Saturday, August 05, 2006

Mr. Tuttle

I’m on vacation this week and Internet access for me will be spotty at best — but, being the considerate guy I am, I’ve left you all with a tender tale of true love. So grab a box of Kleenex and enjoy!

Mrs. Tuttle was a large woman. She would admit to being big-boned, and sometimes, during moments of unrestrained frankness (when perhaps she went a cocktail too far), she might even have referred to her figure as “generous.” Mrs. Tuttle sewed many of her own dresses using patterns she hoped would help diminish her wide hips and reduce her vast bust. Her height rivaled that of most men and her hands, which were large, strong, raw and big-knuckled, were often kept concealed within delicate silk gloves. She applied make-up quite liberally to her face and wore her perfume a bit too heavily; everyone could always tell which room Mrs. Tuttle had just been in. She affected a feminine walk as best she could with feet jammed into shoes a size too small. One town wag remarked that Mrs. Tuttle walked like an elephant on a tightrope.

She belonged to all the right clubs. At various times Mrs. Tuttle had been president of the Historical Society, the Book Club, the Garden Club, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Ladies’ Auxiliary Firefighters. She headed the church’s altar guild and supervised the coffee hour after the church service was over. She was lead mezzo-soprano in the church choir.

Mrs. Tuttle had been married to Mr. Tuttle for 32 years. High school sweethearts, the Tuttles never had children. When people inquired, Mrs. Tuttle always replied, “Oh, I’ve never needed children. Mr. Tuttle is my boy.” Then she added importantly, “He’s my very big boy.”

Mr. Tuttle was, in fact, not so very big. Nor was he so very small. Being neither tall nor short, Mr. Tuttle was also neither thin nor fat. He was neither handsome nor homely. You couldn’t say he was particularly virile, yet neither was he effete. He wasn’t a shy man, but you couldn’t call him outgoing either. Mr. Tuttle’s hair was wispy and sand-colored and receding at the hairline. His eyes, which appeared minuscule through the strong lenses of his round spectacles, were a washed-out blue; his mustache was weak, his face pale, and he spoke in a soft, reedy voice as if he only had half a lung. Looking at him, you couldn’t help thinking Mr. Tuttle was slowly being rubbed away by an eraser.

The Tuttles owned a ranch house in a suburb 15 miles west of Boston. Mr. Tuttle worked for an accounting firm in the city and always took the train unless he knew he had to work late that night; in that case, he drove his car. The Tuttles rose at the same time every morning and, while Mr. Tuttle shaved and showered, Mrs. Tuttle prepared his breakfast and fixed his lunch. When Mr. Tuttle arrived at the table, there would be fried eggs if it was Monday, french toast if it was Tuesday, scrambled eggs if it was Wednesday, grapefruit and toast if it was Thursday, and cream of wheat if it was Friday. Mrs. Tuttle laid the newspaper out with the sections slightly separated so Mr. Tuttle could easily choose which parts of it his inclinations that morning led him. When she finished with all her work, Mrs. Tuttle would sit down across the table from him with a big plump in her chair and say, “Well, Tuttle, mind the time,” or, “They say rain today, Tuttle, so bring your umbrella.”

Mrs. Tuttle adored her husband. She inspected his suit jacket for lint or stray hairs every morning before he put it on and she always helped him into his overcoat at the door. The night before, Mrs. Tuttle would dutifully lay out his clothes and you could always tell which day of the week it was by which tie Mr. Tuttle wore. His wing-tip shoes gleamed and his homburg hat with the feather in its band was always well-brushed. A glance at Mr. Tuttle would tell anyone he had a wife who looked after him.

One morning Mr. Tuttle informed his wife he needed to work late that night; it was tax season and it couldn’t be helped. He would have to take the car. The couple owned a black Studebaker Commander which Mr. Tuttle kept in tip-top condition. It sat in their driveway on four sturdy whitewalls like some great, regal, mythical beast held in abeyance, awaiting Mr. Tuttle’s Zeus-like animating touch. It gave Mrs. Tuttle a thrill to see her husband take control of it. He looked magnificent behind the wheel. That morning she stood on the doorstep and watched Mr. Tuttle as he backed the car out of the driveway and rumbled away down the street.

