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My Little Husband

Author: Pascal Bruckner

Translator: Mike Mitchell   Cover design: Marie Lane  

Communicating Vessels
They set up home in one of the central districts of Paris, not far
from the Bastille, facing some public gardens, and they took
an apartment with a balcony on the sixth floor in order to have
an open view. Solange’s parents, prudent shopkeepers who had
put away a tidy sum, lent them the deposit for the mortgage.
The young couple, just into their thirties, put themselves in
debt to the banks for the next twenty years at an attractive
rate of interest. Solange, an only child, had sailed through
her studies, qualifying at the age of twenty-nine as a dental
surgeon specialising in traumas of the jaw. While waiting to set
up her own surgery, she was working for a colleague and was
highly regarded by her patients for her skill at treating them
painlessly. Léon, an orphan from the age of four, had lived on
social security and scholarships. He had got to know Solange
at university where he had specialised in otolaryngology, with
equally outstanding results. The connections between their
specialisms brought them even closer together.
How did they deal with their respective sizes, how did
they go about it? That was their business and theirs alone.
It didn’t stop them from being the most radiant of couples.
Being seen with this dazzling valkyrie in tow brought Léon the
female sympathy vote on numerous occasions, but he paid no
attention to it; the splendour of Solange put all potential rivals
in the shade. He didn’t even see them, his sole ambition was to
love his lawful wedded wife and to inseminate her as often as
she wished. The males of their acquaintance were outraged at
the idea of this little runt sharing the bed of such a beauty, but
the couple were completely impervious to their banter.
Statistics tell us that tall, self-assured men are what women
prefer. Solange was not one of them: her little doctor was all
she could wish for. She set a cracking pace for him, he had
to take three steps to every two of hers which, at the end of
the day, amounted to several hundred extra steps. She never
slowed down, and so he got into the habit of scurrying along
beside her, slightly out of breath. When travelling, he would
trot behind her carrying the suitcases while she strode along,
head held high, not looking round. On certain evenings,
when she’d had the odd drink, she would take Léon on her
knee, calling him my Lion, my Magnificent Stallion, all the
while teasing and tickling him. He gave himself up to it like
a little boy, squirming, legs squeezed tight together in mock
embarrassment. Perhaps because he’d lost his parents very
young, Léon dreamt of a large family. He loved children above
all, they were his passion, his raison d’être. The wailing of a
newborn child and a warm glance from a little urchin made up
for all the indignities of life.
He performed his marital duties so assiduously that nine
months to the day after their nuptials Solange was delivered
of a boy, Baptiste, a strapping brat of almost ten pounds with
bright red cheeks, bawling like a barracks bugle. Well, well,
he certainly took after his mother as far as physique and sound
level were concerned! Generally during pregnancy husbands
are relegated to second place, confronted with a mystery which
is beyond them. That was not at all the case here. Together with
his wife, Léon had experienced every little aspect of gestation,
feeling with her the foetus kicking, suffering the contractions.
His stomach, thanks to a special talent for distension, had
managed to swell up to the size of his wife’s. It looked like a
wineskin or an amphora.
For a whole week Léon never took his eyes off the little
marvel, who they installed in a little room with pink and blue
wallpaper and a cradle with a canopy. A wooden stork, hanging
from a gold thread over the cot, gently flapped its wings at
the least breath of air. Heavy cretonne curtains shielded the
infant’s sleep, creating a soft half-light during his siestas.
Léon was so proud he had to restrain himself from stopping
people in the street and declaring, ‘Just imagine, I’m a father!’
He rang up his friends, even those who lived far away, to tell
them the news, and had pinned up photos of the baby all over
the walls of his office.
To celebrate the birth, the new parents acquired a little
black-grey-and-white cat, which they christened Furbelow,
hoping it would soon be a playmate for their son. As a modern
father, Léon insisted on doing his share of the chores, getting
up during the night to wipe the baby’s bottom, clean him up
and change his nappy, while Solange, generously endowed,
suckled him every three hours, graciously allowing her husband
to gather the last drops that the little darling, having drunk
his fill, rejected. For Léon there was nothing sweeter than to
make a fuss of his little pink cherub. He wasn’t disgusted by
anything, not by slobber, nor by wee-wee or poo. Everything
about Baptiste was magical, his googoos had the beauty of
an epic poem. He couldn’t wait for Solange to recover from
her confinement so that he could serve her again. Once the
conventional period of abstinence had been observed, he
threw himself into her arms and sowed his seed abundantly.
Wherever they were, whatever the time, they didn’t go to sleep
without a vigorous cuddle.
Six weeks after the birth of Baptiste, Léon, putting on his
