igel gloomily stared at his goldfish. They seemed not to notice him, or the debris littering his apartment: dirty saucepans, chocolate bar wrappers, milk cartons, and empty packets of custard mix.
“You’re not eating properly, are you,” said Ernesto, the greying Estonian condiment importer, and Nigel’s only friend. “I knew you weren’t, so I’ve brought you some rye bread herring and pickled onion sandwiches.”
Nigel took the sandwiches, began to munch, and waited for what he’d heard many times before. Ernesto dragged on a rancid smelling cheroot. “It’s not normal for a young man your age to lock himself away like you do. You should be out enjoying life, Townsville has much to offer young men, all those pretty girls with long legs out for a good time. Go out to Flinders Street East, don’t waste your time with this crazy obsession. You’ll never make it, and no-one cares anyway. Are you listening to me?”
Nigel munched a herring and pickled onion sandwich impassively. He always took what Ernesto said with a grain or three of salt.
“Lump-free custard is an impossibility. You hear me?”
“Yeah. That’s what they said about flight and space travel. Don’t you see Ernesto, I have a vision. I can see the day when I’ll be able to go into any restaurant in the world and order pudding with custard, and the custard won’t have any lumps. And it will be because of me.”
“But you’ll never get Rachael to like you,” sighed Ernesto.
Nigel reddened. Rachael, the ex-Miss Universe, was the daughter of Clive Palmfrond, the iconoclastic self-made coal billionaire, and Nigel had been in love with her since he met her at a Gala Soufflé at the Jupiters Casino in late 2009, after Ernesto had offered him a complimentary ticket he’d been given, then twisted Nigel’s arm hard for over three weeks before the event to persuade him to go.
“She’s just a tart,” Ernesto went on. “Look what happened when you gave her your blancmange recipe.”
“Yes, I was a trifle disappointed,” Nigel admitted, “I was hoping she’d at least tell me what she thought of it.”
“She’ll have thrown it straight in the bin you soft-headed dimwit.”
“I don’t know why I’m friends with you. For goodness sake put out that wretched cheroot. What I need is an excuse to talk to her,” Nigel continued, looking glum. “Maybe I could ask her over to feed my goldfish . . .”
“Look Nigel, take my word for it. She is not interested in you. No-one will ever be interested in you until you cure yourself of this ridiculous obsession with custard.” Ernesto spoke with the authority of years in the condiment business.
“Maybe if she knew how I felt. Ernesto, I’m going to visit her.”
“You’re making a big mistake . . .”
Three hours later Nigel knocked on the door of the Palmfrond family villa in North Ward, nestled near the top of Castle Hill. The spectacular view was the last thing on his mind, though.
A valet answered the door. “Yes?”
“May I see Rachael please?”
“Whom shall I say is calling?”
The look on the valet’s face suggested he thought Nigel belonged in the kitchen tidy. “Please wait one moment sir.”
By the time he came back Nigel was having second thoughts about the whole thing, but it was too late for turning back.
“Come this way sir.”
The moment he saw Rachael, the little courage he had left evaporated.
“What do you want?” she said brusquely.
Nigel saw his life pass in front of his eyes.
“um . . . er . . . um . . .”
“Well, what is it? Hurry up, you’re keeping me from brushing my hair.”
“. . . um . . . um . . . Rachael-I-think-you’re-really-nice-and-please-would-you-like-to-come-to-a-plum-pudding-tasting-with-me-next-week-please-if-you’re-not-doing-anything . . .”
Nigel looked at the floor, crimson and shaking like a strawberry jelly. The look Rachael gave him was withering. If he’d been a dog, all his fur would have fallen out instantly.
“If you were like everyone else and read the Bully, you would know I got engaged last month to Jeremy Robertson-Davies. Jeremy’s a real man, not like you, you mealy-mouthed wimp. You’re nuttier than a packet of cashews. Get out and don’t come back.”
Nigel felt desiccated.
“But Rachael, I . . .”
“You want some advice? Go find a big compost heap and bury yourself in it.”
“. . .but . . . please, I . . .”
“If you don’t get out of here right now I’ll tell Watkins to turn the Alsatians on you.”
“. . .but . . . please . . .”
hat has Jeremy Robertson-Davies got that I haven’t?” a dejected Nigel asked Ernesto some time later.
