A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (41 page)

‘Sorry.’

‘No, please don’t apologize.’ I certainly couldn’t complain about the way I’d been treated. Everyone had been level with me from the start. I took a deep breath. ‘It seems to me,’ I went on, ‘that Heaven’s a very good idea, it’s a perfect idea you could say, but not for us. Not given the way we are.’

‘We don’t like to influence conclusions,’ she said. ‘However, I can certainly see your point of view.’

‘So what’s it all for? Why do we have Heaven? Why do we have these dreams of Heaven?’ She didn’t seem willing to answer, perhaps she was being professional; but I pressed her. ‘Go on, give me some ideas.’

‘Perhaps because you need them,’ she suggested. ‘Because you can’t get by without the dream. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It seems quite normal to me. Though I suppose if you knew about Heaven beforehand, you might not ask for it.’

‘Oh, I don’t know about that.’ It had all been very pleasant: the shopping, the golf, the sex, the meeting famous people, the not feeling bad, the not being dead.

‘After a while, getting what you want all the time is very close to not getting what you want all the time.’

The next day, for old times’ sake, I played another round of golf. I wasn’t at all rusty: eighteen holes, eighteen strokes. I hadn’t lost my touch. Then I had breakfast for lunch and breakfast for dinner. I watched my video of Leicester City’s 5-4 victory in the Cup Final, though it wasn’t the same, knowing what happened. I had a cup of hot chocolate with Brigitta, who kindly looked in to see me; later I had sex, though only with one woman. Afterwards, I sighed and rolled over, knowing that the next morning I would begin to make my decision.

I dreamt that I woke up. It’s the oldest dream of all, and I’ve just had it.

Author’s Note

Chapter 3 is based on legal procedures and actual cases described in
The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals
by E. P. Evans (1906). The first part of Chapter 5 draws its facts and language from the 1818 London translation of Savigny and Corréard’s
Narrative of a Voyage to Senegal
; the second part relies heavily on Lorenz Eitner’s exemplary
Géricault: His Life and Work
(Orbis, 1982). The third part of Chapter 7 takes its facts from
The Voyage of the Damned
by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts (Hodder, 1974). I am grateful to Rebecca John for much help with research; to Anita Brookner and Howard Hodgkin for vetting my art history; to Rick Chiles and Jay Mclnerney for inspecting my American; to Dr Jacky Davis for surgical assistance; to Alan Howard, Galen Strawson and Redmond O’Hanlon; and to Hermione Lee.

J.B.

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