The prospect of being an incubus would hardly strike most men as objectionable. To beguile women with an effortless glance, take them in your arms and render them your rapturous slave without so much as a word wasted upon their ears, no, to most men such prospect is Elysium. However, the closest most men will ever come to such a circumstance is in the squalid recesses of their own mind’s caprice. The situation was quite different for Napoléon Dùheme.
Napoléon, my brother, had always had this luxury with women. Even as a child, before he had the sense to comprehend his gift, he had compelled his wet nurse to let him suckle her till the rose of her teats was stained crimson with blood and savaged raw flesh. Anise had been her name, though I’m quite sure he had no recollection of her himself. She had screamed and lashed out like some poor beast, who spies death’s approach, when our parents had finally pried the greedy babe from her arms. She would have let him drink till life itself had fled her body, such was his sway over the fairer sex.
As a child he’d rather enjoyed the attention. Maids cosseting over him, lavishing the child with kisses and compliments, it was in a word sumptuous. Inevitably the adorations would end in one domestic clawing another’s face for caressing the boy’s silky black hair too long a time, or kissing his alabaster cheeks one kiss too many. The serving girls of our household wore cruel scars across their faces, one having even forfeited an eye, all in testament to their devotion. The memory of it had always made him sick inside.
At ten years old, he’d been sent away to sea under the care of our Uncle Degaré. He’d had our parent’s desperation to thank for that. Yet from the letters he sent me, it became apparent that there in the company of stalwart men with calloused hands and wind worn faces he had for a time been happy. The rigor and demand of life at sea fast grew tedious for so young, and forgive me for saying it but clumsy a boy, not to mention one who’d become accustomed to being pandered to. Given that, it was hardly surprising that he’d jumped ship the first chance he got.
Not having enough years behind him for true cunning, he’d been caught easily enough, and spanked mercilessly by our fret-wearied uncle, who captained the ship. Still, it seemed that from that time on, he’d been constantly shuffled between one place or another and back out to sea during the Summer months. All this in the hopes of keeping whatever contamination he spread to a minimum. At the time of this particular story, that place was Paris.
Our father, having a fortuitous abundance of wealth had purchased a place for him at one of the most prestigious art academies in France. To Napoléon, his private room in the men’s dormitory may as well have been an oubliette. As he lay wearily on his goose down mattress, a tangle of female bodies writhing on top of him, he wondered if he had ever felt emptier. Whatever pulp of a soul had once been buried within him now had been hulled clean, he was left a husk, albeit a very compelling one.
He had confessed to me that the female form itself had grown tiresome to his eye. More than that, often he found himself repulsed by the roundness of what another man may have found a perfectly comely thigh, or the insufferable jiggle of those flabby sacks of flesh some misguided poet had christened the bosom. Sex had become more a chore than anything else, the mechanical grind of pelvises, the clockwork thrust and parry, and for what reward? Was all this idiocy really worth the fleeting tingle that would flush through his loins? He could yield the same results with his hand, and what’s more, he was free to simply drift off to sleep afterwards.
He was never cruel to his vassals, never made them aware of how loathsome they were to him. Instead, he would find ways to occupy his mind. At this time in his life he’d laughingly confess to me that he’d taken to belting Largo al Factotum from Rossini’s Barber of Seville and thrusting in time. The girls always giggled, delighted by his serenade. He too laughed, knowing they didn’t comprehend a word of it. It did me proud to think that all the nights I’d spent tutoring him in his Italian hadn’t gone to waste.
“Tutti mi chiedono, tutti mi vogliono,
donne, ragazzi, vecchi, fanciulle”
Everyone asks for me, everyone wants me,
ladies, young lads, old men, young girls.
It wasn’t true of course, with the exception of the bits about ladies and young girls. His dormitory neighbors, in fact nearly any man who met him instantly despised him. The boys of his dormitory undoubtedly heard the smoldering baritone of his voice as it seared through their walls, but never would they have placed it as coming from the Napoléon’s scrawny throat. My brother’s willowy frame was hardly that of a great virtuoso, or a great lover for that matter, and yet somehow he had defied nature and become both.
The song transported him to happier days, to a time some years ago when he’d jumped ship on the Canary Islands. He’d struck up a friendship with a local boy, Anbessa had been his name. They’d met while working as stagehands at the music hall. Many sailors find work doing this, as the riggings that work the curtains are not dissimilar to those found aboard ships.
There, Napoléon had found he adored opera, and always bemoaned not being able to see the performance from the audience, as it was meant to be seen. Together, he and Anbessa had snuck in through the skylight, forsaking their stations to watch Barber of Seville from up in the rafters, drunk on Amontillado. It had been one of those rare perfect moments, a single pearl he could pluck from a life he saw as vapid. He cherished this memory above all. That night, balancing on his belly atop a narrow beam, the terror of the gravities compel countered by the beauty of the music and the way Anbessa’s sienna brown eyes looked when he smiled, that had been true sublime.
“La la la la la la la la la”
A fluty voice joined his, tearing him from that beautiful recollection. One of his chattle, Clotilde was merrily warbling out as much of the tune as she could remember. True, she didn’t speak Italian but he’d sung it often enough that the tune had taken seat in her memory. He smiled through her garbled words, delighted by this unexpected duet.
Of all his women, he felt more for Clotilde than he could any other, even if all he felt was pity. She had been happily wed not but a few months before Napoléon had arrived in Paris. She’d married well too, a banker by the name of Cecil Fortescue. Though the man was twenty years her senior, she was well taken care of and he seemed content most days to read his paper at the café and let her chat with passers- by.
