The Femme of Frankenstein

June 16, 2020

         Human beings are supposedly constantly striving to be reunited with the warmth of their very first conscious bed: their mother’s arms. Having been born into thunder and lightning, I have never known such warmth, and cannot comprehend its loss. My birth was fizzling, veins of light across the darkness, visible through the stretched-thin bandages over my eyes, and pain. To be shocked into the thrust of life is nothing if not pain.

         Then the feeling of falling, slowly, as the slab beneath my immobilized body descended from out of the night air and into a building filled with the sound of electricity being conducted, a symphony of technology crackling. The heavy bonds over my body were removed, and a feeling of what I would one day learn to call “relief” flooded through me, reaching my newly mobile fingertips. My brain was ignited, but my body was slow to catch up, flooding me with sudden “panic” to replace the “relief”. I must move, I must move, I must get out of this darkness.

         I attempted to cry out, and the bandage over my eyes was swiftly removed. As my eyes adjusted to their first understanding of light, they fell on two beings. My fathers. I reached out to...to...I am not sure what. To hold them, perhaps? To have them hold me? Am I human enough to have that instant instinct? Looking back, I do not know. I cannot remember. But the strength it took to attempt the potential embrace--combined with the even more taxing event of having just been brought to life--exhausted me, pulling me towards sleep. My fathers were gentle in their touches as they secured me, guiding me to stand, pressing my not-quite-dead weight into their arms. They were warm and welcoming compared to the fingers of lightning.

         The younger one--Frankenstein, I soon learned he was called--held me steady as the elder, Pretorius, unraveled the bandages binding me. Then cold, too much cold, and the desire to hide. A hiss boiled out of my mouth, causing Father Pretorius to chuckle.

         “Do not be vain, my dear child,” he said, his voice rolling over me with barely suppressed mirth. “Do not inherit your father’s only weakness. I promise, I have no desire to gaze upon you.” He turned to look at Father Frankenstein. “Curious, how quickly the fear of a man’s potential lust settles into the female consciousness. I must make a note of that when we are finished here.”

         “Stop indulging your terrible humor and help her,” Father Frankenstein grumbled, embarrassed nearly as much as I was at him touching my bare flesh.

         “Of course.” He bowed to me before disappearing behind a desk crowded with blinking machinery. The sound of rummaging, and then he returned, a white robe in his hands. “A shame we could not cloak her in something more elegant on her birthday.”

         “You don’t really mean elegant. You mean ostentatious.” Father Pretorius guided my arms as Father Frankenstein draped the robe over me, with difficulty considering the cone of hair that sprung out above my head, stiffened by the shock of life. “White suits her. She is new. Pure. Besides, it’s not just her birthday. It’s her wedding day, too.” They stepped back to look at me. Their unbalanced daughter, taking her first wobbling steps. At first, Father Frankenstein steadied me, but I quickly decided I did not want his help. I snatched my hand away from his, choosing to learn to carry the weight of my equilibrium on my own.

         Then he thundered in. A towering mass of green skin, grunting, and clumsy, excitable gestures. He did not look at me the way my fathers did. He wanted me, his bride-to-be. A cold hand reached out to touch my arm, and the pit of my soul that had produced the hiss from earlier sparked a scream. Still, he persisted. Caressed my hand. Reached for my neck. Horrific. Another scream burst out. Is it truly natural to be so repulsed by someone wanting you?

         At that moment, a soft, beautiful being ran up to the door and began calling for my Father Frankenstein. They embraced. They wanted each other. She clung to him with a gentleness that the creature now cultivating my touch so severely lacked. Why had my fathers not sent me a creature like her? A creature like me? Surely, there were not as many similarities between this pitiful monster and myself as compared to a being who reflected my own image. Not to say that I was nearly as beautiful as she, if beautiful at all. But she was an angel, if there are such things.

         Just as soon as this angel was brought into my very new life, she was taken away. She and Father Frankenstein escaped the laboratory just as the monster decided he could not handle another rejection, especially not one from his own kind. And so he brought the building crashing down upon him, Father Pretorius, and myself; an attempt to put us all out of his misery. Through the sounds of explosions I shrieked and shrieked, wailing as instinct kicked in and I covered my head. After the dust had settled, I shifted fallen bricks and broken machinery off of my body and tore my robes when they would not budge from under the debris. My still unsteady legs scampered around upended desks and over shattered test tubes until I found Father Pretorius, head bleeding, limbs cutting corners, and eyes closed. With no knowledge of checking pulse points or heartbeats, I simply shook him, not understanding why his eyes remained closed. And with no concept of grieving or respecting the dead (for who would have taught me that lesson with fathers such as mine?), I yanked his jacket off of his body and shielded myself against the wind that blew through the broken walls.

         Then came looking for the creature that had brought on this destruction. His body was not too far off. While there had been a distinct change in Father Pretorius’s face, the creature looked the same, though his eyes were also closed. Perhaps death cannot alter the face of something that was never meant to be alive in the first place. Whatever the reasoning may be, I knew one thing: he would be chasing me no more.

