Authors: Maria Donovan
Tags: #epub, #ebook, #QuarkXPress
Pumping up Napoleon and other stories
Pumping Up Napoleon
That summer Napoleon Bonaparte started wearing shorts, which made Marjorie Campbell question her feelings for him. In her opinion only very good legs should risk exposure in an urban setting â and even thenâ¦ Besides, and disappointingly, of the bare parts of Napoleon she'd seen so far, his legs were the least attractive: a dirty grey colour, mottled with blue; knees like dried porridge.
He sat in her University office with his feet up on the desk, flapping his hands to show that he was hot. Through the autumn, winter and spring, he had appeared in a series of elegant high-collared suits, which Marjorie had admired. He had worn white gloves to disguise the decay of his fingertips, and boots of polished leather. Now he was wearing sandals and his toes were black.
Marjorie had been in love with Napoleon for some time before his resurrection. She was one of those women who have to be in love with someone. It was a kind of addiction, something she aspired to control by only allowing herself to become enamoured of men she couldn't have.
Her admirers had always been mainly fictional. They visited for five minutes at bedtime, inevitably said the right thing and knew exactly when to shut up. The bliss of being able to roll over and fall asleep without thinking of someone else's needs and desires.
Best of all, not having to take an interest in another human being left her plenty of time for her career. Marjorie was a historian, with a special interest in the English Civil War. Napoleon wasn't her first character from history. She'd always had a bit of a thing about Prince Rupert (those lovely brown eyes, that secretive smile) and visited him in the National Portrait Gallery every summer.
On one such occasion she came across two men in overalls carrying a large picture of Napoleon down a long corridor. She recognised him because of the hat. He was standing with his back to her on a cliff looking out across a dark sea. The sky was stormy black save for a bright light on the horizon. What was he looking at? A sunset? Or the coast of England under a new dawn? The Emperor's legs, she noticed, were well shaped, his body compact. She couldn't see his face, but that didn't matter. By the time she left the Gallery that day, Marjorie had forgotten Rupert and fallen in love with the ambition and energy bunched in the muscles of Napoleon's white-breeched behind.
Back at home, she looked him up on the web and found evidence of his passionate nature. So impatient was he to be with his new bride, Marie Louisa (he'd already done and dumped Josephine) that he galloped up to meet her on the road, stopped her carriage and leaped in, all wet with rain, to demand his conjugal rights â before the marriage ceremony had properly taken place. Just right for me, thought Marjorie.
The Emperor of France visited Marjorie on several occasions after that. He had to tear himself away from wars and law-making to be with her, but she was worth it. In her dreams it was always the young and passionate Napoleon who came to her, not the bored, fat Napoleon who tried to grow vegetables on St Helena.
She felt a little guilty about Rupert. But now that it was over, she could admit he had an air of infidelity about him. She'd always suspected he was secretly laughing at her.
Napoleon's real-life resurrection caused Marjorie some consternation. The first she knew of it was when Amnesty International started a letter-writing campaign calling for the release of all persons experimentally brought back to life. Apparently, this sordid use of science had been going on for some time, in secret.
She didn't like to think of him being imprisoned in a laboratory, with debriefings by MI5 the only relief. But she wasn't sure about him regaining the flesh; it was as if he wasn't really hers any more. Nevertheless she joined in the campaign and also wrote him a personal letter, bidding him welcome to the twenty-first century. She received a standard reply. A few months later, Napoleon was released to begin a new career as an advisor on French military history.
Then the buzz started. The university, encouraged by a grant from the European Government, awarded him an honorary doctorate in recognition of his post-resurrection services to the study of the era in which he was first alive (1769-1821). The quiet word was that France didn't want him, England didn't trust him, and Brussels had decided that the History Department of a Welsh University would be the place where he could be expected to do the least harm.
History and all its staff crammed into the interview room, eager to see the new Dr Bonaparte. Everyone acknowledged that the application process was a mere formality; his name was in the brochure and students were being recruited on the strength of it. Colleagues were just curious to get a good look at him, tickled by the idea of vetting such a celebrity.
He seemed remarkably well for a man who had spent nearly two hundred years in a tomb. True, the tip of his nose did have a squashy necrotic quality that was not attractive and his earlobes were in tatters. But never mind that, new body parts were being grown for him in labs all over the world. Bit by bit he was being restored.
His new eyes searched the faces of the History Field. He stared at Marjorie and looked her up and down until she blushed. Then he fixed his gaze on a point above her head. He said nothing. His tongue was still growing on the back of a mouse in Milton Keynes and wouldn't be delivered for at least another week.
