The Prime-Time Open Mind (v3 of ‘Brancusi’s Golden Bird’)

Here it is, the portfolio-edited version of this story. Man, I stink at titles. This is what my teacher got. I think there’s still room for work, but I’m also ready to write something new instead of editing. Oh, by the way – the first draft, for anyone curious:

The Prime-Time Open Mind


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. When googled, millions of links and mirrors of videos document his life  – 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 – his mother wouldn’t allow that). Emilio Patel was born with his thoughts outside of his head to Rosa Brancusi and Chandran Patel.

The first person to notice Emilio’s strange condition was a nurse in the hospital nursery – the attending doctor had been too busy, Chandran slightly too drunk, and Rosa still too busy riding out the rest of  the effects of her epidural analgesia. This nurse had always believed in auras since she was a little girl, but it was the first time that she saw any aura change so quickly, and with so many colours. She ran her hand through the thoughts – they felt soft and warm, like Emilio’s newborn skin. They also seemed almost out-of-focus, like a newborn’s vision would be, once it opened its eyes. The Patel boy didn’t seem upset or injured though, so the nurse left a note for the doctor and left.

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. Emilio’s thoughts grew and developed with him: sometimes they were just shapes and colours, but sometimes they were pictures of the people he knew, or animals, or objects, and combinations thereof. If he got upset, his thoughts almost seemed to boil – they gave off their own heat and scent. They hadn’t yet tasted his thoughts – that was for someone braver than them. With all the other senses employed, the parents found it surprising that his thoughts made no noise, even if they gave off the impression of being noisy at times, with all their swirling motion and imaginary winds. Another problem was that, with his thoughts becoming more complicated, Rosa and Chandran became less sure that they were correctly interpreting them. 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. They didn’t have a dog. She grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him into a hug. She cried.

A thousand little challenges a day, compounded. That was life with Lio. Had her son discovered any number of the things that children were not supposed to know about? Other parents could just lie to themselves and pretend it wasn’t so. All Rosa had to do to get her answer was mention it, and it would be plain as any of the other thoughts above his face. How would he make his way in the world if everyone knew his thoughts? Would he be happy? Would he outgrow this? Did her son hear Chandran argue with her? She could see the sad purples in his thoughts after every tiff.

They hadn’t always been one of those couples – the ones that fight over everything, but Chandran viewed Emilio as a living reminder that there must be something wrong with his seed, and Rosa thought of him only as a gift. She would romp and play with him on the ground, taking pictures of his thoughts and feeling their texture, telling him stories of different gods and myths, about men who had the whole universe down their throats or genies that could make anything out of thin air. She told Emilio that maybe he was like one of them, or that maybe he could think of things for a living, like a performer. Chandran thought she was a crackpot, and made no secret about it – he strived to be especially “normal” in contrast. Then, all of a sudden, Emilio was in elementary school, and he was different.

Rosa watched Emilio come home from school every day for a week with a cloud hanging over his head. She couldn’t take it anymore and neither could he, so mother and son put their heads together to try and find a solution. First, Rosa got out an old tuque 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 – agreeing that Emilio could then 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.

He put Emilio back to bed and went back to his room. Emilio heard his father yelling at his mother and buried his head under his pillow. Sick-tinged green thought bubbled up through the pillow case. He could make out everything his father said, but only about half of what his mother said.

“Why do you do these ridiculous things? You put a hat on him to fix a neurological problem? You blow in his ear with a straw? The human mouth is full of microbes, no wonder he got an ear ache. Rosa, you have to stop your nonsense. He’s going to grow up weirder than he already is.”

His mother’s muted reply was punctuated by a slap. Emilio sank lower under the covers, feeling nauseous. He hoped that nobody would check in on him – if it was his mother, he couldn’t face the tears, and if it was his father, then Emilio felt sure that he would have to try to kill him. He tried out a few words in his thoughts, which formed like ghosts on the pillow case: Bastard. You Bastard You Fuck. Don’t hit her.

