We were on I-5 heading south toward Seattle, stopped in traffic, when Carl's sister called to tell us that there was some sort of SWAT team activity downtown: ''Police with machine guns all over the place.'' Then the car behind us rammed into ours: Its hood buckled in half, its windshield smashed and its airbags deployed. We, in turn, careened into the car in front of us. Once the smoke cleared, we were towed to the Thrifty rental lot. Then Carl's sister and her husband picked us up and we all went out for what passes for Mexican in the Pacific Northwest. It was the second-to-last day of a weeklong vacation, and our final day had just been planned out for us.
We'd be spending it reliant on Carl's sister and her husband for transportation, as well as staying at their home. They're Christian fundamentalists, which means they go to church twice on Sundays, once on Wednesdays, and at all other times conduct their lives by the letter of the Bible, which, upon first meeting them, seemed chiefly to entail maintaining a constant level of benign affability.
For example: ''You know what's interesting about Seattle?'' Carl's sister mused as she merged into the slow lane. ''Everyone signals.''
''That is interesting,'' I said after a pause, wondering what other traffic sensibilities might make Seattle interesting.
The restaurant was located on the water and had a lovely view. Its atmosphere was raucous and collegiate, which made saying grace feel strange, yet still we bowed our heads and gave thanks above the din. Carl's sister thanked God for the food, and asked Him to watch over Carl and me, as well as the driver who'd hit us, who was a little banged up from the crash and also, it turned out, driving on a suspended license. She prayed that we wouldn't owe too much in damages on the rental, which was insured only in that vague way that your credit card insures a rent-a-car. Then we all said ''Amen,'' a word I realized I hadn't uttered since Thanksgiving over eight months before, and even then awkwardly.
The disapproving glares I'd expected we'd get should we dare to sit within five feet of each other never came. In fact, at dinner, Carl's sister even broached the topic of gay marriage. Bam! Right out of the blue. Her husband sort of doodled with his guacamole as she talked about how she didn't think government should ban gay marriage. In fact, she didn't think government should get involved with an issue like gay marriage at all.
''Well if government doesn't get involved at all, then I guess it'll just remain illegal, now won't it,'' I cynically thought to myself. Still, I was temporarily impressed. I'd assumed the word ''gay'' couldn't come from her mouth without being followed by ''...is a sin. Good luck in Hell, sucker.'' Even her husband, a big, lumbering guy who didn't speak much and gave off an even more God-fearing vibe than she did, sort of nodded along as she gamely showed that fundamentalists can talk about gay things without spitting fire.
We arrived at their house at around 9. I think the two of them went straight to bed. Carl and I had been set up on a futon in a TV room on the first floor. We'd agreed in advance: No sex. Too risky. God forbid we make a noise. And yet dinner had gone so surprisingly smoothly that it did cross my mind. Wouldn't a little completely unnoticed anal play going on in the home of a nice Christian couple prove that gay sex won't destroy the American family?
As we got ready for bed, I started perusing the bookshelves. God and Government. The Good News Bible. Rapture: Get Right or Get Left, which appeared to some sort of instruction manual. Beyond the Big Bang. How I Made $2,000,000 in the Stock Market. Methods of a Wall Street Master. The Millionaire Mind. It was a mix of fervent religious zealotry and get-rich-quick schemes.
There were also quite a few relationship books, including Intended for Pleasure, written by a religious scholar who laid out a Biblical argument for why non-procreative sex for married couples was okay. Toward the bottom shelves, the books became more stridently political. The United Nations: Exposed! And John Birch Society: Immigration Invasion. And then one that sort of put our low giggling to a halt: Why We Will Never Win the War on AIDS.
''Did you know that many scientists believe that HIV is not the actual cause of AIDS?'' the back cover enthused before going on to list theories put forth by faith-based scientists, one of which was that AIDS is divine punishment for a sinful lifestyle.
I didn't need to open the book to know which sinful lifestyle it was talking about, and I gently placed it back on the shelf beneath a hardback copy of The Chronicles of Narnia. I thought about dinner, and about Carl's sister's innocuous way of bantering, her rhetorical questions and her ''open-minded'' thinking on gay marriage. I thought about her asking God to watch over Carl and me during grace and for the first time all night, I wondered exactly what she meant by that.
Then Carl and I turned off the lights and sort of messily flopped on top of each other, and the next day his sister drove us to the airport. She hugged us both goodbye, and soon we were aloft, sailing homeward high above the clouds.