“Well, for one thing he’s the national hang-gliding champion. For another he’s a mauve belt in Ju Kwando. I’m warning you Nigel, if he finds out you’ve been bothering Rachael your life won’t be worth living.”
“It’s not anyway. Doesn’t she realise I could make her the happiest girl alive?”
“You’re always feeling sorry for yourself. If I looked at the world like you do I would never have become a successful condiment importer.”
“All right. What do you think I should do?
“The first thing is to forget about custard. No-one eats custard any more, they either eat health food, like I import (Nigel rolled his eyes), or McDonald’s. You need special help, my friend. I know a good doctor . . .”
Three weeks later Nigel walked in to the rooms of Dr. Sigmund Floyd.
“Lie down on the couch my boy. Now tell me, what’s the problem?”
“I don’t know where to start . . . for as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in custard . . . when I was a teenager I never did the things normal boys do, I shut myself away and read cookery books . . . it got so I couldn’t cope with people, only packets of custard mix. Are you related to the TV chef? . . .”
Nearly an hour passed.
“. . . then I met Rachael, and though I really liked her I was so afraid all I could do was give her a blancmange recipe. I can’t go on like this. What’s wrong with me doctor?”
“Well my boy, you are suffering from a severe case of White-Wings-osis.”
“What’s that? Can I be cured?”
“It’s a very rare illness. But you have the classic symptom: an abnormal obsession with custard. Unfortunately it cannot be cured.”
“Will I die from it doctor?” Nigel was close to tears and whiter than a litre of milk.
“I can’t say. But perhaps if you told this young lady Michelle she might understand. That will be $450, payable by cheque, Bankcard, or cash. I prefer cash.”
s always in Nigel’s apartment, the curtains were drawn shut. Ernesto helped himself to a square of Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut and waited. He had a reasonable idea what was coming next.
“If I’m going to die anyway, I might as well do it.”
“Nigel, Nigel, I don’t have a son and heir. I don’t know why most of the time, but I like you, and I want you to have my business after I’m gone. There’s an old Estonian fairytale about a boy, a wolf, and a plot of radishes. In the end, notwithstanding the wolf, the boy gets the plot for perpetuity. This latest idea is pure insanity. One radish in the ground is worth fifty-five dead wolves. Don’t you see this?”
“Not really Ernesto. Listen to me. July 8 is Rachael’s twenty-fourth birthday. I went to Willows yesterday . . .”
“Well thank God you’re at least getting some sun,” Ernesto interrupted.
“. . . and bought the Bully, and she’s having a party at Jupiters to celebrate. I’m going to go, and I know this time I can win her heart, because since I saw that doctor friend of yours, I’ve been working twenty-three hours a day on something that will make me, and her, the richest and happiest couple on the planet.”
“She’s not short of a dollar, and what about Jeremy Robertson-Davies? That’s assuming you get past the security on the door.”
“Minor details, Ernesto. Trust me, this time, it’s life or death. I have the confidence of a wizard with the whisk . . .”
“Where’s your invitation? And what is with that sports bag?” a burly man in a tuxedo asked Nigel.
“One moment, it’s in my pocket.”
Nigel put his hand deep into the pocket of his best slacks and pulled out what appeared to be a small bottle.
“Please leave before I . . .”
Nigel took the top off the bottle and thrust it into the security man’s face. A custard-like aroma filled the air. Suddenly the security man was wearing a stupid grin. In Nigel strode, a man on a mission.
Next stop the Men’s near the gaming tables. In the privacy of a cubicle, he pulled a large canister out of the bag. Fully armed now, he took a last look in the mirror, gave his wayward curly hair one more comb, and rejoined the action.
He entered the crowded ballroom.
“Behold the angel of the yellow skies!” he yelled at the top of his voice.
Everyone instantly froze, then quickly turned around to see the source of the whoop.
Nigel quickly unscrewed the canister, and every last person began to swoon. “What is that sublime fragrance?” “Come here, you gorgeous man, I need more of that.” “Young man, you’re the most wonderful son-in-law-to-be I’ve ever seen; I want you to come home with me after this and you can really get to know my daughter,” opined Clive Palmfrond . . .
“Nigel, Nigel, wake up, what’s wrong with you? It’s 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon.”
