Lies George Stumble
George Stumble was lying on his
back in the shrubbery when he saw his own face staring down from a
cumulonimbus. He sat up, polished his specs and had another look. Yes, it was
definitely him - Santa Claus beard, sticky-up hair and bloodhound eyes. The
clincher was the wart on the end of his nose.
George had a good pair of lungs despite their nicotine lining. “Come and look
at this! There’s a curmudgeon like me in the sky.” He’d manoeuvred himself
into a kneeling position by the time his wife popped her head over the
had better be good. I’m in the middle of Masterchef.”
sign, Dot. Paranormal, synchronicity, call it what you like - but when you see
your own face in the clouds, it’s got to mean something, hasn’t it?”
squinted. “Which cloud are we looking at?”
jabbed at the sky. “The clean-shaven one with the perm. Which do you think?”
get sarky with me,” sniffed Dorothy. “You’re not the only one suffering here,
you know, George Stumble.”
came out louder than he’d intended. He grabbed a decorative gnome and heaved himself
up. “Let’s not discuss it. It’s driving me to distraction.”
was doing her lemon sucking face. “And what do you think it’s doing to me, having
you moping around, demanding cheese on toast and washing your feet in the sink?”
could taste the anger festering in his stomach. “Sometimes I think you’re on
the side of the lunatics, Dorothy.”
That was what the solicitor, had called them. “George, my friend,” he’d said.
“We have to stand firm. The lunatics are taking over the asylum.”
police didn’t see it that way of course. Or the sharp-suited new headmaster, who’d
escorted him from the school in case he attacked any more pupils. Even his old mates
on the staff lined up to become witnesses for the prosecution.
been a good teacher. A bit of a loose cannon, admittedly, when it came to
appeasing the great god Ofsted, but the kids couldn’t wait to get into his class
at Willen Primary. They knew old Stumble didn’t do fancy wall displays or
silent reading. He didn’t do silent anything. “It’s good to talk,” he’d say,
while all the other teachers screeched, “Quiet!” and doled out detentions.
talking had stopped now of course. He kept his tongue firmly in his cheek
whenever he spoke to his wife; otherwise a tsunami of God knows what might come
pouring out. Safest to lie in the garden counting buzzards and planning his ha-ha.
A moat would have been better but might look out of place lapping round their
was still peering at the sky. “It looks more like one of our Rupert’s dinosaurs
if you ask me.”
daft bat. What’s for lunch?”
for goodness sake. I’m just about to start blitzing, ready for our Nikki at
half term.” Dorothy was normally oblivious to fluff but the arrival of upwardly
mobile Nikki and grandson Rupert always initiated frantic domestic activity.
picked up his spade. “Better get back to the Harpic then, babe, and I’ll make a
start on the ha-ha.”
face in the clouds wasn’t so easily dismissed. George found himself humming
something hymn-like as he rammed his spade into the stony earth by the boundary
was surrounded by farmland. Idyllic, they’d thought all those years ago. They’d
reckoned without the massacring of course. Nothing furred or feathered survived
for long round these parts. It was either blasted to kingdom come with a shotgun
or wrenched from its mum and carted off to an abattoir. If all else failed
there was always foot and mouth.
things bright and beautiful,” hummed George, attempting to stay positive. The
kids loved that one; they used to sing it in assembly and say special prayers
for their deceased hamsters.
the drizzle from his cheeks. He’d been giving a lot of thought to his epitaph recently
and now he’d seen the sign in the sky it’d probably be wise to make a decision.
never laid a finger on anyone.
hands shook as the name exploded through his body.
Prout. Ten years old. Favourite subject - knowing his rights.
been in the thick of the commotion in the cloakroom that day.
raised his voice – he didn’t need to. “Okay, mes amis, I’ll count to dix and by then I want you all to allez off.”
the group ran away giggling.
Beckham and a sobbing girl remained.
Beckham’s been kicking me again.”
and see me in the morning, both of you. Cinq, six...”
girl blew her nose and ran.
a lying cow.”
Beckham. Off you go and tell me all about it in the morning.”
touch me and my mum’ll have you.”