Napoléon had never pursued the young madame, but like sheep to their shepherd, women flocked behind him in the streets. Clotilde had been caught up in that tide, and Cecil was justifiably furious at the development. What could not be justified were the punishments he inflicted upon his beloved out of spite. Bruised and battered by her lout of a husband’s jealousy, she still found her way to Napoléon each and every night.
It was a development that horrified my brother. He had begged her to stay home. Shamefully, he’d even slung an insult or two in the hopes of keeping her away.
“I want nothing more to do with you! You’re far too homily a creature to bother with! Go to your husband and be happy he’ll have you!”
It had been to no avail. The next day Clotilde was again to be found drowning within the sea of bodies upon Napoléon’s bed, wearing a black eye in triumph.
Her husband had then thought to lock away her clothes and shoes, hoping shame would be enough to hold her in his house. Undeterred, she bound through the streets of Paris barefoot and naked. People gawked at this prancing gamine, who left a trail of bloodied footprints to mark her travels, yet no one had thought to stop her. In the end, it had been Napoléon who had caught her up in his coat the way one might catch a bounding hare, and hurried her off to his dormitory chamber. It had been he who had tended to the girls blistered feet, plucking bits of stone and broken glass from filth blackened gashes. He despised Monsieur Fortescue for keeping his wife a hostage, nearly as much as he despised himself for having failed to quell the girl’s desires and ending this game once and for all. Napoléon had sent Clotilde home that night in a handsome, dressed in one of his finest suits. It was an act that incited a war between the two men, with Clotilde as a hapless bit of collateral.
“Pronto prontissimo son come il fulmine
sono il factotum della città.
Ah, bravo Figaro! Bravo, bravissimo;
a te fortuna non mancherà.”
The two of them bellowed out the song exultantly.
Swifter and swifter, I’m like a thunderbolt.
I’m the factotum of the city.
Ah, bravo Figaro! Bravo, bravissimo,
You’ll never lack for luck!
As if summoned by those fortuitous lyrics the door to Napoléon’s room swung open violently, and the crack of gunfire shattered on air.
“I can’t tell you how sick I am of that Figaro!” A voice gnawed through the echoing ring of that first shot and the rising shrieks of women.
Napoléon whipped his head around to see Cecil lumbering towards him, shotgun in hand, smoke still billowing from the double barrel of its muzzle. It was a strange sight, Napoléon had said, to see a man so elegantly dressed wielding death so easily about. Clearly he’d just come home from work, and finding his house empty, decided to stop Clotide’s wanderings once and for all.
Cecil drew back the hammer, readying another shot .Realizing himself to be the target, Napoléon leapt from the bed and rolled far enough away from the gaggle of shrieking girls to satisfy himself that they would not become victims of his row.
The second bullet passed so near his flesh that he felt the ripples on air as the lead sliced its way through nothingness. Cecil moved to reload. Napoléon smiled, watching the man clumsily fumble with the rounds. This was his chance. He had no doubts he could run faster than it would take this clod to load his weapon and right that restless trigger finger.
There was just enough space between his assailant’s broad frame and the doorway for Napoléon to slip through. As he crossed the threshold he heard the soul crippling sound of the hammer being drawn back.
He tore down the hallway followed by gunfire. He could hear doors flying open, onlookers summoned by the shotgun’s report peered out into the hall. Their cheers were stifling. Solemnly he realized that he might have a hundred witnesses to his murder, all of who would cheerfully shake the gunman’s hand. He’d stolen more latent paramours away than he cared to admit, and he doubted it would be much consolation for these men to know he’d never tried.
As he rounded the corner he took advantage of the temporary cover offered and tried at one of the doorknobs. Locked. He frantically tried at the door across the way, shaking it furiously but it too was locked. He could hear Cecil’s footfall drawing ever closer. In desperation he threw himself at the last doorway in this turn of the corridor. Blessedly, the door swung open and he rushed inside, locking it behind him as he did and bracing his back against it.
The resident of this dormitory stared at his naked guest in dismay. Napoléon simply drew a finger to his lips, begging him with his eyes to keep quiet.
Through the door Napoléon heard his many lovers race down the hall. A few shots rang out behind them but he trusted Cecil wouldn’t waste his bullet on anyone but the man who had made a cuckold out of him. Doors along this stretch of the hallway flew open and the adulations of many a sex-starved lad were made audible. He doubted very much that Cecil had granted the ladies time to dress.
As the shots grew more distant, Cecil clearly shooting into the wind to suppress his rage, Napoléon slid to the floor and caught his breath. A few last reports rang out which still managed to produce a shudder through his body, though he was doubtlessly safe for the now.
He turned his attentions to the baffled man before him whose room had served his salvation. For a moment he gave some honest consideration to how he might explain his circumstances. Deciding such a thing would be impossible, he instead followed the man’s gaze to his nakedness. Only now did he have the presence of mind to realize he was still unclothed.
“It’s smaller than average actually, but it’s enchanted!” Napoléon said with a grin, splaying his legs apart so that the resident might get a look at the source of the day’s consternation.
“Oh I wasn’t looking at …that…”
The resident coughed the words uncomfortably from his throat as if disgusted to have them settled there. He was a Punjabi, but spoke with a British accent that mangled his French in such a way as to delight Napoléon’s ear with its novelty.
His eyes too intrigued him, a gentle amber color, beautiful and so exquisitely forlorn. He’d seen this man on campus before, wearing the same smirks and sneers he’d learned to mimic from his fellow classmen. Now, robbed of his guise by earnest dismay, the truth of his solemn nature was revealed. Those sorrowful yellow eyes compelled something in Napoléon, and he wanted very much to see what they looked like when this man smiled.