Rumpy Stiltz, an adaptation

The Necklace
Claudia wasn’t strictly good at very many things. At least not at doing things per se, because she never had the necessity or patience for doing things. With her crooked smile, her luminous wide set blue eyes, her strawberry blonde hair flowing in soft little tendrils dragging provocatively on the excesses of her pale shoulders, the pronounced vulnerability her clavicles showing a hint of tender shadow, the softness underneath, one could imagine that most things could be done for her, if she wanted it that way. And she did.

She did excel in one area, besides charming people, and that was in making declamations. Her declamations were always a great boon to her many student organizations, and since high school, and through college, she tended to be elevated to leader due to her proclivity for impassioned speech.

In her senior year at University, she declared she would write a proper dissertation to express her boundless passion for her Women’s Studies line of study. She said it in front of her professor and advisor, and most of the senior year of her major.

She really needn’t have bothered.  She was adored by her teachers even more than the other students. “Here is the new face of feminism,” they fancied. A younger generation to carry the torch. She was always so bright eyed and smiling at rallies and functions, or when meeting guest speakers when her professors were too busy to pick them up at the airport. And she certainly brightened up any picture, including the 1999 group photo of “Young Women Business Leaders.” She shone like gold against straw next to her comparatively dowdy classmates.

Now she found she had a challenge (for Claudia never truly had a problem, not according to Claudia.) She had promised, quite publicly to write a treatise on the Quantum Feminist Mnemotechnics, but as she thought of it, she couldn’t remember the last time she had written a paper. Her friends had always been so helpful, what with extra papers just lying around from those who had taken her classes before, that needed just a little polishing, which they were happy to do. One winning smile, soft lips, half sticking on her pearlescent teeth at the crux of her full lower lip, was more than enough reward for anyone, man or woman.

But no one in her social group seemed to have a thesis paper. Neither could they find one online to meet her premise. She resorted, in her desperation, to retreating to the library. Not because she expected anything to come from honest research, but because it was a place she could effectively avoid her friends and her inevitable questions on the status of her paper. After just a few nights of this self-imposed exile, she found she was starting to cry. She was sure her intentions had been good (they always were) but how could they lead her to this trapped place, this path to ignominious defeat? She was better than that, damn it, and the world knew it. She found herself speaking aloud “If only someone could help me write this treatise…”

Then she saw him, turning, rising from a stack of books, in slow unsteady motion, perhaps in part because his glasses were so obviously broken and hung woefully to one side, giving him an uneven, quizzical look. He worked every Tuesday and Thursday from 3:30 to 5:30 PM through the University work study program. From a distance he looked like a rumpled tan work shirt, taken directly from the bottom of the hamper, shaken carelessly and put on the body without any further consideration. His glasses were thick, from astigmatism, and never seemed to stay on his nose, sliding off one side at a time. His hair was thick and unruly.

“Can I help somehow…?” he started, surprised at his own forwardness. “I know…the books rather well.”

She smiled. Perhaps this was just the thing. And by the look of him, it would cost very little.

She adopted him immediately. His name was Martin Stiltzelskis. He said it like he was describing a poor disgusting animal. He seemed desperate to be rid of it. So, she called him Rumpy.

For the last 5 weeks of her senior year, Rumpy, an English major, was her steady companion. He gave her his prodigious skill at research and she gave me soft smiles and the occasional cup of coffee when the hour got too late. One night, in a fit of altruism, she gave him the Egyptian clay scarab she had been given by a friend who had travelled abroad just a few weeks before. It was too clunky for her delicate neck anyway, but it seemed to mean the world to him.

By the end of the year she had promised her earnest friendship to him. And he had fallen completely in love. She got an A on her thesis.

Rumpy was just a junior, so when she tearfully left the college for a larger university in the city, she left poor Rumpy behind.

She would miss her fast friend but there was no doubt she would conquer new horizons of analytical thinking in modern feminism. However, she found there was an awful lot of writing to be done, and she had learned so much from working with him.

She determined to call him again, “If only someone could help me…” And he was there. He would come on weekends, whenever he could, to help her. He had an American car he had purchased from his brother, just ten years old and showing some wear, but still very serviceable, and he would trek into the city (for she was too busy to drive) to help her with her research, her writing, her studying, and whatever else she needed.

Occasional weekends became every opposing weekend, which gave way to every weekend, which gave way to weekdays whenever he could, getting back to school just in time for his 8AM Children’s Literature class on Mondays and Wednesdays after an all-night brainstorming session with Claudia.