“Um, Ernesto? Where, where am I?”
“You must have slept for three days and nights. I’ve been so worried about you. Nigel, have you been snorting? Be honest.”
Nigel, still only just awake, looked sheepish. “Since Dr. Floyd, I’ve decided to live on the edge. If Curt Kobain could use a shotgun, I can sniff custard gas.”
“Yes, forget cashew oil, it’s the most lethal intoxicant known to humankind. And I know how to make it.”
“You never told me.”
“There’s lots I don’t tell you, Ernesto. You think all these experiments I do here don’t come to anything . . .” Nigel’s words trailed off in the semi-darkness.
“I don’t know what to say.” And for once Ernesto genuinely was speechless.
“I’m an addict. There’s no hope now.”
Ernesto crossed himself and muttered something in Estonian.
afe Bambini in North Ward was busy as usual at a Saturday breakfast time. Ernesto took his numbered stand and rejoined his friend Carlo. “It was a bad business, Carlo. There were only three mourners, myself included.”
“Don’t trouble yourself too much. Think condiments. There’s an old Croatian proverb about a man whose best friend went to China, made his fortune in the soap trade, came back to the motherland and slipped into a well and died. Things happen in life.”
An American girl, probably a traveller working there temporarily, brought them their coffees and took the metal stand.
“I loved that boy. It’s strange, you know. When I packed up his apartment I found a manuscript in a box under his bed. It was streaked yellow, and stank of custard, but I’ve read it, and to me it is an excellent, an exceptional read. Perhaps I should send it to a publisher.”
“What’s it about? My niece Wanda works for a publishing firm in LA, and she might be able to advise you.”
“It’s strange, Carlo, like he was. A fantasy novel set in a kitchen that reminded me of the Estonian author Eliisabet Väljas. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. Every Estonian knows her avant garde play The Dark Green Uncle.”
“Do you, Jeremy, take this woman, Rachael, to be your lawfully wedded wife, for as long as you both shall live?”
“Do you, Rachael, take this man, Jeremy, to be your lawfully wedded husband, for as long as you both shall live?”
“I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
The kiss. Mrs Palmfrond began to sniffle. Clive barely successfully tried to suppress gas.
“Ray, have you got a minute?”
“Yeah Wanda, what’s up?”
“Can I ask a favour? Would you mind having a look at this?”
Wanda gave her colleague a wad of photocopied sheets. “I’ve read this, and I’d like to know what you think.”
“I haven’t got a lot of time.”
“If you don’t finish your homework James, your father won’t drive you to your Ju Kwando class tomorrow.”
“But mum, I’ve read this book twice, and I just don’t get it. It’s like shagged.”
“Don’t use that word. Do you know what it means?”
“We all say it. It means like what your foot feels like when you step in dog shi . . .”
“Shut up! Jeremy, can you come here a minute. Your son needs a talking to.”
“What’s up?” Jeremy didn’t like anything to interrupt his watching his favourite detective series.
“Dad. Listen. I might be good at physics and the best at Grammar at rowing, but English just no way. Here, you read this stupid book.” James threw the book at his father and stormed out.
“Let him go, sweet.” Rachael gave Jeremy a resigned look. “I think he’s got girls on his mind.”
“What is this book that they’re studying anyway?” Jeremy asked.
“I don’t know.” Rachael picked it off the kitchen floor. “The Custard Legacy – oh my God!”
“Honey, what’s up?”
“Nothing,” Rachael quickly replied. “It’s nothing. Really.”
Keen as he was to return to “Inspector Tex”, Jeremy didn’t push the point, and returned to their home theatre.
Rachael resolved to go to Mary Who? – and soon.
looked at the packet and my flesh began to burn. The room was turning yellow and spinning and Rachel stood naked before me and I knew the world began and ended in this kitchen and as our lips locked I saw billions of custard lakes and the moon had descended into the room and at this moment I knew I was alone with my custard self and Rachel and then my erection began to fountain custard and our bodies were whisked into a time when there was nothing except the history the prehistory the timeless future of this custard moment.
Rachael was transfixed by the beauty of this incredible work. Jeremy was still downstairs in the home theatre. Her hand slipped between her thighs and her fingers began to explore. What if. What if.
She perhaps imagined it, but suddenly, just a faint whiff of custard.