Quincy on the Hunt
Quincy eventually got over his heartbreak. He put the photos of Ashley in a drawer and began dressing regularly and leaving the darkness of his room. By summer, Peter’s old friend was back. Good old reliable Quincy. Perhaps all that insanity had been just a phase, a natural part of growing up and learning how to become an adult. That’s what college is all about, or so they say.
It didn’t last long. The new school year came around as it always does, and Quincy returned from his first day of classes already a changed man, yabbering on about a new girl. He was in Modern American Literature with none other than Doreen Fischer. This was trouble. Quite simply, Doreen was beautiful in a mathematical way, as pure as an arithmetic equation. Her body was constructed so that each element was built in perfect proportion to all other elements. She was tall and drawn mostly of lines, with just enough curves in all the right places, a figure sketched on some improbable graph. Her pink-cheeked face was smooth and sharp. Her hair was neat, blonde, and always in a style that was about to come back into fashion. Doreen was symmetrical down to the most insignificant degree—except for the one glaringly obvious exception. Her left arm ended somewhere just below her shoulder. It was her one “imperfection,” so to speak. But instead of lessening her beauty, the arm made her stand out more. The mole on Cindy Crawford’s cheek had nothing on Doreen Fischer’s abbreviated left arm. She was, objectively speaking, a stunning woman.
Peter knew Doreen from an Irish Lit class the year before, and he told Quincy right off that to rethink things. She was intimidating, unapproachable, and probably not even Quincy’s type. Peter really wanted to say that Doreen Fischer was completely and utterly out of his league. Not that it would have mattered. Quincy was well gone. The same pattern began to repeat. It was Ashley all over again. Quincy began to see meaning where, according to Peter, there was none. Like a 17th-century Puritan in search of witchcraft, Quincy willed himself to believe in the absurd.
“Doreen actually sneaks glances at me during class,” he said.
Peter rubbed his nose in reply.
“We talked about The Crying of Lot 49 today,” Quincy said a week later. “I’m serious, she kept talking about ‘sending coded messages.’ Tell me that isn’t weird. Tell me she doesn’t know what she’s doing. Come on.”
“Q, that whole book is about coded messages. These are scraps you’re trying to serve me. Next you’ll be telling me about your ‘connection’ with her. I think you’ve been watching too much reality TV.”
But scraps were the foundation of Quincy’s fantasies. He found out where Doreen’s apartment was, and began finding excuses to “pass by” on the way to and from anywhere. The stalkerish behavior was difficult for Peter to laugh off, but he knew there would soon come a time when he would have to throw up his hands and shrug. What are you supposed to do when a friend abandons all logic and reason like that? Let him take his licks when they come, hope he learns, that sort of thing.
It was on a weekday morning sometime in October that things truly began to go haywire. Peter returned from the gym to find Quincy waiting for him on the porch of their off-campus apartment. Quincy held a shoebox under his arm.
“I think it’s a sign,” said Quincy. “I think she’s trying to tell me something.”
Peter climbed up the steps to get a closer look. Quincy pulled the lid off the shoebox, and inside was a tiny bird. Its head was black and there were streaks of blue-gray and white along its wings, one of which was crudely bandaged with a makeshift splint made of gauze and twig. The bird’s head twitched once. A faint scratching came from beneath the little body.
“Where’d you get it?” asked Peter.
“It was on the front porch this morning , sitting still right here,” pointing at a spot on the top step. “He was already bandaged and everything. I thought he might be dead at first, but he’s just hurt real bad.”
“Someone left a maimed bird on our doorstep? That’s kinda weird.”
“It must be a message, Peter. From Doreen. It has to be.”
Peter frowned. “I don’t get it,” he said. “How is this a message from Doreen?”
“The broken arm… I mean, just look at the bird. Look at his face, the sadness in his eyes. Tell me that doesn’t remind you of Doreen.”
Not that he would admit it out loud, but Peter could sort of see what Quincy was talking about… still, it was a reach. Quincy was really hunting for meaning here. Peter looked at his friend. Eyes of a zealot.
“You’re stretching for the truth again, Q. I find it hard to believe that Doreen Fischer broke a bird’s wing and stuck it on our porch to send you a message about… about what? Try to think this through before you get out the jump-to-conclusions mat, OK?”
Quincy put the top back on the shoebox and tucked it under his arm again. The itch was back, the familiar tilt of his chin that betrayed his rejection of reason and logic.
“You’re not getting it,” said Quincy. “Of course Doreen didn’t break this bird’s wing. She probably found it injured and made this splint. It must have been so difficult for her. She must be sending me a message. Don’t you see it?”
“That’s the only conclusion you can draw? There are, like, a million reasons that an injured bird might end up on our front porch, Q. Coincidence, if you can even call it that, is not the same thing as causation.”
Quincy was undeterred. Leaning against the railing, he hopped down the steps on his good leg. “When do coincidences become more than incidental? When do they become intentional? Frankly, I find it hard to believe that I have to convince you. Even you, the skeptic, should be able to see what I’m talking about here.”
Peter felt the time had come to shrug, and he did, along with a loud and extended sigh. “So, what’s to be done? You take care of the bird. Nurse it back to health. And in the meantime, you wait for a more direct sign before sending Doreen one of those long, handwritten letters.”
“No, this is the most direct sign I’m going to get. And I’m not letting this opportunity go. I’m going over to Doreen’s now, and I’m going to make a pledge, in front of her, to protect this bird and bring it back to health.”
But Quincy was off, the limp in his stride barely noticeable, shoebox under his arm. Peter stood on the porch, literally scratching his head. He wondered if he should follow his friend. He wondered what he was supposed to do, now that logic and reason and objective thinking were being so blatantly ignored. On the edge of the top step, one foot planted firmly on the porch and the other raised and ready to move, Peter waited a moment for the answer to come to him.