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Story Chat Y2: “When Gratitude Is Hard to Come By” by Geoff Le Pard

Welcome to Story Chat 2022!

Can you believe Story Chat is one-fourth of the way through its year which starts each October. We met Hugh Roberts started this year with a spooky Halloween story, “Puddles.” Doug Jacquier broached the tough subject of PTSD after WWII in his story “Brooching the Subject.” Cathy Cade, wrote us a delightful heartwarming Christmas story, “On the Streets.”

Now Geof is coming to shake us up a bit again and makes you wonder why his adorable protagonist finds it hard to be grateful. Minor to the plot, you gotta love his way with names! Let me know what your favorite name is at the end.

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Authors say that your Story Chat comments make a difference in their writing. Grab your favorite holiday blogging snack and beverage and join us with your expressive analyses. Snippets or full quotes of your comments will be shared and linked to your websites in the Story Chat Summary at the end of the month.

Grab some chips and dip. So, without further ado, let’s read now and talk in a minute.


“When Gratitude Is Hard to Come By, by Geoff Le Pard

“When Gratitude Is Hard to Come By”

by Geoff Le Pard

The Ealing Invincibles are a wandering Sunday soccer team, formed in 1999 by a group of actors. They play against teams across south west London and make up for lack of skill with unquenchable enthusiasm, a nice line in histrionics when tackled and a readiness to buy their round. If short of a player, club secretary, Fergus Plaimasion sends out idiosyncratic pleas for help. For the game at Battersea Ironclads this Sunday, the message reads: Disaster looms, motley crew. The Furies have denied us a striker and a right back. If you know of anyone waiting in the wings, bring them along.

At 2.17 that Sunday in the shingle car park behind the dilapidated corset factory, Thoms Oldcastle’s ancient VW disgorges three extras: the squat Dr Reuben Twopillow, the go-to TV medic; the tall, handsome and commanding presence of Roderick Henchbodie, currently playing Sebastián in a remake of Brideshead and mooted to be the new Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (to be shown on Sky); and his girlfriend, muse and staggeringly talented polymath, the willowy Professor Wanda Wellbedded.

Thoms does the introductions; after the ritual handshakes (for Reuben and Rod) and side-eye glances from several inherently inadequate men for Wanda, Fergus ushers the players into the changing rooms, leaving Wanda alone with her phone and a few gawping dog walkers. She barely registers their presence: having faced many university funding committees, she is more than capable of dealing with such barely disguised misogyny. 

The sun peeps out, despite the chill; it has all the makings of a pleasant afternoon.

An hour later, Rod waves at Fergus who passes him the ball. He accelerates towards the goal, already considering how he will celebrate when he scores. Instead, he stumbles and the renowned leading man leads with his famously dimpled jaw, face-planting the mud.

As is often recorded by bystanders to tragedy, time seems to slip a dimension and run slower than usual; hereabouts, it almost grinds to a halt. The other players take a moment to appreciate he has not simply tripped. Some, knowing him an actor, but not knowing the person, wonder if this is a deliberate pratfall, some comic interlude. Only two, Dr Reuben and a member of the home team, Isaac Turtle appreciate this might be more serious than a case of befuddled feet. 

They are right: Rod has suffered a catastrophic heart failure of the kind that can afflict young men in particular during exercise and is, to all intents and purposes, dead as he hits the floor.

As the other players gather around, Reuben’s instincts kick in. It may be his quick wit, formidable eyebrows and nearly packaged diversity credentials that got him the gig on TV, but he is first and foremost a doctor. He knows that immediate and continuous CPR are essential if his peri-deceased friend is to have a chance of living. 

Isaac is a quiet young man, assumed by many to be gormless, but he is merely a watcher. This week, he has been trained on the use of the club’s defibrillator. It is that he seeks as he sprints for the rickety clubhouse. With the machine clutched to his chest he sprints back to the uniformly rapt and horrified crowd, that comprises everyone bar Wanda, still on her phone and oblivious to the drama unfolding behind her. 

As Isaac drops to his knees and Reuben appreciates this may turn out better than he assumed moments before, the crowd seem to understand and step back. The two unexpected collaborators work in wordless harmony; soon Reuben lifts Rod’s sweaty shirt for Isaac to apply the charged paddles, once, twice to that photogenic body. 

Almost by instinct, several watchers hold their breath; it is a strange moment of solidarity with the victim. Reuben takes the pulse, leaning close.

The relief is palpable. ‘He’s breathing.’ Moments later he adds, ‘and I can feel a pulse.’

Wanda looms over the still inert Roderick, now aware that she has almost lost her boyfriend. Her cool scientific mind manages to restrain the tsunami of emotions assaulting her. ‘What happened?’

Many versions compete for her attention. She crouches at his side, instinct preventing her from dropping to her knees and potentially ruining her Gucci pantsuit. Touching her lover’s cool face, he blinks. Someone cheers.

Rod is in pain, and demands an explanation. ‘What the bloody hell has happened to my chest?’

Reuben adopts a suitably ‘don’t scare the patients’ manner and explains about his heart.

