A Promise Kept
by E. B. Fischadler
“Basted Son” appears in issue 569.
“Please, Victor, I want to hear all about you. Your parents, your childhood, your work... everything!”
Victor Frenchstone never imagined he would find himself in this situation. He and Elizabeth were sitting in a quiet lounge in town, sipping red wine with soft music in the background. Yes, he had struck up a brief relationship with Nancy Long, but this was different. Victor and Nancy were friends, nothing more. This budding relationship with Elizabeth was charged in a way that his and Nancy’s never had been.
“Where shall I start?” he asked, buying time to think.
“Your parents. Tell me about your parents.”
“My father died some time ago. I barely knew him.”
“I’m sorry. He died when you were young, then?”
Victor thought about this for a moment. In a sense he was young when his ‘father’ perished.
“Yes. He was a physician, a brilliant one, I’m told.”
“And your mother, what was she like?”
Now here was a very difficult question. Victor had been created by Dr. Frankenstein, not born of a woman. Pondering his answer, he realized that this was yet another way he was different from the mainstream of humanity. A recluse, he read extensively, and many times encountered the familiar portrait of mothers as nurturers who loved their children no matter what the circumstances. Perhaps if he had had a mother, things would have been very different.
His reverie was interrupted by the touch of a hand upon his. “Victor, I’m so sorry. Is that a painful subject?”
“It’s complicated. I really can’t talk about it right now.”
“Oh, Victor, let me change the subject.”
Their discussion went off on an entirely different tack. Victor and Elizabeth were both quite intelligent, and conversation flowed easily between them. Elizabeth was the only person he had ever been truly comfortable with. No, not the only person. There was one other, he had learned, from his distant past. A man who was blind, like Elizabeth.
* * *
“Just who was my father, then?” Victor asked Dr. Clerval just a day before his date with Elizabeth. It had taken him a few moments to react to learning his father’s name. Much to the surprise of Drs. Sims and Clerval, the name meant nothing to him. The two doctors looked at one another.
Then Dr. Clerval spoke. “Victor, it’s a complicated story. There’s a book by Mary Shelley I want you to read. Then we’ll talk.”
Victor bought the book on the way home. Frankenstein is a long and difficult piece of literature, yet he consumed it in just two days. A follow-up meeting was arranged.
“What did you think of the book?” asked Dr. Sims. He and Dr. Clerval were in Sims’ office with Victor.
“It’s quite a novel. Why did you want me to read it?”
“It is not a novel, Victor.”
“Look, I recognize the terrific coincidence that she picked my father’s name for the main character, and that he and my father were physicians, but it’s only a story.”
“Is it?” Dr Clerval wondered aloud. He, too had obtained a copy of Shelley’s book, but was only about halfway through it.
* * *
A day later, over coffee, Elizabeth asked, “Victor, have you ever been in love?”
Why would Elizabeth ask that question? thought Victor. Victor liked Elizabeth, but didn’t know if he was in love. For that matter, he didn’t know if he could love.
Occasionally Victor wondered if he would have loved the mate being built for him, if only Dr. Frankenstein hadn’t destroyed her. What about Nancy? Were they in love or just friends?
As he thought about the past and Nancy, Victor had a striking thought. His brain, his heart, indeed all of him had a prior life. Could it be that he had loved and been loved in that life? Had his heart been overflowing with joy, or had it been always broken? He stared at his hands. Had these hands held a dear one close, stroked a lover’s hair, held someone’s hand? Victor was in fact a reincarnation. Perhaps in a prior life he had known love, but not in this one so far.
“No, not really.”
“Oh, I see.”
Who could love this face? Victor thought. Elizabeth tolerates me only because she cannot see.
Victor believed he couldn’t choose his companions. He was grateful if anyone, upon meeting him, didn’t run away screaming. Elizabeth’s blindness was a blessing. But Victor worried: What will happen when she learns the truth?
Victor grew to avoid human contact, tired of people staring at him, children scared by him, the howling of a dog sensing he was not normal.
Dr. Clerval, well connected in the medical community, had introduced Victor to a well respected plastic surgeon, telling his colleague that Victor had extensive reconstructive surgery by a practitioner not familiar with cosmetic surgery. The plastic surgeon managed to reduce the visual impact of many of Victor’s scars, and sent Victor to a cosmetician experienced in covering up trauma damage.
