My passion for Egypt was sparked at the opera. Until the night of the Magic Flute my dreams were so savorless they seemed to belong to another. But the palms, the Sphinx smiling like the Mona Lisa beneath the moon, had me bouncing up and down yapping: 'Wow! Wow!'
My mistress was already famous and so I was not scolded, nor were we sent away. Instead we had inspired a brief but flattering fashion among the Incroyables: now every woman of taste was carrying a little black dog to the opera. I was distressed by this proliferation of look-alikes, for having been the only black pup in the litter, I had until then thought of myself as exceptional.
The night of the Magic Flute I dreamed astonishing dreams; they fulfilled all my expectations as to what dreaming could be. After that vivid night I knew that I looked like any number of little dogs, I, Heaven help me, did not imagine as they imagined. And this to my pride and consternation, for I was exceedingly lonely and in the company of my peers bored to tears when–as happened every afternoon–I was forced to share the better part of the day with ladies of quality and their witless pets–each one a basket-case and this not only because they were carried from place to place in baskets but because of the milk soup passing for conversation among them. And there were terrible times when during a brief encounter in the streets of Paris I risked being eaten alive by dogs so vicious and gigantic it was my conviction they belonged to another species. How often I wished for a spiked collar or, better still, an ivory tower!
But back to my dreams of the night of the opera: in these dreams Isis predominated, Isis who like a dog has multiple tits, Isis her name a whisper, the sound of a serpent's hiss, of hot metal plunged into cold water, of–or so I imagine–palm trees agitated by the simoon. Even then, before the Campaign, Isis haunted Paris, her cult showing up in the most unexpected places, a little spooky, maybe, but also dream-inducing, mysterious and erotic!
So Egypt became something of an obsession with me and caused me to fantasize during those lost hours in the morning when my mistress prepared herself for the day, trying on her 'creoleries' for best effect and posing lasciviously before her mirror–for at this time she was seducing Boney who, from what I gathered, was truffling after wealth, good connections, exoticism and glory, too. Of course, Josephine never fooled me. I was there when she patched her torn bloomers with thread she'd taken from Madame Menfous' sewing box, and when she re-soled her slippers with velvet she'd snipped from her seat at the Opera Comique.
The week Boney first appeared sniffing at her skirts, an extravagant purse given her by a lover paid for a cabinet of island wood carved with blackamoors and bananas; in it she displayed all she had left of silverplate–so highly polished I could see my own face in the pottingers and platters. She set this cabinet in the foyer and its effect was spectacular. Then she invited Boney for a midnight supper and spent the entire evening setting the scene. She heaped the dining room table with bottles of Madeira and bowls of tropical fruit; she threw scarves on all the chairs, she borrowed exotic trees from the botanical gardens, sliced pineapples, gutted papayas, blackened her eyebrows, rouged her cheeks, arranged her breasts in her corset like apples in a basket, and when the clock struck twelve, scented of jasmine, a kerchief in her hair, she uncoiled like a mulatta on the divan. Poor Boney! He thought he had stumbled into Paradise when in fact he had collided with a weathervane.
When after supper Boney tipped out of his boots and into bed with her, I bit him–not out of jealousy as History has proposed–but because I wanted to warn him. Bitten in Bed! The man was wildly superstitious and this should have been enough to indicate the trap he had fallen into. But so madly in love was he, he gently put me on the floor and proceeded to plunder Josephine with all he was worth–which, poor soul, was not much. Her mind was on someone else. (To entertain Boney like that, it would have to be.)
If dogs received salaries for comforting and entertaining their mistresses and masters, why I would not squander mine on biscuits, but would build myself a little dog-sized wonder room filled with the marvels of Egypt and why? Because in Egypt objects are not mere things but sacred signs–else why would the hieroglyphs be so packed with worldly stuff? Roast ducklings, casseroles, pipkins, bottles of beer?
I have come to know Boney better. He is a man motivated by an authentic visionary mechanism of mind (and here I might add: so like my own!) This visionary mechanism is what has precipitated him into the good graces of Glory and more: inspired the voyage about to be undertaken, the conquest and subsequent investigation of Wow! Wow! all the secret marvels slumbering beneath the sands of Egypt! In other words, like me he is a dreamer and his project, his fabulous–I should say his Roman project, to seize Egypt from the Mamelukes, to pull her out from the Middle Ages and to thrust her into the Age of Reason inspires me. The man may be precipitous and short-winded in bed, but in other things he is a giant.
