The Next Day
While there was not anything necessarily atypical about Frank paying her supervisor a visit, Mathilda was still caught off guard. She was off guard so often these days; one of a very privileged few who had actually seen the Quixote (where had that word come from?) outside of a photograph. Not that she thought about it all the time, but she thought about it more than enough, and she was not alone in her obsession. Everybody on the floor now wanted it for themselves, but no one wanted to admit the lengths they were willing take to get it.
There was something reassuring about looking at the photo, as if it made the outside world make a little more sense. No matter how you shook it, something exceedingly strange was happening to Stigel, Lewis’ San Francisco office. Frank coming to visit Leon, however, was not that out of the ordinary, especially given the awesome responsibility the Box-Mart account endowed him with.
“Good morning, Matty,” Frank said, causing her to jump and scramble her screen away from the photo she was looking at. He’d come to her from behind. Had he seen what she was looking at?
“Morning, Frank. How are you today?”
He nodded towards Leon’s closed door.
“Is he in?”
“He’s not, actually. What time is it?”
Frank checked his Rolex.
“It’s 11:15. Where is he? Has he called in to explain.”
“No he hasn’t.”
“I don’t like hearing that.”
“I wish I could tell you something different.”
“Let me know if he calls. I need to talk to him.”
“Sure will Frank.”
With that her large-bodied, white haired employer left.
Mathilda followed his progress until he’d turned a cubicle corner, then she put the photograph back to its position of prominence on her screen. She would work at Leon’s accounts with the thing in the background because it made her feel better, and that was not the kind of feeling you should necessarily psychoanalyze. When Leon came back from wherever he was she would demand that she see the real thing for herself.
Frank, for his part, had not received Stuart’s e-mail. It had been a message strictly for the junior staff, a place whose office politics, dirty and inane, would never be important enough to warrant a man like Frank’s attention. Still, he knew what had happened. He also knew who was at the center of it. No coincidence, perhaps, who had received the account.
Frank returned to his own office, and, after checking his appointment calendar and finding the hour blank, he snapped a pair of gloves and unbuttoned his dress shirt. He took the cloth off of the painting he was working on and crossed his office and locked the door. He draped the cloth over the arm that would hold the paint brush, and he got to work painting the Quixote, life-size, walking a forest path with a little companion at his side; an older, miniature man that looked something like Frank Glass himself, looking up in admiration at the motorcycle majesty that was his protector. Frank was honored to have it in residence.
The next day Heather was not expected at the wine shop until late in the afternoon. Leon conveniently forgot about his own responsibilities. Staying with Heather for the day was more important. She was helping him, her loving consistency a balm for his soul. Unlike the rest of them, she did not want the Quixote for herself. Maybe it was because she had Leon. He’d made love to her with shy passion, as always holding something of himself back, not willing, perhaps, to let her in to the extent that he had fallen out with the world.
They ate breakfast in Heather’s apartment, which she shared with two other twenty-somethings who were blessedly absent that morning.
Leon was silent, taciturn, but when she was doing the dishes he came up and hugged her from behind and kissed her neck and locked his hands around her stomach.
“This has been great,” he said.
“I agree,” she answered, placing her hands over his.
“I have to go,” he said.
“They’re missing me at work.”
“Does that make a difference?”
“Probably not. Thank you so much Heather. This was exactly what I needed.”
“Don’t thank me.”
“Okay, I won’t any more. But you were just what the doctor ordered.”
“I wish I knew what you were going through.”
“No you don’t.”
He unclasped his hands and walked away from her.
“I’m leaving now,” he said.
“You are?” she asked, incredulous.
“I have to.”
“You don’t have to.”
She rinsed the suds off her hands, dried them and then turned around to face him.
“You put too much on yourself.”
“Not today. Today I put it on you too.”
“You let me put it on myself.”
“Thank you, Heather.”
“Stop fucking thanking me! I got what I wanted too.”
She could never contain herself.
“I’m leaving, that was my goodbye hug.”
“Okay, fine, go, see what I care.”
She turned around again, heard him leave and felt a little hurt by it. She wondered if he knew that he had just been too abrupt. Yet again, repeating the pattern. Did he mean to hurt her? Sometimes she wondered. She always gave him the advantage. He was just so much better than anyone else she knew. How could she help it? She wondered if he was going to remove himself again, and begin the same process of quiet withdrawal that they had just survived. They hadn’t had sex in three weeks before last night, but it had been worth the wait. She was calm and collected as she finished the dishes, bustled about her room and dressed for work, day five as assistant manager. Despite the disordered feelings her employees were exhibiting, she felt that she was doing swimmingly, and Lorraine agreed.
Once she was ready she left her building and decided to drive to work. She got into her car, a 1995 white Volvo that her father had purchased for her upon graduation from UCSF three years ago. It still ran fine but it needed new brake pads and the leather upholstery was falling apart. Minor repairs that she couldn’t afford before her promotion, but for which she could now save up. Leon had money, sure. He paid for their meals out and day trips and vacations, though they hadn’t been on one together since Disneyland. They had grown so far apart. It was a wonder that they’d actually rekindled something last night, excepting for Leon’s abrupt departure this morning.
She parked in the wine shop’s small adjacent parking lot and clicked the button on her key ring to set the alarm; the car locked itself and chirped back to her that it was A okay. She dropped her keys into her purse.
Inside the wine shop there were three customers, Stacy at the door and Steve at the cash register.
“Morning,” she said to Stacy, who responded in kind.
“I’m going to be in the back for a few hours,” she said to Steve. “Holler if you need backup.”
Steve gave her a mock salute in response.
Heather went to the back of the wine shop and opened the employees only door and walked through their cellar/store room to the manager’s office in the furthest corner of the building. She unlocked the door and opened it.
All at once it came upon her, a feeling of danger like a rogue blast of tepid air on an otherwise cool day.
Something was here.
Leon’s worried face came back to her mind, and the thing that he had shown her. For some reason she couldn’t account for she was thinking of it as a ‘Quixote’.
She entered the manager’s office and closed and locked the door behind her. Then she looked at the thing on her desk again, which had come to her of all people, just like something similar had come to Leon. She reached down and picked up that which had been waiting for her.