The Quixote’s Song — Chapter VII: Quixote Continued

Leon couldn’t sleep again that night. He had finally seen what lay beneath the motorcycle helmets, but it was his casting off of the Quixote that kept him awake. He became awash in regret, emptiness and helplessness — what were they going to do to him now that he’d failed to live up to their challenge?

But when his alarm clock rang in the morning he stood himself up anyways. In the midst of his stormy instability he found firm ground in reminding himself that he mustn’t panic, that he must continue his life as best he could despite the dark fantasies around him.

He took BART into the office that morning, and the train was packed with silent, staring Quixotes. They turned slowly towards him, and it was all he could do not to scream in terrible panic.

But that was just what they wanted. To make him scream.

Arriving at the building, elevated to the 11th floor, crowding through the office to the locked Mathilda door of his chamber, there was another Quixote statuette waiting for him on his desk as if it had never left. It looked at him frankly and pitiably, as if it were the one that needed help all along.

Leon tore himself away from such thoughts, and bustled about his day. Mathilda was ravishing young flesh in a sleeveless green dress.

He lunched in the break room by himself.

Stuart did not meet his eyes when their paths crossed in the corridor, but even so Leon recognized the former comedian’s frantic confusion, inner war, the advent of a journey that begins with humor, and ends in paranoia.

At home again from work he called Heather but she didn’t answer.

He watched television, mercifully free of Quixotes until he turned to the evening news and saw them clip clopping away behind the backs of the correspondents. Couldn’t anybody see them? Sense them? Know them? What had he sensed himself, before the creature had appeared on his desk? He couldn’t remember. It was like trying to recall a dream you weren’t sure you’d had.

Maybe they could see them. Maybe it was a secret that everyone was in on, only Leon hadn’t the fortitude to realize it.

Maybe the cleaning woman could tell him, if Leon cared to wait and ask.

He could not shake the feeling that he had brought all this on himself. His attitude, his obsessive vulnerability.

It had never been about the cleaning woman. No matter how much he wished it otherwise, Leon had never been too attached to his life. He had been fruit ripe for the plucking, with no moorings save a job that didn’t need him and a woman who didn’t understand him.

The next day passed much as had the day before. He didn’t try to speak to the Quixotes.

And the day after that and the day after that.

Sometimes they seemed to look at him, reach for him, walk towards and around him and move together as an ensemble, the crowd of them of one mind, aware of each other in a way that normal people never could be…

But Leon could never be sure.

He decided to take some time off, so he called in sick. Then he called Heather and asked her to come see him. She agreed, merciful goddess.

They didn’t leave the apartment. They made love and then they held each other and it didn’t matter that Heather couldn’t see the Quixotes, in fact it was a miracle, a relief, wonderfully inexplicable.

He had learned that moments of peace and stillness were gifts to be jealously defended.

The next day Leon walked Lake Merritt by himself. Strange that he did not cross paths with a Quixote, only assorted unemployed sad sacks and college students out for their dose of sunshine.

The day after that was Saturday.

When he met with Heather he shared with her wonderful, beautiful moments of clarity. Out in the world of Quixotes yet to come Leon felt himself a man apart, endowed with a knowledge that the others had yet to attain. With Heather at least he found a complement.

At work he began to see that Stuart was not the only one now. Leon recognized the fearful stare of the taking Quixote in Vanessa and Cassidy, and in quiet, companionable William — they had been exposed too long, their thoughts bent too far from the ordinary by he and Stuart’s machinations. Or maybe the Mexican maid had set her sights on all of them, on everyone, had given each of them little statues of their own, about which, thanks to Leon, they knew better than to gossip.

The Quixotes were wise and malicious behind their motorcycle helmets.

He tried not to let that bother him, as, after work, he waited for the cleaning woman to arrive. He felt that he was ready, grounded even.

“Just leave the reports on your desk, Mathilda,” he said when the sweet young thing came to inquire at his doorway.

“You’re staying on?” she asked.

“I am. Expect to see you bright and early tomorrow.”

“You shan’t be disappointed.”

And with a quick right foot pirouette she was gone.

His thoughts about her were growing crude again. He took it as a sign of health.

He printed his latest report and sat down to proofread. The clock turned 5:00 pm, and the floor was beginning to empty out. Leon watched out his doorway the minions leave, reading with only one eye, the murmurs of happy clock out time wafting over him; their talk of the Quixote, of his Quixote, which had chosen him, William and Vanessa and all those who had received Stuart’s wrong-headed e-mails.

