[T]he inscription on a third Nestorian headstone, that of a husband and wife, Kutluk and Magnu-Kelka, has an almost ominous starkness. No accomplishments are mentioned, no holiness praised. The headstone tells us only enough to suggest the following scenario: one morning in 1339, perhaps a fragrant early-summer morning, when the air temperature almost matched the water temperature on the lake, Kutluk awoke with the early symptoms of the plague. On that first day he felt lighthearted and nauseous, symptoms so unobtrusive that Magnu-Kelka did not even realize her husband was ill until dinner, when Kutluk suddenly vomited into his meal. On the second day of the illness, Kutluk awoke with a terrible pain in his groin; overnight, a hard, apple-sized lump had formed between his navel and his penis. That afternoon, when Magnu-Kelka probed the tumor with a finger, the pain was so terrible, Kutluk rolled over on his side and vomited again.
Toward evening, Kutluk developed a new symptom; he began to cough up thick knots of bloody mucus. The coughing continued for several hours. As night gathered around the lake, a sweaty, feverish Kutluk fell into a delirium; he imagined he saw people hanging by their tongues from trees of fire, burning in furnaces, smothering in foul-smelling smoke, being swallowed by monstrous fish, gnawed by demons, and bitten by serpents. The next morning, while Kutluk was reliving the terrible dream, the cough returned--this time even more fiercely. By early afternoon, Kutluk's lips and chin had become caked with blood, and the inside of his chest felt as if it had been seared by a hot iron. That night, while Magnu-Kelka was sponging Kutluk, the tumor on his groin gurgled. For a moment Magnu-Kelka wondered if the swelling were alive; quickly, she made the sign of the cross. On the fourth day, Kutluk stained his straw bed with a bloody anal leakage, but Magnu-Kelka failed to notice. After vomiting twice in the morning, she slept until dark... On the fifth day of his illness, Kutluk was near death. All day Magnu-Kelka lay on a straw mat on the other side of the cottage, listening to her husband's hacking cough and breathing in fetid air. Toward evening Kutluk made a strange rattling sound in his throat and the cottage fell silent. As Magnu-Kelka gazed at her husband's still body, she felt an odd sensation, like the fluttering of butterfly wings against the inside of her chest. A moment later, she began to cough...
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
a clarification regarding my postmortal wishes
When I die, I want to be cremated and have my ashes circulated through the blogosphere. If I were the sort who wanted the regular burial and headstone, however, I would want it to be relatively simple: name, years of birth and death, maybe a clever epitaph. What I wouldn't want, regardless of how I died, would be something that would suggest the following passage to somebody writing 666 years after my death. It's from The Great Mortality, a new book about the Black Death by John Kelly: