Frankenstein’s Womanhood

December 9, 2022

Rain is pounding on the window. It’s a gothic motif, as all things are when you are somber at the end of the day. There are two eyes, and they are glowing like the headlights of the silver sedan in the driveway. Those eyes are watching. Always watching.

In the subtle breeze of the family home, my grandmother throws masala into the boiling water of her pot. She sniffs it briefly, the aroma tingling her nose, the wrinkles at the side of her lips cracking in satisfaction. She has cooked and cleaned all day, her heels throbbing in her $5 Costco socks. She hears the door open and immediately stiffens. It is her daughter.

My grandmother is hit with the feeling that she doesn’t belong, that she is only a visitor on these hardwood floors she has painstakingly scrubbed clean. She didn’t graduate high school. She was her husband’s and now she is her children’s. Decay froths around her teeth and she scratches it with her tongue.

My mother enters the home, sighing as she slips her black heels off her feet. She worked all day, a real career woman whom she has slaved her whole life to become. My mother is tired, but after her nine-to-five, she has her five-to-nine. No matter what she does, she still can’t impress her mother. She glances over at the stove, where my grandmother turns her head slightly, not acknowledging her. Even if she is the breadwinner, even if she provided for her family and raised them above their station, she is no good because she does not cook everyone’s meals.

Upstairs, I peek through the rails of the balcony overlooking the kitchen. My grandmother’s throat bobs and my mother’s lip folds under her top teeth. Tension is thick and dripping with the sweat on their foreheads. I grip my copy of Frankenstein, which I am reading in AP Literature, the words leaking into my palm. I have a discussion tomorrow that I am thoroughly unprepared for, but instead of reviewing the material, I’m examining the tone of my voice and the way the words slip off my tongue. I don’t want to sound too obnoxious, after all.

As a girl, I know it’s beneficial for me to play dumb.

My mother rolls her shoulder, her face dropping from her practiced smile. As a woman, she knows how to keep poise.

My grandmother turns around quickly and switches off the stove. As a widow, she knows to keep quiet.

Like a practiced dance, we waltz to our roles: the disgruntled daughter frustrated by the world, the working mother who can’t seem to balance both working and being a mother, and the aging widow with her potential stolen away. So much has changed with each new generation and yet everything is the same.

We begin to resemble reanimated corpses, acting alive with dizzying resonance. In my closet, my mother stitches together the wounds on my chest as I wail and beat against her gravestone. My grandmother watches from afar, picking at scabs lining down her back. We try to rip through the predestined folds of time with manicured nails but instead are left with our blood on our hands.

Frankenstein saunters in eventually – the scientist, not the monster – and restrings the patriarchy so we are hanging in suspense from the wooden attic boards. Long, spindly fingers whip us around. Though my grandmother’s bones are stiff; she is used to the movements. My mother and I are practicing hesitantly, but we are tangled, and I want to cut off the strings.

I am just now realizing how much I have to cut off to come of age. Becoming a woman means shaving my knees until my reckless childhood bruises fall like wood chips. It means forcing my tongue back inside my throat at the sound of authority. To be a woman you must unlearn everything you have discovered about being human.

I had always watched my mother take off her lab coat when she stepped onto the dark hardwood of her home, draping her skin suit on the high chairs. I want to be inside it, stretching my fingers through her milky gloves. No matter how little my mother knows, she knows more than me. I want to be her. I want to leave her.

She watches me above a pot of my steaming flesh and I struggle to build myself back together. Jealousy fizzles in her mouth like old Pop Rocks. Cracks in her teeth from grinding them together are visible in the rare times when she laughs. She envies my reckless freedom, the way I shove myself out of broken planes and break my bones as if I had nine more to replace them. She remembers when she was me. She hated when she was me.

My grandmother thinks the same, looking at my mother from the dining room table. She touches the back of her ear where a gold chain hangs perpetually. She was newly fresh when she was my mother – freshly dead. Flies still circled her head like a halo. She wonders what would have been if she had been her daughter or granddaughter. Would she have been different? Would she not have fallen as early as she did? Would she not be gasping for air, her nose the fin of a shark and her nostrils flaring?

The scientist twists the strings, splitting the three away from each other. Silence fills the kitchen sink and overflows so that it soaks my feet. I’m scared of water. I haven’t drowned long enough to know how to swim. I hop back up the stairs as my mother and grandmother tread, glowing eyes above the surface, just enough so that they stay afloat. One day I will succumb to the waves as all the women in my family have, the strings of Frankenstein pulling me down to the surface. But for now, I’m still alive enough to run. Alive enough to look death straight in the eye. Alive enough to make leaps and bounds before I’m dragged back down into the depths of the water. ■

Videographer: Liv Martinez
Models: J Hayden & Nikki Shah
HMUA: Jaycee Jamison
Stylist: Marianna Aguirre

Other Stories in Life

© 2024 SPARK. All Rights Reserved.