I wouldn’t touch you with a barge pole. Now put on your coat and go home...”
was George’s big mistake. He helped the boy with his coat.
morning the police had been informed of a serious assault and the head was marching
him down the corridor.
communication with anyone please, Mr Stumble.”
months of no communication. It had become a way of life.
went back to digging his ha-ha.
On the day of Nikki’s visit the
air was thick with bleach and burning onions.
ventured into the kitchen. “Any chance of a bacon bap?”
glared through steamed-up specs. “For goodness sake, George, I’m in the middle
of Delia’s lamb tagine - don’t block the telly.”
glanced at the screen. “Are you sure you and Delia are cooking the same thing? Fish
and chips would have done me.”
talk wet - someone’s got to make an effort for our Nikki.”
that then? She never lifts a finger for us.”
slammed the lid on the pan. “There speaks Mr Helpful who spends his days
digging flippin’ graves in the lawn.”
back his clever remark and shuffled over to the window. Dark clouds rolled across
the September sky, like the curtain coming down on summer. A gleaming four by
four erupted through the gate, negotiating the heaps of soil. “Roll out the red
carpet, her majesty’s arrived.”
spiky haired and encased in leather with heavily belted jeans, strutted up the
path, chains and keys jingling.
don’t say anything,” hissed Dorothy, bustling to the door. George watched from
the hall as his nearest and dearest attempted to execute something resembling a
Shetland pony trying to bond with a racehorse, he thought.
ma’am,” he tugged his forelock as his daughter brushed past him into the
kitchen. “What have you come as?”
him. “What’s going on in the garden? You’ll have knocked thousands off the re-sale
your father’s ha-ha, love.” Dorothy hovered by the window. “I’m not sure it’s
safe for our Rupert to play out, there’s a storm brewing.”
was silence for a moment as Nikki perched at the breakfast bar. “I haven’t
brought Rupert.” She shot a glance at George from under tarantula lashes. “He
wanted to visit his daddy. I’d love an espresso – I’ve had one hell of a morning
getting him ready.”
was clearly trying to regain control of her jaw. “You haven’t brought our
Rupert? But I’ve made up his bunk bed – and I got him one of those little
dinosaurs he likes.” She took the toy from its Superman gift bag.
Mother. Last minute change of plan. He hasn’t seen his daddy since the ski trip
and he was desperate to go to the new Snow Dome with him. You know what kids
when do you think we might see him? It’s been ages.” Dorothy replaced the plastic
dinosaur in its bag.
I’m sorry but I just think it’s really important for Rupert to establish a good
relationship with his daddy – don’t you?”
nodded. “Of course it is, love, I’m just disappointed. Things have been a bit tricky
that’s my fault – how exactly?”
spoke slowly. “Nicola, princess, I think it’s time to vacate Fairyland and start
telling the truth for once.”
not at school now, you know,” Nikki spat back.
know I’m not at school. We’ve seen the end of doddery old Stumble. I think we
can safely say my career is well and truly screwed.”
– don’t...” Dorothy was tissue pale.
too late. As the wind gusted outside, George’s personal storm tore through him.
see, Princess, it’s blindingly obvious why young Rupert hasn’t been sighted for
the last six months. It is six months, isn’t it? Now what else happened six
don’t be so bloody ridiculous.” A wrinkle appeared in Nikki’s Botox mask.
think I did it, don’t you? You think I actually attacked that pathetic bullying
child. You think I twisted his arm and banged his head against the radiator
just for the hell of it. Forty years of teaching out the window. Suspended,
arrested, finger-printed, interrogated and humiliated. Headlines in the Willen
Journal. Yours truly - the enemy of the people. ”
stop it!” Dorothy rocked and wept.
what you’ve done – you’ve upset Mother.” Nicola faced him. “All you ever think
about is yourself. What about Mother? How do you think she feels being married
molester.” George finished for her. “You’re right of course – it wouldn’t be
safe to bring Rupert here, would it? I might turn at any moment. I might suddenly
thump him while he’s eating his cornflakes. Stay well clear – it’s safest all
it. Stop it!” Dorothy’s palms flailed. “I can’t stand any more.”
think Mother had better come home with me for a while, until after the court
case.” Nikki was an ice-maiden now.
at his wife. “Is that what you want?”
wouldn’t meet his gaze. She busied herself with the charred remains of the casserole.
