Brancusi’s Golden Bird v2

Here’s the story that my workshop is getting tomorrow, in the form that they are getting it in!


Brancusi’s Golden Bird

First thought: perception of a loud wail encompassing purple spikes of displeasure, red dust storms of wordless rage and yellow daubs of confusion.

Emilio Patel’s parents took an above-average amount of baby pictures and precious videos. Picture it – or google it – unformed thoughts, wriggling their way through the air above your newborn’s head: soft, plump, diaphanous, changing between pleasantly warm colours and the greens and purples of discomfort (but never for long – what kind of parent would allow that?). Yes – that Emilio Patel, born with his thoughts outside of his head to Rosa Brancusi and Chandran Patel.

Keep imagining. Rosa never had to guess what was wrong when Baby Lio started to cry his head off – she could tell by colour if it was gas, hunger, or anything a little more yellow. The happy parents zipped through the first two years like champs, but as Emilio’s thoughts began to get more complex, the first signs of trouble appeared. It was not quite like other baby book moments when Rosa caught Emilio’s first lie because it was plastered above his head.

His first lie was green, like his infant discomfort. The tendrils of it wrapped all around the truth, trying to take it in and devour it – a cuttlefish with a treat capsule.

It made Rosa uncomfortable to look at, even though Emilio’s lie was harmless: he had lost one of her rings down the drain during dress-up, but claimed not to have seen it. He suggested asking the dog. She grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him into a hug. She cried.


A thousand little challenges a day, compounded. Had her son discovered masturbation? Other parents could just lie to themselves and pretend it wasn’t so. All Rosa had to do to get her answer was ask, and it would be plain as any of the other thoughts above his face. Did her son hear Chandran argue with her? She could see the sad purples in his thoughts after every tiff. And then, Emilio was in elementary school, and he was different.


When Rosa found out that Emilio’s thoughts were embarrassing him at school, the pair put their heads together to try and find a solution. First, Rosa got out an old Tam o’ Shanter and she and Emilio pulled it over his head. This had the effect of Emilio’s thoughts squeezing out from between the hat and the space near his ears. When Rosa laughed, Emilio’s thoughts turned bright red and funneled out of the hat like steam from a kettle.

“Sorry, Lio – we’ll think of something else.”

Emilio made a face at her, but she could tell that he had already decided to forgive her from the shape of his thoughts.

They next tried using two books to squash the thoughts into something small enough to fit in a jar – then Emilio could just hide the jar. They managed to get the thoughts very small, but they sublimated as soon as they were placed inside the container and returned to the space above Emilio’s head.

Their next plan was to siphon Emilio’s thoughts through a straw (Rosa did the siphoning) and then put them back into his head through his ear. At first this seemed to work, but then Emilio woke up in the middle of the night with a horrible ear ache. Chandran poked at his ear with a cotton swab and his thoughts came tumbling out like water.


Rosa, Chandran and Dr. Cohen, Emilio’s pediatrician, had long ago agreed that, though unusual, Emilio’s condition was nothing to be concerned about. Now that it was bothering her son, Rosa went to talk to Dr. Cohen once more.

“Well, Rosa,” said Dr. Cohen. “An operation like this one is an unnecessary risk for a boy Emilio’s age, and the side effects of trying such a thing could be worse than what Emilio is living with now. All children have some trouble adjusting to school – give him more time before we say the word ‘operation.’”

Rosa took Dr. Cohen’s advice, and somehow, time passed. Despite Emilio’s not getting any happier, he never did end up getting that operation in elementary school. Somewhere along the line, Rosa and Chandran got a divorce. Emilio got into the high school of his mother’s choice.


In high school, Emilio’s teachers soon decided to place him in a separate room during tests. Emilio’s answers were always neatly sequentialized in his thoughts, especially when he looked over his work.  His math teacher watched as thoughts rearranged themselves above Emilio’s head as he teased out the information from a word problem: warm bake sale cookies left aside in favour of hard coinage, bouncing up again as they hit an imaginary floor. It also turned out that he was crummy at chess and his first unbidden erection was a highly public school bus event: a slow, pendulous arousal, in comfortable yellow hues, unfolding from within, languorously reaching upwards and growing ever larger as Emilio stared out the window, thinking of nothing in particular. The first few people noticed. Emilio’s actual face grew red, and he waved his hands above his head, trying to dissipate the thought – he grabbed two binders and covered the front and back of his thoughts. Laughter erupted, Emilio wilted. In art class, the teacher made the class paint his thoughts, and Emilio couldn’t complete the assignments. The teacher gave him an “A” anyway – some happy hippy bullshit about him being a “living work of art.” He ended up on YouTube, squeezing paint tubes out onto his palette and thinking about girls.

Girls were especially awkward. Some girls liked him and the way that his thoughts danced around like fairy lights, but Emilio’s only knowledge of sex and relationships came from health class, skin mags and internet porn. Apparently this looked objectionable even if your thoughts were in pretty colours. It was a circular dilemma: Emilio would get nervous about his thoughts making him look dumb, and then he would lose control of his thoughts due to nerves. He tried to learn to lie with his thoughts, but he couldn’t sustain it for very long – and not at all to people that knew him. The truth would filter in, changing the timber and shape of his thoughts, sometimes slowly, sometimes all at once.


Rosa was left pretty well-off from the divorce, and when Emilio said that he wanted to move out on his own (saying that he needed privacy, which hurt Rosa some because she had not known her son felt the need to hide anything from her) and that he was taking a year off from school, Rosa paid the first six months’ rent on his new apartment (a one-and-a-half to avoid the need for roommates) with her ex-husband’s money. Then, she left for Hawaii – starting on a world tour with his bank account that she planned to last for some time.