Then Mrs. Tuttle busied herself for the day. She straightened up the kitchen and dusted and vacuumed the living room. She changed the sheets on the beds and put a load of clothes into the washer, which later she wrung out and hung on the line. At ten o’clock, Mrs. Tuttle brewed herself a cup of tea and settled into the big armchair to listen to Our Gal Sunday and Young Doctor Malone on the radio. When Young Doctor Malone was over it was eleven o’clock and time to take her bath and prepare to meet the girls for their trip into Boston.

Twice a month, Mrs. Tuttle, Shirley Nordstrom and Alice Lundquist rode the train into Boston for some shopping. Shirley usually picked the girls up in her Packard and drove them all to the station where they took the train to North Station and then transferred onto the subway. At Downtown Crossing, Mrs. Tuttle liked to spend long hours in Jordan Marsh, Filene’s and Filene’s Basement, lingering at the perfume counters, the jewelry counters and in the lingerie department. Mr. Tuttle didn’t make an awful lot of money so her purchases had to be well-considered and within budget. All the while, she and Alice Lundquist kept up a steady stream of talk. Alice liked to complain about her husband, who, according to her, was just plain cheap and mean. Mrs. Tuttle would listen sympathetically and occasionally put in: “Oh, no, Mr. Tuttle would never say that!” or “Mr. Tuttle knows how to treat a woman. Your Frank should speak to Mr. Tuttle.”

On the ride home that day, Mrs. Tuttle thought about her life with Mr. Tuttle. It was all she dreamed of as a young girl. True, she didn’t marry an orthodontist like Shirley Nordstrom and have her own car, but she did all right with Mr. Tuttle. Their home was modest, but it was clean, well-furnished and modern. They hadn’t bought a television yet, but Mrs. Tuttle had just about everything else she could want. She had a wringer/washing machine, an Electrolux vacuum, a hi fi and a garbage disposer. Most days her clubs kept her busy, and on the weekends she and Mr. Tuttle would get together with either the Hendersons to play bridge or the Colsons to play canasta or the Whites to play Scrabble. Saturday was the day Mr. Tuttle donned his green coveralls and worked in the yard while Mrs. Tuttle tended her flower beds. On Sundays, her sister and brother-in-law came to visit after church, and while she made sandwiches and potato salad with Louise, Mr. Tuttle and Bill liked to sit in the screened-in porch to listen to the ball game and drink Narragansett beer. Sunday nights, Mrs. Tuttle mixed drinks and sat down on the divan next to Mr. Tuttle to listen to Lux Radio Theatre. It was heavenly.

Mrs. Tuttle arrived home very late in the afternoon and made a small supper for herself. She bought a new hat that day and left the box out on purpose so she’d remember to show the hat to Mr. Tuttle. After cleaning up the kitchen, she took the clothes in from the line and folded them. At seven o’clock she tuned into NBC to listen to that new show, The Six Shooter, starring Jimmy Stewart. Later, at eight o’clock, she listened to Gunsmoke on CBS.

After writing a letter to her mother, Mrs. Tuttle retired for the night. She knew Mr. Tuttle would probably be kept at work until quite late and wouldn’t expect her to wait up for him. She made herself comfortable in bed with the new book by Norman Mailer, the one the book club would discuss next Thursday, and read it for an hour or so. Then at around 10:30 she felt quite drowsy and turned the light off to sleep.

It must have been around two in the morning when a loud sound woke her up. Although she had been dreaming and was still in that funny state of semi-consciousness, Mrs. Tuttle had the distinct impression that an automobile had crashed into her house. It felt almost like a physical blow to herself. She sat up erect in bed and strained her ears to hear more. Nothing. She listened a little longer and finally heard a car door slam.

She clicked on the lamp next to her and saw her husband was not yet in his bed. Could that have been Mr. Tuttle? She called out to him in a timid voice: “Tuttle? Tuttle?”

