They call him Stumpy. Not his mum, she calls him by his real name, Ryan, but the others call him Stumpy. Nobody remembers where the name came from. It’s not as if he’s particularly short and he has all his limbs intact. The name seems to have grown around him and there it is.
His limbs are intact but his mind, well his mind is a different thing. If the kids who teased him had possessed a modicum of intelligence it could have been that they realised his brain is stumped but that’s probably a bridge too far for them.
As a baby he seemed ordinary. Never pretty or charming and just a bit off, out of kilter somehow. His mum had been going to have an abortion, it was easy now, this was the eighties after all, and then virtually at the last minute she’d had a change of heart. A baby would get her a council flat and would get her out from under her dad’s thumb so “hey why not?” She didn’t let her condition curtail her drinking and she never thought that the other substances she came across could hurt the baby. It was safe inside her after all.
It was a while before anyone noticed that maybe he wasn’t quite as he should be. The health visitor had called just the allotted number of times. He was quiet and there were no bruises and she was busy. Millie wasn’t one for spending time at the Well Baby Clinic when she could be up the shops or the pub, with the pram in the entryway, and so he wasn’t monitored.
Millie didn’t mix much with other mum’s and kids it wasn’t her scene. She was only seventeen and to be honest babies bored her. She kept him fairly clean and fed him enough to stop him howling and really that was about it.
The upshot of it all was that it wasn’t until he started at nursery school that anyone realised there was something wrong. Millie hadn’t spent time teaching him to count or read. She reckoned that’s what the government had teachers for. Well wasn’t it?
They tested him and they assessed him and they told his mum that he was educationally challenged and had learning difficulties. She though, had a new boyfriend and so other things to think about. As long as they let him go to school she was happy. He was out from under her feet all day and afterwards he just sat quietly staring at the television until bedtime.
There are teachers who are gifted and caring and even loving. They inspire their pupils to great things and even the less able blossom under their care. Ryan didn’t ever have one of those teachers. He sat in the back of classrooms. He was quiet and so he was let alone. He slipped through the gaping holes in the system, didn’t really learn to read. He could write his name in shaky scruffy letters and his numeracy stopped at simple subtraction.
He left school as soon as he could. He didn’t graduate in any meaningful way he simply stopped going towards the end of his final year and really, nobody noticed.
He trailed the streets. Millie had taken him to sign on. The staff at the Unemployment Office made suggestions about other places that might offer him help but there was no-one to see it through and he couldn’t do it himself.
So there we have him, Stumpy. The brighter kids picked on him, hyenas after the weakest of the herd. They made him do things that he didn’t want to, they took his money and they threw things at him. He wasn’t unhappy not really. To be unhappy he would have needed to have known happiness. He simply existed in his lacklustre world, day to day.
Then he met Sally, she was small and bubbly and lively. She felt sorry for him, she was kind, she became his angel. Many long, wet days he would hang around in the cold outside her block on the off-chance that he would catch a glimpse of her. When he walked across the rec. and the other kids threw clods and called out she stopped them. She ran to his side and took his hand and made them leave him alone. Everyone liked Sally and they didn’t want to upset her. A lot of the older boys were simply biding their time, one of them would make a move soon, it was just a question of who and when.
He followed her often. Sometimes she would see him and wait and walk with him, chatting and laughing and cheering his grey world and turning it into a brighter place.
On that Wednesday he had waited until she came out of college. It was a bad day for him, he was feeling edgy and awkward and so he didn’t call to her or show himself. He followed from a distance up the main road as she giggled and laughed with her mates. He waited in the cold while she sat in the café and drank coffee with Cheryl and Melanie. At last he had her to himself, she was crossing the rec. and he followed dogging her steps, faithfully worshipping.
Half way across the rec. Big Davy appeared from behind the skate board ramp. He was alone; she didn’t slow to talk to him. Big Davy wasn’t the sort of bloke girls stopped to pass the time with. He was rough and crude and a bully. She scurried past him and quickened her step, he kept pace. He grabbed at her scarf; she pulled it from his hand and pushed it into her bag. He put his hand on her shoulder, she shrugged him off but he clutched at her arm.
As she turned to face the bully Stumpy felt the anger rising, tears had sprung to his eyes, he was keening in despair. This was all wrong, he didn’t know why but he just knew it was wrong.
Big Davy grabbed at Sally’s coat she kicked him and started to yell. He threw his great arms around her and picked her bodily from the path. Ryan watched as his shining star was dragged behind the electricity sub-station where the shrubs grew thick and tangled. He could hear her shouting and he sensed the panic as the tone of her yells changed. He ran across the broken ground his lopsided lope carrying him to the rescue. By the time he made it to the dusty bank behind the little brick building Big Davy was out of control, driven by sex and temper. He had dragged Sally’s stretchy pants down, he sat astride her and tore at her top. She twisted and coiled under his legs. She screamed and swore and tried to wriggle away but she was small and it was hopeless.
Big Davy lashed out with his fist and connected with her face. Her head cracked to the side and she stopped struggling. The brute shook her, still she didn’t move. By now Ryan had reached them and he grabbed at the other boy who was starting to panic and push himself backwards from the inert little body with the torn clothes and the bloodied lips.
Ryan launched himself forwards with a wild cry; he grabbed Big Davy and dragged him back across the rocks and the rubble. Davy skewed himself round and clambered to his knees, using Ryan’s body as a hoist he drew himself upwards. With a glance at the body on the bank and the crying, snotty face of the idiot he ran. He ran to the high street and to the café where he made a big fuss of buying coke and a toastie and taking the sandwich back with a shouted complaint. He made sure everyone remembered him.
At the side of the recreation ground, behind the sub-station Ryan cradled the dead girl in his arms. His tears washed her bloodied face as her head flopped from side to side. His DNA rained down upon her skin and her blood smeared onto his top and pants.
They call him Stumpy in jail. Nobody knows why, the name has just grown around him. He misses Sally and knows that he didn’t mean to hurt her but they told him he did, it must have been after Big Davy left. He didn’t tell them about Big Davy because he’s afraid of him.
They don’t know what they will do with him but for the moment he’s not unhappy. To be unhappy he would have needed to have known happiness.