Emilio had no bills to pay for a while and so getting a job didn’t seem all that urgent. Most mornings he slept in late, dreaming of daytime television: soft and out of focus faces, sound bytes of laugh tracks, glittering numbers in gaudy faux-gold and small wheels, spun by  disembodied hands, always landing just short of their mark. The first six months’ rent had just run out when MTV offered Emilio his own television program. A representative came to his door.

“Hello there, Mr. Patel. I would have asked if it was you but I can see for myself that it must be. We love your YouTube channel.”

Emilio stayed quiet. What YouTube Channel? His confusion curled, transitioning from colour to colour, a column of punctuation marks and –

“Who am I? Sam Benjamin, MTV – and if you accept my offer, I’ll be your new employer. How about the Emilio Patel Show? We can work on the name – you’re absolutely right in thinking that’ll never sell. The Man With His Heart On His Sleeve – pure magic!”

How could Emilio resist an offer like that? (Not to mention the 5 000 an episode, plus expenses.)

“Excuse Me, Your Thoughts Are Showing” premiered that September with half of the country watching. It had been talked up a lot – on all the radio shows, all the morning shows, on Conan – Emilio had been giving interviews for weeks. The concept was that Emilio could go any place in the world and do anything he wanted, all with a TV crew filming his thoughts.

The Eiffel Tower: slow, yellow clouds, hanging aimless – the concept of ‘that’s all, Eiffel?’

Michelangelo’s David: scarlet haze of envy, and then, when the guide explained that, in order to achieve correct perspective when viewed from below (as it was originally meant for the roof of a cathedral), David’s head was the largest part of his anatomy, canary yellow amusement as small exclamatory dashes of light. His hands were also unusually large.

The Night Sky, in that area of the world with the least light pollution: pure humbled whiteness, overwhelming – spreading in all directions like a blanket.

The New York Zoo: polite green yawn  – not nearly as fun as Simon and Garfunkel said.

Giza, Egypt: sun-through-your-eyelids orange, the beige of afternoon sleepiness, settling, like fog, and the neon yellow of annoyance at too many bodies packed into every camera shot –at the Sphinx especially. The chilly blue of wanting to wrap a sweater around himself at night.

Dining At A Really Expensive Restaurant With His First Paycheck: cadmium yellow embarrassment at the cost of the entrees. Fierce ruby red pleasure at the ability that money lent him not to care.

It was a hit. The Man With His Thoughts Outside of His Head was famous. Emilio Patel still couldn’t get a girl, but everyone wanted to be his friend.


Emilio’s first girlfriend was a cinematographer that worked on his show. Ain’t that always the way with these things? She liked to run her fingers through his thoughts, watching her effect on him, holding his mind to her breasts. Her name was Anna. He thought she might actually love him. Anna laughed, and tried to catch the colour of his love in her fists. Emilio’s thoughts twisted and shifted in her hands, snaking out from between her palms and fingers, like one of those acrobats wrapped up in silk.

First snow: round pink pleasure, floating softly downwards, disappearing before it hit the carpet.

First snow squall: blue drift of claustrophobia, helplessness – where does the snow end?

First crush: blue drift of potential rejection, round pink bubbles floating upwards like fizz in root beer. Yellow petals of imagined tenderness.

The break-up: roiling black, purple and green, pitched back and forth like caustic stomach acids. Anna’s hands would have been burned by it.


Soon after Anna, the advertising companies moved in.

“You’re the most popular man in North America. We will pay you to think of our product – try it out, see what you think, and then decide.”

“People want to know what you think of new Brain Blaster Berry Gatorade!”

“How would you like to be the face of Novellis Medical Technology Solutions? We’ll film you getting a cat scan – the medical community will love it. And if they love it, maybe they’ll buy Novellis!”

“The APA would like to be able to see your brain as – kind of our little mascot of psychology – you see?”

“People will say, ‘wow, I bet Harvey’s must taste as good as that guy’s thoughts look when he is eating it.’ They will say, ‘wow, I wish I could also be eating some Harvey’s.’ See how that works? It’s psychology.”

Oh boy.

First time that a fan asked if he was selling out with product placement: a river of bright red self-righteousness poured itself out away from Emilio, leaving only liver-coloured shame, its texture like lard. Or like a Harvey’s hamburger patty.

Anna hadn’t wanted to chance having their kids come out like him.

First time he had sex with someone without knowing their name: a purple bruising in the air above him, with a flash of hot pink afterwards, like Barbie’s plastic convertible.

Stopping in at a Convenience Store and trying Gatorade’s New Brain Blaster (Field Berry) Flavour on Live Television: bitter green bile choking up a windpipe, a long filthy black hair clogging a drain.


The levy broke. Emilio quit the show and went to see doctor after doctor, looking for a specialist willing to perform the operation. He found one. Emilio told the surgeon that he wanted to be “like regular folks.” It was all over the newspapers.

General Anesthesia: numb blue-white of glaciers – and heaviness like a snow squall. Mild yellow indignation that the anesthesiologist had tricked him into counting backwards.

And then, Emilio Patel sat in recovery, the area above his head thoughtless. His facial expression was blank – he would have to relearn such things. What he was feeling and thinking was no longer plain as the nose on his face anymore.

He had gotten a lot of letters begging him not to do it – telling him about the unique gift that he had – that Emilio already knew too much about. In the end, nothing could change his mind.

Except – except actually being like regular folks. It’s rumoured that he got lonely, and sick of his post-operation life.  They say that he got the megrims and wrote a book. Others say he became a writer full time – hell, his money from television allowed for it. That way, people could know his mind.


Still-forming ice slivers, hardened, hueless, colourless,

embedded in the heart now and not above his head.



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