I am attempting to convince my mistress to follow him to Egypt–it is the chance of a lifetime! The Industrial Revolution is just around the corner; any day now pyramids and temples will be reduced to lime and the hills of Thebes littered with bottle caps!
In my dreams I see myself asleep beneath the gaze of the Sphinx, or chasing rabbits in the palm forests of Rosetta. I imagine doing my business beneath pomegranate trees, and sitting on a camel in my own dog-sized saddle, a bright copper compass dangling from my neck–a compass always pointing North (N for Napoleon)–and in my saddlebags a magnificent magnifying glass. For I intend to study the Egyptian spider. I have always been partial to spiders. Why? Because they are as furry as fox terriers, because they wear their eyes like tiaras around their heads, because like balloonists they ride the wind. When I hear that Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire will be of the party and that he is heading a commission on the study of spiders and snakes I am beside myself! Wow! Wow! One-hundred and sixty-seven artists and thinkers all on their way to Egypt together! Imagine the stimulation, the scintillating conversation. Wow! Wow! I dance on my mistress' lap and joyfully lick her fingers as Boney describes his ship's library, the books all packed in flannel-lined cases. Flannel-lined cases! Books on history–ancient and modern–zoology, surgery, architecture–and all full of pictures! Books on the manufacture of baba and bread pudding and dog biscuits, too! 'Wow!' I say to Josephine, tugging at her sleeves with my teeth, 'Wow! Wow!' They're taking along hot air balloons and solid brass barometers! They will investigate the phenomenon of the mirage, live in the palaces of the exiled Mamelukes and in the shadow of Cheops, chew on barbecued lamb!
'O, Boney!' I bark joyfully, leaping into the air, 'O pomegranate seed! O lamp of crystal! Ya salaam I salute you! And would gladly follow your star!'
But Josephine sits unmoved. She has no time for me, nor for Boney, either. Her mind is on her lover, a fop who has no interest in libraries and portable pianos, a wag who has no liking for astrolabes, who does not give a fig for maps; a fly-speck brain for whom the ancient world is as interesting as a spinster's dresser drawer. Nothing can fire this imagination. If one mentions elephants roaming in wild tribes in Nubia, his thoughts turn to billiard balls. Nor does he like dogs for he has no time for animals, preferring to fawn upon women. This I hear him say with an expressive pout on his silly lips, lips always a little swollen and moist as though he spent all his time at the breast; lips like the anus of a hen to tell the truth.
'This pampered life will vanish like a dream! Vanish like farts perfumed with anise seeds! Listen to your Fortuné, mistress Josephine! Do not tarry with this tailor's dummy, but follow Boney across the sea! Go be Queen of Egypt! Wow! Wow! Wow!'
For my troubles I am thrown from her lap and made to sleep in the hall while her lover reams her with a poker, it is true, of Pharaonic proportions.
How little understood we doggies are!
Because my entreaties failed, I decided to run away. And because we little dogs are susceptible to love too, I attempted to entice Madame Menfous' lap dog Mina to run away with me.
'Do you know, ' I began, 'that our breed goes back to the times of the Romans? Lap dogs slept at Caesar's feet and Pharaoh's too! Already five-thousand years ago, house dogs, turnspits and spaniels sweetened the hours of warrior lords and kings! Did you know that there are no less than one-hundred and eighty-five varieties of domestic dogs alone? What I am attempting to convey to your Sleepiness,' I said, not without irritation, 'is that we are not ornaments but members of an ancient and noble race. That rather than grow old gnawing on slippers, my Mina could be gamboling on the plains of Gizah beneath the pyramids!'
'If you want to see a pyramid so badly,' she sighed, 'grab your leash and trot over to the Parc Monceau.'
'Bah!' I barked, wounded to the quick. 'A mere Turquerie!'
She was hopelessly Old Regime, perfumed, a pearl stud in her ear, her tail festooned with ribbons. As I spoke her eyelids grew heavier and heavier.
'How hard it is to dream here!' I blurted out, feeling sadder than I'd ever felt. 'I am so alone!' I sobbed. 'Wow! Wow! Wow!'
'There is nothing worse,' Mina drawled dismally, before easing herself into a commodious slumber, 'than a little black dog who feels sorry for himself.'
