"I'm not so good at saying goodbye. Do you mind if we spend the rest of our lives together?"

Blackjack Saloon.
Eight men playing cards.
Drinking whiskey.
Looking up the stairs.
They could taste the change.
Something always happened.
Blackjack Saloon.

Our town can sometimes speak to you as if you knew it from a dream. The names change but the innocent remain guilty. Their crime was their innocence and they needed to sacrifice it to remain. No one stays innocent for long. When enough time passes they become part of the landscape of guilt. One could only escape by reclaiming that innocence once again. Or so I have read.

Time was out of time for most people in Rancho Nuevo. They dreamed of escape. They dreamed of living in the world outside. It was a world they had heard many stories about. However, the longer you remained in town, the fewer tales you believed. This was a different world. The only song that ever played on the radio was "Taxi" by Harry Chapin. They played it over and over again. An outsider would go mad, but we were all used to it. We took solace in the absence of commercials, a horror we read about in ancient literature.

I remember when I first met Angelina. It wasn't just that her name was against the law in Rancho Nuevo. Other things drew me to her as well. There was a connection with the outside world. Her sister Maria had once attempted to leave town and was never heard from again. Mostly, however, I was drawn to her on account of her short little Mexican maid skirts and the way her thighs retained the perfect color and balance of incomprehensible gold. Sometimes when she crossed her legs it restored my faith that the Seven Cities of Gold still existed and convinced me she was an angelic messenger. I never knew that was possible. She made me believe. There were other things she got me to believe in as well. There was more to a glass of water than just the glass and the water.

We all drove old trucks in those days. We didn't drive them so much as we parked them out behind the Blackjack Saloon. Driving anywhere in a town of less than a hundred people never seemed to have much of a point. The zucchini harvest was another story. We needed trucks for that.

Our drive was intended to take us out to the lake. Although no lake existed in our private desert, it was possible to believe. There is more to a glass of water than just the glass and the water. Angelina believed we could find peace. She disagreed with those who insisted we had to either surrender or embrace the madness of flight. My wings were not strong enough for such a flight, and Angelina was too pure for surrender. Her heart was bigger than Idaho, a fantasy land we once read about in a brochure that blew across the border of town during a sandstorm.

Become a Politically Conservative Rancher in the New West!

(That brochure still speaks to me at night.)

After I parked the truck in front of the lake that existed only in our minds, she stretched her legs across the dashboard. We looked deeply into each others eyes for a moment, then lit cigars. Mickey Hampton had hand rolled these in her storm cellar. They were very good, but I kept dreaming of gold. Something about Angelina did that to me.

I turned on the radio. Harry Chapin was talking about flying so high when he's stoned. The song was getting ready to start again, so I made my move. My hand brushed against her thigh, causing me to immediately shudder. I had never felt anything like her thigh before. It was so pristine and so above the reality we were chained to. Nothing could possibly be that cold and that alive at the same time, especially in Rancho Nuevo where fire was our friend. I recoiled, retreated into my thoughts and tried to remember what the priests had told me about treating frostbite.

"I'm only for the looking. Try not to forget that. The things you most desire are not so easily attained."

I slumped back in my chair and rubbed my fingers on my filthy jeans. I reached for the door handle and stepped out of the truck. The lake was still there, even though I had stopped imagining it. Angelina, however, had long since disappeared from my dreams, although I could still hear her voice carried by the wind. There was a gate on the other side of the lake and it was hanging open. I smiled at it.

"There is more to a glass of water than just the glass and the water."

Indeed.


The Rancho Nuevo Series:

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