Lenny Bruce, seated on a chipped wooden stool, cigarette dangling from his lips, slumping forward, shoulders slack. His mouth puckers, the cigarette jumps to attention, he draws in fiercely, then exhales a series of bluish halos that float and dissipate.
Time on his hands, balled into fists, relentless sledging of hours, Bruce has gotten good at blowing perfectly formed halos. That he sees them as halos, and not rings, says something.
Cinderblock walls, the opposite of mercy, and a stone floor breathing bonechew cold.
Who put me here, used to torment Bruce but not anymore. Now it was the negotiation of smoke and halos, unreflected.
A sudden rush of air in the far upper corner of the room.
What the fuck.
Bruce saw a pigeon, a Surrealist gag of a pigeon—its snub beak fitted sideways, tiny red eyes misaligned, mangy iridescent feathers, body plumped to the point of busting, tri-pronged feet, pale pink with veiny ringlets, protruding from the bottom.
The bird flapped its wings wildly yet remained in the corner, as if trapped there. Bruce, less amazed that a pigeon had appeared out of nowhere than he was grateful for fugitive motion, watched the bird struggle in its invisible cage. Eventually the pigeon worked its way out of the corner, its rhapsody slowed to a seductive blur, and it descended toward Bruce.
In a trance, Bruce keyed in on a white slip of a paper wound tightly around the pigeon’s left foot.
He raised his hand, pinching the paper between his thumb and forefinger, and slid the note down and off the pigeon’s foot.
The pigeon continued its bobbing levitation, as Bruce unrolled the note and read it.
Dear Leonard Alfred Schneider,
When he was done reading, he flicked his cigarette to the floor, and cursed loudly.
Several seconds later the pigeon exploded.
An airtight pop followed by a siege of scattered feathers.
Feathers got in Bruce’s hair, his eyes, grazed his lips and cheeks and chin.
What a stupid fucking pigeon, Bruce spoke aloud, and brushed the feathers from his face and hair.
Then he seized up and began cursing again, the barbed echoes of a man tormented by a man visited by a godforsaken pigeon delivering a message that informed him he had been pardoned from obscenity charges, thirty-nine years after his death, by the governor of New York, the first posthumous pardon in the state’s history.
Bruce lit another cigarette, inhaled with a vengeance, considered smashing his fists against cinderblock, instead decided to do what he hadn’t done in a long time. Deliver a stand-up bit.
His response to the pardon, tit for tat, halos be damned.
Just so the fuckers knew, dead or not, Lenny Bruce had something left to say.