         With my father’s jacket still curled around me, I attempted to leave the ruins. But it was as if the lightning had slashed the sky open, allowing it to pour out buckets of rain. Hissing against this cold greeting from the outside world, I retreated back into the shelter of the laboratory. With my clothes drenched and my once tall and proud hair now plastered to my face, I huddled next to my still bleeding father and closed my eyes. 

         For days I stayed there, beginning to starve with no understanding of how to remedy that. While the creature continued to lay dead and unaltered, Father Pretorius was slowly but surely decaying, clouding my sad excuse of a safe haven with the smell of rotting, wet flesh, quite literally soaked to the bone. It was on the night when I was debating chucking the wretched corpse off the side of the cliff that I heard strange noises coming towards the ruins. I had just managed to hide myself away before two men climbed through cracks in the fallen walls. They began sifting through the machines and desks, examining everything and stuffing whatever looked salvageable (and therefore valuable) into the sacks they carried over their shoulders.

         “Lookit this,” one said, holding up a book to his companion. He started flipping through the pages. “One of Pretorius’s journals, I think. There’re sketches in here and everythin’. Looks like he really was trying to make a new monster. A lady.”

         The other man came over and looked over his shoulder. “Wouldn’t’ve minded her romping ‘round the countryside. Certainly would’ve made a much prettier sight tied up than that monster Frankenstein built did.”

         “Well, take the book if ya like. Put her picture on your wall.” He looked over at the body of my father a few yards off and covered his nose. “He’s obviously not using it.” He coughed into his hand. “Have you still got any chocolate left? I’ll shove it up my nose if that’s what it takes to block that damned stench out.” The other man searched through his pockets before handing over a large piece of a dark brown rectangle. “Thanks.” He sniffed it before sighing and biting off a chunk. “It’ll have to do.”

         By this time, I had managed to climb quite close to them. I watched, fascinated, as the men’s jaws moved. Touching my own jaw, I carefully repeated the motion, desiring to do the same. To eat. A chirp came out of my mouth as I emerged from my hiding spot, still staring at the chocolate in the men’s hands. They turned and locked their eyes onto me, and for the first time, I heard screams that weren’t my own.

         The one that had asked for the chocolate clutched the journal to his chest and ran. The one that had doled out the chocolate--the one that had been praising my looks mere minutes before--reached out for a brick and raised it above his head, aiming it at mine. I sprinted and shoved my hands into his stomach, sending him stumbling backwards with strength I didn’t know I had. Quickly taking the brick that had fallen from his hand, I smashed it against his head. Over and over and over I did this, marveling through my terror at the sounds it made. The image of my lifeless father drove me forward. If red flowing from the forehead could stop him from moving, it could stop this man from moving, too.

         And so it did. Gasping, I threw the brick away from me and settled back on my hands, waiting for my breath to catch up with my heaving lungs. Once it had, I turned my head, tilting it to one side as I studied the body. My eyes lit up as they caught sight of the pieces of chocolate that were spilling out of the man’s pockets. Twice as ravenous as before I had exerted such energy, I lurched forward and began stuffing the things into my mouth. They were beautifully sweet. No one could have ever asked for a better first meal, especially when they had waited so long to feast on it. An unusual feeling--a smile--turned my lips as I swayed back and forth, my sleeves occasionally dragging through the blood oozing onto the stone floor as I continued to lift the chocolate to my lips.

         The chocolate quickly ran out, and so I was forced to leave behind my home in search of more sweetness. The air was alarmingly clear compared to the putrefaction encompassed by the ruins. It sharpened my senses and, above all, lifted my spirits (a sensation I was still unfamiliar with). I wandered along the Swiss mountains until I came across a family cooking over a fire in the woods. As they noticed me approaching they grew frightened, but they quickly realized that I was much more frightened of them than they were of me. Since then, I have often heard that phrase associated with intimidating but ultimately small and harmless creatures. I was neither, but this family couldn’t have known that. Perhaps if Father Frankenstein had more style and flair like Father Pretorius, his original creature wouldn’t have gotten into so much trouble. Perhaps women are seen as soft. More docile, less deadly.

         The first person to speak to me was what I eventually learned to be called a mother. “Dear, come closer. Goodness, what happened to your neck?” I simply stared at her. “Do you speak French?” Again, an empty stare. She traced the top of her own neck. “Neck. Pain?” I mirrored her movement and felt the unnerving bumps of stitches. An agonized reminder that I was not one of them. A small sob escaped my mouth in a cloud of icy breath.

         “Come here,” she said softly, beckoning me closer. “Genevieve, get this young woman some water and potatoes. And a scarf.” I turned to see who she was talking to and saw an angel, like the one who had taken my Father Frankenstein away. The hands of the angel shook as they gave me a plate and jug.