“I want to see our Rupert more than anything.”
George picked up the toy dinosaur. “Don’t forget to take this with you – it’ll
remind him of his granddad.”
Heading for the garden George
stepped over the pile of post in the hall. It was a week since Dorothy had left.
If he’d had a drawbridge he’d have pulled it up, but instead he had to make do
with the limited protection of the ha-ha. He’d done the maths and he knew at
the present rate of progress it would take three and a half years to complete.
Still, apart from his court appearance and maybe a spell in prison his diary
was pretty clear.
for a spot of cloud watching. George groaned as he arranged his body among the
fungus under the monkey puzzle. He remembered the anatomy project he’d done
with the kids. Two hundred and six bones and every one of them ached. They’d
all be back at school now of course, in a new class with a new teacher doing
fancy PowerPoint presentations and the sort of maths that didn’t involve tables.
scanned the sky. He had to be vigilant. He’d ignored the last sign and look
what happened – he’d lost Dorothy. Mind you, it was hard to concentrate with
all that bloody shooting going on in the fields; clearly it was a day for murdering
something. He closed his eyes and thought about his epitaph.
lies George Stumble
eyes flicked open. “Rupert!” He attempted to sit up as his grandson wrapped milky
arms round his neck. “Blimey, Rupe, you’ve been eating your Weetabix!”
supposed to be a surprise.” Rupert was a tangle of excitement. “Are you
surprised I might faint.” George collapsed theatrically and Rupert bounced on
top of him. “How did you get here then, Superman?”
in by the SAS?”
and Gran. They parked down the track and they said I could run ahead and
“Mission accomplished then. I thought you were off skiing in the Winter Olympics.”
wrinkled his nose. “Skiing’s boring. I wanted to show you my brontosaurus.”
took the toy and made rumbly dinosaur noises while Rupert giggled beside him.
of the gunshot jolted them apart.
man shot a rabbit,” screamed Rupert. “He killed it, Grandad, he killed it!”
there!” George’s joints suddenly started to co-operate and he sprinted across
rabbit killer was dressed in combat gear and casually swinging the bleeding, fluffy
the hell are you playing at? How dare you come shooting defenceless animals in
my garden in front of my grandson?”
your wig on, mate.” The killer chewed rhythmically. “I’m not on your side of
the ditch, am I?”
but the rabbit was. You’ve no business shooting in my garden!”
get a life. It’s just vermin.” He spat a bolus of gum into the ha-ha.
you that’s the vermin.” George’s arms were bursting with adrenalin as he
reached out and grabbed the gun. There was a moment’s struggle, then he wrenched
it away and hurled it behind him.
was to replay the trajectory of that gun for the rest of his life. There was
never any doubt where it was heading. The sickening thud of metal on bone would
stay with him forever. Rupert made a wounded animal noise in his throat and toppled
backwards into the ha-ha.
blood. George gentled the shattered face and matted sunshine hair against his chest
until Nikki flew at him, screeching and swearing. She gouged his cheeks with French
manicured claws and he crept away.
under the monkey puzzle all that afternoon, skewered with pain, George gripped the
little plastic dinosaur so hard his fingers bled. He didn’t bother searching the
sky for faces any more.
only face he could see now was Rupert’s.
The next morning Dorothy came
poor child and all that plastic surgery.” Her voice was flat with weeping. “I
might be able to forgive you one day, George, but our Nikki never will.”
she froze a couple of lamb tagines and left.
with certainty that he would never forgive himself. How could he?
police were no help. They dismissed the smashing of Rupert’s face but pursued
him relentlessly for helping Beckham Prout on with his coat.
did the only thing possible.
lies George Stumble,” he whispered. And then he confessed to attacking Beckham
like a kind of justice.
©2010 Eileen Gilmour
Eileen would love to hear what you think of her writing - email her now