It was well into the second semester before she slept with him. (She just didn’t think of him that way.) But one night, around 3AM, with too much coffee in his bloodstream, caffeine giving his skin a luminous sheen, exhaustion putting a sardonic leer on his otherwise bland features, she found that she could think of him that way. Under the right circumstances. And, really, he had been so kind.

Claudia and Rumpy spent the next three years that way, he her research partner, fact checker, and head writer. She his not-quite lover and center of all earthly fascination. He was in constant demand, and even moved to the city to be closer at hand, though he took some job at a local newspaper so he could pay his own way and not be a burden to her in her studies.

One gentle fall afternoon, she graduated, with her Doctorate. Rumpy of course was in attendance. Not at the ceremony, there hadn’t been enough tickets for that, but at the late lunch that took place after the event. All of her lovely friends were gathered, and Rumpy felt like a troll among fairy tale princesses. He was a good head shorter than any of them. Even in his best shirt, he seemed a bland, dingy tan. He had his notebook with him all the time, catching words and phrases for his column with the paper or for Claudia’s future work. He had associated with Claudia’s entourage many times, but not many knew him by name, and fewer had any regard for him. For as often as he spoke directly with the lady herself, as often as she spared him a glance, they assumed he might well be her poorly placed personal assistant.

“So what will you do now,” a very lovely friend said, the one with the perfect teeth that protruded enough to make her smile a gesture of aggression, daring the world around her to miss the joke. “What part of the world will you conquer now?”

Rumpy waited, his chest a mass of stabbing needles. He has never asked her about her plans. He didn’t feel it was her place. But he badly wanted…needed to know what was next.

“I’m going to London,” Claudia said simply. The crowd at the great table grew silent. Her powers of declamation had improved. She could now bring a whole room to a standstill with a whisper.

“That’s where I will be doing my post-doctoral work.”

The exclamations of joy were mixed with some literal applause, like an audience relieved and delighted to see a fitting outcome to a story they had been following for so long.

Rumpy studied the salt shaker intensely. Then his plate. And his silverware. He watched his water glass and to his dismay, he could clearly make out one distinct tear of condensation that was travelling in slow motion down the side of the glass. He noticed uncomfortably that the tear that stained his napkin in front of him could not be the same tear from the glass. It was from another source.

He could see Claudia looking at him, considering. This was an unusual favor from that young woman, to acknowledge him so plainly in front of so many people. But she was not without feelings. And he was crying.

“Maybe they have newspapers you could write for…or something you could write for…in London, Rumpy,” she said. “I will have so much writing to do on my first book…it would be lovely to have you there to help get me coffee late at night.”

Yes, coffee. He responded too quickly that he would be delighted.

On the plane to London, sitting in the middle seat so she could have the window, he confronted her. It was the bravest and most even moment in their relationship, so naturally he did it in writing. He illustrated the timeliness of their meeting 5 years before, the time he had put into helping her, the great successes she had enjoyed with her writing under his tutelage, and ended with a wonky sort of graph and spreadsheet that seemed to create an equation that was all question marks to Claudia. Claudia laughed like the tinkling of wine glasses, blindingly beautiful to Martin, and looked him dead in the eyes.

“So, what is it your saying, Rumpy?”

He wasn’t used to being talked to so directly. He had trouble finding his voice. “Err…will you marry me?”

The flight was uneventful, with crackers and cheese instead of dinner and a year-old romance movie with two over-rated stars playing against type. Rumpy had a glass of white wine, most out of character for the strange little man.

The Ring

Claudia found that being married to Rumpy interrupted her lifestyle hardly at all. It seemed like the proper thing to do – he had loved her so much after all and proven himself so helpful on so many occasions.

In addition to teaching and picking up an excellent accent, Claudia published three books while finishing her post-doctoral work. She felt that London was the perfect backdrop for her “important work” but it was the adoration she received from home that made the most impact with her.

Her first work was little more than an essay, a thought-piece on the role of modern woman, which a friend who worked for a publishing house simply begged to expand into a self-help book of sorts – kind of a Chicken Soup for the Soul for the modern woman, she explained.

They attended speeches and presentations in London, from thought leaders all over the world in social justice, sociology, feminist anthropology, and more. Claudia was delighted with her continued ability to impress in the face of so many important luminaries in her area of expertise (as she now felt confident enough to call it.)

