Like the tale of Gérard de Nerval walking a pet lobster on a leash, or Baroness Elsa entering the French Consulate with a lit birthday cake on her head, the account of French writer Alfred Jarry‘s last deathbed request for a toothpick sounds like the kind of apocryphal anecdote expressly formulated to induce a shake of the head, a roll of the eyes and a mutter of “those crazy bohos!”. And like the lobster and the lit birthday cake it was, in fact, true. It happened on this day in 1907, as related by Jarry’s friend, Jean Saltas:
The last time I went to see him, I asked him if there was anything he would like. His eyes lit up. There was indeed something that would bring him much pleasure. I told him I’d get it for him immediately. He spoke. What he would like was a toothpick. I dashed out straight away to buy some for him and came back with a whole packet. He took one between two fingers of his right hand. Joy visibly spread across his face. It seemed as if he suddenly felt filled with a delight as great as when he set off on one of his fishing, boating, or cycling expeditions, his three favourite activities. I had hardly taken a step or two away to speak to the nurse when she told me to look back: he was breathing his last.