…so he died dry, sober, full of hatred for the old drinking self that had wasted twenty years of his life, and still waging a pitiful last campaign against his smoking self – giving up on his deathbed. It was a chosen death, as a matter of fact, he was offered either a few months lingering helplessly, rasping out short, stabby breaths, or a double or so ration of morphine and an immediate release. It was a decision he made in clear consciousness, to that extent an enviable death, but it was slightly marred, in my view, by his wife’s odd sense of style. As he was slipping from the scene, she pressed into one hand a glass of whisky, and between the fingers of the other, a lighted cigarette, thus turning him in the last moments of his life, when too enfeebled to resist but still conscious enough to be aware, into an advertisement for the two things that had destroyed his life. Though I suppose if he’d been photographed and circulated, he might have served as the ghastliest of warnings – look what I’ve done to myself, and with both hands – she described the doing of it, the getting of the lighted cigarette between his fingers, the curling of his fingers around the glass – she’d poured the whisky in after she’d got the glass firmly settled, she said – I asked her with what tenderness I could muster why she’d done it, well, she said, well, that’s how she remembered him in his heyday, when she first met him (both in their mid-forties, divorced, with children), for her he’d been the most glamorous, flamboyant, chain-smoking, whisky-guzzling – and that’s how she’d go on thinking of him, that’s how he’d like to have gone out, didn’t I think so? `He wouldn’t have been seen dead -‘ I wanted to say, but couldn’t, as actually he had been, pretty well – also she was brimming with grief, exhilarated with it, as people sometimes are when they assist a loved one to cross the line, and she had a theatrical background (her father had been famous in musical comedy) and so what could I say – well, volumes, really, but I didn’t, hoping that a brief silence would also be a deep and eloquent one. `I knew you’d approve,’ she said, confirming Wittgenstein’s remark, which I usually think is nonsensical, that our understanding of the world depends on the way we interpret the silence around us.
The Smoking Diaries
Simon Gray. The Smoking Diaries