Here Lies George Stumble

by Eileen Gilmour


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.

“Dorothy!” 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 gooseberry bush.

“This had better be good. I’m in the middle of Masterchef.”

“It’s a 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?”

Dorothy squinted. “Which cloud are we looking at?”

George jabbed at the sky. “The clean-shaven one with the perm. Which do you think?”

“Don’t get sarky with me,” sniffed Dorothy. “You’re not the only one suffering here, you know, George Stumble.”

“No!” It 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.”

Dorothy 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?”

George could taste the anger festering in his stomach. “Sometimes I think you’re on the side of the lunatics, Dorothy.”

Lunatics. 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.”

The 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.

He’d 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.

The 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 sixties bungalow.

Dorothy was still peering at the sky. “It looks more like one of our Rupert’s dinosaurs if you ask me.”

“You daft bat. What’s for lunch?”                                                                      

“Oh, 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.

George picked up his spade. “Better get back to the Harpic then, babe, and I’ll make a start on the ha-ha.”

But the 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 fence.

 The Ponderosa 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.

“All 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.

George wiped 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.

Here lies George Stumble

He never laid a finger on anyone.

Particularly Beckham Prout.

George’s hands shook as the name exploded through his body.

Beckham Prout. Ten years old. Favourite subject - knowing his rights.

He’d been in the thick of the commotion in the cloakroom that day.

George hadn’t 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.”

Most of the group ran away giggling.

Only Beckham and a sobbing girl remained.

“Sir, Beckham’s been kicking me again.”


“Come and see me in the morning, both of you. Cinq, six...”

The girl blew her nose and ran.

Sept, huit...”

“She’s a lying cow.”

“Enough, Beckham. Off you go and tell me all about it in the morning.”

“Can’t make me.”


“You touch me and my mum’ll have you.”

“Beckham, I wouldn’t touch you with a barge pole. Now put on your coat and go home...”

That was George’s big mistake. He helped the boy with his coat.

By next morning the police had been informed of a serious assault and the head was marching him down the corridor.

“No communication with anyone please, Mr Stumble.”

Six months of no communication. It had become a way of life.

George went back to digging his ha-ha.


On the day of Nikki’s visit the air was thick with bleach and burning onions.

George ventured into the kitchen. “Any chance of a bacon bap?”

Dorothy glared through steamed-up specs. “For goodness sake, George, I’m in the middle of Delia’s lamb tagine - don’t block the telly.”

George glanced at the screen. “Are you sure you and Delia are cooking the same thing? Fish and chips would have done me.”

“Don’t talk wet - someone’s got to make an effort for our Nikki.”

“Why’s that then?  She never lifts a finger for us.”

Dorothy slammed the lid on the pan. “There speaks Mr Helpful who spends his days digging flippin’ graves in the lawn.”

George bit 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.”

Nikki, spiky haired and encased in leather with heavily belted jeans, strutted up the path, chains and keys jingling.

“Just 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 hug.

Like a Shetland pony trying to bond with a racehorse, he thought.

“Afternoon, ma’am,” he tugged his forelock as his daughter brushed past him into the kitchen. “What have you come as?”

Nikki ignored him. “What’s going on in the garden? You’ll have knocked thousands off the re-sale value.”

“It’s 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.”

There 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.”

Dorothy 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.

“Sorry, 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 are like.”

“So when do you think we might see him? It’s been ages.” Dorothy replaced the plastic dinosaur in its bag.

“Mother, I’m sorry but I just think it’s really important for Rupert to establish a good relationship with his daddy – don’t you?”

Dorothy nodded. “Of course it is, love, I’m just disappointed. Things have been a bit tricky lately.”

“And that’s my fault – how exactly?”

George spoke slowly. “Nicola, princess, I think it’s time to vacate Fairyland and start telling the truth for once.”

“You’re not at school now, you know,” Nikki spat back.

“Oh, I 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.”

“George – don’t...” Dorothy was tissue pale.

It was too late. As the wind gusted outside, George’s personal storm tore through him.

“You 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 months ago?”

“Oh, don’t be so bloody ridiculous.” A wrinkle appeared in Nikki’s Botox mask.

 “You 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. ”

“George, stop it!” Dorothy rocked and wept.

“Now look 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 to a...”

“Child 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 round.”

“Stop it. Stop it!” Dorothy’s palms flailed. “I can’t stand any more.”

“I think Mother had better come home with me for a while, until after the court case.” Nikki was an ice-maiden now.

George looked at his wife. “Is that what you want?”

Dorothy wouldn’t meet his gaze. She busied herself with the charred remains of the casserole. “I want to see our Rupert more than anything.”

“Right.” 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.

Time 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.

George 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.

‘Here lies George Stumble

Sorely missed by...’

Now he was struggling.


George’s 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!”

“I’m supposed to be a surprise.” Rupert was a tangle of excitement. “Are you surprised, Grandad?”

“I’m so surprised I might faint.” George collapsed theatrically and Rupert bounced on top of him. “How did you get here then, Superman?”


“Parachuted in by the SAS?”

“No, Mum and Gran. They parked down the track and they said I could run ahead and surprise you.”

“Mission accomplished then. I thought you were off skiing in the Winter Olympics.”

Rupert wrinkled his nose. “Skiing’s boring. I wanted to show you my brontosaurus.”

George took the toy and made rumbly dinosaur noises while Rupert giggled beside him.

The crack of the gunshot jolted them apart.

 “That man shot a rabbit,” screamed Rupert. “He killed it, Grandad, he killed it!”

“Stay there!” George’s joints suddenly started to co-operate and he sprinted across the grass.

The rabbit killer was dressed in combat gear and casually swinging the bleeding, fluffy body.

“What the hell are you playing at? How dare you come shooting defenceless animals in my garden in front of my grandson?”

“Keep your wig on, mate.” The killer chewed rhythmically. “I’m not on your side of the ditch, am I?”

“No, but the rabbit was. You’ve no business shooting in my garden!”

“Oh, get a life. It’s just vermin.” He spat a bolus of gum into the ha-ha.

“It’s 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.

George 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.

So much 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.

Crouching 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.

The only face he could see now was Rupert’s.


The next morning Dorothy came home.  

“That 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.”

Then she froze a couple of lamb tagines and left.

George knew with certainty that he would never forgive himself. How could he?

The police were no help. They dismissed the smashing of Rupert’s face but pursued him relentlessly for helping Beckham Prout on with his coat.

So George did the only thing possible.

“Here lies George Stumble,” he whispered. And then he confessed to attacking Beckham Prout.

It seemed like a kind of justice.

©2010 Eileen Gilmour

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