No reply.

Eventually Mrs. Tuttle summoned her nerve and got out of bed. She put on her robe and slippers and went to the closet to get the baseball bat. The Tuttles didn’t keep a gun, but they had a 32 ounce Georgia Cracker from when Mr. Tuttle was a boy. With the bat gripped firmly in her right hand, Mrs. Tuttle stepped out of the bedroom and padded softly across the length of the house to the door which lead into the converted garage. She put her ear up against it.

Mrs. Tuttle heard the garage’s outside door open and the sound of stumbling footsteps on the linoleum floor. Then she heard the sliding door to the utility closet open and, after a moment, the sudden din created by several large, heavy objects crashing to the ground. Then there was a scrambling noise, like a raccoon foraging madly in a trash barrel, followed by a couple of loud oaths.

“TUTTLE?” she shouted from her side of the door. After a brief pause, she barely heard a small voice from within the room quaver, “Oh no!”

It was unmistakably Mr. Tuttle.

Mrs. Tuttle turned the doorknob and entered the room. It was pitch black inside; Mr. Tuttle hadn’t turned on the lights. She reached over to the light switch and snapped it on.

“Mr. Tuttle!” she exclaimed.

There he was at the utility closet standing in a clutter of junk, his leg hopelessly entangled in a badminton net. He held in his hands a pair of Indian clubs. But that wasn’t what shocked her. Her husband, Mr. Tuttle, the love of her life, was wearing on his head an oversized baby’s bonnet, his white shirt was grimy and smeared with either lipstick or blood, his pants had been replaced by a Scottish kilt and he wore combat boots painted gold.

Mrs. Tuttle was speechless for a moment.

“What is this? What’s happened to you, Tuttle?” she finally demanded, loudly and with a hint of hysteria in her voice.

“Now, my dear, there’s an explanation for this, a perfectly good explanation.”

“For this?”

“It’s not what it seems, Mrs. Tuttle, believe me!”

She paused a moment to fully take in the sight and exclaimed once again, “Mr. Tuttle!” not believing the evidence of her own eyes. She stepped closer to him. His legs appeared so thin and white and his knees were very knobby. Mr. Tuttle was ashamed of his legs and never wore short pants, not even in the hottest weather. And here he was in a kilt!

“What were you doing just now?” she asked.

“Returning these,” said Mr. Tuttle, holding up the Indian clubs.

“And just what were you doing with them?” she pursued.

“That’s a long story, my dear.”

Mrs. Tuttle sniffed the air. “Are you drunk?”

“Not so very.”

So, she thought to herself, you were working late, eh? A lie! This man had the effrontery to lie to her! “I’m ashamed of you, Tuttle!” she said with all the disdain she could put into it. Then after a moment she asked, “Was that the car I heard?”

“That? Oh, yes, it was the car. Regrettable, but easily mended, I think.”

Mrs. Tuttle stomped by him with the baseball bat still in her hand and out the door into the driveway. The streetlight illuminated the scene as a composition of mostly highlights and shadows. At first the car looked all right, but when she inspected the front she found the bumper pushed in like the damaged prow of a boat. Several feet away she saw what had been done to the house. Mr. Tuttle had evidently backed the car away after striking it.

Mr. Tuttle appeared by her side. “It’s really better than it looks,” he assured her.

“But . . . but our car! Our beautiful car!” Mrs. Tuttle said gesturing toward the Studebaker with outspread arms. How many hours had Mr. Tuttle spent washing and waxing the car, and changing the oil and the spark plugs? Then she saw something inside it and instantly let out a piercing scream.

Something very large was in the car. With the light so uncertain it was impossible to tell what it was, but a dark, amorphous shape with black fur appeared to move about in the back seat. “Tuttle!” she shrieked. “In the car! Is it . . . some sort of dog?”

“Shush, shush!” said Mr. Tuttle. “The neighbors!” He tentatively laid his hand our her shoulder. She shrugged it off.

“Tuttle! What is that in that car?”

