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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