So there I was, left to chasing chimeras alone with no hope for a cure. To keep myself from sinking into desolation, I planned my escape once we hit Toulon. From there Boney's ship, l'Orient (l'Orient! Wow! Wow!) was to depart for the Mediterranean and I intended to slip aboard unnoticed–which would be a piece of cake, such was the excitement. The scholars were reading Herodotus aloud to one another and the Arabian Nights; the artists were sharpening their pencils and visible salivating over the prospect of drawing turbaned Turks, Mamelukes, and palm-leaf capitols! Wow! Wow! Discomfited by that ignoble device the leash, I dragged my mistress into the fray. There was Vivant Denon looking for all the world like a Labrador retriever, and Prosper Tollois like a fox terrier. Edme François Jomard had something of the borzoi to command him, and André Dutertre the Great Dane. What a fine crew of cognizant mammals they made! All yipping and yapping together! Wow! Wow!
But my project was foiled: In order to disentangle herself from Boney with grace, my mistress promised to join him in Alexandria once the French position was secured. Fools that we were, Boney and I both believed her. I sat in her arms quietly as the l'Orient set sail thinking: The next time that will be me on my way to Egypt!
Later in Paris, I listened for all I was worth whenever conversation turned to the campaign. In this way I learned of the Mameluke's defeat, how with swords raised they charged across the desert on horses laden with portable treasures: pocket-sized Korans bound with gold, poison rings studded with coral. Despite their finery, their faith and ferocity, and to their own amazement, they were mowed down by cannon balls and musket fire, their yellow turbans rolling like pumpkins across the sands and also their heads. Flambant and bleeding in silk brocade the survivors of the first sally threw themselves by the thousands into the Nile where they were swept away looking in death like rare flowers blooming on the surface of the waters, their lustrous faces stilled forever, their jeweled vests sparkling in the sun, their purses of gold spilling open, the jaws of eager crocodiles waiting down river and, thrashing in the sands, their abandoned and wounded horses screaming 'till dusk! Wow! Wow! ' Those poor horses!' I sobbed, 'Mina! Screaming 'till dusk! The sand purple with blood!' But she would not quicken to these tales. Instead of inspiring her, they, to use her phrase, made her uncomfortable.
'Why can't you settle down,' she complained, 'and accept that you are a little dog like any other? Let's grow old quietly together, taking pleasure in our daily paté and cozy quarters, at peace with the world the way it is and with one another.'
It was too late. I was no longer a mere biological being but one capable of reverie which–or so it came to me–free of the encumbrances of alphabets, soars to metaphysical goals. I had to accept that with such a frivolous creature as Mina, bred to be a plaything, an exalted love, a brilliant career, were impossible. After that horrible conversation, when I realized that all that was noble in me, imaginative and profoundly alive frightened her, I began to disintegrate. A tender, fastidious dog, I grew irritable. And how does a little dog ease his pain? Our sign of discontent is vomit and excrement; these I left liberally in the center of my mistress' bed.
My veritable destiny, I thought to myself when having scolded me Josephine locked me in the scullery, my veritable destiny was to be the dog of a Natural Historian or, better still, an archeologist, or even, the mascot of a general like Boney. To be the dog of a searcher, a dreamer's dog and yes! Wow! Wow! A dreamy dog and an intrepid traveller. How eagerly would I plunge my quivering nostrils into the fragrant lilies of the Nile or inquire into rubble after winged scarabs and the mummies of cats. How eagerly would I leave these dreams behind to embrace the adventure both Mina and Josephine call ridiculous.
I was dying of longing.
"You were twitching in your sleep,' Mina leapt down from Madame Menfous' lap and prodded me with her paw. 'There is nothing more ludicrous than a little black dog dreaming. Besides, why would you want to go to Egypt? The country swarms with crocodiles that when they get the chance, snap up pugs like sausages.'
'I would far rather finish in the gullet of a crocodile,' I cried, than die of boredom beside a bolster in a Parisian boudoir.'
'You are no better than mad!' she cried, sticking out a tongue the color of raw salmon. Its color conjured her unspeakably delicate trou de cul. I was at a loss for words but could only gaze at her with thwarted affection.
'I am not mad!' I said at last, wanting to convey a virile conviction but instead sounding childish and petulant. 'I am not mad,' I said again, softly, 'not mad, little Mina, but only tired to death of this mediocre life. I cannot help but think of the conversations we could be privy to in Cairo at this instant. Or wonder what the world looks like from atop Pompey's pillar! I cannot help but imagine you, Mina, napping beside the temple of Edfu, your fur gleaming red in the sun of late afternoon. Don't you see? While they are making history–more than that! While they are resurrecting an entire universe, you and I are here snoozing to the redundancies of bird-brained and swiftly aging beauties who spend their lives comparing the qualities of laxatives, powders and rouge!'
'You are hard on my sex.' Mina sniffed. Turning away, her little tail raised like a flag over her unforgettable, eternally blushing trou de cul, she leapt back upon Madame Menfous' lap. Within an instant she was asleep.