“If you calm yourself, I’ll tell you. It’s nothing to be frightened of,” said Mr. Tuttle. “Now please, shush. Are you calm now, my dear?”

“Tuttle,” she said in a more even tone, “I demand an answer!”

“That,” said Mr. Tuttle, pointing inside the car, “is a bear. A small, trained circus bear. Very gentle. Quite domesticated. I think you came nearer the truth when you called it a dog.”

Mrs. Tuttle stared at Mr. Tuttle. At first Mr. Tuttle didn’t return her look, but after a half a minute he did. It wasn’t done defiantly, but it certainly seemed unapologetic the way he gazed back at her. They locked eyes like that for a long time, neither one saying a word.

Mrs. Tuttle felt that what was happening was important, a milestone in their marriage. She hadn’t had time yet to reason the whole thing out, but she couldn’t escape the feeling that this event was a crisis masquerading as a comedy, and what she said next would set their relationship on an irrevocable course for either good or ill. Her husband certainly looked absurd. The baby’s bonnet, the lipstick (for she knew now that that was what it was), the kilt, the ludicrous combat boots — how could there be a satisfactory explanation to all this? How could anyone explain a bear in an accountant’s car at two o’clock in the morning?

She looked at him. He looked at her. The bear pawed at the window of the car. Her mouth showed the faintest trace of a smile. So did his.

“Oh, come on to bed, Tuttle,” she said at last. “And take that ridiculous bonnet off your head. I’ll wake you up early so you can return that bear to wherever you got it from.”

She stepped aside to allow Mr. Tuttle to lead the way. As she followed she looked him up and down, not missing a detail, and suppressed a giggle. Mr. Tuttle was her boy all right, she thought with a pang in her heart. Her very big boy.


Blogger Beth said...

OK, am I the only one who wants to know how Tuttle ended up that way?

2:54 PM  
Blogger tiff said...

Beth - you are NOT alone. But I think it's not so very important based on Mrs Tuttle's response.

Mr S. you are a genius. I have read this story twice and will go back for a third. thank you for sharing it.

4:35 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

I'm not sure I get it, but first I want to say, I loved your writing. The details are amazing, to the description of the personalities of Mr. and Mrs. Tuttle, to the places they go, and the activities they participate in. I learned something today.

I'm going to think out loud here. Mr. Tuttle has probably never surprised the Mrs before, alway a bland fellow. Did she instinctively know that to stamp out his flash of craziness would have been marital suicide?

6:41 PM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

Beth - You have hit on the reason I'm not a fan of short stories - I want to know EVERYTHING!

The use of Tuttle had me thinking back to the M*A*S*H episode when BJ & Hawkeye created Sgt. Tuttle to make Hot Llps and Frank crazy.

The trained circus bear had me thinking you were about to channel John Irving.

8:34 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

So, now I know why my parents split up. My mother must have had a bad reaction to the circus bear in the back seat.

8:53 AM  
Blogger SzélsőFa said...

I am happy that I am not the only one who does not get the meaning right at the first reading. The plot and the characters are well detailed, but the ending - it left me confused. To give away my own thoughts: Mrs Tuttle killing his husband or the Mr Tuttle killing her, or rather, the bear being a woman from the local bar in disguise, I wouldn't have been more surprised. But now...?

9:54 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

I'm with you beth! How'd it come to pass?

7:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shprock where are you?!

8:38 AM  
Blogger Flood said...

The bear had me thinking Irving as well, but I love love love the style in this.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

After reading the other comments, I wanted to be sure to say I love Mr. Schprock's writings. I'm biased with this guy because I've read a lot of blogs and out of all of them, I think Schprock could really get published in hard copy. He's a genius in my book, but I just kept thinking, "What happened to Tuttle?" As Kathleen said, I'm not into short stories though. I need the novel -- the bread, the meat, the cheese ... all of it!

I see Schprock in a nationally syndicated column writing books of short stories on the side.

Irving is my favorite modern author and I didn't even think of the bear reference. Duh to me! Haha.

7:50 AM  

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