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   m i x e d -u p

--- L I S A   B A K E R

Brother hit it, flipped, hammered his head against the road. The doctors drilled a hole. They didn't let mother or father or me in for the drilling. There was bonedust, must have been. I would have liked to see. All I got to see was a duct-taped cone jutting from his forehead. Brother's skull hole was in there, a wire, his fattened brain. Conehead conehead! The nurses strapped him to his bed. He sucked oxygen through a tube and pissed into another one. Into a tube!

"You've got a strong son," the bald blue team doctor told father. Father shook the bald doctor's hand. I saw the eye of it spying on me when the nurses rearranged his lap johnny.

Brother caught phenomena, so the nurses vibrated the bed. Brother coughed phlegm up a tube rooted in his lungs. Mother held his hand. She said, "Baby, is this what it takes to get you to stop pretending you're Evil Knieval?" Mother cried into pocketbook tissues in the waiting room. That's where all the ladies cried, they waited to cry in the waiting room.

Brother got lunatic when he woke up. Brother told a nurse her pussy stunk. The nurse giggled with the other nurses at the station. Dirty things. His eyeballs swam in their bloody sockets, and the nurses shuffled him. This stared at the tiled floors. He smelled dirty. Mother powdered his face and lifted his arms to smear deodorant. She sponged him while father bought candy at the ICU snack machines. The bald blue team doctor told father this was exceptional recovery, three months. A red team of doctors visited brother bedside to witness his record recovery, which made father a proud man. The team taped brother with a cam-corder.

The nurses caught brother soaping in the staff shower. They discharged him. Brother sat next to me in the back of mother's compact car down I95 and asked mother for a Lucky strike. "Just this once, baby," she smiled. Brother blew long tails of smoke at me. "Turn it up," brother said to father. Father laughed hard, over the music. He drove hard, worked the gears for all those times he thought he had lost everything.

At home, relatives announced that family love had saved brother. "Maybe so," father beamed. Mother was in good spirits, roasting beef.

Right off, brother got his carpentry business back in shape. He nailed and sawed in father's garage, like always. Some people get whacked in the head and they come back screwy, relatives said. But not brother! In the garage, he built me a dresser. He built me bookshelves. He built me a desk and chair. He built me a bed with sanded balls at the top of the bedposts. He built his muscles back up. "Back in the saddle!" everyone said.

Mother's sister, Dolly, said, "You've got a big brother who loves you very much, Patty." She came to help mother re-order. At the kitchen counter, she mixed her morning health shake. She called it a banana-orange smoothie but I saw her put other things in. Father said Dolly has a tight tush. Dolly said, "Lucky you, Patty. Not many girls get big brothers like yours."

Brother had always built me things. I had a roomful of wooden things brother built. When I was small, he built me a wooden girldoll. He glued yellow yarn hair to her, but when she was dressed you couldn't see it. She had thumb-tack tits.

One night, after the hospital, brother woke me up. He had his hand on my kneecap. "I'm always going to surround you with pretty things, little sister," he said.

I know I would get in trouble for saying so, but it isn't just orange and banana. Stir, shred, grate, grind, frappe, puree, liquefy, whip, cream, chop, cream, chop chop, grate, grind. On different days, Dolly presses different buttons because each has a different effect, she says. "Variations on a theme, Patty," Dolly says. "Music for the living." But it's still the same spinning blender blade. It's still the same pale-orange brain juice she drinks from the pint glass with her morning Lucky Strike.

When I can't sleep, I picture Dolly's health shake. A hot black tongue of road's got banana-orange smoothie spatted on it. Brother's on his knees over the mess, broken glass, leaking, smashed all up. Look at it, look at this mess! His kneecaps are bloody. I make brother wipe, scrape, lick up every last broken piece. Or else they'll be an accident. Some good person's rubber tire will get pierced. Some good person will get blown to outerspace and back, like there's nothing, like there's not even an atmosphere. Who can sleep knowing that?

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