The next day, Chandran left on business. He often did, after these little outbursts. It was easier on all of them, was what he said. Rosa suspected that there was another woman eating up his patience, and she wondered every time if it would be the last time. Before leaving, he took Emilio to the park, played soccer with him, and then sat him down on a swing. “Emilio – you’re going to be good for your mother, right?”

“Of course, dad. What were you yelling about yesterday? Was it about my ear ache?”

“Well, sort of. Your mother gets some pretty silly ideas sometimes, and I don’t want you to start getting silly ideas too. Does that make sense? If you have a medical problem, you go to a doctor.”

“But I like mom’s way better,” said Emilio, getting up off the swing, thoughts swirling. “It’s fun.”

“You want to have another ear ache like that? What if the two of you try something dangerous?”

“Then why are you leaving?”

“I have to go, Emilio. For my job,” said Chandran.

Emilio searched his father’s face, and he thought he could almost see the lie on it.

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. Not to mention, her husband seemed to have changed his mind.

“Well, Rosa,” said Dr. Cohen. “An operation like this is highly experimental, and an unnecessary risk for a boy Emilio’s age. 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. He fought often with other kids – he just wasn’t able to hide what he thought about them, or to play it cool when they teased him. But he was a good student. That and his unusual condition kept him from being expelled for fighting. The administrators just seemed to have sympathy for the boy. This favouritism drove Chandran nuts – he thought that Emilio would never learn to adjust to society and leave a normal life while people kept babying him. Rosa just kept smiling. When Emilio was in the sixth grade, Rosa and Chandran got a divorce. The other woman finally surfaced – and so did Chandran’s test results. He had hired doctors while he was “away on business” to check out his plumbing and his DNA. Chandran claimed that what he called Emilio’s “birth defect” was Rosa’s fault, not his. He was going to have his real family now.

In high school, Emilio’s teachers soon decided to place him in a separate room during tests. The problem was that if Emilio was thinking intently about something, like a word problem or a riddle, words and numbers appeared above his head alongside images illustrating the problem. 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: “Your seventh-grade class decides to have a bake sale to raise money for the school’s trip to Toronto. You sell three different kinds of cookies: chocolate chip, oatmeal, and molasses. You charge fifty cents a cookie and sell all of the chocolate chip cookies, three-quarters of the oatmeal cookies, and one-third of the molasses cookies. If you started out with two dozen of each kind of cookie, how much money should you end up with, assuming that you got the cookies for free?” Toronto trip. 0.50 x ?. 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. Some girls laughed – some other people just kept watching, standing up in their seats and trying to see as much of it as possible. One of the bus’ biggest jerks tried to whack one of his binders down but by then it didn’t matter – Emilio had wilted. He sank into his seat and listened to the bus driver yell for everyone to sit down and shut up if they didn’t want her to pull into the drugstore parking lot and stay there. 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 – something 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 and Internet porn. Apparently this looked perverted 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.

Emilio 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. He stared in the mirror to practice his control, watching his face go blank as he focused on the space above his head – his brown eyes were soft but empty when he relied only on his thoughts to express what he was feeling. His short, dark hair was especially messy because nobody cared to look at it when there were so much more interesting things playing themselves out just above.

Rosa was left pretty well-off from the divorce, so 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 after graduating from high 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 him alone – except for telling him to please keep in touch.

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 bites 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. Here I am, standing with the man with his heart on his sleeve literally!”

Emilio didn’t resist – and the paycheck for every episode, plus expenses, definitely helped clinch the deal. The first thing that he did when Mr. Benjamin left was Google himself. Then, he watched a lot of YouTube videos, which were the first results in the search engine, including some from his art class and video responses about him – Emilio Patel. It was unreal.

“Patel Eats Cafeteria Chili Dog” had over 10 000 views, and hundreds of comments. His art class’s videos had their own channel. There was a long list of videos – most of which he didn’t remember being filmed for: “Emilio Patel’s Reaction to ‘Two Girls, One Cup’” and “Patel watches end of Schindler’s List in English Class FULL VERSION” were particular blanks for him – he didn’t remember being filmed at all. How had he not noticed? “Patel and Girl’s Gym Class” was probably the most popular video after the ‘Two Girls, One Cup’ video response. He didn’t remember being such a pervert – but then, he had been inside his own head for all of it.