They started slowly, with Victor initially wearing only a thin layer of foundation to soften his features and improve his color. Gradually, over months, they added a bit here and there, until one day at work, someone told Victor that he was looking unusually well.
Yet while his outward appearance was becoming more and more like that of the rest of humanity, Victor was quite aware that he was somehow different inside. The impact of this awareness was not appreciated by Drs Sims and Clerval, and no effort was made to address it.
People began to behave differently toward him as a result of his changing appearance, not because he was a different person. What if they could see through the façade? Would they recoil in horror as so many had at his appearance? Or was he likable, needing only a change in outward appearance to become acceptable to human society?
Victor hoped he was like a butterfly. Although caterpillars are homely, after metamorphosis they become pretty, charming. He feared he was like a corpse in the care of an undertaker who positions the limbs, dresses the body and paints the face, but who cannot stop the putrefaction occurring within.
Rereading Mary Shelley’s book, which in fact was as close to his biography as any book could be, Victor began to consider his true identity. To his creator he was a fiend. He had committed at least three murders. Still, he had never asked to be born and had never found normal human compassion and understanding. He was reviled, pursued and tormented by virtually all he encountered. Did the extreme circumstances of his life in any way excuse such extreme behavior?
Victor had come into the world an innocent, wanting only those things to which most of us feel entitled: comfort, companionship, love. His outward appearance prevented almost all who met him from judging him for what he truly was.
Only one blind man was at all kind to him, and that friendship ended abruptly when his children set eyes on Victor and drove the monster away. Now, a blind woman seemed to be coming as close as anyone had come to loving him. Would she someday grow to hate him, drive him away? Would he somehow hurt her?
Was Victor indeed, a monster? His appearance and the manner of his creation might qualify him as such, but what actually did it mean to be a monster? He had behaved monstrously, that was clear. Would he have done so had his maker not rejected him? Would he have killed, if his nascent wife had not been killed first? Would he have had such rage if he were not himself the target of hatred?
Yet these acts had been revealed to him only lately. He had no recollection of them whatsoever, felt none of the anger and grief that motivated them. Was he in fact the same person who had committed them?
He recalled reading from the book by Shelley:
Fear not that I shall be the instrument of future mischief. My work is nearly complete. Neither yours nor any man’s death is needed to consummate the series of my being and accomplish that which must be done, but it requires my own. Do not think that I shall be slow to perform this sacrifice. I shall quit your vessel on the ice raft which brought me thither and shall seek the most northern extremity of the globe; I shall collect my funeral pile and consume to ashes this miserable frame, that its remains may afford no light to any curious and unhallowed wretch who would create such another as I have been. I shall die. I shall no longer feel the agonies which now consume me or be the prey of feelings unsatisfied, yet unquenched. He is dead who called me into being; and when I shall be no more, the very remembrance of us both will speedily vanish. I shall no longer see the sun or stars or feel the winds play on my cheeks.
Farewell! I leave you, and in you the last of humankind whom these eyes will ever behold. Farewell, Frankenstein! If thou wert yet alive and yet cherished a desire of revenge against me, it would be better satiated in my life than in my destruction. But it was not so; thou didst seek my extinction, that I might not cause greater wretchedness; and if yet, in some mode unknown to me, thou hadst not ceased to think and feel, thou wouldst not desire against me a vengeance greater than that which I feel. Blasted as thou wert, my agony was still superior to thine, for the bitter sting of remorse will not cease to rankle in my wounds until death shall close them forever.
Then he wondered: if in fact, he was supposed to have committed suicide how was it that he was here? Was he not the wretch of the story? Was he the same wretch, but failed in his vow? Perhaps he had lost his resolve; perhaps the flames and the thought of burning pain and perishing were more than his courage could bear.
Or perhaps, as he stated to the corpse of his maker, his continuing life, with all its misery, was itself his maker’s revenge, the penalty for his crimes. His continued existence was the punishment for being. Death might have been a respite, a release from all his suffering.
Yet now, here he was, the same yet somehow a different man. He had not, in this new life, suffered as he had before. True, he was lonely, sad at being outside the mainstream of humanity, but it was not the unbearable suffering the tale described.
But now he faced a dilemma: he had promised his maker to rid the world of himself, both as punishment and to prevent any further misdeeds. Now, here he was, given a second chance. What must he do with it?
