Warwick Sprawson

A writer from Melbourne, Australia

Tag: short story

The War on Cheese

The Federal Government will launch a pre-emptive strike against the highly addictive drug ‘cheese’ to suppress its use in Australia with the launch of its $49m campaign ‘Freeze Cheese: It’s not Cool Fool.’

Cheese is a solid drug sourced from the milk of cows, goats and other mammals. Cheese is made by curdling milk using a combination of rennet (an enzyme obtained from the stomach lining of calves) and acidification. Its use has grown in recent years – national data indicates the supply and use of cheese grew threefold between 2018 and 2020, a rise attributed to illicit importation and the growth in illegal local labs known as ‘dairies’. In low or moderate doses cheese can cause a loss of inhibition and greatly elevated mood and sense of well-being, a state known to users as being ‘greated’.  Those taking larger doses can experience mental confusion, agitation, paranoia, erratic behaviour and nightmares – known as being ‘grated’.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison launched the campaign on the steps of Parliament House yesterday, wearing a black ‘Freeze Cheese’ baseball cap. Mr Morrison said that the Government’s new action on cheese would include confronting advertisements detailing the horror of cheese. ‘We must not let cheese take hold in Australia. Australians need to know the ugly reality of drugs like cheese. Cheese ruins lives and we need to educate our young people to make the right decisions in social situations.’

In the first four months of this year customs seized 112 tonnes of cheese, compared to only 54 over the same period last year. Customs Chief Executive Officer Johnathan Pilkner said that shipments are commonly disguised inside office equipment such as chairs, desks and computers. Other smuggling techniques can be more creative. ‘In Adelaide last year they found a 2.5 meter copy of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ carved completely from high-quality Gouda.

One of the main problems that authorities face is that the drug is used in private settings such as dinner parties, where a cheese platter – a board with a selection of illegal cheeses – is often passed around. This cocktail of cheeses is particularly dangerous to users, as the effects of different types of cheeses can enhance one another leading to unpredictable results. Within entertainment circles there is speculation that certain ‘tired and emotional’ celebrities aren’t in need of a good lie down but actually have a cheese platter problem, leading to incoherence, vacuity and a loss of dancing ability.

Recent seizures indicate that cheeses are getting more potent. In 2016 processed cheese – a cheap, mild, smooth melting form of the drug ­– accounted for up to 80% of the 86 arrests made for possession of cheese. In 2019 arrests were up 50%, but less than half of these involved this milder form of the drug. Senior Sergeant Jack Flaygun, head of the Anti-Cheese Taskforce, said cheese boards are starting to contain new, more powerful forms. ‘Recently we found a worrying new type called Gorgonzola. It has distinctive blue veins of penicillium mould. Our lab indicates this cheese is 25 times as strong as the processed form. This is a clear threat to the community. There was also a recent case involving a potent form called Roquefort where the police had to don protective suits and breathing apparatus to safely handle and dispose of the cheese. A growing subculture of cheese users, who call themselves “blue-liners”, are experimenting with these dangerously toxic forms.’

Such potent cheeses are thought to be produced off-shore, most likely in the notorious ‘Cheese Triangle’ of France, Italy and Switzerland. Imports from these countries will soon face more stringent customs checks under reforms currently before parliament, including searches by the new customs sniffer rat teams, shortly to become a regular feature of Australia’s ports in their tight-fitting red uniforms and gold piping.

Statistics recently released by the Minister of Police indicate that cheese hotspots are clustered in the more affluent suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney, where the use of fondue sets and cheese platters remains entrenched. Mr Morrison promised that the new campaign would fund treatment centres in Toorak and Woollahra to help drug users into health care. The centres will be staffed by medical personnel and outreach workers, providing users with screenings for infections and lactose intolerance.

‘New laws have also come into effect making it an offence to possess a cheese board, fondue set, cheese knife or certain types of crackers without lawful reason, meaning that people will face up to five years in prison, a fine of about $60,000 or both,’ Mr Morrison said. ‘We are coming after the dealers and manufacturers too. The government will introduce new regulations to ban the possession of more than 10 cows or 25 goats. We are serious about this.’

A spokesperson from the Cheese Abuse Survivors Group also spoke at yesterday’s launch. ‘Cheese can destroy your life,’ Rodney Bagley told the small crowd. ‘You think you can control it, just have a little on a cracker or a sprinkle on pasta, but before you know it you are addicted. All you can think about is cheese. Your whole world is cheese.’