The time was 5:15. The murmurs had all but died away. It was only Leon and the Quixote now.

When the service elevator dinged its arrival on the 11th floor, Leon capped his pen and set down his papers. She was here. He could hear the wheeled cart beginning to make its rounds, evil in its quiet pedestrian tidings. Fluid cleaners. Lysol and sponges and scrub brushes. An extra large trash can for all the little trash cans.

She had a difficult, unenviable job. Each day she came home smelling of bleach and dirt water. She had come all the way from Mexico for this, and it was supposed to be the reward in itself. She felt that her life up here with the gringos was a lie, no matter how well they paid her. She hated them. The journey had been arduous, but it had gotten so that she felt like she was making it every day, and there was no end in sight. When she got her kids up here it would all be worth it, she told herself. The schools up here would make it worth it. She told herself that they would make her proud. She told herself so every day, so many times that she wasn’t even sure any more that she believed it. Julio, for one, had always been a bit of a sad sack.

It was just what decent people do, she told herself. Decent people work hard and cut corners, cheat where they can, cross borders and take risks; not to seek citizenship, but rather to leap and cartwheel and play music for the gringos, for their money money money. If there was one thing the gringos knew it was money. They understood her dilemmas. They knew how to take advantage. She had only been here a few years, and she was already turning gringo. That frightened her as much as anything else. Must she consign her own children to such a fate?

She heard scuffling footsteps stop short behind her, and she knew who it was even before she set down her rag and spray bottle, turned around and stood up tall, anger and defiance in her eye. Let him read her for what she was. She was not afraid. The gringo Leon was. It was on his face like a gang tattoo.

“Why me?” he asked. “Why did you do this to me?”

“Why not?” she answered.

“So it was just for laughs? Just to prove that you can?”

“No, not exactly. We have a purpose, myself and the others. We are working towards a higher purpose. You were merely an instrument.”

“And all the rest of them? Stuart? Vanessa? Cassidy?”

“I don’t know nothing about that.”

She realized that she was probably saying too much. But the frankness, the naivety with which he asked her questions, it was ingratiating.

He took a step closer to her.

“Will you tell me what your purpose is?” he asked.

“No I won’t.”

“Will you tell me when you’ll release me?”

“We will never release you.”

He took another step closer to her. Consuela, in turn, took a step back towards her cart, towards her coat, where there was a can of mace spray resting in the front right pocket. She reached her left hand back into the pocket.

“But why me? Why me?”

“Again I answer you, why not? You were as good as any of them.”

“How many Quixotes are there?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she answered. “There are many.”

“So it’s not just me?”

“No, you are not so exceptional.”

He was closer to her now. Almost within range of her mace spray. But there was no danger in his eyes. His fear was more acute than his anger. Like all gringos he stopped short of taking the risks that life sometimes said you needed to take.

“I won’t answer no more questions,” she snapped suddenly. “You are fortunate I’ve said as much already.”

She watched his fear only grow, into a panic, as he wondered what she would do to him should she become angry with him.

“Just tell me,” he begged, pleaded, “when will you leave me be?”

Consuela smiled. She shook her head “no” from back to forth. She watched Leon lilt before her.

“You don’t understand after all, do you?” she said.

“What? Tell me what?”

“My Leon, my precious Leon.”

“How do you know my name?”

“It doesn’t matter. It truly doesn’t.”

“Please just tell me what?”

She let the can of mace go from her hand and she smiled archly and relished the words to come from her mouth next:

“Our work is done already.”

“No.”

“You are one of us already.”

“No, you bitch!” he said, and stumbled back from her. He felt the world reel about him as if he’d become suddenly drunk.

“You must embrace your new world. We have you completely; become what you must and adapt.”

But he was already running from her, because he had guessed as much himself.

Leon turned from the smiling witch, sans motorcycle helmet, and vaulted down the stairs and stumbled and fell not once but twice, banging his shins and tearing himself apart and when he reached the bottom of the stairs he left the building despite the smiling security guard who tried to hail him hello along the way.

He hurled himself through the BART station gates, pushed himself through the throngs of commuters, and found himself wedged up against a Quixote, motorcycle helmet leering so he couldn’t see its eyes.

“What do you want?” he breathed aloud, but the Quixote gave no answer, they never gave an answer, arm upraised to hold the train’s ceiling rail, other arm gripping its useless, pointless lance.