‘Why’s it hurt right the way across, then?’ Before anyone can stop him, he grabs the hem and pulls his shirt to his chin, straining and failing to see the source of his discomfort.

On stage and while filming, Rod’s unfeasibly beautiful and unblemished body is admired and lusted over by both men and women. He has no tattoos, but when not working sports two small crucifixes on nipple rings (a homage to his devout grandparents) and a silver ingot on a pendant, given him by Wanda. 

The reason for Rod’s discomfort is apparent to all, save Rod. In applying the electrical charges, Isaac has inadvertently superheated these three small metallic items and they have burnt into Rod’s taut torso. 

‘What’s happened?’ Rod takes in the sea of the faces staring at his chest. One skill that has stood him in good stead is his ability to read his audience and, to his surprise, he detects, not the expected concern, but a mix of humour and pity. He forces his head higher and, despite the fact he sees an inverted version of what the others see, he realises the stark truth. 

He has been branded with one word, which once the angry, partly suppurating burns heal will be with him forever. Any gratitude he has for his rescuers disappears as he appreciates he can never now emerge from a lake, bare-chested to woo Elizabeth Bennett.  Not if all the viewers see is that one word.

TIT


Food for Discussion – (Besides Chips!)

So, what did you think of Geoff’s twist at the end of the story?

  • Favorite Name: Fergus Plaimasion, the squat Dr Reuben Twopillow, Isaac Turtle, Roderick Henchbodie, or the willowy Professor Wanda Wellbedded.
  • Can you picture Roderick and the polymath as a permanent couple? Do you think that might change after the ordeal?
  • Will Roderick find a cure for his dilemma or are his chances ruined forever?
  • What emotions did Roderick evoke as he went through his ordeal? Did you gasp, cry, laugh, or go get some more chips?

One last question for Geoff before I sign off completely. Of all the books you’ve written, which one would you recommend readers starting with?

Oh, heck. The tricky one’s first. The recent The Art of Spirit Capture is an easy relaxing read, with a bit of magic and romance. That’s a gentle intro. For comedy, with a good dash of British culture, the Harry Spittle series (so far three books) starting with Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle. If you like a sciencey-thriller My Father and Other Liars. If you prefer your fiction hard bitten then Salisbury Square and Walking Into Trouble (both contemporary dramas). And if you want to know more about me, then my memoir of my mother (and in part father) Apprenticed to My Mother has garnered some keen followers. Sorry that’s long winded. My Harry Spittle series has been the most fun to write.

Geoff Le Pard

Willowdot also answered my question with her own recommendation.

Marsha they are all great and I’ve read them all . The one I would recommend to start with is Apprentice to my Mother.
It’s a real joy. 

Willowdot

Thank you, Geoff for your wonderful story, and thank you all for coming to Story Chat this month. You can learn more about Geoff on his blog. Check out his amazing garden or enjoy another story.

Now it’s your turn.

Throughout the month tell us what you think as you chat with the author and respond to the other chatters. Your thoughts matter. Delve into the story and see if there’s an undercurrent of hidden meaning. See you in the comment section.

56 replies »

  1. I had fleeting visions of a ‘Carry on…’ movie going through my mind as I read Geoff’s story. Very humourous, including the names of the characters, but some of the descriptions were also priceless – ‘She crouches at his side, instinct preventing her from dropping to her knees and potentially ruining her Gucci pantsuit.’

    Great to also see this line included – ‘On stage and while filming, Rod’s unfeasibly beautiful and unblemished body is admired and lusted over by both men and women.’ That’s what I call a ‘sign of the times’ line. One that wouldn’t have been seen 25 years ago.

    Thanks for the laugh, Geoff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • V glad you enjoyed it. There is a carry on feel, isn’t there. I hadn’t thought about how easy it is to write somethings now, that weren’t before. By the same token, writing about a time 25 years ago and putting racist or homophobic attitudes into the thinking of what is meant to be a sympathetic character presents real challenges. It is easy to fall into a trap of thinking that we have always known what is wrong but often times ignorance and a lack of exposure meant views were expressed that today would generate horror. Indeed I would be guilty of inappropriate speech, without a doubt. I wonder how others approach that dilemma, if they set their writing in, say the 1980s or 90s.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I suppose they could follow what TV shows these days where viewers are warned that content includes inappropriate and racist speech and scenes. At least then, a reader could decide whether to read or not.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a very good point, Geoff. What is blatantly wrong to us today – like teenagers smoking, was totally acceptable then. Think how appalled they would be to see some of the movies we have today.

        Like

        • As a writer of recent historical fiction (novels set in 1976, 81 and 87) I’m v conscious about how language and what is appropriate has changed, what is now considered offensive was once commonplace. If you are historically accurate then even your most well loved character might use jarring language by today’s standards but not to use it makes the fiction unreal. Hugh’s warning idea makes sense in novels as well as in TV and films.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Geoff,

    This was word-wrestling wild ride.
    Your names never fail to entertain and I absolutely did not see the ending coming at all.
    You never fail in dragging me again to my dictionary app to see if you made up some odd onomatopoeia.

    Okay, what can I offer?

    I struggled to follow this story, but am not sure why. I understood (well most of) the words, but I could not see where the story was going.

