first light one last star to hold a wish
It came across the local news as he was making breakfast. In the early hours, a Cessna had made an emergency landing on Highway 25, heading east in the westbound lane, and hit a minivan head on. No details about the state of the plane, or the condition of the pilot, only that the van’s three passengers—a mother and two daughters, en route to the airport—had been killed. He stood at the stove, listening and shaking his head: What were the odds? Then the announcer moved on to a three-alarm house blaze, and he turned back to his breakfast. He broke an egg into the hot skillet, placed two slices of wheat bread into the toaster. He wondered, How had that mother thought her day would go when she first woke up? Had she figured that she and her daughters would have a peaceful flight—maybe out to see relatives, or to a favorite vacation spot? Had she expected to have a drink in the evening after a long day of travel, or dinner at a favorite inn? He shook the skillet, testing the yolk’s consistency. Between waking and her final minutes, she might have made a hundred small decisions—whether to have Cheerios or prepare oatmeal, to stop for gas on the way to the airport, to take out money from an ATM. So many decisions made every day, he thought, each calibrating and re-calibrating outcomes, delivering a new integer into the ultimate calculation: Will X meet Y? Stories came back to him: The women killed in an underground tunnel when a concrete roof tile fell, just as her car passed under it; the man shot dead in a convenience store when he walked in on a robbery; the Twin Towers trader who, at the last minute, decided to take the morning off on 9/11 so he could walk his children to school. X colliding with Y, X missing Y. He thought of his own day ahead: A Sunday drive out to the lake, a little fishing, maybe a stop for dinner at the Red Pine, before taking the highway home to catch the last innings of the ballgame. How many integers between now and then? He shook the skillet one last time, then slid the eggs onto a white plate. The toast popped, and he placed the slices next to the egg. Taking a jar of preserves from the refrigerator, he began spooning dollops into a small bowl—one, two—wondering which number—three, four —might shift the odds in his favor.
taking the backroad home a single star keeps pace