Just write me a note.  Let me know what you think.”
“I can do that,” I said.
“And please … don’t write on it,” she said.  “I don’t have another copy.”
“I won’t,” I said.  “But would you like me to Xerox a copy of it for you?”
Never,” she said so sharply I almost told her she was going too far, using that kind of tone.
But then she softened, even smiled.  “And don’t forget,” she said.  “You can’t tell anyone else about this.  I mean it.”  She looked at me with a sober seriousness so rare for someone her age.  Was I imagining the hard glint of a warning in her dark eye?
“I promise,” I said.
And now here I am, years later, publishing Vickie’s story, proving myself a liar.

The manuscript was longer than I expected—more than a hundred pages—but I read it in one sitting that very night.  And I was impressed.  Very much so.  And I wrote Vickie a long note about it.  But I didn’t return it right away.  Instead, the next morning, very early, well before anyone else was there, I went to school and Xeroxed it.  I don’t know why I did that.  I shouldn’t have.  But now, considering what’s happened, I’m glad I did.
Over the course of the next few months, Vickie brought me other installments of her Papers.  I read them all quickly.  Wrote comments for them all.  Photocopied them all—without telling Vickie.  I felt guilty about deceiving her, but I did it anyway—feeling guilt’s sharp point each time the machine sent another warm page out into the light.
As I read each installment of Vickie’s “autobiography,” one thing bothered me above everything else: Is any of this true?  Vickie swore it was, every word.  But—as you’ll see—she asks a lot.  To believe that she really experienced these things is to believe, well, that the world is a far stranger and more mysterious place than most people imagine … than I ever imagined.
But maybe Vickie was just a really creative girl loaded with weird ideas. 
Maybe she was just a gifted liar—or insane.
You’ll have to decide.
And so I present Packet #1 of The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein.  I have not changed a word of Vickie’s manuscript.  Not a single word.  That would be cheating.  But in some places I have added footnotes—just to clear up something that a reader may wonder about, or to add some information I’ve discovered about what she wrote.  Or to express my doubts or questions about something.
You may be wondering about something right now: Why am I publishing the Papers?  Aren’t I breaking my solemn promise to Vickie?
Yes, I did make that promise—but that was more than fifteen years ago.  Vickie Stone—Victoria Frankenstein?—did not finish the year at Tyre Middle School, where I taught.  One day in the middle of March—not long after I’d returned to her the final installment of her Papers—she just quit coming to school.

            [i] But did she make it up?  Later, I learned some surprising facts: In his book In Search of Frankenstein (New York Graphic Society, 1975), researcher Radu Florescu tells about the actual Castle Frankenstein in Germany and attempts to prove that Mary Shelley saw it on her journey along the Rhine River in the summer of 1814—two years before she began writing Frankenstein.  Florescu also traces the Frankenstein family back to the 12th century!

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