Booths full of memories. It was something Andrew thought about every time he and Taylor went strolling through the flea markets. There were rows and rows of booths, each containing well-loved items imparted with hints of the past. Booth 141 contained a set of old formal dishes that he thought must have belonged to someone’s grandmother. An aged tobacco pipe, smelling faintly of that cherry scented smoke, sat on a shelf in Booth 145. Andrew wondered whether that smell of warm cherries still lingered in the memories of the family of its former owner. In booth 147, there was an old doll with the paint rubbed off on one side. It must have been the side its little owner had cuddled for years.
Today, they were on a mission, and that mission was glassware. They had only been living together for a few months, but Taylor had successfully worn Andrew down on the matter of his mismatched drinkware, consisting primarily of beer-branded pint glasses and plastic Cain’s Chicken cups. They were on the hunt for something quirky and mid-century. Andrew left the serious search to Taylor while he wandered from booth to booth, examining any trinkets that caught his eye.
Rounding a corner, he saw a flash of orange plastic hiding behind a stack of clothes. A vague memory began to rise from his stomach, the way all shapeless memories do. Cautiously stepping over an old Razor scooter that had fallen across the entrance to the booth, he peeled back the clothes. His breath caught in his chest as the memory creeping from his stomach launched all the way to consciousness with enough force to send him back to kindergarten.
Andrew had always been an odd kid. Sweet, but odd. As far back as he could remember, Andrew had been obsessed with monsters. Most boys growing up in middle America in the 90s went through monster phases, along with dinosaur phases, train phases, space phases, and the like. But Andrew never moved off his monster phase. His particular favorites were the classic monsters of the old Universal horror films. He didn’t think about this at the time, but in retrospect, Andrew thought his obsession was due to a certain kinship with the monsters. Always different from the torch-and-pitchfork carrying masses, always misunderstood, and always punished for other’s lack of understanding. Or maybe it was just because they were monsters and they were cool. Either way, while his friends were playing with dinosaurs, Andrew was wrapping his action figures in toilet paper and pretending they were mummies freshly raised from their eternal slumber. While his friends coveted the latest Halloween costumes, Andrew went trick-or-treating every year as Bela Lugosi’s classic Dracula. And on his seventh birthday, instead of playing “Pin the Tail on the Donkey,” he and his friends had played “Pin the Bolts on Frankenstein’s Monster.”
After a few exhilarating rounds, they all chugged some punch (which his mother had lovingly made as deeply red as she could to accommodate her son’s desire for “vampire punch”) and sat down to open presents. Andrew remembered getting a lot of great presents that year, but one in particular took the bat-shaped cake. A large box, wrapped in little ghost-covered wrapping paper his mother had somehow found in the middle of June, had captured his imagination. At last, his mother handed it to him, and he ripped it open with punch-fueled ferocity. It was a Big Frank; a foot-and-a-half tall orange and green plastic recreation of Frankenstein’s monster. In a matter of minutes, Big Frank was out of the box and filled with batteries. It wasn’t just a doll. You could “fix” Big Frank, with tools conveniently provided in the doll’s hollow head. In “broken” mode, the monster would make sad noises and ask things like “Fix me!” By opening up Frank’s plastic chest and flipping some switches, you could do just that, eliciting “fixed” mode phrases such as “I’m alive!” and “Thank you!”
It was the birthday and the gift he remembered best from his childhood. Partly because was the last real birthday he had. His mother left them the following winter, leaving Andrew alone with his father, who had no clue how to handle this strange, atypical boy. Being true to the mold of fathers in the 90s, he had no idea how to handle his own emotions either, let alone support those of his son. In the aftermath of his mother’s departure, Andrew’s father channeled all his complex feelings into the one he understood the best: anger.
Consequently, Andrew found himself spending more and more time alone in his room. Not quite alone. He had his monsters. And he had Big Frank. When things became too much for his young mind to handle, when he felt like he would give anything to know what to do to make it all better, he could always fix Big Frank. In the months that followed, Andrew found himself drawn to his room to fix Big Frank, again and again and again. After awhile he couldn’t sleep unless he fixed Frank at least ten times, and he refused to start his day before fixing him another fifteen times. Finally, one night after dinner and about fifty “fixes” in, Andrew’s father, in an alcohol-assisted rage brought on by the constant sound of Big Frank’s mechanical voice, burst into Andrew’s room and brought a heavy work boot down on poor Frank’s open chest. He was never the same after that. He would talk, sometimes, but he was stuck in “broken” mode. In spite of his pleas of “Fix me!” Big Frank could not be fixed. No matter how many times Andrew pulled the levers and flipped the switches, Big Frank never again uttered “I’m Alive!” or “Thank you!” or anything other than sad groans and “Fix me!”
Andrew stopped playing with Frank then. Eventually, though he wasn’t sure when, his dad must have thrown him out. Andrew could just see his father pitching Big Frank in the trash can with a gleeful smile at the thought of never having to hear those mechanical phrases again.
After that, Andrew had blocked Frank out of his memory, and hadn’t thought about him in all the years since. But now, Andrew stood staring down at a perfectly preserved Big Frank, hiding behind the clothes in booth 151.
“Watcha got there?” Taylor’s voice came from just over Andrew’s shoulder, pulling him back out of his daydream. Taylor followed Andrew’s eyes down to the Big Frank.
“Oh my god, Drew, look at this! This is such a ‘you’ toy! Look, his chest opens up and everything! What does this do?” Taylor pushed the little heart in Big Frank’s chest. The doll’s eyes lit up, and he let out that familiar grown, “Fix me!”
“Oh that’s so sad! Let’s see…” Taylor muttered as she fiddled with the plastic gears and switches in Big Frank’s chest. Andrew stood there, observing, still too dazed to speak, but Taylor was absorbed in the monster doll and did not notice. “There, lets try this.” Taylor pressed the heart again.
“I’m alive!” said Frank. “Thank you!”
Only now did Taylor look up at Andrew. “Drew, you have to get this! Did you ever have one of these when you were a kid?”
Instead of an answer, Andrew stepped forward and kissed her hard. Carrying Big Frank along with them, they continued down the row, holding hands and looking for their glassware.