“We are fashioned creatures, but half made-up” ~ Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Originally, Frankenstein seemed an easy essay to knock out due to it’s familiarity, Phoebe insisted in her second session with Dr. Pressman since her discharge a week ago. “But it was Shana, not YOU, who was familiar with Mary Shelley’s work. I think it would be productive for us to focus on your enmeshment with Shana so you can move on and successfully finish university. This essay is as good a place to start as any. I’d like you to further make it yours by writing it in your space in the apartment, not you and Shana’s shared space, but yours alone. Do you think you can do that?” As always, Dinah Pressman’s tone remained even and confident, as if no one had ever told her, “No, I will not.” Phoebe would not be the first. Although it had been Shana in their senior year of high school who crafted her first “A” paper, the friends had discussed both the Creature’s and Victor’s motivations and torments at length, to the point of arguing. Only a few years later, death, alchemy, and the nature of the creature weaved a tale beyond imagining in Phoebe’s mind. Kaz’s whispered comparisons between her and Victor, Shana and the Creature, made her question her friendship and true feelings. Was she mindlessly motivated by a savior complex? Shana had saved her many times, and at other times they’d leaned on one another, like when they touched on their grief. Was she “enmeshed”, and where was the line between love and this handicap? “I’ll try. It’s an open loft, ya know? I usually wander around, look out the windows by Shana’s bed ever so often; helps me think.” “No need to be a purist, Phoebe”. “Trust me, Dr. Pressman. I want to get away from everything that reminds me of her, but it’s impossible. Maybe it would help if I start packing up a few of her things this weekend”. Or maybe she’d ask Doyle to do it, but she kept that thought to herself. The psychiatrist looked at her with kindness, but Phoebe didn’t sense pity like she did when they met in Resting Pines. She decided to take it as a good sign despite the doctor’s misunderstanding. She’d never needed Shana for school, but for writing projects they’d excelled by teaming. As her mother used to say, “what one doesn’t think of, the other will”. Shana usually said Phoebe overthought it, just as she currently did. If Mary Shelley could imagine such a psychologically complex tale, surely Phoebe could write an aspirational final essay without Shana’s input. “I’ll see you back here on Friday and you can let me know how it went. From what you’ve told me, I don’t expect any surprises from Mr. Regan’s progress report this week. I’m happy to hear the nightmares have resolved, but don’t be concerned if you have them until your mind is more settled about your new reality.” Phoebe couldn’t tell the doctor about the pain of being eaten alive or what it felt like as she slithered on her snake belly across the bottom of a lake, and certainly not about her recent journeys to unimaginably exquisite or horrifying spaces, nor angelically-guided reunions with Shana’s essence. Her secret existences were still better than her reality. Phoebe felt as if she hauled around a leaden head and heart, despite lighting a candle for Shana every day in a campus chapel. But, disturbed as she was, she still could not imagine how Shana felt in her last moments, couldn’t fathom what lies ran through her friend’s head, but she began to imagine.
Tchaichovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers played vibrantly from her dented and taped boom box and instantly grated on her nerves. Coke cans and Oreo crumbs littered her mother’s silver-flecked formica dining table; what Phoebe recognized as pages-thick advanced chemistry exams along with his rumpled test key covered stains, and by association-memories. Of course he’d set up right where she and Shana normally studied the most. Phoebe tossed a can into the kitchen sink, then another with satisfaction. He’d be up most of the night if he planned on finishing, she thought and heard the shower’s signature pipe rumble as if in agreement. “I’m ordering pizza!”, she yelled through the frosted pane of the bathroom door and stood transfixed as he turned the water off and stepped easily out of the tub. He knows damn well I can see him. Doyle stretched a towel between his hands and slowly sawed it back and forth on his backside. “Russo’s? Will you get onions and mushrooms on half? Sorry about the music, didn’t think you’d be home for a while yet”, he called. Barone’s was right around the corner, but Phoebe thought she could be a little flexible this once. She turned the music off with a shake of her head. Who, other than Shana, listened to The Nutcracker in May? “Please bring a 2-liter of Coke, too” she told the chill voice on the phone. Loose sweat pants and a high school track sweatshirt fraying at the cuffs and neck signaled a trickle of inspirational flow in her mind, the issue of Victor’s responsibility to his creation tugged at a thread of an idea, but it broke, again. Essays required her flavor, but for an “A” they required fresh blood, a profound realization. Professors got off on student’s epiphanies, the more vulnerable the better, unless it crossed into uncomfortable territory and kept going, as she’d mistakenly done only once. Did she have a responsibility to Shana? If so, she’d failed entirely. Phoebe caught her light blue eyes at the moment they turned golden in a star-shaped mirror swinging on a strand of wooden beads in a breeze from nowhere. Shana had held her steady on a wobbly barstool when she hung the mirror, her Christmas gift, from a rusty nail head. She’d called her a star, her very own true north. Am I a monster? Phoebe remembered waves of possessiveness and rejection she was ashamed of when Shana started dating Doyle, similar to the creature’s envy when he spied Dr. Frankenstein with his new wife through the window, the two happy and laughing with no care for him. Her stomach growled in time with a single hard knock. A couple notes to help her pick up this thread of self-reproach and, simultaneously, restrict her personal revelations on the page. Her eyes changed more often when Doyle was near, the only “trigger” she’d figured out, so far. Phoebe stuck her head out from behind a paneled screen painted with golden and bronze wild mustangs in full gallop and smiled at the delivery person before she stuck her tongue out at Doyle’s back. Although they’d settled quickly into a routine, both taking refuge in their schedules, she hated him living here, in her and Shana’s loft. It was perverse, but she reminded herself it was temporary several times a day. Clearly unamused, the pony-tailed teen rolled her eyes at Phoebe then smiled extra wide when Doyle handed her a five. “Have a good one, Dude”, he said distractedly as he flung the door closed and she was forced to step back. At least he was also pressured by finals. “Put it over there on the coffee table”. Phoebe waved at Doyle with a pack of doubly thick paper plates he’d bought when he got her cheerios, bananas and milk before her discharge, his first act as her “guardian”. He’d confessed he hated washing dishes, to which Phoebe gave him no reply. After a couple days, he’d mostly given up talking to her, except when he woke her from night terrors. Phoebe was lost in thought when he cleared his throat. “You can run it past me if you want, your essay. I’ve got a load of papers to correct, but I can’t go back to that right now. I’ll have just as many after tomorrow morning’s exam. Please. You’d be doing me a favor, which might work against me, but if it would help… up to you”, he ended with a shrug. Emotionless, she stared through Doyle, as she’d done dozens of times over the past two weeks. When she looked at him she always thought the same thing, but if she killed him, she’d never write the essay, never receive a final grade for the single class she didn’t drop. Desperate for another viewpoint, she reconsidered her tact and surprised him. “Any thoughts on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? I’m thinking about the doctor’s responsibility to the creature, to his creation” Phoebe wrestled a piece of pizza crust with her back teeth as she forced her eyes to focus on the man who might be responsible for her best friend’s death. “One of the saddest books ever. God, I hated the end. Lemme think. Oh yeah, freshman paper on Mary and Percy toward the end of the semester, so depressing. I cast him as a predatory type and her as a literary genius. Don’t some people believe they were cursed? I think a lot of my classmates took that angle.” He wasn’t an English major, Phoebe reminded herself, but he thought in an orderly, and linear fashion, suited for science. “Yeah, I don’t give a shit about Percy. This essay is about Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, in other words-the subtitle’s