Jul/Aug '03 [Home]
Frankenstein, or The Modern Patrimony
by Andru Matthews
The Creature lay on the operating table, malfunctioning, disconsolate, dying. I didn't know what to do for my father after she left us, taking several of his vital organs with her.
As legend has it, Dr. Frankenstein plundered the graves of the recently deceased to assemble his fabled, impossible creature. But legends are never more than half true, and I know how it really happened. You can't squeeze life out of dead matter, even if you're Dr. Frankenstein. He took living parts from living specimens, usually without their knowledge. Frankenstein's Monster is the first being born entirely through transplant surgery.
The Creature isn't my biological father. In an operation such as the one that created him, you can't expect all the parts to be fully functional. He's my adopted father. As Dr. Frankenstein's assistant, my mother contributed the final parts necessary to bring the Creature to life. Soon after, the doctor went into hiding. My mother and the Creature took me and began a life together. At least, that's how my mother always told the story.
During the next fifteen years, she secretly continued to enhance the Creature's functionality with new and improved parts. I don't know exactly when she began to tire of her homemade man, but she found a new one, made of his own parts, a farmer a few villages distant, and left—but not empty-handed. Somehow she reclaimed from the Creature the parts she'd transplanted into him over the years.
He languished for months on that table, unable to face his grief or even lift his massive form, until his Bride found him, showed up, lightning bolt ziggurat hair and all. Her methods and skills were rudimentary, but she rebuilt and got him moving again; he began to function. The Bride was a hack, however, not a surgeon like Dr. Frankenstein, nor an artist like my mother, and her shoddy workmanship never sat well with me. I drifted away, unable to bear looking at the mess she had made of my father. I decided to find Dr. Frankenstein.
Disapprovingly, my mother informed me that the doctor was holed up in his curiosity shop, "Frankie's Fearsome Furbies," at a strip mall on the Gulf Coast. At first, I refused to believe that the smarmy, balding, slightly rotund, wide-smiling huckster of a man I met there could be the legendary Dr. Frankenstein. But he soon convinced me with his detailed knowledge of the Creature and my mother.
More ambitious than he, she was the most promising student in their medical school class, and fascinated by, passionate about his theory that matter could be reanimated in a second body. Her academic and research careers were cut short by her pregnancy with me. I had always known that my arrival limited my mother's prospects, but not the nature of the life she had forfeited.
Soon after my birth, Dr. Frankenstein left the university to pursue his own research and invited my mother to assist him. Together they worked out the methods for maintaining the life connection once the body parts had been transplanted. From there, it had been a simple matter to construct the Creature.
Once the Creature was assembled, however, they disagreed vehemently about how to proceed, how to refine and present their findings. My mother, the Doctor told me, came to see his involvement and suggestions as interference, to resent his freedom to move within the world of academic research, and eventually to hate him. When she demanded that he allow her to transplant his reproductive organs into the Creature, he fled in fear for his safety.
The Doctor left me with warnings and suspicions about my mother's current activities. He speculated that if she had abandoned the Creature, she must believe the experiment they had begun together could no longer produce fruitful results and was conducting a new set of experiments out on that farm.
When I next visited my mother, I detected for the first time a hint of nervousness, of uncertainty in her voice when she asked what Dr. Frankenstein had told me. I lied, saying it didn't amount to much, that he couldn't help me with the Creature who wouldn't accept my help anyway. Besides, the Creature claimed to be satisfied with his new life, had apparently resigned himself to it.
Clandestinely, I watched the happenings on the farm. I wanted to see whether Dr. Frankenstein was right, whether my mother was conducting new experiments. Unsure what to look for, I didn't see anything suspicious: no obvious scars on the farm's hands or animals, no lobotomized expression on her new husband's face, no stacks of esoteric equipment or operating table hidden in the cellar. The lack of evidence proved nothing, however, as Dr. Frankenstein had warned me that her new experiments might be of a radically different nature, unlike anything that I, or even he, had ever seen.
As we parted, my mother informed me that she was pregnant and would bear twins. The prospect of new motherhood clearly excited and pleased her. Not knowing what to say, I absorbed the information mutely, staring past her at the farmland. I couldn't fathom what it might mean, couldn't reconcile this news with all I now knew of her. After several moments, I mumbled a soothing reply. She contented herself with that, though I knew she would soon expect more. We said our farewells.
The Creature meanwhile continued to live with his Bride in our old home, his life there a sharp contrast with the farm life my mother was creating. Reconciled to his changed circumstances and diminished capacities, he seemed with his slow, shambling walk to be preparing to lie immobile once more. It was clear from the way his face drooped and his eyes dimmed that he knew he would never rise from that next fall. As he had only begun to show signs of aging once my mother left him, who knew how long a monster's lifespan might be?
My mother kept her hands on the cradle, literally so once my twin half-brothers were born. Dr. Frankenstein's warnings echoing in my ears, I feared the twins might be the raw materials for my mother's new wave of research. Creating children is little different from creating monsters, after all—both require parts from more than one person assembled in a precise way.
As I entertained these speculations, pondered my mother's decision to abandon the Creature and have normally-fathered children, a troubling question came into my mind, one which has never left me since: What role had I played in my mother's experiments? Perhaps I had donated raw materials for the Creature's enhancement. Or maybe she'd augmented me, and I carry other people's organs in my viscera. Even now I shudder when I contemplate all the things she could have done to me while I was in her charge.
As the years have passed, I've worried about the twins, watched over them, hoping to protect them if I discover my mother has returned to her old, bioresearcher ways. She has admitted nothing about her experiments and remains resolute in her righteousness, though seemingly sincere in her desire to do right by the twins and avoid any mistakes she made raising me. Perhaps she simply realized that a father cannot be built from borrowed parts and had the twins in order to do it right this time.
I cannot yet see how the twins will turn out, but stay vigilant and continue to keep watch. As the only one who knows the truth about my mother's past, I feel responsible for their safety as if they were secretly my own sons. But as a son, I can't help wondering whose parts my mother used in making me, and what will happen if she decides to return those parts to their original owners.