UNDERSTATEMENT • by Gaius Coffey

Understatement was the order of the day in the Upper Cholmondley town hall; it had to be.

“My tea!” exclaimed the chubby mayor as the over-sugared contents of his fine eggshell teacup swirled upwards.

“Got it.” Mr. Barnaby used a saucer to deflect the flow sideways, then another to steer it into an empty cup. There was the barest hint of a satisfied smile as he sealed the cup using one of the saucers as a lid.

“Well done, Mr. Barnaby… I’ve never known the like.”

“It is… worse in the sewage processing plant.”

“Oh my.” The mayor’s face would have been downcast in the usual run of things. Today’s erratic forces made it prudent to sit halfway up the wall and his face was side-cast. “Something really must be done.”

“Far and away your best plan,” Mr. Barnaby agreed. “Something being done would be well received by the electorate.”

“I shall call the University. They know everything!”

“I am not sure that all knowledge is retained somewhere within those ivory towers.” Mr. Barnaby paused, shaking his head sadly. “It is folly to seek clear guidance from an institution that prides itself on debate.”

The mayor glanced wistfully at the cup that held his tea; the saucer on the top was beginning to vibrate slightly and the cup itself was sliding slowly up the wall towards the window. “God help us,” he said.

“That too would be folly. Bishop Davies would merely urge that we make a donation to restore the chapel.”

“We’re doomed.” The mayor grasped the errant teacup in both hands. He brought it to his open mouth and tentatively lifted the saucer. Tea flowed through his fingers and stained his favourite headed notepaper at the other side of the room. “It’s the end of civilisation.”

“Not quite,” Mr. Barnaby said with a knowing smile. He pulled on the wire to retrieve the phone from the ceiling where it had come to rest next to an ornate, Victorian light fitting. “You should ask Colonel Fotheringay to mobilise his regiment by Puddle Bridge.”

“Puddle Bridge!” The chubby mayor was aghast. “But that’s Lower Cholmondley!”

“Exactly,” Mr. Barnaby said, “in my experience, there is nothing like the threat of military action to restore a situation’s gravity.”

Gaius Coffey’s story “Alone, Not Lonely” was shortlisted for the 2010 Fish Publications One-page Story competition. His story “Terry and the Eye” was Every Day Fiction’s most read story in March, 2010. He lives in Dublin with his wife, two cats and a baby daughter; the latter being as much an inspiration to write as an impediment to writing resulting, on balance, in bafflement.

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 average 4 stars • 2 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Must admit, I was expecting more than a pun at the end, though it did succeed in rounding off this fantastical tale.

    I felt the dialogue needed more consistancy in use of contractions, and perhaps cliches such as ‘the order of the day’ and ‘in the usual run of things’ could have been re-worded.

    That aside, a fun read.

  • A fun and energetic piece of satire. I actually found the somewhat stilted dialogue effective – kept hearing upper-crust English accents.

  • “I shall call the University. They know everything!”

    “I am not sure that all knowledge is retained somewhere within those ivory towers.” Mr. Barnaby paused, shaking his head sadly. “It is folly to seek clear guidance from an institution that prides itself on debate.”

    Ah, but of Benjamin Jowett, of Oxford, there is a Balliol rhyme to the effect that:-

    First come I. My name is J-w-tt.
    There’s no knowledge but I know it.
    I am Master of this College,
    What I don’t know isn’t knowledge.

    And, of course, there’s also Toad of Toad Hall’s song, that includes the verse:-

    The clever men at Oxford
    Know all that there is to be knowed.
    But they none of them know one half as much
    As intelligent Mr. Toad!

    So there are indeed a couple of places where the mayor and corporation could seek further and better information relating to their situation, including but not limited to a university.

  • lepifera

    This just made my day 😀

  • Sheila Cornelius

    Loved the atmospheric combination of Pickwick Club and Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, the mystery of the topsy turvy world and and the delightful pun at the end.

  • I also found the end a little weak, but it was an interesting enough tale…I thought the dialogue was fine too.

  • Irena P.

    I enjoyed reading this story. The ending felt a bit abrupt, but otherwise it was perfect, in my opinion.
    “It is folly to seek clear guidance from an institution that prides itself on debate.” My laugh of the day. 🙂

  • fishlovesca

    This is the third piece I’ve read at EDF by this author, and I must say, either it’s because I’m an American or particularly dense, or both, but what I feel mostly after reading each of the stories is bewildered, sorry.

  • Rose Gardener

    I saw an allusion to Mary Poppins and the tea party on the ceiling, so I had a clear vision of a jolly fat man floating halfway up the wall. The ending made me laugh aloud.
    For the mayor, the tea cup, Mr.Barnaby’s reasoning and the army itself- 4 big blue service stars!

  • ajcap

    I really appreciate EDF posting humourous stories on Mondays. “Start every day off with a smile and get it over with.” W.C.Fields.

    Easy to read, very enjoyable and I am also glad it wasn’t a tale from the sewage processing plant. Cheers.

  • I thought the ending was great. Silly, but that fit with the rest. Reminded me very much of Saki and his “Clovis” stories.

  • I always enjoy a twist of the King’s English with my morning cupa’. Very enjoyable tale. Four solid stars.

  • Thanks for starting my day off with a laugh and a smile. Good one, Gaius.

  • Jen

    I enjoyed this story but thought the ending fell flat.

  • vondrakker

    What a nice bit of frivolity to start the day!
    But no opening hook.
    Sooo, I can only justify
    four stars

  • Gaius

    Thanks everyone for reading and commenting, glad to see it made some of you smile which was my intention for this shaggy-dog story. fishlovesca, I really do apologise! 😮 When my novel sells, I will claim eccentricity, until then, I will have to be satisfied with “occasionally weird”. Finally, PML, Mr Toad was regrettably incapacitated and J-w-tt was avowelled (sic) to stay out of it. 😉

  • jennifer walmsley

    Amusing, clever and wonderfully whacky.

  • Cheerful mayhem, thank you Gaius!

  • Mark Dalligan

    Eccentric, provincial,fantastical and funny.



  • KC N

    I hate puns, but I loved this story.