corduroy jacket, the one he wore when they were going out
into the country, noticed that the sleeves had stretched and
came half way down his fingers while the shoulders drooped
more than usual.
‘Shit! And I had it made to measure. I’ll have to take it back
to the tailor.’
He took another jacket out of the wardrobe – with the
same result. It too seemed to have grown during the night,
and the ends of the sleeves dangled down as if his arms were
mere stumps. He started to laugh. What was going on? Was
someone playing a joke on him? Ok then, he’d tuck up the
sleeves and put on a sweater underneath to bulk out his chest
and shoulders. But then when he tried his black slip-ons his
feet were lost inside them and his toes didn’t reach to the end
any more. Furious, he stuffed some newspaper into his shoes
and went out with the strange feeling of having put on his big
brother’s clothes.
Even though he’d decided to ignore the problem, he
couldn’t help feeling slightly disturbed. He ran through
various hypotheses, each crazier than the last: as a practical
joke Solange had replaced his clothes with other, similar ones
which were just a little bit bigger. But why should she play
a trick like that on him? She’d never made anything of her
superior height. She had chosen him from among all the others
according to the principle that small is beautiful. A mistress of
euphemism, she had banished words such as ‘dwarf’, ‘midget’
and ‘half-pint’ from her vocabulary and asked her guests to
abide by that rule. She even regarded exclamations such as
‘You could have knocked me down with a feather!’ as bad
Léon decided not to mention it to her. There would always
be time for that. But two days later, when they were going out
to see friends, there was another incident. They were standing
in the lift, which had a large tinted mirror at the back, when
Solange suddenly exclaimed, ‘Léon, you scatterbrain, you’ve
forgotten to put your shoes on! Got your head in the clouds
again, I suppose.’
Léon quivered. Not only had he not forgotten to put his
shoes on, he’d supplemented his heel inserts with two extra
inches of leather sole.
‘Look at yourself in the mirror, you great ninny.’
‘I assure you I am wearing them, Solange.’
He bowed his head in embarrassment and showed her his
feet, duly enveloped in black, polished chukka boots with
platform soles. Since he’d met Solange, Léon kept his shoes
on at all times, even on the beach, where he wore reinforced
flip-flops, thick as twelve-ounce steaks. His slippers had a cork
insert to make them higher. Solange for her part had decreed
an inviolable law: no platform soles while they were making
love. He was allowed to put them back on afterwards.
‘But what’s going on, then?’ Solange said. ‘Have I perhaps
mistakenly put on some stiletto heels?’
No. Solange, ever tactful, never wore them when she was
with Léon. She kept them for private hen parties, when she
teetered along on high-heeled shoes that made her husband
feel dizzy. It was the evening of 17 July, and she was wearing
the flattest of flat sandals with paper-thin soles, ideal for
summer walks.
‘But what’s happened to you, darling? I don’t understand.’
That was how the tragedy arrived, without warning, like
all tragedies, ushered in by an innocuous incident. It was
a dismal evening for Léon, even if no one said anything to
upset him apart from their hosts’ little girl who buzzed round
him exasperatingly, repeating, ‘Hey, you’ve changed, you’ve
People had become used to his lack of height. He was
subjected to some mild teasing, but most of the couple’s friends
were over six foot and focused their attention and admiration
on his amazing auburn-haired wife. He merely served as a foil,
like a zebra placed beside a giraffe. They commiserated with
her, they chaffed her – after all, she’d asked for it.
The next day he went out straight away and bought some
special orthopaedic shoes. They were very inconvenient for
walking, but they gave him an extra seven inches of height. He
normally took six and a half, but the assistant assured him his
size was at most six, in fact more like five and a half.
‘Are you sure? Check again.’
She confirmed the size was indeed five and a half. It hit him
like a piece of terrible news and he put his head in his hands.
‘Did I say something silly?’ the salesgirl asked. ‘Have I
offended you? I’m terribly sorry, I’ll give you a pair of sixes
if you like, but they’ll be less comfortable, your feet’ll be
flopping around inside them. You’ll risk getting blisters or
twisting your ankle.’
All his clothes hung loose on him and, with a heavy heart,
Léon had to have them taken in and the sleeves and legs
shortened, the collars adjusted, five extra holes made in his
belts and the elastic of his underpants – they were falling down
round his thighs, indeed, down to his calves – tightened. As for
the rest of his clothes, and despite the nuisance, he got used to
living with socks that were too long and came up to his crotch,
trousers that flapped round his legs, shirts that were too big
and looked like doctors’ coats and T-shirts as voluminous as
a bathing-wrap. At work, where they noticed the broadening
rather than the shortening effect, they thought he was trying
to disguise the beginnings of a spare tyre; his penchant for
roomy clothes was, they felt, not without a certain style. They
were careful not to make any comments and their discretion
reassured him.