Rumpy also seemed to have changed. He had taken her name, as a lark when he married Claudia. It seemed like an appropriate action on the part of the supportive life partner of a prominent thought leader in women’s roles. So he became Martin Pinot; not a terrible name at all. He seemed a changed man without his old name, and when they took audience drinking wine at some local establishment with other ex-pats like themselves, he seemed to liven up and even be able to speak and laugh like the rest of him. It was as though the halo of her name, the glow from Claudia herself was enough to life him from the poor lowly state of him, though she still called him Rumpy.

There was a tour, kept brief as Claudia needed to attend to her classes. Rumpy kept up their little flat while she as away, always making notes for their next assignment. She had options for four more books before she could complete the first.

She found him toiling away late into the night when she came back to London at the end of her first book tour. She saw him behind the little easel he used as a desk, his stool cranked up very high to account for his diminutive stature, scribbling in long hand as was his practice (he eschewed computers completely.) He didn’t look up when she entered, so engrossed was he in what was becoming his life’s work of building her cannon of collected works. She was so used to the adoration back in the States; she felt a moment of genuine lust for him. So she had him, directly, not taking the time to leave the workspace and make their way back to their little bed until the deed was already complete. Shortly after, she found herself pregnant.

The First Born

Pregnancy didn’t agree with Claudia at all. She was ill much of the time, disappointed to find she couldn’t eat, and secretly resentful she couldn’t drink either (though her peers insisted she could have some wine with no problems. “What’s the point,” she thought.)

Rumpy was there as always, tending to her. They made their way back to the States, where Claudia could feel truly at home, where she could be closer to her family and her many friends to see her through this time.

She went into labor three weeks before the baby was due. Martin, who was always on hand in those days, took her overnight bag and the lady quickly to the hospital, where mere hours later she had (what she imagined was) their son.

It was then that the “troubles” began. Claudia had already felt unnecessarily hampered by her pregnancy. The actuality of a new born was more than she could bear. For the first month, she tried breastfeeding, as all her contemporaries advised for the well being of child and mother.

The round-the-clock feedings and interrupted sleep took a toll on both of them. She could see her Rumpy was starting to sag, even beyond his usual shambling demeanor. Claudia wondered if he missed London, all the friends they had, a social scene he had never known before.

“Why don’t you go,” she found herself saying before she could think about it much. She was always better in action than in reflection. There was another art opening, one of 10o invitations she had turned down since coming home to the U.S. It meant very little to her, she couldn’t remember if she knew the artist, but the suggestion he should go by himself seemed to take him by surprise. “Really?” he ventured. “Sure. Why not. Go for both of us,” she said. “Make sure I’m well represented, of course.” He brightened at the idea and she had to help him pick his best rumpled shirt and jacket, not too formal she instructed him.

“I can’t believe he went.” Sitting on the chaise lounge, holding her baby like a football cupped to her breast, she realized for the first time the cold tang of resentment towards Rumpy. The baby bit with its gums on her nipple and for the rest of the night she supplemented with formula.

“You have to realize what he’s doing to you,” said the friend with the perfect aggressive smile, her voice on the phone a rolling purr of droll savvy. The smiling friend had gladly become Claudia’s chief publisher since she had returned to the States.

“He has your name love. He can get into any party in town no matter what he looks like or how he acts.”

Claudia had been considering this matter. She was a public figure now. He name needed to be protected. Her image was her most prized possession. And Rumpy had taken to going out without Claudia, just once or twice a week to inconspicuous events that usually included some meaningful examination of art and literature. She couldn’t imagine he was going for the content; that was an idea too outside of her. He was being seen now, all shoddy wrinkles and small man postures as he was. He was being seen without her, but still attached to her.

“What can I do,” Claudia said dully looking out the beautiful old fashioned paneled window of their charming Manhattan apartment. The window itself was quite a coup, another feather in the great lady’s cap.

The friend paused. “Do you want me to answer you honestly?”

The friend dripped of sympathy for poor Martin and for Claudia herself, with just a hint of malice. No one blamed Martin of course. He just wasn’t made for this life. And who could blame Claudia for having married him. He had always been so loyal…strangely loyal, she noted. (Well, there had always been something strange about him, many things if she was being honest. The friend laughed.)

No one would blame Claudia if this wasn’t what she wanted anymore. She was an empowered woman. She was entitled to change her mind.

“But make sure,” the smiling friend advised in a sage voice, “that you get what counts. Take back your name. Make him change it.”

“And the baby?”

