Just a typical Thanksgiving …
Before I had time to say anything more to Harriet about her dreams—about the monster, about me calling it “son”—Father called from the kitchen: “We could use a little help out here, girls!”
And so off we went to carry the food to the table. I avoided Harriet’s eyes as much as I could—and I felt them on me constantly. Questioning. Wondering.
Father and Mrs. Eastbrook made small talk the entire dinner—about Franconia, about the schools, about the neighborhood, about where to shop, where to get gas, groceries, and goldfish. (Harriet loved goldfish.)
I thought we would never reach the end of it all: the turkey, the mashed potatoes, the gravy, the yams, the green beans, the cornbread, the cranberries, the pumpkin pie and whipped cream (the real thing, not the stuff you spray out of a can). But—at last!—it was over, and we heard those magic words from Father: “Why don’t you girls clear the dishes and then excuse yourselves while Mrs. Eastbrook and I clean up a little?”
From the parlor we could hear pots and dishes clanging as Father and Mrs. Eastbrook loaded the dishwasher. Every now and then one of them would laugh. It sounded good to hear Father having fun.
“Harriet, how often do you have these dreams about me?”
“Is it always the same?”
“Well, sometimes parts of the dream are different. Like, I could be in a different place.”
“But the monster is always the same? The yellow skin? The wild hair?”
“And I always come to save you?”
“Yes. And you always call him ‘son.’”
I thought a moment or two. “Have you had the dreams since you’ve moved here?”
“Almost every night. Sometimes more than once a night.”
I went across the room to one of the shelves, looked, found the book I wanted, and brought it back to Harriet, who was sitting on the couch.
“I want you to see something,” I said.
I opened the book, flipping pages until I found the picture. I hesitated.
“What is it, Vickie? Show me!”
I then held the book so she could see it.
“Vickie, I’m very disappointed in you, scaring your little friend like that.”
Harriet and her mother were gone. The screams—yes, more than one of them—had brought the adults running to the parlor where they were certain something awful had happened.
And maybe it had. For the book I showed Harriet contained a picture of the very monster she had seen in her dreams. The book was Frankenstein.[i]
When Mrs. Eastbrook saw what was happening, she turned to Father and said, “I think it’s best if I take Harriet home now.”
My father’s face looked dark. “Yes,” he said, “I agree.”
“I’m sorry about the dishes—”
“Don’t worry about it, Elizabeth. Vickie and I can finish up.”
And, carrying a plate of food for Mr. Eastbrook, Mrs. Eastbrook and Harriet, who was still shivering with fear, headed out into the darkening afternoon.
Now Father was angry with me—and that always made me cry. He waited for me to calm down a little, then asked again, “Why did you do it? Why did you scare her like that?”
“I wasn’t trying to scare her,” I managed. “I was just showing her something.”
“A picture of Frankenstein’s monster—especially the pictures from that book—are not just something. They’re very disturbing. Very upsetting.”
“Well, you let me look at them, Father.” I was not arguing with him—I never argued with Father. It was just an idea that came to me at that moment.
“You’re different, Victoria,” he said simply.
Victoria. When he called me that, he was really serious.
“What do you mean, Father? How am I different?”
“Well, for one thing, you’ve grown up in a house where there are lots of books, where your parents—your father, I should say—never worries too much about what you read or what you look at. Not everyone lives in a home like this one.”
He continued, “Some parents like to protect their children from things that are frightening … or disgusting.”
“Why don’t you protect me from things like that, Father?”
“Because, Victoria, like I said: You’re different.”
We were both silent for a moment. Then Father asked, “When on earth did you start looking at Frankenstein?”
“I look at the pictures in all of our books,” I admitted. “And if the pictures are interesting, well, sometimes I read the book, too.”
“You haven’t read Frankenstein, have you?”
“It’s not easy to read,” he said.
He looked at me quickly. “I thought you said you hadn’t read it?”
“Oh, I haven’t,” I hurried to say. “I just started it once … because of the pictures. But I didn’t read much of it. I didn’t understand it.”
This was the first time I’d lied to my father. Because, you see, I had read the book … several times. And I understood it, too. I understood it completely.[ii] I don’t know why I lied—I just felt I should.
I’ll tell you something strange. The next time I talked to Harriet, she told me that her monster dreams had stopped. Stopped completely.