What’s in a Few Inches?
At first he thought Fate was playing a joke on him. After all,
there was nothing wrong with seeing the world from a bit
lower down. Every evening he went to sleep convinced he
would wake up in the morning to find everything was back
to normal again. But the respite was brief, the little joke was
threatening to turn into a shaggy-dog story. One Wednesday
morning, after a terrible storm during the night had freshened
the air, Solange didn’t recognise Léon when he got up.
‘Stop playing the fool and walking on your knees,’ she said
sharply. ‘Stand up.’
Poor Léon. All he could do was to show her his legs, for he
was already dressed, right down to his shoes, and was standing
up stiff as a poker so as not to lose the least fraction of an inch.
The subterfuge with the orthopaedic shoes wasn’t working
any more. He looked pitiful in trousers concertinaing down
onto shoes that could have accommodated two feet like his.
This time something had definitely happened.
‘Léon! You’re getting smaller! What have you been eating?’
Solange cried out in concern.
That same day they made an appointment with the family
doctor, who referred them to a specialist in growth problems
and endocrinology. This was Professor Daniel Dubbelviz, a
chubby fifty-year-old giant who always wore a bow tie, was
easy-going and devastatingly good-humoured. He examined
Léon carefully, measured his height, weighed him, took a urine
sample and a blood sample. His diagnosis was a premature
collapse of the spinal column.
‘At thirty-one you’re going through what many men go
through after they’ve reached seventy or seventy-five. It’s a
staggering example of precocious senility. But don’t worry,
I’ll get you back on track. I guarantee you’ll recover at least
two to three inches in height within a year.’
‘I’m going to shore you up like a sapling, fix a support to
your back, a very tight corset to stop you going out of shape.
I’m going to hang you by the arms from a horizontal bar, three
hours a day. I’m going to stretch you twice a week with a
special machine. You’ll feel better afterwards.’
As well as that, he prescribed a suitable course of treatment
based on plant extracts, tonics and hormonal injections.
Dubbelviz’s self-assurance – his colleagues called him Doublevision
because of his perspicacity – frightened Léon. He was
terribly afraid of disappointing the doctor and of not being up
to his expectations. So he got used to sleeping in a straitjacket
with steel stays which kept him straight, itched horribly and
brought him out in a rash. On top of that he had to hang from a
small girder resembling a gallows and go to a laboratory to be
stretched by a monstrous machine that pulled his arms and legs
in four different directions, causing him atrocious pain in his
thighs, knees, wrists and shoulders. He felt like a heretic being
hung, drawn and quartered by a grand inquisitor. What had he
done to deserve such torture? He consulted learned tomes on
genetic disorders, but no pathology corresponded to his.
Unfortunately for Léon, the pain of this treatment was
compounded by the further loss of an inch or so during the
following week. Professor Dubbelviz was extremely annoyed
and couldn’t repress his anger.
‘Are you doing this deliberately or what? Are you one of
those patients who enjoy frustrating their doctor? If that’s the
case, then out with it. You only have to tell me, “Doctor, I
don’t want to get better,” and we can get on with our lives.’
‘But, doctor…’
‘What happens to you is your responsibility. If you want to
get better, I will make you better. If we fail, the fault will be
Solange came to her husband’s aid. ‘It’s not his fault. He’s
followed your instructions to the letter, his courage and the
