“A gardener comes to the Shah one day, in extreme agitation, and says to him: ‘Lend me your swiftest steed; I needs must go as far as I can, to Isfahan. Just now, while I was working in the garden, I saw my own death.’ The Shah gives him a horse, and the gardener gallops off to Isfahan. The Shah goes into the garden; Death is standing there. The Shah says to death; ‘Why did you frighten my gardener, appearing before him like that?’ Death answers the Shah: ‘I didn’t mean to. Indeed, I was surprised to see your gardener here, for in my book it’s written that I’m to meet him this evening, far away, in Isfahan.'”
The Spectre of Alexander Wolf, Gaito Gazdanov
The eponymous speaker is a dangerously charismatic war veteran, convinced he’s living on borrowed time having all-but-died in the field years earlier. He tells this tale to the woman he is seducing. To be fair to the Shah’s gardener, we most of us would prefer to die when we’re ready, and not much before.
When we’re ready . . . Towards the end of di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, a weary Don Fabrizio – the Prince – glimpses a woman at the station, “in a brown travelling dress and suede gloves, mingling amid the crowds and seeming to search for his exhausted face through the dirty compartment window”. By day’s end he’s had a stroke. The extended family gather. A little later he wakes from what he suspects must have been another stroke, to see the frightened, tearful faces of a group of strangers staring at him, before gradually recognizing them as relatives and friends.
Suddenly amid the group appeared a young woman; slim, in brown travelling dress and wide bustle, with a straw hat trimmed with a speckled veil which could not hide the sly charm of her face. She slid a little suede-gloved hand between one elbow and another of the weeping kneelers, apologised, drew closer. It was she, the creature for ever yearned for, coming to fetch him; strange that one so young should yield to him; the time for the train’s departure must be very close. When she was face to face with him she raised her veil, and there, chaste but ready for possession, she looked lovelier than she ever had when glimpsed in stellar space.