by Amanda Higgin
Xanda and I have been having a conversation about our respective literary collections, wandering together around University Parks after having lunch in town. As an English Literature degree student, Xanda is obliged to have a huge collection of books of impressive quality; as an English Literature A-leveller I choose to have a large collection of dubious quality. Sci-fi might not be sophisticated but, at least in my opinion, Orson Scott Card beats Jane Austen every time. We pause on the north side, watching the ducks in the pond by LMH.
‘In the event of my death,’ Xanda continues, ‘you can have first pick of my library.’
I look sideways at her for a moment before responding. ‘That’s a bit morbid, isn’t it? I appreciate the offer, but can’t it wait until your last will and testament?’
She shrugs, ‘I haven’t actually written a last will and testament. I probably should.’
‘Why?’ I’m suddenly a little concerned for my friend, although she seems unflustered.
‘I’m not expecting to shuffle off this mortal coil just yet,’ she smiles to lighten my evident unease. ‘It’s just always good to be prepared. There’s no reason you should leave your legacy to chance in the event of some awful act of fate. It’s one of the reasons I write down any secrets I’m keeping or ideas I have so that, in the event of my death, that knowledge won’t be lost forever.’
I look out over the park and wonder momentarily whether she has a point. It’s a big swing in tone from our bookshelf-measuring contest moments ago, but then perhaps it shouldn’t be. Death has a habit of being surprisingly mundane, although I’m lucky not to know it well.
‘One of my parents’ friends died at uni,’ I voice my thoughts. ‘He must have been 20, or 21. Got too drunk at the Union bar and was thrown out, but none of his friends noticed so he ended up walking back to college on his own. He fell down some stairs, landed on his head, and that was it.’
‘It happens,’ Xanda sighs. ‘I discourage dwelling on the subject because, after all, we are here to live and not to prepare to die. The point is not that you need to set your affairs in order right now because you might die any minute; goodness knows, we’re too young for that! No, the point is that, well, you ought to be ready in case you don’t get all of the time you planned on. I’m in this world partly to improve it; if I die, I don’t want any of my plans to be lost. If I write them down then they outlive me, at least in some way.’
‘That’s true. Dying might even make them more successful, depending.’
As Xanda begins to wander further down the path and I follow beside her, I take a look at the snowdrops beginning to suggest that spring may be about to appear out of winter. There’s probably a worthy metaphor there, if you care to find it.
‘Still, I wouldn’t like to worry my parents by calling for a lawyer.’
‘Your parents are lawyers.’
‘All the more reason!’ I laugh, and we go back to talking about books.