         “Here you are,” she said, quiet and rushed. “I’ll go get that scarf. You eat up.” She then disappeared into a tent that was set up behind them. I watched the entrance for a few moments in a daze before sitting next to the mother and--totally unfamiliar with the concept of table manners--forwent the fork and knife they had given me in favor of gulping down the water and eating the potato in chunks. This made the mother laugh, which was a sweet sound, and so I assumed it was fine to continue in this manner.

         Soon after, the angel Genevieve returned with a piece of red material, with white flowers stitched into the soft fabric. Her mother took it from her and pulled it over her head, then tied it under her chin. She then undid the knot and pulled the scarf off. “You try,” she said, handing it over to me. She mimed the motion again.

         Rubbing the fabric between my fingertips, I followed her example. The knot made me feel a little safer, a little more secure. A little more hidden.

         “There, that’s better. Those stitches don’t look too clean; they shouldn’t be exposed.”

         I tried my best to make sense of the words and the kindness. It was slow, but I was getting there. I turned to look at the angel for approval. She blushed. “You look...pretty.”

         My lips pressed together, then my tongue clicked against my teeth. My mouth, trying to acquaint itself with sounds that weren’t shrieking or hissing. “Pretty,” I whispered.

         She nodded, gifting me with a small smile. “Pretty.”

         I don’t think she knew I was referring to her.

 

~*~

 

         I’ve met many “angels” since then, and have outlived them all. That coward who ran away with Father Pretorius’s journal must have found a good use for it, for the legend of the experiment that ended my father’s life has spread across countries and oceans, decades and centuries. I’ve lived to see the first few moments of my life exploited as the climax of a horror film, branded with the title I never wanted. “The Bride of Frankenstein,” indeed. The Hollywoodified version of me ended up on T-shirts, mugs, posters, and more. She was frequently scantily clad, and always in love with her monster. One particular piece of art, with my wanton naked body thrown over the monster’s shoulder, still awakens that deeply buried desire to hiss and scream and hear the sound of brick hitting skull.

         Still, this image is hardly above a figure of cult status. Perhaps it’s just as well that I was always better at hiding myself away than my infamously betrothed was. Had I his fame, anything close to normalcy would have been impossible. A few curious stares and rude questions about my scarf were favorable over a mob with pitchforks any day, and that was only until I learned to stitch myself up properly, nearing invisibility. My fathers may have been able to create life from death, but they could not do a simple straight stitch for anything.

         With feigning normalcy came reasons to do so in the first place. Women who I had once seen as angels became my friends, and those friends sometimes became my lovers. Some noticed the small stitches, but didn’t say anything. Some noticed the small stitches and asked everything. I have lost count of the ridiculous lies I have made up.

         “I was mugged and am the sole-survivor of having a throat slit.”

         “It’s haute couture, didn’t you know?”

         “I once paid my plastic surgeon in wine to see what would happen.”

         Sometimes, I’ll put on a silly smile and tell the truth. “Haven’t you heard? I’m the bride of Frankenstein’s monster.” Most of the time the replies are something like, “Oh, I’ve never seen that movie,” or, “Well, it’s been fun, but I think we should go our separate ways.” The women very rarely became so close as to see the rest of the stitches that are scattered across my body.

         Most recently, I got the very unique response of, “The bride always makes me cry.”

         The woman who said this was pressed close, her feet peeking out from under my bed sheets, her face nuzzled against my shoulder, and her fingertips tracing my neck.

         “Why?” I whispered.

         “People always act like it’s her fault the creature was driven to suicide, as if her love could’ve saved him! As if it were her job to save him. That’s like handing a child bride over. Imagine being born five minutes ago, then being expected to get married to a stranger! She had no say in the matter, and suddenly she’s a cold bitch for not wanting him. It’s horrible.”

         I sat stunned for a moment before laughing. Laughing and laughing and laughing at this unheard-of sympathy.

         “What? Why are you making fun of me?” she huffed, pulling her fingers away from my scars to bury them in the warmth of the sheets.

         “I’m not making fun of you,” I gasped, suddenly close to tears through all the incredulous laughing. 

         She eyed me suspiciously before frowning, brow furrowed with the task of remembering something. “Wait, wasn’t the actress who played the bride named Elsa something?”

         “...Yes. Elsa Lanchester. My parents named me after her.” Well, no. I named myself after her. One must cycle through several names when one is immortal, and her name had been a tongue-in-cheek choice, though in hindsight, perhaps not the smartest move on my part.

         “Wow, your parents really were nerds.”

         “Oh, you’ve no idea.”

         I tried to cover up the slight melancholy in my voice with a wry chuckle. “Maybe she was a lesbian. The bride, I mean. And that’s why she was repulsed by the idea of being with the creature.”

         Her eyes lit up at that. “Oh, if only. That’d be a dream...”

         “Yes. Wouldn’t it.”

 

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© 2023 by MCLA Spires.