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Funny American Historical Fiction

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.”

September 09, 2022 21:48

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28 comments

Jon Blackstock
16:22 Sep 21, 2022

I love this! It's almost a combination of a Monty Python skit and an Ionesco play. I dealt with someone like this yesterday.

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Story Time
17:14 Sep 21, 2022

Thank you so much, Jon.

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Laurie Roy
20:56 Sep 20, 2022

You make me laugh. Thank you. Loved it

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Story Time
06:25 Sep 22, 2022

Thank you, Laurie!

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Zack Powell
15:49 Sep 18, 2022

Before anything else, kudos on reaching 100 submissions, Kevin! That takes some major dedication, so I hope you celebrate(d) that achievement. As for the story: Absolutely hilarious. Really love the first-person plural POV choice here (might be the first time I've seen it on Reedsy), and as usual your humor is rock solid. Also enjoyed the use of present tense here. Makes the whole sinking ship danger much more immediate and impactful when it's happening right now instead of being retrospectively told. And Mrs. Chesterfield is quite the char...

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Story Time
01:55 Sep 19, 2022

Thank you so much, Zack!

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Daniel Allen
15:13 Sep 18, 2022

I really enjoyed this! You've managed to capture the attitude of those people who will deny the truth that is staring them in the face perfectly.

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Story Time
01:56 Sep 19, 2022

Thank you so much, Daniel.

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L.M. Lydon
00:02 Sep 17, 2022

Such a fun story! I also went the disaster route but with far less whimsical humor. Mrs. Chesterfield is like a Karen on superpowered steroids- such a terror! I particularly enjoyed this paragraph: "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!”

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Story Time
20:15 Sep 17, 2022

Thank you so much!

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Marty B
02:17 Sep 14, 2022

I loved the line, it seemed to sum up her world view 'We’re also very rich. That certainly helps. It isn’t everything--but it helps.'

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Story Time
16:01 Sep 14, 2022

Thank you, Marty!

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Mary Lehnert
12:23 Sep 13, 2022

Love your wit , Kevin

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Story Time
16:37 Sep 13, 2022

Thank you so much!

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Lily Finch
12:07 Sep 13, 2022

Mrs. Chesterfield is annoying. Yet her personality and stance remain consistent until the end - refusing to accept reality. These lines, in particular, made me chuckle: "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!” AND "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 he could board the lifeboats before all the other men." Were awesome lines. I l...

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Story Time
16:38 Sep 13, 2022

Thank you so much, Lily.

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Michał Przywara
21:31 Sep 12, 2022

Heh, what a great take on the prompt :) It's amusing, but Mrs. Chesterfield is no small amount of infuriating too. "Faith and fortitude, my imbeciles, faith and fortitude! We’re also very rich." This sounds like a bootstraps person. I do like how her preferred view of reality is consistent though, right to the very end :) "Although I am offended at your suggestion of my husband being a coward when there isn’t even a crisis to cowardly respond to!" lol

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Story Time
04:44 Sep 13, 2022

Thank you, Michal! I do enjoy Mrs. Chesterfield--part of me hopes she survived.

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Riel Rosehill
11:28 Sep 12, 2022

Congrats on 100 submissions..! 👏 (That's a scary impressive number of stories, I wish I was that productive! 😱) Another super fun story and great use of first person plural. Zack Powell mentioned he has that one to try on his bucket list - I thought, I can't imagine-- well, thanks for the demonstration! " This POV certainly worked for the story. The line "I once loaned a spare tire to Henry Ford!" made me laugh the most, and the last like got that Celine Dion song stuck in my head, because it is just similar enough to the lyrics... Very unus...

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Story Time
04:44 Sep 13, 2022

Thank you so much, Riel. Writing here has been a lifeline. Let's hope I have a few more stories in me.

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Tommy Goround
23:53 Sep 10, 2022

Clapping

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Story Time
04:45 Sep 11, 2022

Thank you, Tommy!

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Amanda Lieser
15:04 Sep 10, 2022

Oh my gosh! Kevin! This was a riot! I love how it was short and sweet and oh so funny! Of course I pictured the film scenes toward the end. And I love how loyal Mrs. Chesterfield was to her husband right at the bitter end-despite him not returning the favor. This was my favorite line: We said we would look into it then went searching for any piece of furniture that appeared buoyant. NICE JOB!

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Story Time
04:46 Sep 11, 2022

Thank you so much, Amanda!

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Naomi Onyeanakwe
07:49 Sep 10, 2022

I love Mrs. Chesterfield, may God bless her soul. And I hope her ghost haunts her traitor of a husband. This was good, and a really fun and funny read too. Well done and good luck!

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Story Time
04:46 Sep 11, 2022

Thank you so much, Naomi!

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Julius Juryit
12:15 Sep 22, 2022

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Tommy Goround
01:43 Sep 22, 2022

You've left some important questions in the story. For example, we do not know that Mrs Chesterfield has any children. If she dies does her faith die with her? Perhaps you are being playful.. but the story reminds me of the joke or an anecdote: how a man dies from a flood after they sent boats and helicopters.... He tells them to go away because God will save him. Then in heaven God tells him he sent the boats and helicopters etc. Obviously the man makes it to heaven to speak to God but his life on this Earth was cut short. It's a psycholo...

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