Ninety-nine to Go

Stuart Vail

Somewhere I heard that there are only
d different people-types in the world.
“The waiter is the spitting image of Uncle Henry, don’t you think?”
“She looks just like Barbra Streisand, but has Mom’s eyes.”
One-hundred different people.
One-hundred different molds.
Are there also only that many different sets of circumstances,

The man sitting across from me
eating scrambled eggs at the lunch counter
has blood-shot eyes.
He has been up all night making musket balls from molten lead
in preparation for the battle at Lexington.
Many men will die today.
Will he be one of them?
I don't know.

He may be a doctor who just got off the night shift.
He’ll soon be on his way to deliver our neighbor’s baby.
Her husband suffered a massive stroke yesterday
while harvesting his corn. He’ll never function normally again.
The doctor sitting across from me will deliver a baby boy
who will grow up fatherless, in the normal sense.
The son will never be able to have a healthy relationship
with a woman,
because he’ll be raised by a smothering, over-protective mother.
He will end up on a rooftop in Des Moines with a rifle,
shatter the lives of six families
before finally being sent to his own twisted Valhalla
by a police sharp-shooter.

If there were some way
I could convey that to my “counter mate,”
what would he do?
Would one slight adjustment or variation to the baby’s delivery
somehow substitute the infant’s eventual set of experiences
for any one of the other ninety-nine?

How many ways are there to die?
Can there really be more than one-hundred?

In another life,
had my man at the counter perished
at Hastings, Waterloo, Gettysburg, Antwerp?
Was he poisoned, hung, shot, burned, or electrocuted,
or did he suffocate at the bottom of a collapsed mine shaft?
In one of his lives did he die of a broken heart?
Did a debilitating disease finally overtake his gallant efforts to survive?
What last thoughts went through his mind
had he been one of the unfortunate
to remain on the Titanic?
Could he have been napalmed by his own in Viet Nam?
Did he walk out into the sub-zero night at the South Pole,
never to return,
knowing that his death
would mean one less mouth to feed
for his rations-poor friends back at camp?
Will he be one of the victims of the young man on the roof
whom he will deliver in a few short hours?

He wipes some egg yolk off of his mustache,
tugs at one of his rather large ears,
runs his fingers through his black hair
before biting into a piece of toast.

One face, one experience.
Ninety-nine to go.
I turn to my left
and look at the woman
who just sat down next to me . . . .


© 2002 Stuart Vail