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Art & Culture

various essays on, well, art and culture

Bookbinding & Conservation

lessons learned from this profession


ok, I'm not the guy from SNL,
but I still have a sense of humor

'Jim Downey' Stories

mostly true stories from my

Personal Essays

No matter where you go . . .
So I wander into this nuclear
        reactor . . .

Thoughts on This Day
The Power to Forget
Announcing:  Alwyn!
Martyr Complex
The Call
The Reality of the Situation
Comforting Presence
Guilt & Redemption


Iím at -7.13/-7.33 on The Political Compass.  Where
are you?


observations on the human condition


take a trip with me

12 January 2005


"Your roll."

I look over at my opponent.  A genial fellow, 60s, clean shaved, grey hair in a crew cut.  I can easily imagine him a retired Marine Corporal, who got a job in the Defense Industry after retirement.  Pleasant enough but still all business.  Not at all the traditional image of Death, but somehow I don't find that terribly comforting.

* * *

This is how it works.  Every morning, somewhere in the quiet dream hours of the new day, I sit down with Death and we play our little version of Yahtzee.  I almost never remember it, but I know I go through this ritual every night.

We're not really playing Yahtzee, of course.  There's no scoring, other than to see whether 5 sixes come up in the roll.  And the dice aren't normal dice, at least not anymore.  Somewhere back when I was born they were.  But since then, they've evolved.  Evolved to reflect my life choices, adjusted as I grow older.  Pips are added every few birthdays.  More are added when I'm careless about my diet and exercise, though I can shave off a few if I lose weight and keep it off.  It'd be a lot worse, of course, if I was a smoker, or drank more heavily, or indulged myself with skydiving and other such adrenaline-junky sports.  Then the dice would have more faces that were sixes than not.

As it is, my dice have faces which are mostly threes and fours.  Oh, there are a couple of extra fives in there, and even one extra six.  No ones are left, and only a couple of twos.  Not bad, really, for someone in middle age who could stand to lose another 30 pounds.  The odds are still on my side.

See, that's the deal:  we're just playing the odds.  It takes both Death and I to roll a "Yahtzee" of five sixes for him to win.  Sure, it could've happened when I was newborn, but that was extremely unlikely.  And it could have happened any day since then, also unlikely but distinctly possible.  Of course, as the dice change, as I add more and more pips to the faces, I'm slowly moving towards the day when it'll be increasingly likely that both rolls will come up solid boxcars.  At some point, it'll be inevitable.

Oh, another thing:  if I roll a set of boxcars, but Death doesn't, then I'm in for some kind of major illness.  And if Death rolls those sixes and I don't, then I'm due for an accident.  And in both cases, Death gets an extra roll, an extra chance to 'collect' his prize.

But I'll say this for the guy:  he never cheats.  No effort to switch in some dice with more sixes, no attempt to spin the dice funny to try and influence what comes up.

Then again, I guess he doesn't need to cheat, does he?

* * *

I nod.  I take the cup, shake it, let the dice tumble out.  Three sixes, a five and a three.  "Nothiní."

"See you tomorrow," he says, and disappears.

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all work © James T. Downey, 1993-2006
photos © Martha K. John, 1994-2006
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