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.”
“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.