He called his mom. Rosa was ecstatic but unsurprised.

“Mom, I’m going to be on television.”

“Isn’t it great? You’re going to be a performer, just  like we used to talk about when you were a kid. Your thoughts are beautiful, Lio – it’s no wonder that people want to see them.”

“Pardon Me,  But 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.

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.

Rock-Climbing: concentrated needle points of pain in tensed muscles until he reached the next rock to rest at, the euphoria of pink smiling endorphins and the rush of reaching the top and rappelling down.

It was a hit. The Man With His Thoughts Outside of His Head was famous. He still didn’t have a girl yet, but everyone wanted to be his friends. And the girls were coming. Because despite the success of the concept, the producers still weren’t quite happy. They wanted something different out of Emilio. They called it “human interest.” He didn’t know what they meant and they told him not to worry about it, to just go on with the show, doing what he was doing. They would figure it out. Meanwhile, MTV put up a section on the show’s website where viewers could submit their answer to the question “What do you want Emilio to experience next?”

Emilio’s first girlfriend was a cinematographer who worked on his show. 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, from floor to ceiling.

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!”

“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.”

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. It was pretty, and pretty fun, but it was also pretty weird. That was what she said.

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.

By human interest, the producers of Emilio’s show had meant that they wanted him to go back to school as part of a fraternity and film the experience. Sex, drugs, and dub step, they said. And hazings. They were excited about the hazings. The levy broke. Emilio quit the show. He found out that Anna had quit before him, as soon as she had heard about the frat thing. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that.

He called Rosa, and she tried to talk him down from what he was about to do – but Emilio had lived nineteen years with his problem, and he was ready to let go of it.

“Lio, it’s a gift, honey. There’s nobody else like you in the world.”

“That’s the problem – nobody knows what problems I could have later with this condition if I don’t get it fixed. Anna left me because of it. And she’s right. There shouldn’t have to be any one else like me.”

“Emilio, people want to be you. Have you seen the forums where people talk about your thoughts all day long? People are trying to be you all over the world. Emilio, they love to see you.”

“Mom, they don’t want it for themselves. They just want to watch the freak.”

“Are you doing this just for that girl?”

“I hate that people think they know me just because they can see my thoughts.”

“It’s your decision, Lio.”

Emilio made appointment after appointment with doctors, looking for a specialist willing to perform the operation. He ended up right back in his hometown, meeting with Dr. Cohen, his pediatrician. Somehow, it got leaked to the press. Emilio almost suspected his mom, who was still trying to convince him not to go through with it. If she had thought that doing so would create some kind of public outcry, she was right. Emilio got thousands of letters telling him not to do it, for thousands of reasons. Dr. Cohen dug up Emilio’s file and all the observations and tests that they had done in trying to prepare in case Emilio ever did want the operation. The doctor had worked on it in his spare time occasionally.

“Emilio, nobody knows how this is going to turn out,” said Dr. Cohen.

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.

  1. I love how you changed it to, his mother wouldn’t allow for that, in the beginning. Screams absent father! Actually not scream, but hints at. and Rosa Brancusi! hahah! The nurse bit is sweet. Makes it more concrete too. I like the background about why Rosa and Chandran fight. Makes it seem more real. They are less flat. Even if Chandran comes off as a jerk, atleast I can understand him. Scratch that…. he is a jerk! I get the other woman.. but pulling the faulty DNA on Rosa…. I want to punch the guy.

    I quite enjoyed the story though I miss the ironic ending you first had. Guess having Emilio miss who he was didn’t get many fans.

    • The only thing is, her name was always Rosa Brancusi :p! But thanks for the kind comment. I don’t know what I’m going to do with the ending, I don’t feel like this draft is final.

  2. Oh I didn’t remember her name, thought it was Patel like her husband. Still makes me laugh though. I agree that it isn’t a final draft but it’s getting there. And can we ever be happy and not want to touch up a story? Aren’t they all work in progress?

  1. July 14th, 2012

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