Poor, frivolous creature! I thought. But, at least she mine. Well. . .almost. I was foolish enough, you see, to, with complacency, assure myself that this was so. For, who else could there be? The only other dog not neutered in the vicinity was Creon, the cook's bull mastiff, whose idea of a good time was snapping the spines of cellar rats. How wrong I was, though, not to consider him!
'What I envy of human creatures the most,' I said to Mina one day, attempting once again to ignite a flame, no matter how fleeting, 'is their sense of history which is also a sense of selfhood. We dogs live from day to day concerned only with what shows up in our little dish, the bush where we leave our impoverished hieroglyph to be read by a rival or an admirer we may meet, perhaps, for an instant in the street–one who, like ourselves, is straining, straining at the leash.
'In my better moments I am grateful for this historylessness for I feel timeless and weightless, somehow eternal, like a conscious spark of light. In such moments I forget my name: Fortuné. And I forget my color and size. I forget, even, that I am a dog! At such moments I am only a spark shining between two brackets of darkest night. A brief shining to be sure! And yet, and yet. . .I know this instant of burning peace is shared by all dogs–even you, Mina! Yes! That knowledge of the ineffable. That constancy of light!'
'O shut up!' Mina put her paws over her ears. 'How you yammer on!'
'Douce amie,' I whispered, more to myself than to her, whispered words Boney had once written to my mistress in a letter, 'if only you would let me I would ignite you with a kiss.' But Mina had heard and showing her teeth she snarled.
'It is time I left,' Madame Menfous said to my mistress as she slipped Mina into her basket. 'See how ill-tempered Poops is today!'
'Poops!' I snarled back at her, my illusions shattered at last. For one fulgent instant I saw her for what she was: a dim-witted, mean-spirited dachshund, bow-legged and with a waddle. My cosmical gestures would have been comical had they not been tragic.
A day passed and another. Soon I, in my loneliness, began once more to dream of her, to dream of my Mina. With every passing hour I missed her more. Mina! So still, so soft, so pretty! I missed her nose like licorice and yes, even her airs, her frivolity, the way she would snap at flies in her sleep.
And then one afternoon when I least expected it, there she was! Looking like silk, smelling like clover–for she had been rolling in the grass of the Bois de Bologne. I sat at the open window admiring her as she crossed the courtyard frisking beside her mistress' shoes.
Then, to my horror, I saw Creon leap from the kitchen and bound across the cobbles. Wow! Wow! I warned Mina from my window: Wow! Wow! Look out! Creon will snap you in two! But no, instead the brute was bowing before her, stretching out his paws only to leap up and wagging and prancing in all his oversized earnestness, robust, as speckled as a quince and muscular–it is true–to court my Mina! I saw Mina, her bottom oscillating, her ribbons flashing; Mina so alive, so irreplaceable, so unattainable–gaze at him and smile. And then before I could turn away it happened: the brute's nose was plum beneath her tail and she was not complaining but instead standing as still as a piece of crockery. The pain I felt at that moment was such I feared it would strike me down. I hoped it would!
Cruel friend, Boney had written to my mistress, Cruel friend who loves another! And there it was! Mina, too, loved another. Around and around the two dogs went, relishing those first instants of erotic recognition as our mistresses made merry with the cook. It was too much. All the disappointments of the past months submerged me in a Nile's worth of despair. It was as though the deepest dreams and longings of my soul were revealed to me as mere illusions, tricks of sunlight in the dust of the air. The glimmer of eternity of which I'd spoken to Mina was extinguished and a shadow had descended upon the beauty of the world. I saw my future: a little dog on a leash forever, a pretentious pug longing for the impossible. And this longing was a trap, the gilded bone of self-deception.
My sight grew troubled and dim. How could I live without love? Without hope? Without longing? How could I live without ardor? Without a crumb of grandeur? How could I continue living indecorous days gnawing on scraps and inwardly gazing? My dream was irreclaimable. I was deaf to the infinite languages of the world: the wind, the bees, the whispered words of leaves–Isis, Isis, Isis–;the books I could not read but only imagine, the voyages I could not take but only hunger for, the Egypt Wow! Wow! I could never see.
Despite, the window's height I leapt into the courtyard and fatally, with the cry of a desperate heart, leapt at Creon barking, leapt into those terrible jaws that yawned with the promise of inevitable crime. Josephine screamed and even Mina, Mina! piteously whined.
I have found the promise of the world I thought as Creon seized me by the neck and with fury shook me. And now I have lost it.