Leon might have been talking to himself when he left the train, and his fellow commuters thought he looked quite distraught. In a place full of people, you mustn’t be found talking to yourself.

Even before he got home, he knew what he would find. His life changed irrevocably, if only in his mind, the only place that mattered.

Front door key card empty building lobby elevator to the fifth floor past a pair of pretty young hipster girls in the hallway; key in the lock, unlock his place of comfort, but even this place no longer his, something here with him that threatened silently through change and subtlety and the words of the angry Mexican maid.

“It’s too late. It’s too late.”

As if he must admit the onset of his own death. Irrevocable change, emotional destruction, the light blinding him through the keyhole, the Quixote laughing on the other side.

And Leon laughing too when he brought himself to his medicine cabinet mirror, and saw what he knew he would see, had seen so many times before, in the eyes of Stuart, Cassidy, William, Vanessa, the fear and confusion with which he could relate but now he was further further further than any of them, and maybe even Heather would see it now, because they had a purpose, the Quixotes, their witches. They were bent on world domination, and Leon and his friends were merely another stepping stone.

Because in that mirror he saw, instead of his face staring back at him, the black visor, grinning void of a motorcycle helmet. Yet when he reached up to take it, to lift it off, his hands grasped nothing but air.

The Quixote’s Song — Chapter VI: Quixote Taken

The next day at work Leon watched his co-workers all around him, studying him like he were a caged animal. He knew what they all were thinking, that he was going off the deep end, and yet he knew that thoughts like that were exactly the problem, but he didn’t know how to stop them. The only person who didn’t set Leon’s teeth on edge was Stuart. That was because Stuart was, perhaps, almost as bad off as Leon, except he didn’t have the added benefit of owning the Quixote. He wanted it for himself. Leon could read him like a book. But he would never have it.

Leon stayed late. He hadn’t been able to concentrate at all for the first half of the day, but after he’d left for lunch and gotten some fresh air he’d felt better, and now he assaulted his accounts with effective, productive energy, the little figurine perched atop his square glass paper weight, though he could not remember for sure that he had been the one to put it there.

There were no goodbyes proffered through his doorway from the employees filing to the elevators; temps and interns, admin assistants and account managers, the setting sun’s rays through the window behind him shattered by the San Francisco skyline.

When he gathered his things to leave he was the last person on the floor.

He snapped the Quixote into his briefcase.

He felt that something had changed, some element rendered more manageable perhaps by his advantage over Stuart; misery loves company, but it absolutely adores someone who is even worse off.

Leon walked out into the darkened rows of cubicles and silent computer screens, and he heard the ding of the service elevator arriving, then the squeaking whir of tiny plastic wheels, a cart being pushed. It must be the cleaning lady, a portly Mexican woman with whom Leon had never conversed, the only person who came to clean their floor, daily, with an expression of gratitude ingrained in her face like the wrinkles of time. The only person who could have emptied his waste basket, Leon never having made the trip to the basement himself. The only person who could have come to their floor without being recorded in the security guards’ ledger…

Leon felt a panic build inside of him.

A Mexican woman, and hadn’t the word ‘Tuehltipec’ a ring of the Aztec to it?

His briefcase had grown suddenly heavy in his hand.

The cart’s wheels rolled down the tiled elevator corridor and silently clunked onto carpet.

Leon closed and locked the door to his office. She would not be cleaning in there tonight, lysol on the carpet of his over-active imagination.

He struck out through the rows of cubicles on an intercept course.

He found her from behind, bent over her wheeled cleaning station, vaguely alive with the watery sound of plastic bottles knocking against each other.

Leon cleared his throat. The cleaning woman made no response.

He cleared his throat again, louder, no mistaking this time. But again the woman may as well have not heard him. Perhaps she was deaf. Bent over like that, she’d held that posture for some time now. Leon tried to remember ever seeing anyone talking with her. He couldn’t remember to be sure. She was not a person that anyone had to know.

“Excuse me, miss?” he said.

The maid straightened her back. She was wearing a dark dress, her uniform. From behind her hair looked black and greasy.

“Miss? Excuse me, please,” he said.

And a rumbling, deep-throated voice issued forth in response:

“You have a question for me?”

That was no Mexican accent to her words; and why did her dark dress strike Leon as familiar? As terribly, significantly familiar?

Because when the maid turned to face him Leon saw that it was not who he’d thought it was at all. It was no maid, but rather a grinning, round-eyed hobgoblin with leathery green skin and sharp gnashing teeth. Held at its stomach, before that dark leather dress, (jerkin), was a motor cycle helmet, clutched in leather claws.

