David Brensilver

Dawn, flickering

“I think you should give less of a fuck, like you used to,” she typed, her thumbs dancing. “You were a middle finger.”

She sat cross-legged on her bed with a box of pencils before her, stretching the fingers of each hand and cracking the vertebrae in her neck. Selecting a pencil whose business end was sufficiently sharp to her thumb’s touch, she inhaled and exhaled slowly and launched the pencil toward the ceiling, to which was affixed a picture frame inside of whose borders hung several other pencils.

The projectile dislodged a few from the overhead thicket.

“Look out,” she said, rolling clear of the falling pencils.

A dark spot marked the bedding directly beneath the picture frame, a pointillist’s black hole pulling at the tools of its design. In the black hole, an astronaut erased himself.

Attempting to return to a cross-legged position in bed, the woman leaned on a pencil whose tip snapped off in the palm of her hand.

“Goddamned it!” she yelled, startling the disappearing astronaut.

The woman used the bedding to wipe blood from her palm, which she inspected as if trying to divine meaning.

She dug through the sheets for her phone.

“I fucking stabbed myself,” she announced.

Her messages arrived in a cigar box that held pieces of phone, protractor, and Mickey Mouse watch and which a man with a freshly shaved head slid under his bed.

On a notepad that hung from a lanyard around his neck the man drew a wave and, beneath it, a little bang of an asterisk from which emerged, where the seafloor might be, language that conveyed his understanding that the wave came, ultimately, from space. A second asterisk carried a disclaimer that he was unable, artistically, to convey any of that. A third was attached to nothing at all. He crumpled the drawing and pitched it into the toilet, where it circled and surrendered, disappearing into the beginning, somewhere, of a real wave.

In a window, he saw the dawn flicker. In another window, he watched Medusa tie chronology in a knot with her tongue and spit it out with a spray of laughter that segued into the scream of an unseen, low-flying airplane. He paced in circles, winding himself into a crouch, head down, as if bowing or waiting for the whistle and boom of a bomb.

He drew a window frame that became a guillotine. In a speech bubble he wrote, “look around.”

He crumpled the drawing and swallowed the scene, crawled under his bed, and whispered, “a tangle, a clot, a nest built by guilt/a tumor of rumors, a metastasized tilt.” In his stomach, a headsman climbed out of the drawing.

Sirens beyond the windows blared like offstage brass fanfares in an emergency performance, a clustered audience for which dotted a nearby sidewalk.

“Look up,” one ancient man said to another, each in a wheelchair, each wearing a plastic moustache that fed oxygen into his nose, each in the shadow of the wounded plane, a trail of smoke telling the machine’s story and pushing it toward certain punctuation. The ancient men held hands.

The plane’s windows framed either a fire inside or the climbing sun’s spotlight.

One of the wheelchair-bound men tightened the grip of his seatbelt. The other sang lines from “I Love a Parade,” the melody drowning in his throat: “… I just want to stand and cheer as they come …” He was accompanied by the burp of a tuba, a piccolo’s shriek, a crash cymbal dropped on asphalt.

A marching band marked time in a parking lot, its ranks in various postures of participation and protest. A percussionist removed a shoe and slapped it against a glockenspiel’s bars, which offered an anemic complaint. A drum major patrolled her charges, stabbing with her mace at the formation-busters like a trash picker.

The punctuation buckled knees. People on foot surfed the surface of things, ducking and reaching for balance. In a broken window a sign pointed to indecision, reading, as it spun, “closed-open-closed-open-closed …”

The wheelchair-bound men saluted with their free hands, one still singing, the other a split-screen—one eye yellow and quivering, the other glass and gleaming, fixed in its position and focused on nothing in particular.

A smoldering pair of headphones rocked back and forth in the street, as if dancing on the faded yellow lines. Plugged into nothing, the foam-covered speakers conveyed the voice of a woman singing “listen.”

A musician and writer, David Brensilver has played with orchestras and R&B, jazz, and swing groups in venues ranging from the glorious to the disgusting. His journalism has appeared in Drum! and Modern Drummer magazines and at New Music Box (an online publication of New Music USA). His satirical novel ExecTV was published in 2005 by ENC Press.