The Napoleon Difference

By Julia Campbell-Such

Bone splinters, pure-white like expensive china. Smell of talcum powder, morphine, sterilizers. Cracking, splitting, sawing. Tired and blood-soaked, the sheets sagged over the surgery bed.

Earlier in the week, Timothy had sat by the fire in the living room, nursing an after-work beer. Jemima smoothed her skirt over her long, long legs and looked down at him.

“The doctor says he can make you taller.” Jemima said.

“Why?” Timothy asked.

“He just says he could.”

“I don’t want to be taller.”

“I know.”

There was a heavy silence. Jemima crossed her legs. Timothy’s feet dangled over the edge of his big leather chair.

“Do you want me to be taller?”

“Of course not!”

Timothy cocked one eyebrow. “Would you want to be shorter?”

Jemima laughed. “No, I guess not.”

The midget nodded. He put down his book and jumped down from his chair.

“I better get dinner started, then.”

Jemima smiled. She threw her white nurse’s cap on the couch and took the pins out of her hair. When she shook her brown curls they made a drugstore smell. In the kitchen, Timothy chopped carrots, counting each orange circle. There was dirt under his fingernails.

The doorbell rang with the first of his dinner guests. It was Joe Prince, tossing his deep voice over Timothy’s head.

“Need a hand, Tiny Tim?” His teeth gleamed like hubcaps.

“I need a smaller kitchen, jackass.”

Jemima touched Joe Prince’s shoulder and smiled.

“He says that every night,” she said.

There were five of them at dinner. Prince, who had been in Timothy’s philosophy classes and now taught part-time at the University in between shiny afternoons at a Pontiac dealership, sat next to his latest girlfriend Sarah, stylish television actress and owner of cats. Across from them was Jemima’s childhood friend, a performance artist named Hazel who grinned and cackled and radiated warmth and darkness. They ate intently, dealing out potatoes and tidy conversation. Jemima ran in and out of the kitchen. Joe Prince watched her.

“She’s like a gazelle” he admired.

Timothy winked at him. “More like a moose.”

Prince laughed.

After dinner, in the living room, Timothy poured whiskey into heavy crystal glasses. The light from the fireplace rushed impatiently over the wood-panelled walls. Timothy stroked his beard.

“Jemima’s doctor says he can make me taller.”

“How wonderful!” said Sarah, her blonde beehive tilting dangerously to one side.

“How much taller?” asked Hazel, winking. Timothy breathed deeply.

“Jemima, how much taller could the doctor make me?”

Jemima’s foot tapped on the bearskin rug. She looked at the floor.

“How do they do it?” Hazel asked, whistling through her missing front tooth.

“Do they implant stilts? Will there be surgery?”

Sarah powdered her tiny nose. “How awful. Will you really do it?”

Jemima looked up angrily. “Timothy doesn’t need to be any taller,” she said.

Her face was red.

“Of course he doesn’t,” Prince nodded, his cheeks glowing from the scotch.

Hazel’s long red nails tapped and clicked on her whiskey glass. Timothy looked around the room. He cocked one eyebrow, and swung his tiny feet.

“Do you think I should do it?” he asked. No one answered. Jemima chewed on her nails. Branches scratched the windowpanes. The firelight blazed behind Timothy’s eyes, swept across Jemima’s cheeks and landed on Joe Prince’s face, twisting his handsome features. A lock of hair escaped onto Sarah’s forehead. She quickly brushed it back.

“Well,” Joe said finally, to break the tension, “You’d win more fights with your wife, ha ha!”

In Timothy’s dream he was a giant. He could see over the top of a crowd of people in the supermarket, and past them all the way around the world, so that he ended up staring at the back of his own head. Someone far below called up to him and asked him to get them something from the top shelf. Timothy stretched up to get it but it was still too high, just out of his reach. On his way out of the supermarket he hit his head in the doorway. Jemima woke him up.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

Timothy stroked her hair. “I wish we were the same height.”

“Why?”

“I wish I was taller than you.”

“Height doesn’t matter.”

“Easy for you to say.” Timothy and Jemima talked all night, and argued, and made up. Timothy decided the best thing to do would be to shrink the world down to his size. Jemima laughed.

“We’ll never let you do that, silly” she said, “we’re bigger than you.”

Timothy was tired and hung-over the next day at the munitions factory. His bosses yelled at him all morning, their voices echoing off of cement walls and steel missiles. The smell of mould and sawdust made Timothy feel sick. A pile of freshly polished shells caught the sun from the window, blinding him. In the afternoon he got into a fight. Foreman Jim pushed him and called him “shorty.” Timothy took a swing at him. Jim hit him in the stomach and made him throw up all over the conveyor belt.

Timothy shuffled home, his tiny hands still covered in grease. He passed the University. A young man pointed at him and laughed. Timothy heard a girl’s voice say softly:

“He’s not a midget. He’s a dwarf. There’s a difference.”

When Timothy got home Jemima was in the kitchen in a long white skirt. She lifted Timothy up to kiss him.

“Put me down,” he said.

“Rough day?”

“Everyone’s still taller than me.”

“Well, there’s not much you can do about that, is there,” Jemima said, stirring the soup. Timothy cocked one eyebrow.

“Isn’t there?”

Jemima put down the spoon.

“Timothy…”

“Call the doctor, Jemima. Make an appointment.”

During the operation Timothy gripped Jemima’s hand, weeping and terrified. Her face was calm and pale green in the fluorescent light. The surgeons wore masks and spoke quietly and mechanically. Timothy could only see their eyes. He heard one of them say:

“She was crazy to agree to this.”

Six weeks later, Jemima pulled her skirt up over her knees.

“The doctor says the casts can come off soon,” she said, looking down at her bandaged legs.

“Good,” Timothy said, and kissed the top of her head. Joe Prince looked in from the living room.

“Need a hand, Tiny Tim?”

“I need a smaller kitchen, jackass.”

“You’ll never win that argument,” said Prince, and he looked sadly at Jemima. “How’s it going, shorty?” he said gently.

Jemima looked back at him, her wide brown eyes slowly filling with anger

Julia Campbell-Such is a student of the history and philosophy of religion at Concordia University in Montreal. She is 5 feet, three inches tall.

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