Author Archives: antalpolony

The Quixote’s Song — Chapter VII: 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.

The Quixote’s Song — Chapter IV: In the Rent-a-Cop’s Ledger

In a quiet corner of the library loaded with Atlases and world maps, Leon continued his quest alone, poring over worn and well thumbed pages with a magnifying glass, zeroing in where he could on the tiniest of villages in the jungles of Yucatán Mexico, whose letter constructions seemed to hold something in common with the word “Tuehltipec”. If it were indeed an Aztec artifact, then there was a chance that it was cursed. That might explain Leon’s predicament.

And yet to stay in the library too long, smelly and cavernous, struck Leon as anathema to his purpose, as if he were wasting his time. There were a group of high school age kids roughhousing around the corner of the stacks, and their Spanglish talk had a distinctly threatening undertone to it. Leon hoped they would not discover him. He wondered if the teenagers could sense the Quixote’s power, resting in the pocket of his jacket. Then he wondered what they were doing in a library, imponderably at home in a place of learning. Shouldn’t there be someone to keep the civilian patrons safe?

And then it hit him. Of course! The security desk of his office building! If anyone had been to his office, to his floor, if it hadn’t been an employee of the company, then their name would be in the ledger at the front desk, where two to four stately Middle Eastern security guards idled their time away. That was where he should be looking!

Leon snapped the Atlas shut and re-shelved it. Then he struck off around the corner and nearly collided with the teenagers, who sneered and leered as they cleared a path:

“Sorry essay, didn’t see you dashing there.”

“It’s okay,” muttered Leon distractedly, these three young punks with earrings who would have looked more at home on a street corner in the Mission 10 years ago, or a street corner in the Fruitvale today. One of them sucked his teeth loudly at Leon’s back as he rushed past.

The thing with the Quixote was that it had to be respected. More than that the situation showed irreconcilable signs of spinning out of control. And while Leon was driving downtown to the financial district, he saw it again, the Quixote waiting at a traffic light that turned red at exactly the wrong time. In fact he saw a whole school of them, Quixotes in motorcycle helmets, riding donkeys, crossing the street sedately in the crosswalk. The other pedestrians simply stood aside to let them pass, idiotic smiles on their faces like the Quixotes exuded laughing gas.

Yes the situation was serious indeed.

The attendant at the parking garage across the street from his office building was absent, a machine ticket-maker was doing his job for him. Even the light from the white florescent lamps in this gasoline palace looked different, looked sinister, as if they were concealing doorways to an alternate dimension.

The thing burned a hole in his jacket pocket as he slammed his car door and clicked the lock shut from the safety of his electric keychain.

Should he destroy it? he wondered as he vaulted the stairs two at a time down to the ground floor, sweating ferociously. He even wondered manically if the thing would allow him. If it did, what would Stuart and the rest of them say? Even if Leon lied, told them all that he’d lost it, they wouldn’t believe him. Stuart wanted the Quixote for himself, Leon could read him like a book, but Leon would bring himself to hell before he allowed a defeat of such magnitude. These thoughts and many like them spun in Leon’s mind as he sweated and ran; and the glass towers vaulted to the heavens all around him in this place of wealth and power, encroaching twilight; it bewildered him as it never had before, how many daily struggles, triumphs and defeats must happen all around him. In this light, everything looked different.

He opened the glass doors with the Middle Eastern security guards milling curiously on the air conditioned other side.

“Mr. Leon, hello,” said one of them. How did he know my name?

“It’s after hours, Mr. Leon, are you lost?”

Leon shook his head.

“I have a question,” said Leon.

“We are at your service.”

“Where did this come from?” and Leon produced the Quixote, realizing that he had lost, perhaps for good, his all important sense of humor.

“Sir?”

Leon blinked hard to reorient himself; rubbed his forehead quickly with the heel of his free hand.

“It’s a serious question,” he moaned.

“But how are we to answer it?”

“I came into my office one day, in the morning, and it was sitting on my desk.”

“Have you asked your co-workers?”

“Of course I have!” he said as if it actually needed saying.

The guards looked at each other, all eyes at the problem before them.

Slowly slowly, Leon, you must speak more slowly.

“Look, it’s a breach of security,” he explained. “No one is allowed in the building, on our floor after hours, right? How did someone get into my office?”

The guards again looked from one to the other.

“Someone with the key. Someone who came after I left, and I left when everyone left, I always leave when everyone leaves.”

“Sir, we believe you.”

“Then stop looking at me like I’m joking. Believe me, I’m not joking.”

“When did it happen?”

“Three weeks ago. Tuesday.”

“Tuesday,” the other guard nodded seriously.

“Sir, wait here. We will look in our book.”

“I want you to look on your cameras.”

“It is a closed circuit, sir, we keep no recordings. Just wait here a moment and let us do our job.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Leon,” said the other. “We’ll get to the bottom of this.”

The guard smiled. Despite himself Leon was charmed; how they all, everyone, managed to get the better of him.

“Just wait here, sir,” said the other guard while his partner returned to their desk.

“Fine,” answered Leon, sweating.

The guard was flipping pages in their ledger book now, and Leon waited, gripping the Quixote hotly, warm paranormal metal, and again he felt that terrible, overriding affection for it well up within him, and somehow he knew, just knew, that all of this was not its fault. It was someone else — a phantom enemy just past the point of materiality.

And he also came to know, the thing told him through the palm of his hand, that neither the guard at the ledger nor his smiling partner would be able to help him.

The guard finished with his ledger, raised head now, black piglet eyes, told him so, told him his search was incomplete, in fact might well be just beginning; that the Quixote was not done with him at all, and that no answer to so strange a problem would be found in the ledger of some blocky rent-a-cop.

“I’m sorry, sir,” said the guard, with, no doubt now, the derisive look of the Quixote in his eyes.

Yet, even despite it all, at least he’d sounded like he meant it.

Leon fled the office building and retreated back to the parking garage. Just after he left the light at the service elevator dinged and Consuela trundled out, pushing her cleaning cart. She was starting her shift. Leon, meanwhile, plunged onward into his personal abyss.

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