    Paragraphs and even sentences on their own were entertaining, but I could not discern where you were taking us. The character of each character being built into their names is always funny when you do it, but in this case, I wonder if you had too many as it wasn’t until the poor man went down that I thought I finally isolated a protagonist.

    The final and funny result of his rescue is where I expected to find the lack of gratitude angle but was it not overshadowed by the visual of his branding? So, the title became a diversion to avert the reader’s gaze while you built the surprise of how said branding read to any casual or interested observer.

    This was funny, but left me trying to figure out if ti would really happen this way. Defib devices instruct users where to apply the adhesive pads to form a shock-path across a victim’s chest and through their heart, but that path would never go across a person’s nipples, so how are those crosses getting so hot?

    By the time my mind got to this question above, I knew I was overthinking this story, but credibility had been strained or perhaps sprained, and that poor Rod was now in dire need of flesh-colored, therapeutic tattooing.

    Very funny, but. . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Gary. Your kind words are very welcome.
      Turning to your thoughts, I think you have probably hit the sweet spot.
      When I undertook a Masters in Creative Writing a few years ago, my chosen book I was working on was a comedic coming of age tale. It began life as an anecdote I wrote on a writing course and I thought I could spin it out into a book. The professor who supervised me told me, early on that any humour in the book had to serve the story; dropping in a funny story would merely distract the reader and irritate them. So I suspect this story, as you’ve neatly pointed out might fall into that trap; individually funny paragraphs, names and characters are no substitute for a story.
      It is also true that I have taken total liberties with the equipment. No competent medic would use a defib as described, nor would Isaac if recently trained. It wouldn’t be used through a T shirt, I wouldn’t be used on nipples or on jewellery. I hoped to suggest the ‘doctor’ was in fact incompetent but I failed to make that clear. As you say, you can strain credibility only so far…
      So I think it is entirely fair to se this as an attempt at a funny more than a story. Maybe we need a verion of story chat that covers this!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Hey Geoff, I want to call out how reticent I am about critiquing your work at all because you already easily done things with words that I can only hope to approximate some day far from today. It is also true that certain skills are advised for certain types of writing. It is also likely that I have some gaps or at least should have had a stronger cuppa of black wakeup before taking on this story. As it was, I had to go back twice to finally figure out how you put the “I” in T- I – T”. At this point my concern was more along the lines of “What else have I missed?”

        Liked by 1 person

        • Don’t undersell yourself!! Ha, as if!! It was both v helpful and a salutary reminder that less is more in these cases. And, in truth, honest critiques are, frankly, gold dust which is what makes story chat so special. It’s lovely to get the wows! and woopees! but a thought through commentary is rare indeed. Thank you, most sincerely…

          Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this in-depth review of the story, Gary. I appreciate your knowledge and accuracy. We do suspend our sense of reality when we read some fiction but there is usually a reason to do so. Like we are on Mars or in an alternate parallel universe.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. At the top of your form here, Geoff, unlike the Ealing Invincibles. Perhaps one of Dr. Twopillow’s mates is a plastic surgeon and can welease Wodewick (apologies to Life of Brian) from his woes and he can stay abreast of Elizabeth Bennett. However methinks that, whatever the outcome, Wanda has bigger fish to fry. And I hope that Isaac also grabbed his phone when he ran to the shed. The Sunday papers would pay handsomely for the before and after shots.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Ths reminds me so much of a football game in the 1970s between the admin and catering staff of a London TV company and a motley team of TV presenters and minor celebrities, although nobody expired on the pitch (or threatened to) and defibrillators wouldn’t have been available if they had. My then husband was among the catering staff and I found myself watching with the then established girlfriend of a tall, personable sports presenter, who Wanda Wellbedded brought to mind.
    He is still presenting – mostly quiz programmes now – but I doubt she remained his escort for long – even without the disincentive of a derogatory branding.
    Isaac Turtle sounded like a steady, deliberate sort of individual and I was impressed that he managed a suitable turn of speed when retrieving the defibrillator.
    The final revelation had me checking back on the nipple and pendant hardware to better envisage the unplanned tattoo. I can only say… ouch!
    A lightly told tale of rescue and reserved gratitude. Nice one!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s based on a small amount of fact, in that I used to play Rugby against a team called Battersea Ironsides and one of our team was a rather pretentious barrister who had a series of glamorous and aloof girlfriends. One match he was kicked in the **£$s and while the rest of us tried not to snigger as Orlando writhed on the floor, said g’friend ran on with the bucket of water and ubiquitous magic sponge. He never saw her coming and his language was certainly not of the kind used in Her Maj’s highest courts. She didn’t reappear…

      Liked by 3 people

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Marsha

Marsha

Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, a retired educator and wife of a retired realtor. My all-consuming hobby is blogging and it has changed my life. My friends live all over the world. In November 2020, we sold everything and retired to the mile-high desert of Prescott, AZ. We live less than five miles from the Granite Dells, four lakes, and hundreds of trails with our dog, Kalev, and two cats, Moji and Nutter Butter. Vince's sister came with us and lives close by. Every day is a new adventure.

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