Nobody spoke. Nobody was sure if he understood English. Nobody dared to mention the large gap in his CV.
Marjorie wanted him to look at her again. To âcatch his eye'. At which thought she began to giggle.
A storm of indignation raged across Napoleon's face. He pierced her with a look, pushed himself out of his chair and walked stiffly from the room.
They waited to see if the Emperor would come back; but he did not. After a few minutes they all trooped out after him.
Marjorie tried to apologise, but Napoleon refused her the opportunity. He did not acknowledge her if they passed on the stairs. There was silence at the photocopier. He had been given his own office and, since he no longer had a digestive system, had no need of the refectory. He was as far beyond her reach as he had ever been.
The Head of School told her, off the record, that Napoleon had marched in and handed over a letter of complaint. In correct but ambiguous English Napoleon stated that he was not used to being examined by a giggling woman.
The Head of School, relieved that he wouldn't have to speak French, presented him with a copy of the University's Equal Opportunities policy, smiled, bowed and showed him the door. Napoleon tore the document to shreds and threw the pieces down the stairwell.
He retreated to his office where he spent most of his time reading and learning how to surf the internet. He had a lot of catching up to do.
Marjorie tried to forget about him but it wasn't easy. He was so aloof, he seemed so arrogant, yet every time she met him she experienced a kind of emotional electric shock. She recognised in herself the classic symptoms of a woman in love: she emitted donkey-like guffaws of laughter whenever he was in the room; she attracted attention to herself by leaping from his path and tripping over her own feet; worst of all, she had started to ignore her friends â just like in a real relationship. She kept looking his way in case he was looking at her. Her heart groaned. Did he even have a heart? If only she could find something about him to despise.
Term began. Students flocked to Napoleon's classes, but his tongue had not been delivered on time â the mouse in Milton Keynes was weakening: tissue growth was slow. A Green Studies activist wrote an article in the student magazine, Daff, objecting to the exploitation of a small animal for the purpose of maintaining the Emperor's expensively embalmed body. He should never have been let out of the tomb. Was there a place for him in the classroom?
Napoleon's lectures went ahead as planned. They were well attended, despite his silence. He had his students read aloud from the commentaries he had written on Plutarch, Homer's
and the life of Alexander the Great. He was interested in everything and refused to confine himself to his allotted area of history. Raiding the territory that rightfully belonged to his colleagues, he produced discourses on Industrialisation, the October Revolution and the Second World War. He began to write a novel.
While his words were read out in lectures Napoleon strode about the room; in seminars he wrote on the board and jabbed at it with a long stick, his face a playground of emotions. His students either loved him or hated him. Some were fascinated by his fiery glances and white gloves. Others were annoyed by his habit of tapping them sharply on the head if they weren't paying close enough attention.
The national press picked up on the mouse story. They ran daily bulletins charting the tongue's growth and the mouse's decline. Confrontations in the corridors between students who supported Napoleon's right to speak and those who supported the mouse's right to life threatened to disrupt the smooth running of the University.
At the staff Christmas party he was surrounded by hangers-on, eager to appear on close terms with celebrity. His formal uniform, complete with knee breeches and a rosette, made some people regret not having worn fancy dress.
Marjorie, repelled by the force of her desire to be near him, maintained a respectful distance. She observed him from the far side of the room. In the semi-dark his skin took on a pearly glow. He did not drink or dance. Marjorie danced to forget. Whenever someone bought her a drink she gulped it down.
By midnight the floor was wet with beer. One young technician slipped and collided with another. They grappled, each trying to get the other in a headlock. Oblivious to the scuffle, Marjorie swayed in a space by herself â until the fighting pair backed into her, knocking her down.
She looked up to see a pair of short legs in white satin stockings. It was Napoleon, standing with his back to her as if she were a barricade. He glared at the two young men and pointed with his baton at Marjorie. Sheepishly they separated and slid off to the bar.
Napoleon turned and bent down to offer Marjorie a hand. She dared not pull on his white-gloved fingers but held them gently while she scrambled up. Emboldened by drink, she decided not to let go until he did. Napoleon led her back to his table and made the others move up so she could sit beside him.
âThank you,' mouthed Marjorie, for the noise was too great to allow speech.
âThe pleasure is mine,' mouthed Napoleon in return. For the first time he smiled at her, showing his perfect new teeth.
At Christmas the mouse died. It made the evening news. Napoleon, who was in South America having his earlobes replaced, was warned of the possibility of trouble at the airport. He travelled incognito to Canada, where he picked up a new nose and some fingertips, before flying back to Heathrow on New Year's Eve. Marjorie volunteered to collect him. She had spent an anxious time alone, wondering if he would return.