Recent studies conducted by Rethink Drug and Alcohol Centre have shown cheese to be even more dangerous than previously thought. While it was known that cheese is produced with casein, which, when digested by humans, breaks down into the opiate casomorphine – the source of the ‘high’ cheese provides users – Rethink’s research has linked casomorphine directly to severe behaviour disorders, poor complexion, rhyming ‘jive’ talk and chronic sleeplessness. Their report concluded that cheese was costing Australia over $1.2 billion per year in lost productivity, and more than $2 billion a year when other factors such as health costs and cleaning bills were factored in.

Rodney Bagley welcomed the new campaign. ‘Cheese is a disease, we need to bring it to its knees.’

The Real Man

He stalked into the supermarket in a pair of shorts, their worn fabric, barely visible between his heavy gut and chunky thighs, like a rag stuffed into a corner of a couch. Stopping in front of the line of registers, he looked up at the aisle signs. Shoppers described caution-sized arcs around him, their dark winter coats in stark contrast to his smooth pale skin.

I continued placing boxes of tea on the shelf. There is no door policy for a supermarket. One of the games I played to pass the time was to assign weirdness ratings to customers. Wearing only shorts on one of the coldest days of winter was a seven: moderate oddness promising further peculiarities.

The man continued to stand like a latex statue at a modern art museum. About 40 years old, he had a broad, oddly faceted face – the planes of his forehead, cheeks and chin bluntly moulded as if from plasticine.

Suddenly he lurched forward into aisle 9 (dog food, cat food, tissues, toilet rolls) and I abandoned my boxes of tea to follow him. His stomach lunged and rolled as he paced along scanning the shelves. When he paused in front of the cleaning section I stooped to rearrange packets of Omo.

The man removed a mop from a rack. He hefted it, testing its weight, before continuing to the end of the aisle.

In the next aisle (Baby and Home) he stood before the tape selection, his bare feet splayed across the scuffed linoleum. After rejecting Scotch and masking tape he took a roll of duct tape.

I was no longer pretending to stack shelves. The man was oblivious to anything apart from his mission. I revised his weirdness rating to eight: too interesting to miss.

In aisle 3 (cooking oils, pasta, cooking implements) he stopped in front of the pots, pans and cutlery. Tentatively he picked up a knife – a Santoku chef’s knife with a seven inch blade – before quickly returning it to the rack. He stood for another minute before selecting a slender Wiltshire fruit knife with a four inch blade and white, plastic handle.

The man examined the blade closely, as if trying to sharpen it with his eyes.

It was only then I realised there was nobody else around. At times like these there was never anybody else around. Customers and staff always melted away at the faintest whiff of the unusual.

The man twisted the mop head from the handle and threw it to the floor like a severed head. He tore off a length of tape and bound the knife to the mop’s shaft.

I should have run, alerted management, called a Code Blue. But I didn’t. This was life – weirdness at a level 10 – and I was the only one here to witness it.

He lofted the spear in his right hand, gazing up at it with a look of stern satisfaction. Suddenly he turned to me, eyes piercingly intent, and I stumbled back against the shelves.

His eyes continued over me to the end of the aisle. He walked stealthily in a sideways sidling motion, spear raised, crossing one leg in front of the other. As he passed I smelt his sweat, sharp and briny, despite the cold.

He continued to the end of the aisle and turned left.

I breathed again. I should have gone the other way, headed for the safety of the staff room. But after a moment to ponder the beat of my heart I followed him to the end of the aisle.

Peering around a display of corn chips I saw him 20 meters away stalking across the empty supermarket between the fridges and aisles, the spear held steady above his head. His movements grew even slower. Crouching, he moved like a traditional dancer miming the hunt. He seemed completely alert, completely alive.

He took a step, then one more, before coming to a rigid halt. He held the posture for an agonisingly long time before, in a single clean motion, he hurled the spear low and hard.

I stepped out from behind the shelf to get a clear view. The handle of the mop was sticking from a fridge at a forty-five degree angle.

The man removed the spear and with a triumphant roar raised a bloodied side of beef above his head, shaking it like a macabre standard.

The PA system clattered to life, ‘Code Blue in the meat department, Code Blue’.

The man removed the meat from the spear, grinning wildly and letting out a long raw howl.

Dropping the bloodied spear, he strode towards aisle 10 (plates, napkins, barbeque equipment).

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This story was first published in NMIT’s Time to Write anthology.

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