Leon sat up in bed on a Saturday morning one week later, though he hadn’t slept the night before, his bed and pillow grown hard and unforgiving beneath him. His neck pained him while the sky came to life outside his apartment window.
He dressed himself with weekend thoughtlessness.
Heather was coming over later.
With the curtains pulled, he checked on television for something to watch of the morning. Talking heads, commercials and bad movies. He found a golf tournament and therein something to ignore. For the first time since he’d gotten home the night before, the cares of the work week began to feel extraneous. And that included the Quixote.
Whoever’s bad joke it was, Stuart had become mighty interested in it. He investigated with a fervor Leon found entirely, disturbingly relatable. Encyclopedias of foreign and European treasures. Dungeons & Dragons players with a self-deprecating sense of humor, to create a knight who wears a motorcycle helmet.
Leon had become sort of afraid of it.
His cell phone rang at Heather’s front door arrival. Buzzer malfunctions.
Leon slipped on his slippers and went down to fetch her and when he arrived on the first floor and saw her through the glass she looked resplendent with her rich auburn hair and her hour-glass figure tightly contained in a thin yellow dress.
“Afternoon, sir,” she said as he opened the door.
“Hello my sweet.”
He caught her around the waist and smacked a kiss onto the left side of her neck, loud and boastful. She squealed like a child.
They took the elevator to the fourth floor, walked down the hallway together and Leon opened the door for her to let her pass.
“I see you didn’t clean up for me,” she said as Leon closed the door behind them.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean your place is a mess.”
“That’s only half true,” he answered.
“Shirts on the floor and dishes in the sink. That’s a mess where I come from.”
She set her purse down and sat on his couch while Leon veered into the kitchen, which was, indeed, in less than presentable condition.
The Quixote was sitting on the counter near to the doorway.
Leon tried to ignore it.
He came back into the main room with a glass of water and he sat down on the couch next to her.
And then he put his arm around her shoulders, bare but for the straps of her dress
He kissed her and she met his mouth with her own, her body and her mouth frank and open. He took her hand in her lap, but after a moment she pulled it away, then she took the glass of water from him and held it in her lap as a flimsy defense.
“How’s work been?” she asked, as if the topic interested her.
“It’s been okay,” he said. “A few accounts walked out this week, and there’s this…” but here he stopped, because he found himself ready to mention the Quixote.
“There’s this what?” Heather asked.
“Nothing. Just a few accounts walked out on me. That’s all.”
A bad joke not worth repeating.
She didn’t say anything. A short silence grew between them.
“What do you want to do today?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“It’s a nice day out there.”
“Is it? I haven’t been outside.”
They agreed to walk and take lunch and have it in the park by the Lake.
And when they made it out there it was indeed a lovely day for a walk. There were birds in the trees and young kids roughhousing on the trail that skirted the Lake, and when they reached the park Leon put his arm around her and held her by the shoulder and her shapely body molded to his own as they walked.
They got take out lunch from the sushi bar on Grand Avenue, a street that in this particular stretch lived up to its name, flanked by stately oak and fir trees. Once they had their food to go, Leon opened the door for Heather:
“We’ll take this to the park, where the Quixote sleeps,” she said.
Leon must have heard her wrong.
“What did you say?”
“What?” she asked.
He shook his head.
“We’ll take our food to the park, I thought that’s what we decided.”
“That’s what you said?”
“That’s what I said.”
But that’s not what I heard, he thought, and the day, he noticed, was already colored different.
They walked through the park, through the rose garden and the bird sanctuary. Near the playground there were little kids playing in circles, yelling and screaming and the parents watching close by.
They decided to eat there and they took a bench facing the lake.
They opened their to-go boxes and had their first bites.
“The Quixote’s good today,” said Heather.
“I’m glad you like it,” Leon replied.
She chewed her food and smiled at him, at his inquiring eyes, because he knew it was not the Quixote that she had meant to compliment.
He chop sticked a california roll to his mouth, foregoing the soy sauce and wasabi. They were talking about visiting Heather’s parents. At least that’s what they were supposed to be talking about:
“We can Quixote the prices today,” she said.
“Jet Blue has non-stop Quixotes every day, if you like Jet Blue.”
“I like Jet Blue.”
“How about we make it for one Quixote from today.”
“Look,” said Leon, despite his best intentions finding himself distressed, it coming in waves. “Do you ever notice sometimes how strange it is the way people talk?”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know, the wrong words in the wrong places, vocabulary, like they’re saying one thing when they really mean something completely different.”
“I don’t know what you’re Quixote.”
“Neither do I.”
What the hell was happening to him?
A clutch of wild geese wattled past, hissing and aggressive with their black and beady eyes. They took over the whole of the lake at this time of year, flocks of them descending and tearing apart whatever greenery had the effrontery to stand in their way.
And Heather was talking to him again, but Leon could not hear her, her words tainted, her speech a part of the phenomenon now, because of what he saw when he turned his head and looked towards the playground:
It was the Quixote, the knight errant itself, life size, with its lance, shield and motorcycle helmet, riding its donkey in the playground amidst the sand and slides and children’s swing sets, the children playing around it, never entering its space as if they could sense it even if they could not see it; odd, goofy malevolence; and Leon’s heart went jackhammer thumping in his chest again.
Heather’s voice were clear bells of sanity ringing in the distance.
But when the metal creature turned its head to face Leon, like a periscope sighting its target, and lowered and aimed its lance as if it meant to impale him, (came near to clotheslining a child, who ducked out of the way), Leon’s panic knocked over his plate of sushi in his haste to stand up, and those clear Heather voice bells ringing in the distance turned instead to squawks of protest.