“You have a question for me?”

Why the thing’s dress looked so distressingly familiar. Leon had seen it so many times before on the creatures with their donkeys.

But Leon couldn’t bear it now, his mind moving too fast, too much information at once, the answers that he sought. He saw in his mind’s eye a whole suitcase of Quixotes. He saw the maid opening this suitcase in his office. He saw her leaving the door open behind her as she left, and went about her work.

“What is the question? Your question now! Quickly or you will never know,” the thing gibbered. “You will never have the answers, and we will take you and eat your soul!”

It started to shamble towards him on its great big maid’s legs beneath the medieval jerkin. It held the motorcycle helmet tight at its stomach like it were some abominable baby.

“What is your question, trapped man? How may we serve you?”

“I… I don’t know,” Leon stammered.

“You speak the truth. You know nothing.”

“I… I…”

But he had nothing to say! What could he say to this thing that seemed so unreal to him, as if the past few weeks were only the beginning indeed, and that he had so much further to go.

“Help me,” he croaked. “Please, just help me.”

The thing kicked back its head and howled a shrieking peal of laughter, and even so Leon was convinced, in this building full of working people, that he was the only one who could hear it.

“Trapped man. Don’t you see? We are not here to help you. That is not our purpose.”

“Then why are you here?”

“We are here for you.”

“Oh God, why me?”

“Because it was time, and because you were willing. Now come here to me, and let us make your passage complete!”

NO!

“NO!” Leon screamed and he turned and ran for the stairs.

“Your life isn’t coming back trapped man!” the thing howled at his back. “You have changed and you are not coming back!”

But Leon was already two floors down, and while he ran, blindly, from the building emptying itself of its civilians, he felt the little statuette in his briefcase growing heavier still.

On the sidewalk, past the security desk and the front glass doors, he stopped and dropped down his briefcase and snapped back the catches and there was the Quixote, glowing luminescent like a setting sun on a smoggy day, a hot little star. Before he plunged across the street into the parking garage, towards his car, towards some semblance of peace and home, he took the Quixote out of his briefcase, dodging pedestrians, mercifully normal pedestrians on the busy sidewalk, and he threw it as far as he could. And he didn’t even stop to see where it fell in the garbage steam and humanity of rush hour Market Street.

The Quixote’s Song — Chapter V: Despair

He arrived at her building one day after work, and she had come down already to wait for him. It was a beautiful day, but Leon didn’t seem to notice. He was all wide eyes and sweat; his hair was terrible and he smelled like he hadn’t showered.

He took the door from her hand then let it shut behind him and they walked to the elevators and caught the same one she’d brought on the way down.

“You smell, Leo,” she said.

“I’ll take a shower if you want me to,” he responded after a pause.

The elevator released them and they passed a young couple, a white girl and a black man, in the hallway. Leon didn’t recognize them. Heather lived in a younger building than he did, a building of hipsters — faux grungy with short beards and sunglasses. Either these kids were new here, because he recognized faces, or else they were agents of the Quixote sent to baffle him. Either explanation would have made perfect sense to him.

Heather was letting the silence between them extend, but he didn’t know how to break it. He was too distracted. He shouldn’t have come today.

“Let’s get a bite to eat,” Heather said when they were inside her apartment, pleasantly neat, the curtains drawn back and the sun shining through.

“Should I take a shower?”

“You’re a funny man.”

“Don’t tell me.”

His hand was in his pocket. He fingered the Quixote. “Today is the day,” the thing seemed to tell him.

“Your place looks lovely,” he said.

“Thank you,” she answered. “Let me just clean up a little bit in the bathroom, then we’ll go out.”

“That sounds good to me.”

“I believe you, Leon,” she said, but she didn’t believe him, she’d only said it to say something. His body was with her but his mind was elsewhere — and his right hand was still in his pocket, and she realized that he’d brought the figurine with him here too. That’s why his hand was in his pocket, all warm, sweaty metal.

When she came back from the bathroom he smiled at her gamely, all white teeth; he had great teeth. He was trying to recover himself.

“Ready to go?” he asked.

“I am.”

“We’ll walk to Haight Street,” he said.

They took the elevator back down and started to walk, and Leon started to talk, but he wasn’t saying anything. His mouth was moving and sounds were coming out, but Heather didn’t have to listen to him. He might as well have been talking to himself.