* * *
“You are beautiful, Elizabeth, and you’ve shown me kindness far beyond any other person. I do truly enjoy our time together. I’ve never experienced such a connection with anyone. Never such happiness with anyone.”
“Nor I, Victor.”
“But there are things you can’t possibly know about me. Things which would greatly alter how you... perceive me.”
“Victor, I know about the scarring. I’m blind! It doesn’t matter.”
“I’m not speaking of my appearance. There are things in my past—”
“They are the past, Victor. Leave them there.“
“It’s not so easy.”
“Are they so bad? Please tell me.”
“It’s all so complicated. I can’t.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes.
Then Victor said, “It’s getting late. I should be getting you home.”
Victor realized that he had strong feelings for Elizabeth. He had never known love, but he did know he enjoyed her company, that he looked forward to seeing her, and that he missed her when they were apart for any length of time. He thought it would be very nice to share life with her.
It was precisely because he cared for her that he couldn’t consider sharing his life with her. He had brought nothing but suffering and violent death to his former family. What would happen to Elizabeth? No. He must spare her.
* * *
When she did not hear from Victor for two weeks, Elizabeth became concerned. She tried calling him, but he didn’t answer his phone. She asked Victor’s only friend Tony if anything was wrong with Victor. Tony’s answer surprised and concerned her.
“Monday before last he called in sick. Said he wasn’t quite sure when he’d be back. I haven’t heard from him since. Gee, you don’t suppose he got something really bad?”
The next day, Tony phoned Elizabeth. “Victor’s not home. I swung by his place last night about seven o’clock, and the lights were out. Victor never goes to bed before nine. He’s a voracious reader, always has at least a reading light on in his living room. I can see it from the street. But last night his window was pitch black.”
“Oh dear,” said Elizabeth.
“There’s more. I asked the landlord if he knew where Victor was, if he’d been taken to a hospital or something. He said that Victor paid him a month’s extra rent and announced he was vacating the place. I don’t get it.”
“Where could he have gone?”
“I don’t know. Listen, do you suppose he might have left some clue behind? Maybe we could get the landlord to let us have a look around.”
Sure enough, Victor’s landlord opened the apartment for Tony and Elizabeth. He said, “That Victor was always kinda quiet and very shy. But this one day, I noticed he was down, really upset about something. I asked him if he was all right, and he said he’d just gotten some disturbing news from his doctor. Wouldn’t say what it was, though.”
When they entered the apartment, they found all of Victor’s belongings there. He was habitually neat, and everything seemed to be in its place. There was no evidence of hurried packing, no sign of a struggle. Everything seemed normal. Then Tony saw the envelope on the table.
“What is it?” asked Elizabeth.
“There’s a letter. It’s addressed to you.”
“Please read it.”
Elizabeth could hear Tony tearing open an envelope. There was a pause and Elizabeth heard Tony let out a puzzled grunt.
“What does it say?”
Tony read aloud:
I hope Tony or you have found this, and assume he is reading this to you. That is good, as he, being my only friend, deserves an explanation as do you, my only love. I told you there were things in my past that were difficult to explain. There was also a promise I made that I failed to keep. It’s a piece of unfinished business that I must make good on.
I had made a point of introducing you to each other; I very much wanted you to get together. You’ve each been alone, and I am very aware how painful that can be. You’re both good people and I know you could be very happy with one another. I also know that in the end you could not be truly happy with me, Elizabeth.
A day later, Tony and Elizabeth were in Dr. Sims’ office. Dr. Clerval was there as well. Both doctors had read the note.
“Why would he have done this? Where could he have gone?” asked Elizabeth.
“It was a mistake, leading him to that book. He would have been far better off not knowing.”
“I’m sorry?” asked Tony, wondering what the doctor was referring to.
“Victor recently had a great shock. As he said in his note, there are things about his past which are very hard to assimilate. No doubt he needs time to reflect and decide what to do with this new information.”
“So you know where he went?”
“I have an idea. I suspect he went north, far north.”
Indeed, Victor had purchased an airline ticket to Moscow, with a connecting flight to Murmansk. On arriving there, he purchased a bundle of firewood and chartered a dogsled. The driver was amazed when the strange man asked to be dropped off several days’ travel from any settlement, with only the clothes on his back and the wood.
Victor Frenchstone was never seen or heard from again. Having at last touched two lives with a positive result, he was ready to keep his promise.
Copyright © 2014 by E. B. Fischadler