effort he’s put into it have been admirable. You’re the doctor,
give me back the husband I married. He wasn’t tall, but he
was my man. Give him a calf, a thigh, an arm transplant – and
that’s an order.’
Dubbelviz, strong when faced with the weak, weak when
faced with the strong and intimidated by this masterful
woman, broke off the triple torture of straitjacket, gallows and
monstrous machine, and promised to try something different.
From now on he stopped addressing Léon directly, addressing
himself solely to Solange.
‘I must insist on absolute discretion. If news of the case got
out, your husband could be plagued by a crowd of charlatans.
Give me a little time to think about it, this case is unique in the
history of medical science.’
Now the whole family had been informed about the
problem. The comments of Solange’s mother, a tall, icy
blonde, always impeccably dressed, were caustic:
‘A woman should never marry beneath herself, no good
can come of it. It will only pull her down. Who’s to say Léon
didn’t lie about his height? How do you know he wasn’t
wearing a toupet to make himself look taller? After all, you’d
never seen him undressed before your wedding night.’
Solange, hurt, reminded her mother of the short men who
had achieved greatness: Julius Caesar, Napoleon…
All this speculation was cut short when the diminution
stopped as suddenly as it had started. In four weeks Léon had
shrunk by fifteen inches, bringing the top of his head down to
the level of Solange’s chest, to the epicentre of her cleavage.
From now on people assumed he was her little brother, or
even her big son, but all this in no way detracted from her
feelings for him. On the contrary, from now on she called him
My Little Man all the time to emphasise his virility while not
ignoring his shrinkage. When they jived, for example, she
would lift him up, swing him round in her arms and whisper
things in his ear that sent him wild with delight. Léon, eyes
shut, in ecstasy, would let himself be carried away to the point
of unconsciousness.
Having retained the reflexes that went with his former
condition, he had difficulty judging distances, walked too
quickly or too slowly, bumped into the furniture and stumbled
on the stairs. But he remained a man, if an abridged version,
as his wife reminded him daily. Whenever he tried to skip his
marital duties, complaining of a headache or an upset stomach,
the tall, massive silhouette of Solange would rise up, grasp
him with her long arms, wherever he was heading, wherever
he was hiding, under the sink, behind the sofa, and drag him
off forcibly to bed, where she would undress him from head to
toe and deposit him on top of her – with the result that, a few
months later, she was pregnant once more. Despite their recent
troubles, the couple were thrilled.
Léon had acquired a certain celebrity of his own among his
clientele. From all parts of France they came, and sometimes
even from neighbouring countries, with their deafness,
hoarseness, stammers and sore throats, to show him their
nostrils, their vocal chords, or to get their eardrums unblocked.
Flight personnel from the leading airlines consulted him
regularly for ear problems. He was said to possess exceptional
powers. Cases were cited where he had cured patients of the
most recalcitrant conditions with just one consultation. The
fact that he had reduced like a sauce on the hotplate only
served to increase their confidence in his abilities, and some,
believing him capable of growing and shrinking at will, called
him a wizard, while others described him as a ‘gnome with
occult powers’.


RRP: £7.99

No. of pages: 140

Publication date: 04.10.2013

ISBN numbers:
978 1 909232 31 0
978 1 909232 59 4

World English