Another Lost Soul
Every day after work, he jumped right back onto BART and took it home and that was the extent of his interaction with the outside world. He had his groceries delivered again. There was no point in denying that it was becoming too much for him, and it was only getting worse. He even considered losing the Quixote somewhere. But that would have been like failure. And Heather still hadn’t returned his calls.
Frank sent him an e-mail that Wednesday with further details on his upcoming meeting with Louis Fitzgerald, as if he’d known or assumed, correctly, that Leon wouldn’t be able to generate the details himself. Indeed, the longer he stayed locked in his office the more he wondered if they wanted him there, just like that; that no matter how bad, or even non-existent, his work became, Frank would never fire him, feeling instinctually that there was intrinsic value in having the Quixote around with the phenomenon outside tearing at the fabric of social reality.
Leon called Heather again and left another voicemail: “Are you okay?” he asked. “I loved seeing you the last time we were together. I have no idea why you haven’t called me back. Please call me back, okay?”
The Quixote on his desk stared blankly, and, before his eyes, Leon saw it become its larger, halo-crowned iteration. But it didn’t say anything like it usually did. Leon had nothing to say to it either. But it just wouldn’t do to have anyone from the office come in and see it. Not that anyone was going to. He had it all to himself, and it reassured him that things would not go on like this forever.
There was only one person he could think of who might have advice for him. For that reason he decided that he would stay late after work. To pass the time he leafed through the Box-Mart supplementary materials and made stray notes that vaguely related to his professional task.
Time duly passed. Louis Fitzgerald, financial manager and store supervisor, featured several times in the pages Leon read, and Leon highlighted each instance.
At lunchtime he ate from the brown paper bag he’d brought in: turkey sandwich, an orange and several cookies. He listened to the waves of voices greeting one another then receding to the elevator lobby. Leon resolved not to leave his office until all of the employees had left. The pages of the Box-Mart account passed through his consciousness and he didn’t retain much of their information.
Employees returned from lunch. He heard a young woman’s voice: “See you later, Matty. Don’t take it out on him okay?”
Matty’s reply: “Don’t get me started.”
Everyone could read the writing on the wall: Leon’s days here were numbered. It was a question now as to whether he, or the Quixote, were in any danger by coming here. The looks Stuart shot at him were nothing to take lightly. Did Leon still need the money? He didn’t know what else to do.
Several hours later he’d finished leafing through the Box-Mart materials and he set them aside.
He began to type up his summary, more a way of passing the time than anything else, while the Quixote sat on his desk and watched. A short period of time later he felt the relief of having diverted his attention from a topic that was causing him stress. The Quixote, mercifully, did not interrupt him. Leon kept at it into the afternoon, and even when he was done, a little before 5:00, he didn’t pack up his things, not for another hour, when he heard the telltale whir of the carpet cleaner. At that point, Quixote in hand, he left his office. He found Consuela on the opposite side of the elevator lobby. Just as before he came up behind her, watched her working, dressed in the dark leather jerkin. Her motorcycle helmet was resting on top of her cleaning cart, surrounded by spray bottles and detergents.
Leon cleared his throat.
“Excuse me,” he shouted over the steamer.
Consuela did not appear to notice.
“Excuse me!” he repeated.
Still no response. She moved the steamer back and forth on what might have been a particularly stubborn stain.
“Hello! Consuela! I need to talk to you!”
Nothing. The cleaning lady and the carpet steamer moved back and forth.
Clutching the Quixote tight in his right hand he walked around to face her from the front, and, with her brown, leathery skull, was struck again by her ugliness. Perhaps noticing his shoes, just in front of the steamer, she raised her head and her dark, round eyes fixed on the Quixote.
The steamer stopped.
“I want to talk to you,” he said.
“You show me that again and I will take it from you.”
The dead certainty in her voice pushed Leon back; he stepped away from her.
Consuela stood up and straightened her back, raised her head high.
“What do you want from me?” she asked.
Leon shook his head.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“You’ll have to do better than that,” Consuela replied, still clutching the handles of the carpet cleaner. “If you don’t mind I have work to do.”
“How did you take your helmet off?”
“Yes. I’ve never seen any of them without their helmets on.”
“It’s because they’re ashamed.”
“Ashamed to show themselves?”
“That’s right. It’s worse without the helmet on.”
“What happens to you?”
“I can’t go anywhere without someone following behind, jeering at me, shouting insults. Me and my whole family. We all took our motorcycle helmets off. More often than not we choose to wear them anyways.”
“What do you see when you look at me?”
“I see a trapped man looking for a way out.”
“Do you see a Quixote?”
Consuela shook her head.
“I do,” Leon continued. “I saw it in the mirror.”
“Sometimes some ways, sometimes the other. It’s the same for everyone. But once you become one it is quite difficult to turn back.”
“I wish I could see my reflection right now.”
“I have more I want to talk to you about.”
“I have work to do.”
“Will you meet me tomorrow?” Leon asked.
“The atrium downstairs. I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.”
“It’s a deal, Mr. Ramble.”
Consuela nodded towards the motorcycle helmet.
“You want me to wear that?”
“I won’t be able to pick you out of the crowd if you do.”
“We’re so ugly with them off.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that something terrible is happening.”
“Three thirty, okay?”
“I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Ramble.”
With that she flicked on the carpet steamer again and went back to pushing it over the carpet. It had been the most civil conversation Leon had conducted with anyone on the 32nd floor since Stuart had sent the e-mails and Frank had given him the Box-Mart account.
Tomorrow, he thought. I’m going to find out tomorrow.
Consuela, on the other hand, was marveling at his ill-preparedness. He had no idea what was happening and he didn’t know where to turn. If that were true than the future for the rest of them might be dim indeed. He was a poor choice of champion, she concluded. She wondered if, perhaps, the Quixote might be better served in surer hands…