inference” Phoebe watched Doyle turn Prometheus over in his mind, his hooded eyes slanted away from her and to the ceiling, brows flattened. “Well… what do you have so far? You’re saying Prometheus or Frankenstein’s ambition is the crux your thesis? I can’t remember how he… wait, ok, he was chained and pecked to death by a bird every day, a punishment from Zeus, right? How does that fit?” Phoebe let the question hang in the air for a moment as if she considered what he’d said, when in actuality she pictured Doyle chained to a mountain top, vultures feasting as other flew away with his entrails. Her breath quickened. “Yeah, for stealing fire and giving it to humanity. He over-reached, changed man’s fate. I propose Mary Shelley likened Prometheus to scientific experimentation with unintended consequences. At least that’s what my interpretation is right now.” She had to admit the pizza was better than Barone’s. As she wrapped cheese around her finger, Doyle rose and wandered barefoot over to a narrow window, dusky light . He ran one long-fingered hand through his still-wet blonde mane and let out a loud sigh. “Is that supposed to be directed at me?” His voice let Phoebe know she’d hit her intended target, but she didn’t expect him to hurl the little jade plant he’d given her when they first met against the brick wall behind her with surprising ferocity. Shards of green pottery landed in her hair, but stopped short of the pizza, thank goodness. Phoebe rose quickly, more than a little afraid, but even more angry at this person who had the audacity to insinuate himself into her life after he helped her best friend, her soul sister, self-destruct. Doyle realized his mistake when Phoebe’s eyes changed from blue to golden elliptical-shaped viper eyes, and with a gaze, lifted all two hundred pounds of him quickly until a beam on the loft’s ceiling cut into his back. He froze, suddenly afraid his struggles would plummet him to the hardwood below. “Let me down, Phoebe! I’m sorry; I swear it won’t happen again!” “No, it won’t.” She struggled to hide her shock at this ability, intent on keeping control now that she had it. “You almost had me fooled, you fucker.” Her face twisted with grief as she remembered what this man took from her, took from them. Doyle groaned loudly and doubled over on the ceiling. A voice inside cautioned Phoebe, but a different instinct took over as she envisioned her viper self ‘s hinged jaws take a bite from his center, right below the belly button. No thought existed for her when she entered his thoracic cavity. As the golden viper Doyle knew was Phoebe coiled inside him, it flicked it’s forked tongue like a whip and cut tiny slices in the tissues between his ribs. She slowed within his body and felt his wildly erratic heart call to her from behind a lung. He screamed as her flat head pushed hard against the pinkish lung and pinned it aside. “Noooo, Phoebe, Pleeeee…” his gasp ended, the pain a sudden suffocating blanket of dark mercy he mistook for Death. Kazmir could not be happier with his quick transformation of the girl.
By the time Phoebe returned from the library with the name of the rock (Caucasus Mountains, likely Mount Elbrus) Prometheus had been chained to, she’d also come up with a solution to the problem of Doyle Regan. His entrails and organs were intact when he awoke on Shana’s bed behind a screen painted with a gloriously colorful garden, complete with birds, bees, a copper fox and Monarch butterflies. The viper was gone and Phoebe’s eyes were blue and intent as she watched him warily. He’d been having nightmares since Shana hung herself, but nothing had prepared him for the experience they’d had earlier. “There’s another one… another version of Frankenstein. Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein gave me an idea.” Doyle felt odd. Slowly he rolled over and put his feet on the floor. Phoebe put two frames and Shana’s fairy cards in a copy paper box she’d also gotten at the library. Doyle sprang up and ran toward the bathroom as three slices of pizza ejected from his roiling belly not only in the open toilet, but all over it. Ten minutes later he still dry-heaved into the bowl, face red as tears and snot flowed. Phoebe handed him a cold wet wash cloth, one of the thick white ones she’d given Shana for Christmas. “Don’t worry, Doyle. I’ll take care of you. And you will take care of me.” His stomach suddenly calmed. He wasn’t sure if he felt afraid or just very sick. “Here you go”, Phoebe handed him a dainty tea cup, “I know you said you didn’t like tea before, but this is like a tonic, a little medicine to help you go along. You see… you are going to be MY Igor. Now, sip it ’cause it’s really hot”. The sweet tea did seem to soothe his nerves and slow down his anxious heart. “What is it?” Phoebe smiled at him placatingly before she slapped him satisfyingly hard, like she’d wanted to for quite some time. “Don’t worry about it. You should get back to those exams, and I have an essay to write. In a couple of hours I want you to help me pack up some of Shana’s things and we’ll move her screen. Then you can have her bed for the rest of the summer.” He wasn’t sure what to say. He didn’t feel like arguing with her, of that he was certain. An hour later Phoebe wandered over to the window as Doyle sat at her mother’s formica table and corrected chemistry exams as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Phoebe’s essay flowed like a spring creek on a sunny day.