Joggers and walkers passed them, young people, middle aged people, San Francisco sophisticates.

“I can’t find out what’s going on at work,” he was saying. “They’re all talking about something when I’m not in the room then they change the subject as soon as I walk in.”

She was listening to him now.

“There’s a subtext and they’re not letting me in, and I can’t figure out how to get the angle to it. I’m becoming an outsider.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because it’s what I’m going through, I thought you’d want to know.”

“You just haven’t been yourself.”

“I’m as me as I’ve ever been,” he lied.

It was a beautiful neighborhood. Heather had been in her little studio apartment for five years. She was comfortably ensconced. She could brag now about how good she had it compared to those who tried to find affordable housing in the city these days. Leon said the same thing was happening in Oakland, but San Francisco was a world unto itself. Oakland was still a part of the world around it, the third world included. But Leon had a nice apartment. He lived in a nice area. She loved walking the Lake with him. Usually. But she didn’t think she could take too much more of this frantic, insecure Leon. And his hand was still in his pocket.

Heather found a maternal panic building within her as she realized that she wanted to help him. This sort of feeling was not to be trusted at face value.

After they got their food they took it to Buena Vista park and found a bench beneath the shade of a grove of oak trees. Leon hadn’t spoken since the cafe, had fallen silent as sudden as a car wreck, drained of steam.

His hand left his pocket, because the sandwich required it.

Finally she could take it no longer, this hangdog self pity:

“What’s wrong with you?”

His head shook blearily.

“I don’t know what you mean,” he said.

“There’s something wrong with you today.”

“Gee thanks.”

“I’m serious.”

He didn’t answer her. He took a bite of his sandwich.

“What am I supposed to do?” she asked.

Leon shrugged. Whatever else on his mind occupying him completely.

Was it another woman? It couldn’t be.

She felt helpless; some foreign element influencing her Leon. She felt like a teenager again, incapable; water slipping between her fingers.

Slowly he mouthed these words:

“What do you want from me?”

“I want you back to normal,” she answered.

“I’m here, Heather.”

“No you’re not. You’re a thousand miles away.”

He took a bite of his sandwich. A gorgeous pair of young girls jogged past them. Leon did not appear to notice, and his voice was soft when he told her that “This sandwich is good.”

Heather stomped her foot, stomped both her feet.

Leon did not appear to notice.

“Leon? Do you hear me?”

“I’m here.”

He chewed slowly in circles like a stoned cow.

She watched his hand creep slowly back into his pocket.

“Get your fucking hand out of your pocket.”

He shook his head, slowly, cow-like.

She reached across him then and grabbed his wrist. Leon looked her in the face, and there was hurt in his eyes, like she were wounding him. Heather pulled at his wrist, tried to get his hand back.

“Your pocket, Leon, get your hand out of your pocket.”

“I won’t.”

Leon’s hand wasn’t budging. He could be infuriatingly stubborn.

“Get your hand out of your pocket.”

“I won’t.”

“Why are you doing this to me?”

“I’m not doing anything.”

“It’s like that thing’s taking over your life. It’s like an obsession.” Her hand was growing sweaty as it gripped tight to his wrist. The longer it stayed there the sweatier it got, and she kept expecting that her grip would soften, that she would start to caress him, start to forgive him. But she didn’t. Her hand stayed like a vice, and she tried again to pull his hand out of his pocket but his hand just wouldn’t budge. In that sense, at least, he was stronger than her.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, even though they hadn’t spoken a word to each other for some fifteen seconds, just struggled stupidly with Leon’s hand in his pocket.

It couldn’t be, could it? The odd little statuette? It looked funny but that was it, right?

She felt a burning frustration that rose up in her gut, and told her it would not be assuaged by this man, Leon, sitting before her. Why did she even bother struggling with him?

She let go of his wrist.

“Why do you carry it around with you?” she asked.

Leon shook his head again.

“There’s nothing in my pocket,” he said.

“Why are you lying to me?”

Leon only shook his head.

“Goodbye, Leon,” she said, standing up.

“God bless,” she thought she heard him answer.

And she left him there, munching on his sandwich.

When she was gone, he took the Quixote out of his pocket. That had been a close one. It had almost taken her too. But it hadn’t. She had left instead. That was probably the preferable outcome.

He sat there on the bench and watched the pedestrians downhill from the park on Haight Street; and the crowds of Quixotes, clip clopping back and forth.

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