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Frankenstein’s Brother

May 4, 2010

by Marc Hudson

Frank is driving too fast. “Speed limit,” I say. He takes his foot off the gas and now we’re barely moving. He wears orthopedic shoes. They’re custom made. My dad says they cost eight hundred dollars a pair. The sole on his right foot is about three inches thicker than the sole on his left. That’s because his right leg is shorter than his left. Apparently, he has legs from two different people — don’t ask me why. The doctors say that the fine nerve endings in his hands and feet aren’t as sensitive as they are in you and me. That’s another reason he’s not good at moderating speed — he can’t feel the pedal. It’s the same with the brake — too much or too little. We won’t let him drive downtown. It isn’t fair to the pedestrians. Frankenstein is my brother. My parents adopted him because after I was born they weren’t able have any more kids on their own. It’s sort of a big deal having a brother made of spare parts. JAMA called him a miracle of modern science.

He’s still learning to drive. This was a big step for him. Huge. Our neighbors, the MacPhails gave us their old Buick LeSabre because it has more leg room. It’s a big sloppy car. My parents thought we’d be safer in something big. We’re on our way to my soccer practice. I’m watching out for road kill so that I can distract him if something pops up. Road kill unsettles him. He wants to fix them. Frank once sat for seven hours with a dead squirrel in his hands, weeping. Well, not weeping, really. His tear ducts don’t work. He just scrunches up his face and moans. I hope that our parents don’t die because he’ll never get over it.

“More speed, Frank.” He mumbles and lifts a hand as if to say ‘make up your mind.’ “Ten and two,” I say. Frank ignores me and turns on the radio. “Too loud,” I say. He’s not supposed to have the radio on while he’s driving. It’s a distraction. He likes the worst sort of pop music. And he likes to sing along. The doctor says that singing is good for his vocal cords. It isn’t really singing, though. It’s like trying to reproduce a painting with a single color. Frank is bobbing his head. He doesn’t see the light changing. “Red light, Frank. Frank, red light!” By the time he slams on the brakes we’re half-way through the intersection. He looks at me with his ‘oops’ face, his eyes huge and goofy behind the thick, blocky lenses of his glasses. We’re nearly t-boned by a man in a blue Mustang. The man shouts obscenities and gives us the finger. Frank raises his mismatched hands and makes a series of meaningless squeezing gestures.  He doesn’t handle criticism well. The fact that he hasn’t mastered speech only adds to his frustration. “Gas,” I tell him, “gas, Frank.” Frank mashes the gas pedal with his orthopedic platform shoe and we sail through the intersection unscathed. The car is riddled with dings and dents and scratches. I carry a pad in my pocket so that I can leave notes for the people whose cars we hit. The message goes something like this: ‘Dear Sir or Madam. Please forgive the damage to your car. My brother, Frankenstein, is learning how to drive. He is the sum of many parts that do not always function in concert. Please take comfort in the knowledge that he has hit many vehicles besides your own. Regards, Brian.’ I spot Haley Mishbaum from my biology class and turn away from the window so she won’t see me. I hate that I do this. Some of the kids at school call me Frankenstein’s brother, like it’s a bad thing. They don’t get him at all. I can quote complete paragraphs from scientific journals about what an astonishing and promising accomplishment Frank is, but these kids can’t get past the bolts in his neck. Frank slows down as we approach the Panda Den on Lexington. “No,” I tell him. “There’s no time.” Coach is a stickler for punctuality. If I’m late one more time I’ll be sitting on the bench. “Ahnees,” shouts Frank, turning into the lot. He takes up three spaces, which is okay, because it’s the middle of the afternoon and the lot is empty. I go inside and order crab rangoons, no msg. Frank has high blood pressure. Some of this is from the meds. He takes handfuls of pills to keep his body from going to war with itself. “How’s Frank?” Mr. Chen asks. “Good,” I tell him. The car is shaking. We can hear the radio blasting from inside the restaurant, the sound of Frank singing along.

Frank claps his mismatched hands when I return. He purrs as he devours the rangoons. Bits of fried dough dribble from his lips. I turn down the radio. He turns it up. Technically, he’s my older brother, but I’m the responsible one. “We have to go, Frank.” He licks his fingers. I look the other way and try to forget that the fingers he’s licking aren’t really his. He starts the car and backs into a trash can next to the building. I get out and set the can upright, wave to Mr. Chen. I’m not yet late for practice. There’s time for us to make it. Frank catches the edge of the curb on the way out. The car shudders. He remembers to turn right onto Philpon Avenue. He’s getting better at remembering directions. Frank croons, mashes the gas pedal, lays off, mashes, lays off. Our bodies lurch forward and back. I check my watch. Five minutes. We can do it. I reach over the seat and grab my cleats. I peel off my shoes. Frank stops singing. By the time I look up he has already pulled over. I spot the cat on the shoulder — a victim of the morning commute. “No, Frank,” I shout. Too late. He’s already out of the car, lumbering up the road, arms out, wailing.

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Marc Hudson’s work has appeared in The Seattle Review. His short story “Timo’s Creations” will be published by Echo Ink Review in August. He writes and builds gardens for other people in southern New Hampshire.

Categories: New Classics Tags:
  1. May 4, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Two fascinating and fun and surprising entries in two days. Very cool.

    “No, Frank.”


  2. May 4, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    Thanks for this story Marc. Both characters grew on me. And Frank-ly could not help but make the connection between him and this world we need to learn to love in all its visceral beauty and ugliness.

  3. May 13, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Thanks for this story, Marc. Powerful and tender at the same time. And someone needs to mourn the little accidents that we roll past everyday.

  4. Marc
    May 16, 2010 at 7:36 am

    Thanks to everyone for reading and for the kind words.

  5. JJS
    June 2, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    I love this piece, so simultaneously hilarious and empathic.

    So much fiction written from the child point of view fails to truly remember what it is to be the child (which is not unlike being the monster made of spare parts); you’ve just nailed it here, on several levels.

    Funny and terrible, terribly funny.

    ‘Dear Sir or Madam. Please forgive the damage to your car. My brother, Frankenstein, is learning how to drive. He is the sum of many parts that do not always function in concert. Please take comfort in the knowledge that he has hit many vehicles besides your own. Regards, Brian.’

  6. Karen Greenbaum-Maya
    August 30, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Brilliant concept. I feel that way too about cat victims.

  7. marc
    August 31, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    Thanks, Karen.

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