The rules

The rules

We stood on a curb in Winnemucca in the dark, December 1980. Snow-pellets swirled in headlights and stung our faces and scudded down the street. We had one glove for our four hands. He whose turn it was to stick his thumb out wore it, while the other stamped his feet and balled his fingers into frozen fists in his pants pockets.

We were headed from Berkeley, where we shared a flat, to Santa Fe, where lived the woman whom we both loved, and who had loved us both. We did not want her to choose. We thought that we could shed the strictures and taboos that had been sealed in us by our parents and our priests, and simply appear at her door on her birthday and give ourselves to her, a package deal.

Drunks in pickups yelled and beeped their horns, and truckers in the shadows of their cabs squinted at our long hair and smooth cheeks to see if we were girls, then drove on. The storm intensified, and the traffic lulled. “We have that sleeping bag,” Jim said. “We could squeeze into it.” I shook my head, led us to a diner where we shed our too-thin coats, our hats, the glove. The waitress had been watching us; she filled two mugs for us before we could sit down. We wrapped our hands around them and poured the black brew down our throats, cup after cup, as if it could dissolve the knots that blossomed in our throats.

Each time she returned, she said things like, “What is it you boys think you’re doing?” and “This adventure sure ain’t worth the risk.” We looked at each other across the table. Finally she came back frowning with the bill, put it down between us and said, “I don’t know what to tell you boys, because there’s nowhere else to go, but you can’t stay here. I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules.”

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