A tooth I had been neglecting lashed out at me last week like a woman scorned, and through clenched teeth I can report that only renal colic hath more fury. I remembered the time they gave me morphine in a London hospital, after an evening’s attempt at drinking two cases of champagne in the company of three Russian, though otherwise perfectly respectable ladies. Twenty minutes in the ambulance with kidney stones, a shot of morphine in the arm, and I tell you, I really thought I began to understand what Heaven is – at least in a certain empirical, materialist, or Muslim sense.
As I lie here, with this post on the laptop screen, thoughts of death wash over me in melancholy waves. And of course waves of shame as well, because, for crying out loud, it’s only an inflamed tooth, it’s not like you’re having your tender Athenian liver pierced with an Achaemenid spear. To distract myself, I imagine I’m a rich man dying, dictating a last will and testament to an amanuensis in a becomingly short skirt. What’s that you said? No, no, it’s only my wife laughing her head off at a pauper’s preposterous imaginings.
But seriously, if I were a rich man dying, I would naturally leave most of my money to my family. Some of it, however, I would set aside for charitable bequests, though never to institutions – with the possible exception, needless to say, of the Rockford Institute. Such institutions, generally, are a quicksand of hopes, talents, and money, as one of the earliest examples of the genre, the Ford Foundation, so starkly illustrates. If one could fix a dynamo to poor Henry’s body, one could probably power a city the size of Buffalo with the energy he generated by turning in his coffin.
No, I would make a roster of all the poets, novelists, philosophers, historians, journalists, perhaps even advertising copywriters, who delighted, amused, or taught me during my time on earth, ranking them in order of what I perceive as their uniqueness. It would not actually be a very long list, a single page, maybe 20 or 30 names at most. What shall I call it? I’m inclining to “The Thermopylae List,” because, in my view, this handful of men and the occasional woman have stood there shoulder to shoulder like Spartans in the face of barbarity.
Each bequest would be in a different amount, varying according to the recipient’s value to me, yet irrespective of the recipient’s financial condition. So Taki would open the letter with my check on the deck of his yacht, and Tom Wolfe would be told of his windfall at his tailor’s, while having one of his white suits fitted, and then there would be some writers like me, poor rapscallions weeping tears of joy into their bowls of lentil soup.
A pleasant fantasy, this. But now I’m afraid I must get back to my icepack, because that tooth hurts like hell.
Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles. The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator. His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.