Mrs. Chesterfield refuses to board the lifeboats.
She insists that the boat is not sinking. We have assured her that it is. We have pointed to the ocean. We have said “You see, Mrs. Chesterfield? You see how it’s getting closer to us? It isn’t meant to do that. The ocean is meant to stay where it is in relation to a boat. If it begins to approach, something is terribly wrong.”
With a turn of her chin, Mrs. Chesterfield goes right back to her knitting. She informs us with a curt tone that she was promised an unsinkable experience. Rummaging around in her handbag, she produces a pamphlet. Her finger points to an underlined section stating that--
The Titanic is a marvel unlike any other! There is absolutely no way it will sink. If someone tells you that it’s sinking, they’re playing a cruel joke on you and you should ignore them.
Satisfied with herself, Mrs. Chesterfield places the pamphlet back into her bag and yawns. She asks after her husband. We begrudgingly confess to her that her husband was spotted wearing a wig made for a lady and dressed in Mrs. Chesterfield’s clothing. We assume it was so that he could board the lifeboats before all the other men.
“No, no,” Mrs. Chesterfield corrected us, “I’m sure it wasn’t that. Jonathan must have simply been a bit chilly. He is rather bald, you know. The wig was clearly meant to warm him up. My clothes are much warmer than his as well. You see? Perfectly reasonable explanation. Although I am offended at your suggestion of my husband being a coward when there isn’t even a crisis to cowardly respond to! I shall need to speak to the person in charge at the next possible instance. Otherwise, I will be forced to tell all my friends about my unpleasant experience aboard this rather rickety so-called pleasure cruise.”
In spite of her threat to give a sunken ship a bad review, we begged Mrs. Chesterfield. We cajoled her. We tried to slip a life raft on her only to have her scream “Take your hands off me! I once did the waltz with a Vanderbilt! I was once engaged to a Rockefeller! I once loaned a spare tire to Henry Ford! How dare you!”
We tried another tactic. We told her this was a drill. Nothing more than a practice for if the ship was to sink. She’d hear nothing of it. She told us that she did not believe in preparing for emergencies. She claimed it went against her religion.
“You see, my dear imbeciles,” she said, sitting all the way back in her wooden deck chair, “I believe in survival of the fittest. In the event of a calamity, there would be no point in preparation. All of that goes out in the window in favor of pure, God-given inner resilience. My husband, Jonathan, and I both believe that were we to find ourselves in any sort of catastrophe, we’d simply use our instincts and persevere. Faith and fortitude, my imbeciles, faith and fortitude! We’re also very rich. That certainly helps. It isn’t everything--but it helps.”
When we tried to persuade Mrs. Chesterfield that all the money in the world would not help her if she were to be plunged into the icy waters of the mid-Atlantic, she shook her head as though we were toddlers attempting to teach her geometry.
“I’ll have you know,” said Mrs. Chesterfield, poking at each of us with her knitting needles, “That even if this ship were sinking--which it’s not--I would be just fine, because I was a swimmer in my youth. I was considered the greatest swimmer in all of upstate New Jersey if you don’t count the four or five cheaters that were ranked above me. I could swim around those icebergs so fast your heads would spin. Not that any of it matters, because this ship is perfectly fine.”
We pointed out the way the ship was angling as it began its ascent into the water. We pointed out the people fleeing and screaming. We pointed out the rapidly dwindling number of lifeboats. She would not be moved. Instead, she walked up to the band that had continued playing and asked if they knew something with a little more “pep.”
“Honestly,” she said, returning to her chair, “People are so serious these days. What happened to fun? What happened to frivolity? This sort of thing would never have happened when Roosevelt was President. Now everybody walks around like they’re staring Death right in his visage. Thank you very much, Mr. Taft. That’s what I call him, you see. Mr. Taft. Because he’s not my President. No, no, no. Any man that looks that ridiculous on a pony is no President of mine. What a bumbling nincompoop. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if you told me he was the Captain of this shoddy enterprise. Just because the boat isn’t sinking doesn’t mean I haven’t noticed where all the corners were cut. When I ask for a plate of caviar at dinner, I expect a full plate not one little pile as though my husband, Jonathan, didn’t pay an arm and a leg to get us aboard this vessel. Really, shame on all of you, for your stinginess and your nagging and your futile attempts at gaslighting an old woman into believing the ship she’s on is going down.”
When we saw that the window for our own existence was closing swiftly, we said our farewells to Mrs. Chesterfield. She met our goodbyes with an abrupt harrumph and then asked if we would be sending over some complimentary cocktails for all the stress we’d caused her carrying on about fake shipwrecks. We said we would look into it then went searching for any piece of furniture that appeared buoyant.
Later, as we were doing our best to stay afloat on various chaises and pieces of wood, we watched as the last section of the ship eased itself into the dark beyond. It may have been our collective imaginations, but in addition to the sound of the band playing its final notes, we thought we heard the shrill voice of Mrs. Chesterfield yelling--
“Could somebody please warm up this bathwater? I mean, really. Is that so much to ask? Nobody wants to work anymore, you see. That’s the problem. That’s the major problem in America today, and nobody will admit it. And all the while, it’s as plain as the water around under my chin. Oh well. Life goes on, I suppose. Life goes on.”