“You know,” her voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “I’ve heard that Martin has had some…instability in his past. You know he takes pills for his moods. But just months before you met him, did you know he had to take part of the semester to…get well? Like in a hospital for people with those kinds of problems?”

Claudia couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

“You may as well be woman of the decade. Do you think any court wants to give a man like that your baby?”

The Window

He came home later than usual after an art opening. He had been excited about the speaker, some author who wrote movingly about the brutality of the human condition. He seemed in even better spirits than usual after these things.

She felt furious.

“Martin, we’ve got to talk.”

He seemed to freeze in his tracks, his happy chatter dying a slow death in the air. She never used his real name, ever.

Claudia didn’t know where to start so she told him everything. Every poisonous thought, every tainted assumption. After all, how dare he? How dare he cash in on her success? She did have a grateful heart, she was grateful to his help in those early years, but this was a matter of principal. She had worked so hard to make herself what she was. It wasn’t right for him to try and capitalize on that. She wouldn’t, couldn’t, allow that.

He was mute.

She continued, and since he had shown that he never ever really wanted her for what she was, since he had allowed her success to change him, since he had become an embarrassment for both of them, wasn’t it time to move on? As two modern, enlightened adults wasn’t that the only decent thing for both of them to do? What was there but to acknowledge the unhappy partnership…and dissolve it.

“What about the baby,” he croaked, his voice no doubt hoarse from party conversations and cigarettes.

“The baby stays with me,” she said simply. “Or everyone will know about your…weaknesses. So does my name.”

“What do you–?”

“You entered this deal as Martin Stiltzelskis. And god damn it, that’s how you’re leaving or I’ll sue your ass. You’re not publishing anything after me under the name I made.”

He became unfocused. The baby began to cry from the nursery. He seemed to waver where he stood. He seemed so blurry, the lights through the parlor window of their 11th story apartment seemed to sharpen by contrast.

“My name is my own, Claudia Pinot. You are just Rumpy Martin Stiltzelskis.”

“Rumpy Stiltzelskis,” he muttered absently, stuck between actions of retrieving the baby and facing his betrayer. “Rumpy Stiltzelskis, Rumpy Stiltzelskis, is my name.”

“Martin?”

He turned his body half willingly, his leg staying planted where he stood. He pivoted and fell like a stone through the window of their apartment. She couldn’t be sure if he meant to, or if he meant to turn to check on the baby. She would never be sure now. It didn’t matter. By the time she saw him again he lay cold on the pavement below, looking small like a broken doll.

Epilogue

The next ten years passed quietly for Claudia. She continued to publish, though she had lost her smiling friend as her contact in the industry. It turned out it had always been her friend’s secret wish to write on her own. She had even approached Rumpy about teaming with her on a project, in those earlier, happier days. Out of some sense of loyalty Rumpy had of course declined.

Claudia continued to know many of the right people and get invited to many desirable parties and events. Her books didn’t sell like they used to. She realized one afternoon that she may never regain the fleeting success she had felt while publishing from London.

She didn’t feel comfortable appearing in public anymore, and tended to avoid it. Now her most constant companion was her son. Ten years old, and bookish. Smaller than the others and strange. But how he loved her. Lying on his stomach as he tended to do on the aging carpet of their apartment, she gazed at him, a smart Chablis in her hand and realized, there was no doubt as to the father. She had and would have many other lovers, but that strange creature, her secret helpmate, her most unintentional lover had made an impression that no one could follow. She had gotten away with her name, but the child was his.

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4 Responses to “Rumpy Stiltz, an adaptation”

  1. Taylor Anne Says:

    I adore this. In the begining I was wanting ‘Rumpy’ to get all he wanted and when he did I was pleased that you allowed this for the character. The twist of the story was un expected. The whole time I thought Claudia was useing Rumpy when really she thought he was useing her. Great imagery and in all great story! Makes me want to learn more about their son.

    Like

  2. Stelios Jackson Says:

    A very nice read indeed, says the poet, who didn’t know it!

    Like

  3. Of course, it’s very well written and punchy in a good way, but it’s also so sad. A bit of magical realism, it seems, as recognition of name robs them all,

    Like

  4. I love it. I like the timing on it. It wasn’t rushed and came to a good closing but it still made me what to know more about the characters. It could easily be a larger work but I’m still unsure of where the larger work would come from, either Rumpy or the Child.

    I was sad to see Claudia go there but not particularly surprised, which I think is good. Shows the character didn’t suddenly develop a personality trait opposite of what was previously exhibited.

    PS. Are you excited that I read and commented on it?

    Like

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